About Great Northern Games

My name is Jay Meyer. I live in Minneapolis, MN. I have several creative interests which include creating games and writing/recording music (guitar player – huge Rush fan!). I am an engineer by education and I’ve been working in the high tech industry for the last 25 years.

I’ve always enjoyed the interaction of people around a game and I’ve always been attracted to the nuances of math, probability and the interaction of variables in a system. My first game design was a haunted house version of Candyland when I was in grade school. When I was 13, I made a 3 dimensional chess game after watching Star Trek for the 1,000 time. I was the kid on our block that was always in charge of what everyone was going to play that day. My parents always wondered why every kid in our neighborhood hung out at our house.

About two weeks before I left home for college, I met two guys from my hometown who were also going to the same college. They invited me over and introduced me to this “new game” called D&D. I was blown away (kind of a life changing moment when I look back). Since then, I have designed 30+ games and have been running a Thursday night game test group with my closest friends for the last 15 years. After about a decade of encouragement (and a significant life event) I finally decided to publish one of my games – Noble Treachery.

I have a list of 17 game design principles that guide me when developing non-cooperative table top games. These are not “absolute laws”, they are just some questions that I ask myself when I am designing a non-coop table top game. They are kind of fun and usually get some kind of reaction when people read them : ).

17 Game Design Principles (Non-cooperative table top games)

  1. Strategy and Chaos Balance – Good players should have a better chance of winning but there must be elements outside of their control. My preferred mix: Strategy ~70% / Randomness ~30%.
  2. No “Killer Strategy” – There must be multiple strategies to victory. Every strategy must have a counter strategy. If you can design multiple strategies that have a rock, paper, scissors relationship to each other, that’s great.
  3. Risk and Reward – The player must be forced to make multiple risk and reward choices. Games at their core I believe are about risk and reward choices.
  4. Kingmaking – Eliminate “Kingmaking” mechanisms where possible. Kingmaking tends to occur when players lose hope. Avoid mechanisms that allow a hopeless player to throw the game.
  5. Game Plays Differently Each Time – The “best” strategy should change from game to game. Make the game so it never plays the same twice. Games that make you want to play them over and over are the games that make you think, “Next time I will do this instead of that”. But then when you play it again, the game keeps shifting on you.
  6. Design for Expansion – Design the game for expansion. Expansion adds new life to the game (Dah!)
  7. Don’t Play Against the Board –  Do not design a game where you play against the board. Players should be in direct conflict with each other continuously and able to affect each other. This is critically important.
  8. Fast Turns – Turns need to be fast. If they are not fast, the ramifications of each must affect everyone else. You need to keep everyone engaged on everyone else’s turn as much as possible. This may include giving possible benefits to all players on each turn (keeps them focused). If turns are not fast, players should have a lot to think about strategy wise in-between their turns.
  9. Mystery and Hidden Information – There should be mystery and hidden information about who is ahead or what a particular player’s power level is. About 30% to 40% of the game information should be hidden. This enhances risk vs. reward decisions. If too much information is hidden, players cannot make informed strategy decisions.
  10. Hope – Player’s need to have some hope (no matter how small) that they may win the game all the way up to the last second. Delay the victory as far to the end as is possible. Create a hail mary mechanic if possible.
  11. Create AHA! Mechanics – Create situations where a surprise AHA! moment can happen and the game can turn over on its edge. Exciting switches that players don’t see coming. Again, do this with the 70/30 strategy/chaos principle.
  12. Strong Target the Strong –  Create mechanisms that encourage strong players to mess with other strong players. Eliminate all mechanisms that encourage stronger players to target weaker players. Mechanisms that incentivize picking on weaker players and leaving the stronger players alone is very bad for game play. Reward a player disproportionately for disrupting a strong player.
  13. There is no 13th Principle
  14. Struggle and Scarcity – All players should struggle and always be hungry. Whatever the resource of the game is, the player should not have enough of it to do what he or she wants. Good games have some stress. Too much stress creates player tension and can lead to a bad result.
  15. Fluid Scoring – The scoring should be fluid enough for a player to come from behind within the last 25% of the game time. If it takes 75% of the game time to amass a score to win, by 25% into the game, it has been established who does NOT have a chance to win. Design mechanisms so that 75% of the players are within 20% of final score to win. Close games create good tension and create engagement. If this cannot be achieved, at a minimum leave enough hidden information in the final score to mask who is exactly in the lead.
  16. Reward the Aggressor – Design mechanisms that reward the players that do things, create conflict with other players, attack. Avoid mechanisms that reward stagnant play or reward players that just sit and build, and build while they wait for other players to do something.
  17. Multiple Games – If you cannot keep scoring close and hope alive, design a game that can be played multiple times per night or per gaming session. This allows players to try again. If you lose in an hour long game no big deal. Nothing is worse than a 4 hour game where 1/3 of the players are out of contention or out of the game by the 2 hour mark.

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