How To Build a Game: #54 Guest Article: Testing Your Idea Without Prototyping

Hello loyal followers of TGIK. I’m Jon Chambers, and today we are writing on each other’s blog.
Prototypes are valuable and vital to game designers. Bringing a game from start to completion without a prototype is like trying to fix a car wearing a blind fold, listening to heavy music with a pair of thick gloves. It can be done in theory, but not practise. However, prototypes take a while to build, and they can’t be tested in the shower or while driving. This is why it’s good to test your game before you build a prototype.
Imagine Your Idea In The Shop
Whether you first see new games in a physical store, Kickstarter, your favourite online shop, Board Game Geek or being held by your favourite reviewer, imagine it there.
You want to buy this game. Yes you, poor game designer, struggling to make ends meet, your electricity may have been cut off last week, and your last bill is now on payment arrangements. That won’t stop you. You are switching to instant coffee and putting the savings aside each week until you’ve got enough money.
Imagine The Good Review
This comes back to the context of how you shop, but imagine your idea getting a good review. You probably haven’t fleshed your idea out that much yet, but that’s fine. Just imagine Tom Vasel hitting a blank box with a gavel yelling “In To My Collection”, “Title Undecided” hitting the #1 spot on Board Game Geek or a shop assistant reaching for a blank box on a shelf saying “based on what you’ve told me, this is clearly the game for you”.
Now Work Backwards
Why does Tom like it? Why did it hit first place on Board Game Geek? Why did the shop assistant recommend it? What features were written on the box? What was the experience of the players? Were they relaxed or on the edge of their seat? Do they know each other more intimately now or are they itching to play again to have their vengeance for what was done to them last game? What does the guy who won think about the game? What about everyone who lost? How many people were there?
If you are the sort to take notes, write the details of your game down now. If not, make mental notes.
Check To See If Your Game Already Exists
It’s quite possible that a game already exists with all the details you’ve written down. Go hunt it down. Set aside a few days just searching online, trying to find a game that fulfils and satisfies all the same things.
You may be delighted to find that no one has ever tried your idea before. RED FLAG!!! If you are delighted to find no one has tried your idea, abandon it now. You should be filled with distress and sorrow that your idea doesn’t exist, not happiness. You should’ve had your credit card ready, and you should already be thinking of who you were going to play it with once you found it. You should be thinking, “Now I can’t play it until I’ve built a prototype and spent 6 months picking the bugs out of it,” and this thought should sadden you.
Remember, this idea is “your idea”. If the only reason you’re not buying your own game idea is because it has someone else’s name on the box, give up now. If you haven’t switched to instant coffee in order to buy it, who will?
If It Already Exists
Great! Switch to instant coffee! Save up until you can afford it, then get a copy! Tell your friends about this new game you’ve found and live happily ever after playing it!
If the game is everything you ever wanted it to be, great. If not, I’m sorry to hear that, but ask yourself what went wrong. Try to design a game that succeeded where this one failed. Learn also from what the game got right. ¬†Check again to see if your new idea exists.
You can find my blog along with all my other words of wisdom at

5 thoughts on “How To Build a Game: #54 Guest Article: Testing Your Idea Without Prototyping

  1. No, if no one else has the same idea, and you’re not saddened by the fact that you can’t order a copy of such a game for yourself, who will?

    That is, ideally, you should go out shopping for your game, and be heartbroken to find no copy of it exists. That sadness should drive you to correct the injustice of the game not existing.

    “Hurray, no one has made my idea before! Now I can sell it!” is a thought that should give you pause. Why am I not saddened by the fact that no one will sell my idea to me? Buying a game is much cheaper than making one.

  2. OK, I can see your logic on this one, but I have to be honest, the last thing I would be is sad. Part of the design challenge for me is to find those niche and crazy ideas no one else has made and when I do, it’s metaphorical fist bumps all round!
    I can see where you’re coming from, and you’ve definitely caught my attention, but I try to never stick negativity to anything I design, even in a humorous ‘Aw shucks, guess I’ll have to make it myself, dang’. If it works for you, more power to ya fella, it’s just not for me,

    • I did fear I was overstating matters when I wrote this, though an article that justifies an extreme position is a better read than an article that hints that an extreme position may exist.

      I was once working on a game with the following feature:
      At any time you can begin the epic boss battle, even turn 1. If you win, game over, you win the game. You lose, you are eliminated and the game plays on without you.

      Doing so on turn 1, chances of victory are less than 0.1% but it could still happen. It was an awesome idea that your wife could be called into work mid game and win it on your way out the door.

      If you know of any game with that feature, let me know and I’ll buy a copy. But sadly, it looks like I’m stuck designing it instead.

      Meanwhile, read my other articles. I’m sure they’re much more agreeable for you.

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