Borrowing from the idea of the Pluspora Check-in get some tabletop conversation going. If you have any questions that you want to get on the list to be asked, let me know. Also, if you'd like to be added or taken off the list of participants, let me know.
If you were going to teach a class on game design, what topics would you emphasize to your students?
I think that playtesting is a section of game design that is in many cases and after thought (or not thought of) that has ruined more than one game. How to playtest and how to use the results of those playtests is a soft skill that can be hard to master.
Interactivity is what I'd focus on. Games are interactive by default, and require a bit of uncertainty to keep the players on their toes. The choices the players make need to be meaningful choices. If your game is just a speedrun between the start and the finish without meaningful choices then at best it's a puzzle.
Spit shine and polish don't matter. You have a mechanic start using it, playtest it, get it to the table. You have two mechanics, play with them see how they interact. Things aren't going to work right away and the sooner you figure out what doesn't work the sooner you can start work on something that does.
Far too many designers "finish" a game before even figuring out if it works. You need to find the problems as you design, as quickly as possible so you don't waste far too much time working on things that are never going to work.
* The mechanics _are_ the game. The constraints they give, and how the encourage, inspire and guide the players, are the most important thing. * Practical knowledge of probability and how to calculate different chances in different scenarios (plus learn how to use tools like AnyDice). * Story structure, narrative, that kind of thing. * Psychology, how certain things encourage or inhibit certain behaviours. * Study of concrete mechanics of different games, a la Game Maker's Toolkit.
@Chuck Dee (I know it's a very minor thing, but would it be possible to tag the people at the bottom of the post rather than at the top? this way the question and answer are the first thing shown, the list of names is less interesting to me personally ;) )
In my completely novice opinion, I would say you need to first decide on your audience. There are a variety of games and gamers out there. You want to find your target audience and design a game for that audience. You need to know what that group of people like or want and make something that would make your target audience excited. It's OK if others hate your game. You want to find some people that love it and make the game for them.
You mention play testing in your OP. I would say that play testing falls under the development part of the process. That is where you see how your game is likely to work for real. Development is where you solicit feedback and identify where you need to work on. This is where you would hopefully make more minor tweaks rather than major changes to the overall game.
Always set down a series of goals/vision as to what you want the system to do at the start, and work your design based on that. Audience is a concern only if you are on the marketing side of gaming, design to fit your ideals not what will in some way grab elements of what is already out there and draw them to what you are doing.
If all you are doing is making the 4000th variant of D&D but with element X added or elements Z & Q removed then you're wasting your time. Same with board games... no one really wants/needs UNO with different cards or Monopoly but with star systems instead of real estate locations of the 1920s.
@Chuck Dee I'm not a designer myself but I'd say the things that I would stress are:
- Keep your game focussed: think what kind of experience/story you want the game to give the players, and choose mechanics that support that goal - keep it simple: I'm a fan of games with few mechanics that work well together, not much of games with hundreds of subsystems and interactions. But that could just be me - playtest, check what works, tune numbers and chance - "Perfect is the Enemy of Finished": you'll reach a point where playtest and tuning will have a diminishing return. That's the point where you should call your game finished, and put it out. If there are still things you want to test and add, you could keep those for a second edition of the game - play a lot of other games, and ask yourself what you liked and what not, what worked and what you would change to better fit those games to their goals. Experience is extremely valuable!
I also think that like others said, being aware of who you are making the game for is important: is it for you and your group? do you plan on selling/distributing it? A few concepts of marketing and self-promotion could be very useful to a designer that wants his game to be known.