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“The rules are there to help you get the most out of your time”

A quick interview with the nice folks of Pizza Games in Milan: I would definitely double down on the idea that the purpose of game rules is to help us get the most out of our time. All the other stuff — having fun, getting on the same page, being clearly written — comes back […]

Ben Robbins | July 18th, 2022 | , , , , | 2 comments

All the Stuff You Never See

“Show us all the stuff you haven’t posted and the games you abandoned!!!” I write a lot of stuff that no one else is ever intended to read. Thoughts, theory, reflections, problem solving. Lots and lots of stuff. But it’s just for me, to help me figure things out. If you did read it, it […]

Ben Robbins | July 4th, 2022 | | 1 comment

The Designer Ouroboros

When you’re stumped on a project, what do you do? You can bang your head against a wall — and I usually do, for quite a while, because sometimes that does get results — or you can pivot to another project to clear your head. And when you get stumped on that project, what do […]

Ben Robbins | February 14th, 2022 | , | 1 comment

Nail Your Setup

One of my game design theories is that if you nail the setup, the rest of the game flows even if there aren’t a lot of constraints telling you what to do. Conversely, if your setup is wobbly, you can have all the structure in the world and it won’t save the game. You’ll be […]

Ben Robbins | January 18th, 2021 | ,

Names Are Hard

Ever have a hard time coming up with a name for a great game because nothing captures the magic, stew about it for ages, then come up with a totally different idea for a game, think of a great name for that new game, then realize that name would be even better for the first […]

Ben Robbins | August 10th, 2019 | | 2 comments

Diminishing Returns of Random Fiction

We sit down to play a game that’s designed to introduce random elements of fiction. A couple rolls on a table and we have a smuggling ring, ghosts of the old war, and a questionable inheritance. Great! That’s all good stuff to get our game going. We can work with it. Now imagine we’re coming […]

Ben Robbins | July 15th, 2017 | | 2 comments

Forget It’s a Playtest

The worst thing that can happen during a playtest is that you play it like a playtest. Weird, right? The text below is the exact advice I give my playtesters. It was in the Chronicle playtest, the Echo playtest and it will no doubt be right there in the Follow playtest when it goes out. […]

Ben Robbins | May 2nd, 2016 | | 2 comments

Guilt Con 2015

“Let’s work on our games! Use the devastating weight of procrastination shame to jam it up!”–the Mighty CHOBBS Peer pressure makes good company. So this weekend, Marc, Caroline and I set the grindstone speed to “dangerously high” and leaned way, way in. We ignored the pretty-pretty sunshine, the chirpy-chirpy birds, and did the dreadful labor […]

Ben Robbins | May 14th, 2015 | , , , ,

Rewriting Your Game From Memory

@lamemage gives hard advice. Rewriting Downfall from memory suuuuucks.   There’s a thing I do when I design games — this is real secret squirrel, behind-the-curtain stuff — which is that after I’ve written a draft or two and playtested a bit, I take everything I’ve written and just put it away. Make a new […]

Ben Robbins | May 6th, 2014 | , , , | 5 comments

Pride Goeth

If I made a war game I would definitely give armies a stat for Pride. Pride isn’t the same as morale. Pride is a blessing and a curse. Winning increases your Pride and Pride lets you do bold things but it also limits your options. Pride won’t let you back down. Pride won’t let you […]

Ben Robbins | January 22nd, 2013 | | 2 comments

Musashi: Suppressing Useful Actions

The important thing in strategy is to suppress the enemy’s useful actions but allow his useless actions. — A Book of Five Rings (The Fire Book), Miyamoto Musashi The diametric opposite of role-playing game design. Informatively so. Game design acid test: if your rules block ideas the players want and you don’t have an excellent […]

Ben Robbins | September 5th, 2011 | | 5 comments

Game Plugin: the Blame Game

Human beings crave cause and effect. When something goes wrong, we try to understand what happened so the same thing doesn’t happen again. It’s a good survival tactic. Taken too far, it means we look for explanations for even the most random events. We don’t want to live in a universe where bad things happen […]

Ben Robbins | July 11th, 2009 | | 1 comment

Game Plugins: a Working Definition

Here at the lame mage skunk works we’re always coming up with new ideas. And drinking coffee. Sometimes both at once. Sometimes we come up with ideas that seem like they’d make great games, but making a whole game just to use one cool idea… well that seems like work. If there are already systems […]

Ben Robbins | June 12th, 2008 | | 10 comments

Hornblower: Red-Green Vote

We have this little thing we do. One of us says “y’know, I’d really like a game for genre/movie/concept X” and then someone else says “hmm, well, I’ve never even considered making a game for this idea, but how about this brand new idea I just thought of entirely off the top of my head […]

Ben Robbins | March 4th, 2008 | | 7 comments

My Indie Realization

I wrote the first draft of my first indie game (codename: hicks) on the plane back from GenCon 07. It was the perfect recipe for writing: post-con euphoria, extreme exhaustion, lots of caffeine, and complete captivity in an airplane seat. It helped that my partners in con-crime quite sensibly passed out so I was on […]

Ben Robbins | February 8th, 2008 | , | 2 comments