Killing Your Darlings in Game Design

If you’ve ever engaged in writing, design, filming, and really ANY creative endeavor – you have probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings.” In short, to kill your darlings is to destroy something that you spent hours lovingly crafting. It might be words on a page. It might be hours of footage. It might be a series of carefully sanded pieces of beechwood. Whatever the creation, it is HARD to get rid of any aspect you spent so much time designing. But… you have to. If it is not a good fit, it’s not a good fit.

I had that feeling recently. Something about Gamestormers, our game about MAKING a game to WIN the game, felt off. Playing the game seemed to take longer than it should. Playtesters were getting confused by the rules and choices they had. I had put so much effort into each mechanic, but they weren’t working. Something had to change.

Old and new cards from the most recent update of Gamestormers.

After a play-through with some good friends who were in town, it dawned on me: I had to completely eliminate the credit/currency system. Sure, buying cards and paying for actions was an interesting mechanic, but I had a few realizations. First, the currency made it HARDER to create a neat game. Second, the currency made the game MORE confusing overall. Third, the currency was yet ANOTHER aspect to learn. Although it was painful, the money had to go.

So I made the call and rewrote about half the cards and their abilities. Any reference to the credit and currency system? Gone. It took a long time. I killed A LOT of darlings. But I knew it would make the game better.

A Gamestormers playtest in action.

Fast forward to this past Monday night. Some friends of mine in the education field had agreed to playtest the game live on my weekly Gamestorming stream. I uploaded the new cards to Tabletopia, invited my friends to the table, and gave it a go. And… it worked! I mean, I felt it worked a bit better than the previous version, heh.

Completely changing my game was a risk. It certainly erased HOURS of creation I had done previously. It was hard. But it was the right thing to do.

Kill your darlings. You’ll thank yourself later.

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