How to Build a Game #66 Designing With a Time Budget

Designing games takes a lot of time. We all have things going on in our lives that take priority over design and we have to manage our time around life so we can work on the designs we love. When we are designing on a time budget, we need to work out methods to make the most of the time we have. What follows are the methods I use to make the most of the time I have to design.

Notebook(s) at the Ready

If you have a lot going on in life, as we all tend to do, you need to steal as many moments for design as you can. One way I do this is to have notebooks forever at the ready. I use both my phone and small dollar store notebooks I can fit in my pocket and I always have a pen on me. If the idea strikes, if I am waiting for my wife to try on some something at the store, if I am waiting for my car to get washed, I have something on me that will allow me to work on game designs in some way shape or form. The drawback to this is that I am not making progress on a prototype, but I am able to think of potential ideas. I can also run a mental playtest on a game and take notes of changes or tweaks I would like to try out the next time I am at the table working on a main project.

Batch Processing

When I think of batch processing, I think of writing my blog posts in batches of 3-5 and scheduling them days/weeks in advance. I won’t assume you write a blog, but this idea can still apply to designing games. You can collect suggestions for a string of playtests and make the changes all at one time. This is more efficient than making one change here, waiting for a test, one change there, waiting for another test. If you have multiple projects that need prototyping, work on them all during the same design session. Don’t worry about making design/mechanical/thematic progress. Worry about getting the prototypes to a point where they are all playable. Doing things this way will keep the same kind of supplies in front of you so you can work on one game, and when finished, move quickly to the next. You won’t be distracted by the idea that pops up here and there that you want to try out.

Make Materials Ahead of Time

Speaking of prototypes, make all of your pieces ahead of time. Do you cut the same size index cards for your games? Do you use the same kind of counters over and over? Think about all the pieces you use when you are building a prototype or testing a game. Figure out a way to get the pieces you use regularly, or the pieces you need to create, and collect them in a single location. We use fishing boxes with adjustable compartments to hold out counters, dice, blank cards, pens, pencils, etc. When we sit down to make a prototype, everything we need is there, ready to go. The odd occasion we need to make a different piece, we are spending the time only on that thing and not trying to make all the pieces for every game, every time we get to the table for design.

Two Things at Once: TV and Design

My wife and I have some shows that we like to watch. The more I get into design, the less interested I get in TV. However, my wife likes to watch certain shows with me. My solution to this, is to design on the coffee table while we are watching TV. Whatever I can fit on the table, I will work on. Sometimes that is brainstorming, sometime that is playing with a few different components to get a handle on the flow of a mechanic.

Sometimes design is all about finding moments in and around your day so you can move your projects forward. What methods do you use to find time in your day to fit in design time? Leave your time tricks in a comment below.

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If you have made it this far, would you like to go a little farther? We have a regular Google hangout with other designers. We talk about the games we are working on and share helpful tips and ideas on how to make designing our game easier. We meetup every other Saturday. Either comment here or tweet me or email me and I will add you to the list and send you a link to the Google hangout.

One thought on “How to Build a Game #66 Designing With a Time Budget

  1. I know exactly how you feel, but imagine having to design within a time frame because you have a deadline? This is what I had to deal with for 20+ years in the video game industry. Compared to that, I find board game design has tons of time!

    I also find it interesting that you design during time with the wife or family. I don’t like to do that. I have found that when I spend time away from the design, I can do two things: let the design ‘simmer’ on the back burner while I pay full attention to my loved ones, and when I come back to it I usually have a new perspective, even in the short time away.

    What tricks do I have? Well, I keep something to write on to jot down ideas that come to me, we all pretty much do that I think. I also learned to design in my head. I can usually play a game from start to finish in my mind, make some changes and then play again. I found that learning to play blindfold chess and practicing that helped to train the brain to do that.

    My .02 🙂

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