Has This Idea Been Done Before?

Every week on Board Game Geek there are threads started in the game design forums which basically say, "I have an idea for a game and want to know if it has been done before."  Essentially, they don't want to waste their time developing a game that is too similar to something that is already out there, and want to add something new and original to the market.

Totally understandable.

But pointless.
Shia has the idea.  Sorry, I don't know who made this image,
but Google tells me it is labelled for reuse.
Weird how hard it is to source things sometimes.

These threads usually result in a few similar seeming games (there really is nothing new), to which the original poster responds by saying one or more of:
  • "I've never heard of them" -- indicating a lack of familiarity with the hobby as a whole; this isn't necessarily a problem as everyone starts somewhere, and you don't need to know everything about games to be able to create a good game (thankfully).
  • "No, those games are different to my idea because..." -- indicating that the poster didn't do a good job of explaining his idea; and this is probably largely because it is just an idea and not developed into anything tangible. The ensuing discussion is sometimes interesting.
  • "Oh well, back to the drawing board" -- suggesting that this person will never finish a game, as he is too worried about doing something unique to actually get anywhere.
Game design is a skill that can be learned and developed, like any creative skill.  I am still new and inexperienced, but over the last couple of years of projects of varying sizes, including many failures and blind alleys, I have got better at it.  Getting better at game design includes being able to find different angles to take and options to explore.  I am not saying that I am a very innovative designer, but I am finding that just getting on with designs I often find at least something in each design that makes it stand out from otherwise similar games.

Which brings me to the advice that most of these threads end up with: it doesn't matter if your idea is not the most original in the world, or even if it has been done a hundred times already.  If you are asking the question, then clearly the idea is one which interests you, so just run with it and see where it takes you.  If you end up with a decent game, chances are it will be sufficiently different to other games on the market to justify its place in the world, and if it sucks and you abandon it, you should have learnt a heap along the way.  Plus, by the time you are moving on you will probably be getting more ideas to try out.

Just do it!  Somebody should make that into their company motto.


  1. Well said.

    When I have an idea for some element of a design, I do have a look around to see what there is around already that does something similar. This isn't to see whether it's worth pursuing or not, but more to give me a feel for the design space that it gives rise to. There's always so many variations you can do on a theme that you should be able to find some new way to implement it.

    Having said that, the design I've been playing around with for the past few weeks has rather too much in common with a game I tried at the UK Games Expo, so I guess that when I'm choosing which directions to take it, I'll choose the one that moves it further away from that game.

    1. Thanks Tom! I've certainly over-generalised, and there are good reasons to ask this question, including a recognition that however much one knows about the hobby, there is someone out there who knows about stuff you have never even heard of.

      This other game you tried, was it a prototype or a published game? It's good that you've found it and that it hasn't put you off your project.

    2. It was Guilds of London. Not only published but also well-regarded and selling well. I suppose that means I was onto a good thing.

    3. Yeah, you can't be going too far wrong if you ended up with something close to that. I got to play Guilds of London at UK Games Expo, and it's pretty much right up my alley as a player. Must find opportunities to play it some more.

  2. Well said. I remember having to learn this as a young artist, and it's helped to better explore creative solutions without the pressure of being "original".

    1. Hi Damien, thanks for commenting. Did you find that you managed to find originality later on?