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  • Writer's pictureAaron Hodgin

Game Design Is UX In Its Purest Form (Journal Entry 1)

Early in my UX bootcamp, I read all these articles that attempted to define and explain User Experience design. Many of the articles came back to the idea that the purpose of UX design is to “delight the user.” I have questions about that definition that I won’t get into here, but if we assume that it’s true, game design may be the purest form of UX design.

A common refrain in game design is “find the fun.” The game design process should be familiar to any UXer- rapid iteration, playtesting, player psychographics (user personas), playtesting, interface design, and most importantly, playtesting. Just like in UX, the goal of these practices is to craft an experience that will engage and delight the user. Unlike UX, game design usually has fewer stakeholders, so instead of balancing user needs with business goals, you can focus solely on crafting the best experience for the player- finding the fun.

I’ve been interested in game design for a long time. When I first started playing Magic: the Gathering 6 or 7 years ago, I also started listening to the Drive to Work podcast with Mark Rosewater. As the lead designer of Magic for over 20 years, Rosewater has developed deep insights into the game design process, and although the content of his podcast is mostly Magic-focused, his design insights stretch far beyond that one game. [His GDC talk “20 Years, 20 Lessons Learned" and subsequent articles are a great synthesis of his design insights.] As I branched out into other games, I found other resources that have helped me stretch my design thinking- the podcasts Ludology and Think Like A Game Designer are two more of my favorites.

The other day, I came across a design that I started and abandoned a couple years ago. I spent a little bit of time reworking it, I playtested it a little bit, and I realized that the idea is strong enough to be developed. I’ve been wanting to do a development blog for a while, and I think this is a good candidate.

Without further ado, let me introduce the design:

The Basics

The game is played with nine square cards on a 3x3 grid. When the cards are laid out in a grid, they create four complete circles at the central intersections.

The circles make the three secondary colors- orange, green, and purple.

In a three player game, each player chooses one of the primary colors:

Player 1 = Red

Player 2 = Blue

Player 3 = Yellow

For a two player game, both players choose a color and one color is left out (but they should still keep track of the third color's score).

A four player game uses the two player variant with two teams.

(Here's a quick color theory reminder in case you need it.)

Originally, the interface only showed secondary colors, like the one seen above. An early playtest showed me that players had difficulty with the whole primary-secondary-color-theory thing, so I added the primary colors around the outside of the central circles to help them see it more clearly. The current interface is the one you'll see everywhere else on the page.


The goal of the game is to score points by completing circles that contain your color.

The Red Player cares about purple and orange, since they both contain red.

The Blue Player cares about purple and green, since they both contain blue.

The Yellow Player cares about orange and green, since they both contain yellow.

You might accidentally score points for another player on your turn- in fact, it's difficult to avoid!

On your turn, you have a chance to move the cards (more on that in a second), then you score all the circles in the middle, assigning points to any player with a complete circle.

When a circle contains your primary color all the way around, you score 1 point whether it's your turn or not. If you complete a secondary color on your turn, you score 2 additional points.


Full primary circle- 1 point

Full secondary circle- 3 points (active player only)

Scoring Example

Let's assume the Blue Player just moved.

Circle A - 1 point for Red.

Circle B - No score.

Circle C - 3 points for Blue, 1 point for Yellow.

Circle D - 1 point for Blue.


Red - 1

Blue - 4

Yellow - 1

Player Moves

On their turn, a player may make two moves before scoring the center circles.

Here are the available moves:

  • Shift a column or row

  • Rotate a card or section

  • Swap any two cards

Ending the Game

Players continue taking turns until someone has... ummm... let's say... 21 points. Sure. We'll figure that out through playtesting. Speaking of playtesting...

Try It Out!

Want to try it? Here's a free print-and-play prototype!

After you play, please take a second to fill out the feedback form.

The app Score Anything is a great tool for keeping track of the score.

Design Thoughts

Here are some of the things I like about this design:

1) Actions affect all players, so players are engaged even when it’s not their turn.

2) It is fairly simple to learn, but gameplay feels strategic (at least after the first few playtests). It’s surprisingly difficult to make moves that increase your points without giving away points to other players!

3) There is a lot of design space. There are a lot of variables in the game that can be changed, tested, and measured through playtesting. For instance:

- The number of cards and size of the grid

Why 9 cards in a 3x3 grid? Why not 16 cards at 4x4? Or 12 cards at 3x4?

- The flavor and User Interface

Right now the game is purely abstract, but the primary and secondary colors could be substituted for other variables. I could use shapes instead of colors, or I could add some flavor to the design: instead of completing circles, players are assembling robots, making pizzas, or building cities.

Maybe instead of cards, the interface will use blocks, lights, or 3D-printed mechanisms. Maybe it would work better as a digital product. I could keep the abstract theme, but redesign the user interface to make it easier for players to visualize their moves.

In my next blog, I'll talk about how I abstract the theme in order to develop different ideas for the flavor and UI, and how I plan to test different versions with a focus on cognitive load.

Thanks for reading!

Mr. SH

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