John D. Clair is the designer of Mystic Vale, which was awarded the ORIGINS Award and Gamer’s Choice award in 2017. His other titles include Downfall, Rumble Pie, Custom Heroes, Space Base, and Edge of Darkness. He is a fantastic designer with a lot of wisdom to share. In this episode, we discuss learning from mistakes made in previous designs, handling legal protections for new designs, and making the most of game components to make your games more fun and exciting.
“My instinct as a nine-year-old was: ‘That’s really cool. I wonder if I can make that?'”
We start off by talking about John’s childhood. He was homeschooled and often encouraged to create the toys and games he wanted. One superpower John gained from this encouragement is the ability to produce games and weather the emotional risk of putting an unfinished idea in front of people. We go on to talk about the games he played growing up and how they inspired him to become a game designer.
“A lesson I learned early was not to sweat the legal protection of my games.”
John and I discuss the costs of getting legal protections for games that don’t exist yet. It is expensive and often locks you into a design that may not be close to the end result of a game. The two of us go into detail about many of the reasons for easing up on legal protections until late into the design process.
“The problem with Downfall, and it’s a problem that I was too much of a novice designer to identify as a big a problem, is that it’s a really beginner unfriendly game.”
Any game designer will see the faults in their early games. Like any skill or art, as you continue to improve, mistakes (even in works considered great) will become evident. Here, John describes what he considers a mistake in a game called, Downfall. We discuss tools for mitigating the unfun aspects of complex games.
“If your game has an element of bureaucracy that you need to do in order to track something or update things. If you can add a subtle way that the thing actually matters, people will remember to do it, and it won’t feel like work anymore.”
The most important metric of good game design is player experience. We spend a good amount of time discussing ways to make unfun parts of games both memorable and fun so that your players have an awesome experience. We continue, eventually talking about an entirely new genre of games John has innovated where you create your own cards, a genre called “card crafting games.” In this section, we discuss the concept of Kinetic Design and how making the most of components can be an incredible way to design great games and even develop new types of games altogether.