Mike Elliott is a hot commodity in the game design world right now. He has designed the increasingly popular deck building game, Thunderstone, he has co-designed the recent Quarriors which is seeing a lot of buzz and he has recently released Star Trek: Fleet Captains (which is top of my Ultimate Wish List)
Here is Mike’s advice to aspiring game designers:
Sorry for the slow response. I have been very busy recently.
Most important advice.
Treat game design as a hobby when you are starting out. Very few designers are successful enough to make it a full time job, and board game design is not one of the most lucrative fields. Never spend your own money to promote or publish your game unless you can afford the possibility that you will not recoup that money. Prioritize your day job and most other things above game design even if you think you have the next million seller game.
Make sure you have other non-associated people evaluate your design work. Anyone working on the project and even friends are potentially biased. If you can, test it with a local gaming group that is not part of your circle. Watching groups play a game is generally more useful than any comments that the group will give you. You can gauge whether they are having fun, what the sticking points are, and many other things that they will not always be able to convey in the post mortem.
Building a reputation takes time. You typically cannot just start out as a game designer, even if your games are incredible. Working as a play tester, developer, or in any other capacity for a game publisher is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. Game companies that take submissions get hundreds a year, and unless you put in the legwork to attend conventions and network, you are unlikely to have your game reviewed without any prior published work or credits in the field.