This article is the first in a two part series where I explore the development and design of a micro game. I am currently creating Micro Dojo, a micro game which I will self-publish on Kickstarter, and I want to share some of what I’ve learned with you. First I’ll tell you why developing a micro game is a great idea. Then in the next article I’ll tell you why creating a micro game is really difficult and all of the challenges. You didn’t think it would be that simple did you?
What is a Micro Game?
A micro game is small, usually in both the number of components and the size of those components. There are small card games like Love Letter; mint tin games like Mint Works; board games like Province; dice games like Zombie Dice. They are often quick (sometimes known as filler games), and often cheap (due to limited components), but their small size need not present a lack of complexity or variability. So what makes it such a good idea to create one?
Why create a Micro Game?
Restrictions Breed Creativity. It seems counter-intuitive that we would want to have restrictions, yet having to solve a unique problem forces us to come up with unique solutions that we might not have otherwise. Printing lots of resource tokens of different types and denominations is fine for a heavyweight euro game , but what about a micro game where printing space is at a premium? A sliding track for counting resources might not only save space, but lead to a smoother player experience than using piles and piles of fiddly tokens.
Lower Risk. Micro games not only cost less to manufacture (due to their small size and limited components) but also require less artwork and have lower shipping costs than larger or more complex games. For first time designers this is a great way to build credibility, as well as minimise potential problems, without a huge investment of time and money that a big box game can bring.
Showcase Unique Mechanics. A micro game arguably has less room to impart a theme than larger games, but the mechanics can be a much stronger hook. A micro game can lean more heavily on a single novel mechanic where a larger game can dilute it. Refining these mechanics to perfection can be easier in a more limited context, where they can then be implanted in future designs.
End to End Experience. Designing a Micro Game requires you to have some knowledge of the entire process of bringing a game to life. Not only game design but manufacturing, logistics, distribution, financing and more. Knowing these limitations makes you a more effective designer even if you don’t self-publish. There is a reason a lot of micro card games are balanced around 18 cards instead of 19 (hint: 18 cards fit in a single sheet print run) or why micro games have lightweight components (who wants to pay $10 shipping for an $8 game).
Drives Quality. Micro games have to be very tightly designed, where every component matters. This can lead to only the best parts of the game being in place, and ultimately a more polished product. You may have a concern that a micro game doesn’t have enough content and variability, but can then fall into a psychological trap. Consumers will actually perceive a high quality basic product as more valuable overall than that same high quality basic product with additional poor quality content.
How does this apply to Micro Dojo?
Restrictions Breed Creativity. Minimising components whilst still having variability in play experiences (and ultimately longevity) was a key goal for Micro Dojo. One of the best ways to do this was to utilise table space! The board and pieces needed to be small enough to fit in a pocket, but arranging the objectives and buildings on the table around the edge of the board means the game can display more information whilst in use and stops it getting cramped.
Lower Risk. Micro Dojo was created as an investment. Firstly as an investment in myself – to see if I had what it takes to be a successful game designer, but also to see if after this adventure did I still really want to be a game designer. Secondly, Micro Dojo was an investment in Prometheus Game Labs’ place in the community – demonstrating the ability to deliver a high quality experience (not just a product) will build fans and build trust for future games. Starting small not only makes it easier to succeed by enabling a smaller funding goal, it also means any mistakes and errors (of which there will some) are minimised and less likely to be catastrophic for me or the project.
Showcase Unique Mechanics. Micro Dojo came with its mechanics in place first, and at it’s core is a game of tactical movement – taking opportunities for yourself whilst blocking your opponent. Though the objective of the game is to gain resources, grow in power, and score points, this is really vehicle to allow the player to experience the unique part of the game which is that branching decision making process.
End to End Experience. Micro Dojo has been designed to fit entirely onto a single token punchboard. This means low production costs, only a single production item (and manufacturer) to worry about, and less chance for lost components and mispacks. That token punchboard will fit perfectly into a C5 sized envelope, which is the largest envelope that can be shipped and still classify as a ‘Letter’ for shipping from the UK (lowering shipping costs). The rulebook will print on a standard A4 sized page, which means the rules can wrap around the punchboard as a cover, as well as a reference. All of these things have a very real impact on space and costs, and where both those things are in short supply I have found myself getting excited over every mm and every penny saved. due to the better design.
Drives Quality. Initially I had wanted to pack as much content as possible into Micro Dojo. I wanted it to present supreme value for money as a way of driving buyers, but also to ensure that there was enough replayability that the game wasn’t easily ‘solved’. Even before I considered making tokens double sided (twice the content!) the first iteration had 48 billion setup combinations. To put that in perspective if each one was a grain of rice, it would weigh the same as 5 jumbo jets. Some of the more quirky buildings and objectives became part of the advanced game mode, since I thought why not add as much as possible to the game. The more I tested the more I found that people really enjoyed playing the basic game and my worries about the game becoming boring or ‘solved’ were unfounded. Cutting components really let me pick out the best parts of the game.
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6 replies on “Why Create a Micro Game (Part 1)”
Love this. This is giving me a lot of structure to think about with my current project. It’s not a microgame by any stretch but there was definitely a time when there were, like, minis and magnets and a game board, and fundamentally it can all be done with cards, tokens, and a tiny mat. It’s a really fun exercise paring things back. Looking forward to seeing more about this game!
Hi Trevor, that’s great! Would love to hear more about your current project.
Now that you’ve gone through this process with your own design it’s really interesting to see other published games and think ‘could this have been done differently?’.
Totally. I’m an avid writer so I’m used to over-analyzing things, but tabletop games have been free of that until I started on this journey.
I’m documenting my game design process at https://youtube.com/lovemakesharetv (although I’m a couple of steps behind the curve in publishing videos). It’s a deck builder with some extra special sauce, based on the kind of sci-fi starship combat you see in things like Star Trek and mechanically inspired by things like the old X-Wing and TIE Fighter PC games. I’m having a lot of fun with it.
Maybe this is a good warning for part two – making a game means you can’t look at other games the same way again 😄
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