How to Build a Game #74 Beat the Designer’s Block

I have been working on a Robin Hood worker placement game recently and I ran myself into a problem. I could see where the game was going, but I could not figure out how to get the game to that point using the board set up I had in front of me.

Let me back up a bit…

I start my games however the design comes to me. In this case, I started with a board. I looked at getting into and out of the different regions of the board and how I could get the bad guys to move around the board. I should probably mention that the game is a co-op. The other details are not important at this time but where I was getting hung up was the movement of the Merry Men(workers).

I hit the block when I could not figure out how all the different variables I had on the board interacted with each other. I was spending my time trying to figure out how to make the Merry Men fit the game rather than build the game to fit around the actions and choices of the Merry Men. After a few days of struggle, I took the board off the table, took my notebooks upstairs, turned on a baseball game and “started over”

I re-approached the game using my normal appraoch from the perspective of the Merry Men and what I wanted them to do. What were the positive and negative results of various actions. How can I make the Merry Men stronger? Where do I place the main characters of the Robin Hood story? I felt like I was now asking myself the right questions; the kind kinds of questions that are open and allow for the creative process to continue.

Going at the game with the board first method did not work because I was always trying to fit a piece (workers) into a pre-existing system. I won’t say that I would never take the board first path again, but I will say that I will be quicker to pull the plug on approach one and go after approach two.

And the best part, I was able to keep what I already put together and make changes that improved the game and made it flow. Having the notes handy of what I was trying to do the first time, gave me some direction when I approached the game a second time.

So whats the lesson here?

If you find yourself in a spot where you hit a block, take another look at the process you are using. The board first approach is not my normal approach. Maybe I should have trusted my tried and true approach and gone that way first? Maybe I can go after future designs in different ways, knowing that I have a fallback?

Designer Blocks don’t have to be game killers. This may not help with what to do when you have idea block, but I think idea block and development block are two different things and I plan to cover idea block at a later date.

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If you have any comments or questions, leave a comment here or email Chris at

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 #74 Beat the Designer’s Block

  1. I totally agree, creative blocks of any kind are a real pain but shouldn’t be the end of the idea. I find it is often easier to start again rather than continue to force an idea or concept that isn’t working (though its hard to know when to stop and restart). The bonus is that you will now be able to use that prior knowledge or design as a reference and come up with something better even faster!

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