Think Like A Game Designer: Tom Lehmann

Tom Lehmann is a former economist, programmer, and game publisher turned full-time game designer. He’s the creator of Race for the Galaxy and has created expansions for games like Pandemic and St. Petersburg. Today we discuss everything from economics, expansions, and reward systems in games. There’s a lot of wisdom here, so grab a notebook!

Check out the Podcast Episode Here:

“Constraints can sometimes stimulate creativity.” (3:46)

We start off with a lesson that cannot be reiterated enough, by adding constraints to your creative projects, you will increase the creativity. We discuss constraints both Tom and I have used during or design processes.

“Appreciating the difference between a good decision and a good outcome.” (7:40)

Tom and I talk about what people learn from games in regards to decision making, and how these choices are at the core of nearly all strategic games. As Tom says, “I think this is more of a life lesson.”

“Most strategic games are about decisions and when you decide to do something you’re often also deciding not to do something else. There is a cost there, and that cost is often not appreciated by some designers.” (16:40)

We continue to dive into how Tom’s background with economics comes into play with his games. His game Race for the Galaxy has an awesome, but brutal, choice mechanic. He teaches us why this mechanic exists and how by creating expansions and spin-offs you can relieve anxieties of particular mechanics and teach different lessons. He has some fantastic follow-up lessons about creating expansions that offer the right experience for your audience.

“I think risk is really what comes to the fore when it comes to cooperative games.” (38:00)

In this section, we discuss a cooperative game design vs. competitive game design. With a cooperative game, he describes rasing and lowering feelings of tension and relaxation, whereas with a competitive game you’re looking for player interaction, in regards to how they affect one another.

“They will adapt their play to whatever scoring system you put in.” (1:03:30)

A lesson I’ve been teaching for a long time is: rewards the behavior you want to see. If you’re careless with your scoring system you may destroy the tactical or strategic game you’re trying to create. Here we discuss different types of scoring systems and what those systems reward.

Thanks for reading the show notes, right now my company Stone Blade has a huge upcoming Kickstarter planned for our biggest game yet: Ascension Tactics. If you’re interested click this link to check it out!