This article was inspired by a rather in depth discussion on the Card & Board Game Designers Guild on Facebook. The question posed by our own Luke Laurie was “What are the top 10 tabletop games should every designer play?” Of course, his question was born out the League’s challenge from Jamey Stegmaier to create such a Top 10 list. Check out our articles on the subject as well as the dialogue on facebook. But, what instigated this article was this comment on that facebook thread:

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To which Luke replied:
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Luca received some harsh backlash on his comment. Some warranted. Some just mean. The best reply to Luca’s question of relevance was made by Daniel Weber:

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Then, what caught my attention was Luca’s later addition:

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I resonate with Luca on this last statement. Are we designers “losing the love of just playing”? I hope not. But, if I’m honest, I have to admit that my gaming experience since starting to design games had, at some point, become less fun. I began concentrating so much on mechanics, lessons I could learn, and ways I would have made the game different if it were my design, that I stopped actually enjoying the play of the game.

When I realized that this had happened, however, the answer was not to stop playing.

The answer was not to stop studying the games and critiquing the mechanics. When I realized that I didn’t have as much fun playing games as I used to when I was a naive consumer, I realized that

what needed to change was my definition of fun.

I get this in my work as an actor, too. The more I study my craft, the less I am able to just watch a movie for the fun of it. But what is fun is the learning, the critique.

What is fun as a game designer is playing a game for one hour and spending three more hours dissecting it. What is fun is playing a mechanic that is new to you and then diving into your latest prototype to see if what you just loved about your newly bought game could be integrated in a clever way in your newly designed game.

It’s true that there is nothing new under the sun. Everyone in any artistic work is, in some way, redoing that which has already been done. But the fun of it is the challenge to make it feel new.

You are right, Luca, it is lame to play a game which is an obvious rip-off of another popular game. If any designer tells me their new idea is “like Magic but better” I say, “No its not.” But the great games are going to come out of designers playing games, finding fun mechanics within those games and then going back to their drafting table and developing those mechanics into something brilliant.

So, the challenge, fellow game makers: play more games! Have fun with them. Have fun critiquing. Have fun tearing them apart. Have fun playing. And then figure out how you can allow the rest of us to have that level of fun with your new design. Our challenge is to take what’s been done and do something different with it. Something fun. Because, as Luke Laurie is fond of saying,

The greatest games are yet to be made.
Go play.

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Kelsey Domeny

Game Designer at Two Penny Games

Kelsey is an actress, game designer, and co-conspirator in the company, Two Penny Games, which she started with her husband, Michael. Since 2012, she has been exploring the full-time role-playing game of Mommy, and so far the baby is winning.

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  1. Norv Brooks on November 10, 2014

    Fortunately I still have fun playing most games, but I do say Amen to your article. Re-opening the League’s 3 part discussion of Theme vs Mechanics, starting from Theme in a game’s design I feel helps to use a tried mechanic in a fresh way to fit your theme.

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on November 10, 2014

      Norv, Thanks for your input! As a mostly Theme-First designer myself, I can second your comment that working from theme can really help develop good mechanics in new ways!

  2. Royce Banuelos on November 10, 2014

    Great point, if it isn’t fun why are you doing it? You should be able to separate the two worlds. If you’re obsessed with design and can’t enjoy a game then stop playing the game. Like most creative fields if you overthink on something creative it will not come out right. As far as reviewing games it’s best to take it in stride. Understand that most games that are produced are not good games, it’s difficult to make a good game so it takes a while to find out the good ones.

    As designers there should be more self censoring for a lack of a better term. Understand that your games will more than likely not be good games. Stop using the words, fun, original, unique and new. Describe your game exactly as it is and then let the players tell you if it’s fun or unique. If someone tells you that the game is like blank other game, accept that and see how you can separate it from that game. There are almost 4 levels of game design. Broken, functional, copycat and good. A lot of what I see on KS seems to be functional games. They work as a game and most people will play it and say “That was okay” They’re not broken or bad but are completely forgettable lifeless experiences. Pushing a game past that point seems to be the biggest challenge. I’ve played multiple prototypes that will be played “hundreds” of times but changes are rarely made and they never move past functional. Copycat is at least a good game because it copies an existing good game. Originality is over rated in every creative space. I’d rather play “ticket to ride” in space rather than Game X that I will sit through just to be nice. Keep pushing and make changes until your play test group consistently says “Can we try that again?” or “Can I take this to my game group?”

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on November 10, 2014

      Thank you, Royce! Great insight. I truly love what you said in the end. “Keep pushing and make changes until your play test group consistently says “Can we try that again?” or “Can I take this to my game group?” ” Having a mediocre game played a hundred times will just mean it’s a well played mediocre game. Changes and growth in the design until your play testers say, “Let’s play again!” should be the goal – not only mass playing of the game.

      • Kelsey Domeny Author on November 10, 2014

        Also, I would totally place TTR in space!

  3. Eric Redekop on November 13, 2014

    The moderator of that Facebook group has a very personal and restrictive view of play, and does not like it when his view is challenged. This is a toxic environment, not a welcoming one.

    • Kelsey Domeny Author on November 13, 2014

      Thank you, Eric. Personal opinions about the moderator aside, I have found great help in that specific group. Not having other designers locally to talk to, I appreciate any dialogue I can have with others in the industry. I am sorry if your experience there has been negative. I sincerely hope that this League can be a welcoming and encouraging environment for you. Thank you for chiming in!

  4. Carl Klutzke on November 14, 2014

    I do believe that playing more helps designers make better games. As a result I was startled by Ludology’s recent interview with Peter Olotka (, when he proudly proclaimed that he didn’t really much play other games. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around that.

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