A guest post by Duane Kolar, designer of Wu Xing Landscaping

We’ve all been there. You sat down at a game that sounded cool, but you’re two minutes in and already you know this is not your cup of tea.  The designer is unclear, disorganized, or the game is super fiddly.  And now you’re stuck in a game you don’t want to play for an interval far longer than anyone previously suggested. You may feel defeated, resentful, or just angry.  But you know what’s worse? Being that designer that is torturing his/her previously willing participants. Over and over again. Saturday afternoon I became that guy.

Wu Xing Landscaping

Duane “inflicting” Wu Xing Landscaping onto players at 7th Dimension Games

I have friends who have designed successful games and I’m a creative guy. Why not me, right? Sure, I’m no engineer or coder, but I possess a mathematical/spatial mind and a will to use it (occasionally). I enjoy looking for new systems and new ways to use old ones. This is so much fun that I did what many first time designers do (or so I’m told). I jammed a bunch of mechanics into a game to make it interesting, destroying my original concept.  Then I inflicted this doomed creation on unwitting strangers.

I will say this for the play testers I corralled yesterday–they are a supportive, giving lot, to a man (or woman).  Most of them even finished my game and wrote some very complementary feedback forms.  Players graciously shared what they liked and their ideas on fixing the hot mess that was my game. Designers gave gentle, insightful, and plentiful suggestions for how to streamline my monstrosity.
My brief foray into game design has been hugely educational. I went to sleep last night thinking I’d take a break from designing for a while, but I awoke at 2:45am with a bunch of ideas and a desire to try them out.  The lessons I learned yesterday were still buzzing around my head:

1. I learned two things from 7th Dimension Games owner, Glen. First, I learned how to shuffle my cards in sleeves without destroying said sleeves. Thanks Glen for overlooking the fact that the more sleeves I destroy, the more money you make! Second, I learned that you NEVER block the merchandise. Won’t happen again, Glen!

2. Less is more.  I found a mechanic and theme that I loved together, but when I encountered glitches, I added more and more rules and options to make up for what I saw as shortcomings of my original idea.  This morning I’ve been limiting options that don’t work to focus the game and give it a fighting chance at elegance. It feels good so far, but we’ll see.

3. The gaming community is even more welcoming than I expected.  My game in its current state didn’t belong next to many of the other games there yesterday, but everyone who played it swallowed whatever annoyance they may have felt at this waste of their time and gave it the old college try while helping me along the way.  That’s the beauty of Unpub events.  People come to help and have fun in equal measures.

So, I don’t know if I’ll continue to develop the ideas I have in the long run, but I do know that the rejuvenation I got from working and playing with lots of good people yesterday will keep me motivated for now.  And, thanks to those who suffered yesterday, hopefully my next play testing subjects won’t have to suffer quite so much.