People ask all time, "How do you make a board game?" Anyone in any creative field will find that question familiar. There's something hard-wired into our brains that makes us think there's some big secret about creating new things–some trick that creative people know and everyone else is ignorant of. Well it's not like that at all. Creativity is something everyone can participate in so long as you are willing to explore things unfamiliar to you. Usually when asked about my approach to creating games, the root question is which comes first: the artwork, the mechanics, or the theme? The answer, to the chagrin of all who want things to be simple, is "it depends."
Sometimes there's a piece of art that just catches my eye and makes me think of a mechanic or a problem and solution or a series of events. That can be enough of an idea to start development and can become something really great. That's how Life of a Chameleon was created. We saw a color wheel with all the primary and secondary colors and thought of a chameleon and how they can be nearly any color–and can change their colors. From there it became our task to create a game where your character can change throughout the course of it.
Other times a very specific theme becomes interesting. After visiting New York City a number of times we knew we had to create a game that conveyed the sheer insanity of driving through Midtown. We studied maps of the area and came to realize there's a very simple grid system the streets use and that there are many notable sites that people commonly visit distributed throughout the whole area. We decided a pick up and deliver mechanic would be ideal in that world and went to work. As you may have guessed, that's how Rideshare was born.
An interesting or novel game mechanic can spark all the ideas you need to complete a great game as well. One of my personal best children's games was sparked by a simple mechanic that even a four-year-old can understand. I was thinking about the classic game of Memory and how it's a little too difficult for toddlers. I reasoned that if they could just turn over one tile and a time and try to find a specific one that might be easier than remembering multiple things. I then laid out a grid of tiles face-down with only a few of them showing a reward. Rather than allowing the kids to just pick any tile I constrained them to using a pawn which can travel across adjacent tiles. They quickly picked up on the concept and from there the theme of Pirate Treasure came together incredibly fast.
No matter where the initial spark comes from, any idea can lead to another and another and ultimately into a complete game. A lot of times the original thought fades away through the design process and the project becomes something completely different. If you just allow yourself to explore new thoughts and not tie yourself to one idea over another you'll find a whole world of creativity waiting for you and some really great fun along the way.
What are your thoughts? Are there other things that spark your creativity? Let us know!