So you want to be a tabletop game designer…

Chain Reaction


While many of my blogs go into the details of how to do things right once you have a clue or you already have a start on your game, they fail to answer a common question I’m asked: “Where do I start?”

IMG_0738There are a few answers to that, depending on how you personally think though problems, but most of the resources you’ll need are on the Internet. I’ve listed a lot of links and resources below that I feel are the best places to start. Some people design in their head and then eventually spit out that info onto paper. Some design with index cards and pencil in hand. Each is different but both work. Your goal though, should be to get to a playable prototype (however ugly) as soon as you can. Remember game ideas are worthless, it’s the implementation that matters. Here is the method I take:

  1. Dump the thoughts from your head onto a paper or into a document. Write down your major mechanics and attempt to visually display the info a player will need on the board or cards. Attempt to make your game’s bits out of anything handy. Write on the back of business cards, use cereal boxes for cardboard bits, etc.
  2. Solo playtest the basics the first time, it will probably not work at all. Do a bit of dynamic design; don’t be afraid to change things on the fly at this stage of the game. Make a very rough draft of your manual after you’ve had a few full solo plays through your game.
  3. Try it out on some friends and family just so you know the flow works. They will not tell you (or care) if the game is good or not, but they’ll help you work out the mechanics of the game. Now go back and rewrite your manual.
  4. Get that prototype in front of other game designers. They are your best resource for getting this game into a playable state. Rinse and repeat at least a dozen times. Protospiel game conventions are great for this. Make changes to the manual to reflect the updates you’ve made, sometimes its good to keep a change log so you can go back to a previous version. Make backups of your data files at each major revision. It is also a good time to start collecting icons to help present data and to maybe make a player aid (cheat sheet).
  5. Once your game is working, try it out on other gamers. People at your local game store or at a convention. Get as much testing in as you can stand – dozens of times. It will help if you can make your game bits a bit more pretty and most importantly have legible graphic design for the information on the cards. Use icons and color to get your ideas and rules across in the fewest words.
  6. Finally, once you’re comfortable with how the game is working, start cleaning up your rules document. Your goal should be to make the rules understandable to anyone not familiar with the game. They should be able to “blind test” the game without you even being there. Here’s a great article on rules writing by Seth Jaffee.

More detailed information can be found in many blogs and podcasts below. I welcome anyone with links to good game design (not review) sites to post in the comments.

More reading:






  • Just getting started? Read this blog:
  • Print out your cards on plain paper, cut them out, put them in front of a MTG card in a sleeve and you have an instant card to play with.
  • Use stickers to make custom dice for play testing. There are even indented blank dice you can sticker that are cheap to buy.
  • Use cereal boxes to make your chip-board components. Just spray glue paper to them and then cut them out.
  • Use Word or inDesign’s merge features to make large sets of cards that have variable stat data.
  • You can usually find playtesters willing to try your game at your local game store or through local groups. But some conventions are also a great place to find them. Get your game on the schedule and people should will show.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask around for other game designers in your area and setup your own monthly meetup.


meeples_stock_photoGAME DESIGN FORUMS:



Apple_Podcast_logoGAME DESIGN POD-CASTS:

Funding the Dream









Game-Design-101GAME DESIGN COURSES:!class/colm





Justin Halliday put together a great playlist of videos on YouTube

Watch The Next Great American Game:

Dragon Flame


  1. Great post. I completely agree that getting ideas into prototype form asap should be a priority for every game design. Thanks for all the useful links and info!

  2. What a wonderfully compiled resource. Thanks so much for pulling back the curtain and sharing with us the behind the scenes work of game design.

  3. Thank you so much for this resource. I’m sure it too you a lot of time and effort to put it together. I’m sure I will be visiting it often!

  4. Eric Francis on

    Excellent info, thanks! Question: When you’re developing a game and trying to get it play tested by as many people as possible, do you worry about things like non-disclosure or non-compete forms? Do you use them at any point at all? Thanks!


  5. Bettany Games on

    A nat 20 post if I ever saw one. Saving this for future use, super helpful and informative.

  6. Rachel on

    This is awesome, James! Do you have a link on how to design your rule book or any advice on how to do it? I’d like to get some printed for our prototype. Thanks!

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