Have you ever made your own game?

I know we have some professionals here that have published their own games for commercial sale, but I’m interested in seeing everyone’s amateur efforts. None of that polished, playtested, pro stuff. I want to see your first fumbling efforts at gamemastery.

Inspired by @BiggerBoat’s blog post:

I’ve been making games nearly as long as I’ve been playing them. When I was around 10, I created a “Battle of the Five Armies” wargame. It was the 70s, and I was enamored with The Hobbit. I remember me and my dad hunkered down on the living room floor, moving little paper chits. It was most definitely not a good game, but it’s one of the few things I can vividly recall from that stage of my life.

Coincidentally, I too created my own game when I was ten!

Here is my well-loved 1981 copy of Dungeon! from TSR:

Inside the box, you’ll find almost nothing left unsullied by my hand. Instead, you’ll find the cannibalized and vandalized board turned into my own kid mind’s interpretation of the town of Arkham, here called “Rose Town” because I wanted a thematic name to go with the idea of a plague and I had just learned that the nursery rhyme song Ring Around the Rosie was about the Black Death. (Ooooh! Wasn’t I just a nerd?) Behold, my creation! PLAGUE!

A barely readable staple-bound set of rules:

Incomprehensible charts!

A bajillion loose hand-made zombie pieces, relics/treasure cards stolen from Dungeon!, and some player tokens from various other games. I think you can see the inspiration of chit text from Avalon Hill type games.

The mechanics, (which admittedly make little sense to me now) are that players start on one side of the town, try to move through the buildings, recover hidden Lovecraftian artifacts, then skedaddle back to an extraction point (a waiting bus or lorry?) with their illicit treasure. During this, a timer based on the number of moves players have made counts down and when it reaches zero, a shambling hoard of zombies starts sweeping from a random edge of town to the other, hopefully beginning right around the time the second or third player reaches their intended relic. Players can try to cure infected townsfolk along the way (which somehow adds to your point total) but going too slowly risks being overwhelmed by the shamblers.

Players take turns moving the zombie pieces. On your turn it behooves you to push them towards the other player. Alternately, a third player can just be in charge of the zombies each round. Obviously, this mechanic really only worked with the third player taking charge. When players alternated movement, the zombies just waffled about and never made progress towards one person or the other.

I remember my friends being very impressed with this freshman game creation and we had fun for a few long summer days in San Diego moving bits around and rolling dice as the imagined zombie hoard swarmed across my cardboard Arkham. Even though the rules were intended for 2 players, we always wound up with 4 or 5 people crowded around moving investigators and zombies around. I don’t even remember if we actually ever finished a game.

Anyway, I expect some of you fellow nerds have your own stories of juvenile attempts at game creation. Give me the tales and pics if you’ve got them!

Requesting a Qt3 YouTube gameplay video stream of Plague, please!

As someone who played Dungeon at age 12, all I can say right now is that this is awesome!

I designed a pirate skeleton game based on territory control using modified (very simple) Go principles. The design included a rising tide that made the island progressively smaller.

You know those videos where people just gawk at the rules and spend forever setting up the board, only to give up a couple of hours into it? That’s what you’d get. A lot of head-scratching and groaning.

Seriously, I tried to read through the rules yesterday and I was thoroughly confused. What was kid Nick thinking?

Pfft. The coherent rules are part of the 2nd edition, which you should start on posthaste.

Oh! I like the sound of this system. When did you make this?

Look at that rulesbook! I want it! You’re even doing some kind of infection mechanic. /swoon

I’ll say! Nicely done, Nick!

Oh, wait, “juvenile”? Uh, can we maybe extend the window into late adulthood? :)

I don’t have anything “for serious” I’ve been working on, at least not worth showing, but while I’ve been under the weather over the last few years, I’ve found myself banging on games that I really like, but that I feel need something more, or at least something very different. My main project was making a different campaign shell for a venerable solitaire boardgame called Hornet Leader, about sending carrier squadrons on missions. I love that game, and there are a few different iterations of it, where the publisher tries different kinds of campaign structures, but they’re always so loosey-goosey and poorly tested.

So I started making my own campaign shell, which became sort of its own game, and when I couldn’t think of a name, I just slapped the generic words “air war command” on the folder. And then shortly thereafter I found a game that already did what I was – more or less – trying to do* and it all got dumped into its folder for another day. I had even been using matchsticks and playing cards to prototype it!

The other thing I’d been working on what a game based on Lovecraft’s Whisperer in the Darkness. Here is where I keep all my hard work, and I’m just now noticing I can’t even be arsed to get the title correct:

* Skies Above Britain, by Jeremy White and Gina Willis

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It was a little over 20 years ago. There was also a little ship that traveled around the outside of the island. I’m trying to recall the objective, but iirc, it involved extracting to the ship at the end.

Oh my god. I remember this!

This thread is awesome.

“Whisper in the Darkness” could be a really modern game about illicit love affairs.

Oh yeah, I totally made a bunch of little games. Waaaaaay back when I was a kid in the 80s, I was totally absorbed with text adventure games, like the kind Scott Adams and Infocom made. And I figured, in that kid kind of way, that I could totally make my own games, how hard could it be? Well, the short answer as with most things, is that the trick is in making something well, which I couldn’t really say I ever did. But I did have my own iterative process and made slightly better games (for my captive audience of me, at least) that were slightly improved over time. Simple things, obviously, with just the most basic parser commands and fairly rudimentary stories. But it was a fun process. Funny thing is, I did all this on a TI-99/4A that my grandmother had gotten me for Christmas just as Texas Instruments was getting out of the home PC business and I had no storage media, so when I powered down those games were lost to the ether.

Right? But sometimes the real key is this:

My friends thought the were coming over to play something good. Nope! Surprise! You guys are playing whatever nonsense D&D campaign I’ve cobbled together or this board game abomination.


The earliest game I remember making–there were probably some earlier attempts I’ve forgotten–was a game where I gave my Castle Lego minifigures simple stats and made them fight.

In middle school, for career day, I researched being a tabletop game designer. I wrote to the one game designer I knew by name, Steve Jackson (the US one) to ask about the job. I also sent him a game I made: a simple hex-based asymmetrical wargamein which many fast-moving cat-people battled a few strong lumbering elephant-people. He essentially said, “That doesn’t look like it would be a lot of fun.” And he was right!

Around 2004 or 2005, I came up with a board game about building a medieval cathedral. It was a worker placement game before that was a genre. (I remember reading about Caylus prior to its European release and worrying that it was going to be my game but with a castle… Of course it totally wasn’t.) It combines worker placement with action selection basically stolen from Puerto Rico (a big game at the time). What’s kind of unique about it is that instead of placing a few workers one at a time, you divide ten workers up to different stations around the board. And you can train workers to be experts, which work twice as efficiently but have to stay at a board location for the rest of the game.

Here’s what my game prototype looks like:

And a peek at the rules, because I know it makes Tom all hot and bothered.

Out of the blue a few years back I also had an idea for how to model volleyball in game mechanics. You have two players on each side, so I guess it’s beach volleyball? A pretty light two-player game. Right now it just uses a board, playing cards, and some coins:

And I have started on a few video game prototypes. Only one has (slowly) gotten very far, and I’ve shared it here before. As always, if anyone wants to give it a try, I can send you an itch.io key!

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Steve Jackson sending me a thumbs down on a game I made would still be a point of pride. That’s so awesome!

Oh man yeah, I hope you kept that Steve Jackson letter, @Nightgaunt, that’s pretty cool.

Create that in Tabletop simulator!

Pretty sure I kept all that old stuff, so maybe I can dig it out and get some pics.

Man, I love your photos of all this. I don’t have photo evidence, but I remember working hard on a “Pacific Fleet” game. You had carriers, fighters and bombers. Carriers beat fighters, fighters beat bombers, bombers beat carriers. They all had different movement rules and the aircraft had different fuel rules that were impossible to keep track of. Players started on opposite sides with an initial setup round, and then nervously prodded and feinted until 20-30 pieces would die in a big rock-paper-scissors attrition.

The board was a grid with lots of blue and green to make oceans and islands. If any of this sounds familiar, yes, I totally ripped off Mother of All Battles.


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