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The Game Inventor's Guidebook by Brian TinsmanI got Brian Tinsman’s The Game Inventor’s Guidebook: How to Invent and Sell Board Games, Card Games, Role-Playing Games, & Everything in Between![amazon template=f_textamazon&asin=1600374476] thinking that it would be similar in scope and concept to Jessie Schell’s A book of Lenses[amazon template=f_textamazon&asin=0123694965] but from a business standpoint: something that would go through the different steps and hurdles of getting your game published and point out the things to look out for.

Not quite.

Tinsman’s book is aimed squarely at the mass market, the people who’ve invented a new game but haven’t been part of or even heard about the hobby gaming scene. The advice presented in The Game Inventor’s Guidebook is good, occasionally very good, but has probably already been assimilated by anyone with a serious interest in boardgames or board game design. Some example chapters:

  • Markets For Games (Mass Market, Hobby Games, American Specialty Games etc.)
  • Mass Market Games You Should Know About (Monopoly, Clue, Scrabble etc.)
  • Hobby Games You Should Know (MTG, D&D, Warhammer etc.)
  • Self Publishing: Before You Print (Do market research, hire an artist, look for financing etc.)

At The Game Inventor’s Guidebook is very much of an overview of a very broad field. The part on playtesting takes up all of four pages. Game design gets ten in total. Submission strategies: another four pages. Anatomy of a publisher – ten pages (actually quite worthwhile if you haven’t started submitting yet). Lots of ground covered, but shallowly.

That’s actually one of the Game Inventor’s Guidebook’s strong points: it’s shallowness makes it very fast to read. I got through it in two (partial) evenings. It’s easy to read too, not many technical terms or deep thoughts so the pages fly by. And it’s rather entertaining, although my interest diminishes quite fast since I’m covering areas I’m already familiar with. Thankfully the book jumps to another subject right when that happens.

The other strong point is the interviews. Tinsman has gotten comments from some the cream of the crop, like Reiner Knizia, Mike Gray (Director of Product design at Hasbro), Richard Tait and Whit Alexander of Cranium fame and Peggy Brown of Patch. He also has stories gleaned from his years in the industry, some of which are quite entertaining:

Executives at Games Workshop have also acknowledged that their typical consumer is fiercely loyal, but only for a few years. The model Warhammer player is a boy who tends to pick up the hobby around age 12 or so, until he drops it when he discovers cars and girls at about 15. With this in mind the company’s business model is engineered to get as much revenue out of him while they can.

Confirming what people in the business already know but fun to ready anyway.

One thing that The Game Inventor’s Guidebook does very well is point out, repeatedly, that publishing a game is no walk in the park. You will have to struggle, and struggle hard to get published. As for making it big – multiply that struggle a thousandfold and add a luck requirement. So expect realism, not happy thoughts.

If you’re an experienced designer then perhaps that is the best view you should take of The Game Inventor’s Guidebook: a fun romp through the game design and publishing industry. If you pick it up with that in mind you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a book with in-depth information that will help you succeed as a game designer, try Schell’s Book of Lenses or Keith Meyers’ Paid to Play.

But if you’ve just started out on your path to being a game designer then The Game Inventor’s Guidebook is a great place to get the 10 000 meter view.

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