BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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The Tools of the Trade

A recent post on Lewis Pulsipher’s blog discusses the characteristics of the successful game designer. The article was first posted on the video game website GameCareerGuide, and Lewis’ focus is primarily on video game designers, although he bundles in ‘non-electronic’ game designers too; it is certainly true that many characteristics of the successful designer are common to both.

He points out that creativity, though necessary, is hardly sufficient; as in most things the successful designer must be persistent too. Successful writers and artists are successful principally because they are writers and artists 24/7; they have no ‘off’ switch. His thesis is to highlight the sorts of behaviour, both intellectual and practical, that can contribute to game design success.

Of all his observations, the one I think is perhaps the simplest and the most valuable is the suggestion that designers maintain a notebook of game-related ideas. And I would suggest that the important thing is to carry this notebook with you at all times, so that during those quiet moments in coffee shops, at airports or on park benches, the opportunity to record your latest brainwave or creative nugget is always there.

This is precisely how I operate, and I have been keeping just such a notebook (or rather, several successive notebooks) for the past 8 years, ever since my interest in designing games re-emerged. For me, many of my game ideas are direct results of this process; the notebook has been not just a way of recording ideas but also of generating them. The genesis of game designs are many and various, but my own approach is often primarily visual: a consideration of the physical arrangement or design of game components. I use my notebook as a way of capturing and organizing these fleeting and ethereal notions, and experimenting with their real-world, in-game application. And often I have gone back to ideas after weeks, months or even years, something that would be impossible without the discipline of using a notebook in the first place.

So, if you are a game designer and do not have a notebook, then I urge and implore you to go out right now and get yourself one! I have become rather particular about the sort of notebook and pen then I prefer to use.

My notebook of choice is a WHSmith spiral-bound A4 ruled pad. The spiral binding means that the pad can be folded back on itself which makes writing and drawing on it in different orientations easier. The A4 page size means a lot of ideas can be expressed together on a single page. The ruling is a useful guide, not for writing, but for drawing anything that has straight edges or is on a grid (such as a gameboard).

And as for a pen, I always go for the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner. This is, in my view, a pen amongst pens. The fine fibre tip allows for a great deal of detail and control when drawing and writing, and the barrel is thin enough for the entire pen to be placed into the spiral binding of the pad when the the pad and pen are put away, ensuring that I never reach for the pad to discover I don’t have the pen with me too!

Post scriptum

This post marks a milestone in my blogging history. This is the 50th BrettSpiel blog post, which is approximately 48½ more posts than I expected to write when I started BrettSpiel. I hope I can continue to enlighten and entertain, not only myself but also my readers — here’s to the next 50!

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