As a designer, it’s pretty much common knowledge at this point that you should be playing lots of other games. Getting knowledge from exposure to different mechanics, experiences, and approaches is necessary to help you evolve and become a better creator. There are many more things you can do to grow other than “just play games”. Below are some of things that I consume to help broaden my horizons.
I’ve found that I have a hard time focusing on what’s being said in a podcast while I’m working or actively thinking about something specific. Most often, I listen to these in the car, when I’m doing chores around the house, or when I’m out for a run.
Dice Tower: We all listen to this one, right? Great for staying on top of what’s new. They cover such a wide variety of games. It’s hard to NOT know about a game’s existence between Tom, Eric, and all the other contributors chiming in.
Legal Moves: Only just started listening to this one recently. Lots of great practical info to know for running your business or even if you’re a designer trying to sell your projects.
Board Games Insider: They tend to talk specifically from the perspective of their companies (Stronghold Games and Portal Games), but it’s still a great look behind the scenes at how their companies work.
Breaking into Board Games: I wish they did this one more often. 3 great perspectives (publisher, designer, and developer) with really good industry guests as well.
Game Design Round Table: Good catch-all design and industry show.
Shut up and Sit Down: Fairly fast and loose discussion directed at a variety of games and topics from the player’s perspective. They release new episodes very inconsistently, but the personality of the show more than makes up for it.
Articles and blogs
Does anyone still use an RSS feed? Well, I do. Feedly has been a handy tool for seeing new articles as they pop up across several different sites. I’ve got a handful of game companies and blogs that I follow. One of the first things I do each day is to open Feedly and read through anything new that seems interesting. Some of them are just news, but a couple are design related.
League of Gamemakers: They usually publish 2 to 3 articles a week from a variety of contributors addressing pretty much anything you can think of that’s design or publishing related.
Stonemaier Games/Jamey Stegmaier: I’m embarrassed to say that I only discovered Jamey’s blog posts about halfway through 2015. If you’re only going to read one blog, this is the one! Jamey is an open and amazing wealth of info about publishing. He shares every step of the process and highlights what worked for him and what didn’t.
There are several others that I’ve read on and off, but these two are my go-to blogs.
Video reviews and info
I find that watching video reviews and play through videos is a good abbreviated type of way to stay up on design. It’s hard enough for me to find time to play other games these days, so this is a passable surrogate.
Dice Tower: Tons of different contributors and points of view on countless games
Shut Up and Sit Down: I find these guys beyond entertaining. They also have a great point of view and are put a lot of effort into what they do.
Rahdo: I found his reviews very odd at first. He usually does a 1 person play through as 2 players, and gets sidetracked a lot. However, he goes very in-depth and does a very thorough analysis of any game that he’s reviewing. If you’re thinking about backing a Kickstarter game and he’s done a review of the game, you really need to watch it.
Watch it Played: This one is probably the best for learning how to play a game. Very little editorializing and just straightforward instruction.
I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t read a lot of books that revolve around gaming. However, I’ve picked up a couple recently. I’m not adding links for these as most of you probably have a favorite store or website you prefer to buy your books.
The Game Inventor’s Guidebook: This one is very dated by now, but it was the first book that I ever ready about game design and publishing. It has a fairly wide variety of info like how to contact publishers, interviews with designers, how publishers buy games, success stories, and pitfalls to avoid.
The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: This one probably sounds really out of place. It’s a mix of Penny Arcade comics with some Q&A. However, the through line in all of it is the story of how they got started and slowly grew a business. There are tons of lessons to be learned if you’re an aspiring publisher.
Empire of Imagination: I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it’s the story of Gary Gygax and the birth of Dungeons and Dragons. What better story to read than the one about the people who helped form our hobby into what it is today?
A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide: This is Jamey Stegmaier’s book full of the lessons he learned from self-publishing. A must read!
The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design: I just picked this one up based on a recommendation that I saw in an article, but am really looking forward to reading it. Has a collection of articles from a wide variety of designers.
This might sound like an odd recommendation at first. I regularly buy new board games. Before getting anything to the table for the first time, I make sure to read the rule book all the way through. There were 2 games in-particular I picked up recently and their rulebooks couldn’t have been more polar opposites. Blood Rage has a very solid rulebook. The ideas are broken up logically and clearly communicated in a very concise manner with lots of helpful graphics and examples. I’m not going to name the other game, but the rulebook was atrocious. It has walls of overly elaborate and small text, with scattered and small examples that don’t really help. There were also tons of distracting grammatical errors and overall just felt very uninteresting.
Reading rulebooks is a great way to understand what works and what doesn’t for when the time comes to write one for your game. Take note of what you liked and didn’t like about rulebooks that you’ve read. I guarantee that you’re not alone in your opinion.
What are you watching, listening to, or reading to feed your gaming brain?