Advice from Sebastien Pauchon

I have two games in my collection that were designed by Sebastien Pauchon, Jamaica and Yspahan – both very enjoyable games.  Jamaica (co-designed with Bruno Cathala and Malcolm Braff) is a great family game where you race pirate ships around islands picking up treasures along the way.  Yspahan is a great dice game – and if you know me you know I love a good dice game!  For more details about the games please click on their links.  Other games that were designed by Seb Pauchon and that I have yet to try but want to include: Jaipur and Metropolys.

What some people may not know about Sebastien is that he also publish games through his company, GameWorks, so when he gives advice for aspiring designers he is coming from two perspectives – designer and publisher (maybe three – game player!).

I want to thank Sebastien for taking time to read the other comments from the other designers.  He has added new information while also underlining some of the important points from earlier comments.  His advice is very inspiring, interesting and insightful.  I have edited some of the English but left the bulk of his email in his own language (English not being his native tongue).  Here is his advice:

Hello Clive,

Things have finally calmed down some, so I can now take some time for your request… sorry for the delay! If you think my English needs to be “anglicized”, please do! 🙂

What are the three most important pieces of advice…Hmm, most bases have been covered by the previous interviews, so the best I can probably do is second some ideas. Hope some of you will find it helpful in some way.

1) Be aware of what’s out there, play, play, play. Ok, there is a downside to that: you might find it hard to walk away from what you already know and break ground.  But, a big experience in playing might give you a good feeling for analysing your own designs. Isn’t it a bit too long for a party game? Isn’t there too much luck involved for that kind of strategic 5-hour monster? How did that designer break ties? How did that other one make a simple game tricky because of the winning conditions? How did this one invent such a variety of actions with only 3 cards? On and on it goes.

The more you can appreciate how well balanced, clever, funny, original (etc.) somebody else’s game is, the more that might inspire you and give you thinking material for improving your design. Also, bad games, or games that are supposedly broken, or ones you wouldn’t ever play again should give you a flavour of things to avoid, and defaults to recognise and fix in your own designs.

Don’t necessarily fall into group thinking and ignore “bad” games, play them instead!  And while you do, don’t kill them, dissect them!  Ok, it sucks, ok it’s bad, ok it is waaaay too long. But wait; isn’t the trading phase really clever? And why is that? 

If you can really name what you liked, what you didn’t and why, you might be in a position where you can also objectively judge your own games and act accordingly.

2) Tests

They are crucial. And as it has been said before, not just with your family and friends who might not know much about board games in general and who’ll easily think you’ve just invented the first original game after Monopoly, Chess, Risk and such. Their opinion is often biased and therefore (unfortunately) almost worthless. Tests can be conducted with your friends and folks, of course, but you must know how to put the results into perspective and you absolutely must then move on to more experienced players. I’m not saying those players have to be hardcore gamers.  They just have to be (very, if possible) familiar with the type of games you’re having them test, be it a party game, a word game or a heavy strategic one.

Stay open to criticism, but there also, you need to put things into perspective. When testing, all of a sudden every player seems to be a designer, so you need to sort good advice from just blah blah. If you hear “I’m bored”, well, the player who said that can’t be wrong, it’s his personal feeling. If you hear it often, an alarm bell should start ringing somewhere. If you hear “that extreme strategy goes against the game play, but assures probably a 80% win”, that certainly has to be examined if it turns out to be right. But if a player says, “you should abandon blind bidding with dice, it’s stupid”, well, you should know better, because it’s your idea and you have a hunch that it’s original, fresh and you want to make it work. Just nod and let the test go on.

As Wolfgang says, when your game is good, make it better. Always try to cut out what isn’t necessary. Reiner speaks of redundancy, and that’s the exact word for it. Let’s say you have 7 choices and intertwined mechanisms that seem to create a great deal of tension in the game. Ask yourself, which of these 7 items really do create that tension? Who knows, maybe it’s only 3 of them… In which case, cut the rest out if the essence of the game remains. That will give you a more fluid game, probably more enjoyable, too. It’s not always possible to do, but is more often than not. Streamlining a set of rules always pays off if the price to pay isn’t a loss of tension or interest, which goes without saying.

If you’re meeting with a publisher and you get a chance to play your game with them, or at least show it’s mechanics at length, you should be able to answer any question, because all leads should have been examined during the designing and testing process. If the question is “there seems to be a lot of cards for that action, wouldn’t it work with only half of them?” then your answer can’t be “Huh, yeah, maybe, would be faster that way wouldn’t it?”.

The answer should rather sound like “Actually no. I know it’s a lot of cards, but you see, if we remove half of them, then this or that card shows up too often, and they tend to do this and that, while with such a set-up this situation or that one happens only every so and so, etc. etc.”  The publisher then knows you’ve done your homework, and he knows he isn’t in front of a half-cooked newbie’s first idea.

Also, if you don’t have any games out yet, you should be remembered as a new designer with good solid prototypes, which might not work for the said publisher at that given moment, but whose next prototype he might be willing to examine, knowing it will probably also be sound. Given the huge amount of protoypes that are sent and seen each year, you don’t want to be on the list of designers not worth spending time for because of their laziness or carelessness… 

3) A nice prototype

I know not everybody agrees on that, but I’m truly convinced a prototype should be if not good looking, at least perfectly readable. Of course it is ultimately the publisher’s job to make a game beautiful, and of course you’d better have an ugly great game than a beautiful stinker of a game, but still, make it at least readable.

The less one has to “decipher” the map or cards or any components in general, the more one is prone to be engrossed in the actual playing of your game and therefore has a chance to enjoy the process. Would you send a publisher a book in a hard-to-read font that goes on for pages and pages, like the exaggerated example attached here: 

Well, you could, but your story better be really, really good, because imagine the pain of reading it… Imagine what mood that puts you in, and how much you curse the writer instead of enjoying his words…

Well, some games, and the more complex they are, the more their ergonomy should have been worked on, just need to have crystal clear components to be played effortlessly, thus maximising the chances of the players actually having pleasure with them.

Again, it doesn’t have to be a piece of art, don’t spend 2 months on drawing the board, but be kind to your “readers” and present something nice. Also, while doing that thinking, you’ll be in a publisher’s shoes for a while, and that is also an interesting experience in itself.


About Clive

Just an average guy who loves board games, movies, musics, books, comic books, video games and anything else fun.
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4 Responses to Advice from Sebastien Pauchon

  1. David Short says:

    Definitely some of the best advice yet. Thanks for going into such great detail Seb. Awesome!

  2. Gus says:

    Awesome, thanx.

    I asked my friend Sébastien (I live 60 miles away from him) to translate his / your interview in French and post it on my site, and he agreed. if it’s alright with you too. I’ll link your site of course!

  3. Clive says:

    Hi Gus
    Please feel free to translate Sebastien’s comments onto your blog. I left a comment on your blog with the same comment.

  4. Pingback: Conseils sur la création de jeux, par Sébastien Pauchon « Gus and Co

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