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Designing Games for 119694_avalanche Press
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
President, 119694_avalanche Press
June 2008

I have a friend who says I'm a rock star, because I'm a famous game designer. Now that would be really cool were it only true. I do get fan mail, and that's always a pleasure (send more!). And there have been a handful of breast-autographing semi-rock-star moments, but all of them were related to computer or role-playing games I worked on.

When pitching a game design to a publisher, there are a handful of common errors to avoid. Too many designers and authors look at what we already publish and suggest something very much like it. We already know how to make things like that. Give us something we don't have.

People have become very wealthy designing games. I know this; I've met both of them. There is not a lot of money at stake and if you're designing games for the pay, you'd do better to shift to something else.

We have lots of ideas; we're looking for fully-formed concepts. And we need a clear expression of that concept; you'll need to tell us everything we want to know about your game, right up front.

Game design is very satisfying work, but it's not particularly easy. These are complicated pieces of machinery and the more "simple" a game, the more difficult it is to design well. We always want to see a broad selection in our game offerings, and here's a look at what it takes to become a sort-of rock star.

Game Design Submission Guidelines

Step One: Send a Summary
We can often determine our level of interest in a game design just by reading a brief summary, so that is what we’d like to see first. Each game design summary should include the following:

  • List of components
  • Number of players
  • Age level
  • Difficulty level
  • Description of play
  • What makes this game special

Difficulty level is subjective, but rather than saying “3 out of 5,” it’s more helpful to gauge a game’s complexity relative to a well-known game that uses the same scale or deals with the same subject. So for example, if you’re designing a game about world conquest, it’s more helpful to say the game is “easier than Risk” or “more complex than Third Reich.”

Description of play is the section where we’ll need the most information. Playability is our mantra here at 119694_avalanche Press, and we’re going to want a clear description of exactly what players have to do each turn, and the order in which they must do them. This will help us gauge whether your design’s game mechanics are in line with what we would consider an acceptable level of detail. Note that we don’t have any problem with a game being highly detailed, but each level of increase in detail or complexity must come with a commensurate increase in how much enjoyment the game produces. So if a rule requires players to spend lots of time consulting rules and charts and doing math rather than rolling dice, moving pieces and having fun, we’d suggest you tone it down.

As for what makes a game special, that’s also subjective but it has a big effect on a game’s sales prospects. We’re not going to be interested in a game that’s “just like Dungeons and Dragons, only better” because D&D already has plenty of loyal fans who aren’t going to buy a game that’s just like it, even if it is better (and we get that pitch about twice per week). We’re most interested in game designs that will create buzz by exploring conflicts that have seldom been explored before or that break ground for what could become a brand new series of games.

If you have a game design idea and are able to write up a summary per the guidelines above, please send it to us here. We will review it, discuss it and send you feedback and/or questions.

Step Two: On Approval, Send a Prototype
If your summary proposal generates interest here at 119694_avalanche Press, we will ask you to send a prototype of your game design. What we need is as follows:

  • Rulebook
  • Playing pieces
  • Game board
  • Scenarios
  • Charts and tables (if any)
  • Any other game components

We need you to send actual playing pieces. Do not just send a list — if you want to convince us, you need to make it as easy as possible for us to evaluate your work. That means doing any cut-and-paste assembly for us. The game board must be an actual map we can unfold and start playing on, not just a description of what it’s supposed to look like. The rulebook, scenarios, charts and tables must be complete enough that we can start playing the game right away.

Step Three: Final Approval and Development
If after reading and playing the prototype of your game we decide that we want to publish it, you’ll receive an offer of publication. Upon your acceptance we will put your game into development, a process that can take a while: and be aware that your game will change during development. So, it will be quite some time before your game sees publication. But in the meantime we will ask you to help create some buzz (and preorders) for your game by writing Daily Content articles which we will post on our website after we announce the game. Such articles should give customers a preview of what the game is about, delve into the history behind the game situation, give some detail on how the game plays and perhaps go into why you decided to design it.

If you have any questions about submitting game designs which this guide doesn’t answer, please contact us. And have a soft felt-tipped pen ready for those autographs.