How I Designed a Board Game: The Making of Rusty Industry.

Would you like to design your own game? Or are you just curious how a beginner game designer came out with a game that people enjoy? Working on Rusty Industry was very challenging and fun; it was so challenging and fun that I wanted to share my experience by writing this article.

Do you want to know a secret? I have no idea how other game designers work! Seriously. I am a big fan of research but for me, the creative process should be CREATIVE. That’s why some people may find this article absorbing. I had to learn everything by doing a lot of mistakes.

Rusty Industry is a 4th board game that I already designed. What are the other 3? Well, you will never hear about 2 of them because they suck. They suck so much that I didn’t want to develop them more and they haven’t been prototyped much. Also, I haven’t shown the prototypes to anyone. I didn’t want people to be hurt by a game which doesn’t make sense. Why I am telling you this? If you are a game designer, don’t become emotionally attached to your work. You will have loads of terrible ideas. Don’t be afraid of them! Just kick them out onto the street. Stop putting effort into something that simply won’t work.

What about the 3rd game though? I hope that I will share the concept with you someday. I will just tell you that it would be too expensive to make. We can’t afford the number of illustrations that we would need to pay for right now.

Okay, I will share some of the magic with you just now. I don’t really think of myself as a creator; I feel more like a tool. I will tell you why in a moment. When I found out how great modern board games can be, I started to watch Dice Tower (if you haven’t heard of it, check it out!) and other YouTube channels a lot. I knew that to become a great designer, I need to know what the gaming community needs. That’s why I immersed myself in information.

I was doing it as long as I felt so full of it that it started to overflow out of my head. I didn’t want it to run away though. I started to make notes. Loads of notes. I wrote down ideas about new mechanics, themes, components, the industry. This is the moment when Yodeling Ogre has appeared. Our mission is to serve the community with visions about making board gaming better. I think that your ideas and problems may be in one of my notebooks too. I didn’t copy anything though. Everything was digested with my brain which has some knowledge of graphic and game design, programming and user interface.

You may ask: Okay Damian! Why are you telling me about Yodeling Ogre? This article is supposed to be about designing the Rusty Industry! Well, I am one of the two Yodeling Ogre creators. Our brand consists of all of our beliefs and values. Designing a board game isn’t making all mechanics work together. It is more about how a game makes you feel. By a board game, I don’t only mean a box full of components, I mean how you’re feeling about a game before you have it into your hands, its rulebook, and the game itself. That’s why if you want to make a good board game you need to have a lot of things in mind. I am telling you this because it isn’t about the brand, it is about our foundations.

One time when I was watching one of Dice Tower videos I heard an opinion of Zee Garcia, one of the 3 hosts of the channel. You need to know that I respect him a lot and I love most of the games that he recommends. He said that there should be a game which gives players a similar experience as Catan gives. I loved Catan, but I’ve stopped playing it because of its randomness and I’ve reached everything out of its depth.

That was a moment of enlightenment for me. Trading with other players is so fun! The economy in a lot of games is so still that I am not sure whether they should be called economic board games at all! There surely are more people who used to play Catan a lot but they can’t find any games which give you a similar thrill.

What I am going to write next may be controversial. Are you ready? I am passionate about the economy! This isn’t something you are normally passionate about. Well, I always loved to work out how the market works and to learn about its history. I thought that by creating a board game with an economy model I can share my passion with a lot of people. If you produce stuff that other players need you can learn a lot about simple supply and demand!

But how do you make a board game where players can sell almost everything they produce? How do you make it work together, and above all, how do you make it an exciting experience? So exciting that you want to play it soon after you finish your first game?

Okay, now it’s time for the tool part. Once I’ve gathered all of the information, most of my work was organizing my thoughts and making sense out of my interpretation of board gaming current of thought. My mind was like a prism working the other way around. It was gathering lights of different colors and creating a laser beam out of it. The laser beam was Rusty Industry.

Rusty Industry wasn’t something that magically materialized in front of my eyes. At first, it was a bunch of noted down ideas and concepts. I didn’t start with a prototype – it came much later. I began with thinking about emotions I want people to feel during game-play. Then I listed all the goals of my design.

The most important thing in the Rusty Industry was a feeling of satisfaction connected with trading and production. I believe that every person is an entrepreneur at heart. That’s why Monopoly has become so popular. I wanted to give people a board game where they can test out their entrepreneurial skills.

I remembered how fast I became bored after playing most of the games multiple times. I wanted Rusty Industry to be different. I am a big fan of Race for the Galaxy. It is a very quick game with a lot of stuff going on at once. It has one downside though: it is difficult to teach. I thought: ‘Hey! I can make a board game which is simple to explain like Catan and has a lot of depth like Race for the Galaxy!’.

I had all of my goals listed. I started to write down mechanics ideas and draw graphs which show dependencies between various cards, resources, and actions. How many ideas did I use out of all of them? I would say less than 5%. I didn’t start with a prototype so I was able to spend more time solving problems instead of on making graphics and improving my scissor skills. Once the game looked playable, I decided to start play-testing it.

I am really glad that I used Tabletopia for playtesting Rusty Industry. It is a very simple tool which I can recommend to all game designers. We have a Facebook group intended for running the tests. I could be present during all games played. During a game, I was doing notes and writing down all the problems that players ran into. I was looking for analysis paralysis moments, weak strategies and unnecessary and over-complex mechanics. After each session, for about half an hour we discussed our feelings, problems and possible solutions to those problems.

I wanted to create many ways to victory to make the game more re-playable. I needed to make it as deep as I could with a minimal amount of rules. That’s why I spent most of my designing time on simplifying things. I was constantly adding new elements to the existing framework and testing them out. Between play-testing sessions, I was thinking about possible new improvements. The game evolved a lot during more than 125 hours of being tested. Some solutions were great, some needed to be fixed, and most of them were worthless.

My biggest challenge was balancing the in-game economy. Because of all the ways to victory, 8 different interlinking resources and hero powers, it was a difficult task. I would say that it took me at least 80 hours of play-testing and much more time of thinking about it to get it right. I had to come out with different algorithms, spreadsheets, and graphs. Every change I made meant new calculations to keep everything in good balance. There were at least 4 major changes which made me do the math all over again. I started seeing through the Matrix – there are so many poorly balanced games!

How about the fun? I focused on emotions and trading at the beginning of the design process, so this part came easily. I was able to keep people focused because turns are quick, there is plenty of interaction in trading and they feel mentally engaged because of the number of possible strategies. I got rid of everything which could disturb the flow of players’ attention. People enjoy Rusty Industry a lot and I am really happy to see them having fun.

I would love to tell you more about my struggles, problems, and solutions, but I have a very busy schedule because of our upcoming Kickstarter. I hope to write part 2 of this article where I can share more knowledge. Let me know if you like it and whether you are interested to learn more about the process of creating Rusty Industry.

I want to create interesting content which is useful for board game community, so if you like it, let me know! Share the article, contact me on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram or write a comment. That way, I know that I created something useful and I should do more of it!