Behind the business of fun
There have been several books published on board game design in recent years. Tinsman’s guide is less about designing games and more about selling them. He outlines different scenarios for accomplishing this, from working with big mass market game companies (think Hasbro/Parker Brothers), small specialty game companies, or self-publishing. He describes the various market niches and emphasizes the importance of finding the right one for your game idea. Since this is a business guide, Tinsman’s primary criteria for judging a good game is the amount of money it makes, so he has much to say about mass market games (the kind you find in Target, for example), but he also provides advice to those interested in more specialized hobby games and strategy games on how to pitch to the companies that publish in those markets. For the prospective game creator, Tinsman imparts much insider information on the do’s and don’t’s of approaching and courting games publishers. He does talk about what makes a good game, but he doesn’t delve too much into the mechanics of specific games. In fact, it seems he purposely avoids that topic because he thinks the best games come from completely new ideas as far removed as possible from previous and familiar games.
If I had discovered a how-to book like this when I was in college, I might have taken a game design career more seriously. As a middle-aged reader and moderate board game enthusiast, however, I just enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the industry. I work in book publishing, and the two industries are very similar. Much like authors, most game creators don’t make enough to give up their day jobs, but some do, and every once in a while someone strikes it rich with a runaway idea like Trivial Pursuit or Pokemon. It is really interesting to read the histories of how some of the best-known games were created—both the superstar success stories and the horror stories of company failures. There are also quite a few brief interviews with games creators like Reiner Knizia (Lost Cities, Lord of the Rings), Brian Hersch (Outburst, Taboo), and Alan Moon (Elfenland, Ticket to Ride). As a how-to guide, the book is quite comprehensive and practical, even including contact information for many games companies and sample contracts for game creators.
This is a business advice guide, so it’s not always electrifying reading, but Tinsman manages to keep it lively by liberally interspersing anecdotes, interviews, and games industry lore amongst the how-to material. Overall, The Game Inventor’s Guidebook is a brisk and informative read. The ebook is inexpensive enough that it is definitely worth a look for tabletop gaming fans, who are likely to enjoy Tinsman’s insider look at the industry.
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