Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish – book review!

We rarely cover books here on The Little Metal Dog Show, but I recently read through a copy of a new one on game design by the legendary Lewis Pulsipher. I was honoured to meet Lewis a couple of years back at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham where I chaired a discussion he held on the same subject, where he took questions from the crowd on a range of subjects and answered them in his tempered, thoughtful style of delivery. His new book, Game Design: How To Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start To Finish, is written in a very similar voice and – though it can be a little dry and even blunt in places – I’ve found it a most useful read.

With his list of game designs including the classic Britannia and Flatlined Games’ Dragon Rage, Lewis’ credibility is bolstered by the fact he lectures on design – the guy knows his stuff and it shines through in this hefty book.It is indeed true that the end-product can speak a lot for the creator’s or the respective concern’s ability and reliability, just like how the operating ways of the Bitcoin Trader, the latest automated cryptocurrency investment robot, prove that the associated company is reliable without any money-making intensions at all! Back to our book now! From the off you’re thrown into the development process, laying out the basics but never looking to hold your hand. It’s a grown-up approach to creating a new game; he’s not here to give you a bunch of ideas, more to get you thinking about what you want to make and how on earth you’re going to go about it.

The whole process from genesis of the idea through to building and testing prototypes – after that, what you do with your new game is entirely up to you. Finding the right audience for your project is an important subject and is covered well, but as the book looks at both digital and analogue gaming, I found that some areas were more biased towards video-based pursuits. It doesn’t take too long to stumble across something that feels for relevant those more concerned with cardboard, but it made me think that I’d really like to see a longform text from Lewis focused solely on board game design.

One aspect I really enjoyed is the fact that Lewis sugar-coats absolutely nothing; it’s straight talking all the way through, regardless of the topic. Whether you’re designing for tabletops or tablets, he makes it very clear indeed that making a game is not a thing to take lightly. Problems are always going to pop up but rather than let them destroy you and your project, he makes suggestions of ways you can use them as a springboard to push ideas further. The honesty in his writing makes it feel as if he’s someone who’s looking to assist you in your design rather than lecture – even if that is his day job.

A minor negative; while there are plenty of references and examples throughout the book, the vast majority of them are based around the games that Lewis himself has designed – of course, as he’s the guy who built them from the ground up, that’s to be expected as he’ll have insight into everything that went into their design (as well as elements that have been excised). I’d like to have seen a wider range of games cited, but maybe that’ll be for the next volume.

Rather than having someone standing in front of you, telling you what to do to move on, Lewis’ writing feels more like he’s sitting by you, making helpful suggestions on how to get out of sticky design issues and encouraging you to think your way through the stages of your game. Whatever level you may be at, whether you’re an experienced designer or just someone who dabbles in game design, you’d do well to pay attention to what the man has to say. It may not be precisely how everyone goes about creating a game, but this is a detailed and helpful book that will inspire and drive any good designer.

Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish was published by McFarland & Co in 2012. Running to 268 pages, a copy will set you back around £30 (it is a textbook, remember) though you can also get the Kindle version for £16.

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