Some of the nuts and bolts skills of being a game designer include information design, graphic design, as well as a good ability to use numbers. I notice that people who haven't done a lot of designs can tend to think game design is only about the ideas and mechanics of the game. But it is more than that. It is the interface and the arrays of numbers that underlie the game, the data that populates the mechanics and game space. And on another level, it is about the experience that arises from a person playing a game, not the game components or mechanics themselves alone.
Typically I see games with good ideas, and interestingly defined game spaces and mechanics, but often they are then filled in with the nuts and bolts details in a much more erratic way. For example there will be a nice system of acquiring items or cards for your deck, but the relative costs of the different cards are not balanced. For example, you will always choose card A over card B at the same cost. Even if you would choose Card B 10% of the time, it is not balanced, nor does it allow for much meaningful choice. Understanding ranges of meaningfulness in choices is a skill to be learned. Crunching the numbers of an array of item's costs is a more time consuming and detail oriented skill.
Or there will be a fun choose your ship part of a game, yet the ships are not well crafted to be unique enough to make meaningful or interesting choices about. Some simple changes to the dynamic range of the ships abilities could change that easily. If every ship has a very similar speed and attack, say different by 1 only from each other, then the differences are probably too slight, depending on the game. Why not have the ships be the same, and save some rules and set up time, or on the other hand, change those ranges so the ships are unique? Make one ship the really fast one and one ship the really good at fighting one.
Equally as often, if not more often, I see a game with good mechanics and play that has really bad information design and user interface. That includes hard to read and understand cards, badly worded and organized rulebooks, bad icons and board layout. But luckily there are concrete things that can be learned and fixed in these cases, and since I haven't seen anything addressing them in specific, I decided to write a little about them myself, in a series of posts here.
See other posts in this series:
Mistakes in Card Layout - Centered Text