I use one page designs for all of my games. But what are they, and why are they useful?

What Is It?

Though more common in the world of video game design, a one page design is a useful tool for planning the finished version of your game. The creation of a one page design involves all the necessary and important steps in creating a game. In order to complete a one page design you answer questions like:

What is the core mechanic?
What will the play space look like?
What components do I need?
How does a player interact with the game?
How do players interact with each other?
How does the game help move players through the gameplay experience?
How does the game tell a story?

These (and more) are all important questions when working on a game design. A one page design collects all the answers and then helps you visualize what this finished product might actually look like when it’s on the table. While this isn’t a marketing document, it can be helpful to show it to others. If you hire a graphic designer on your project, it can provide some insight into what information is and isn’t important, and how players are expected to interact with the finished product. 

How Does It Work?

I begin a one page design as soon as I have a rough game idea. Usually at that point I have a few notes about the game style, weight, the core mechanic, victory conditions, and theme. What I find helpful about a one page design is that I can start experimenting with the gamespace in visual form very early on. 

I work in PowerPoint to create these, which sounds a bit silly with tools like GIMP, Inkscape, Illustrator, and Photoshop out there. What I like about PowerPoint is that it doesn’t take a lot of time to create a very basic game visualization.

Unlike a sell sheet, this isn’t going to help me sell my game. It’s for me to work out the various parts of the game before I make a prototype. Getting it done quickly is important. I don’t spend a lot of time on making mine look pretty, but I do spend the time to accurately represent the details.

One page design document for Circuit Hacker game.This is a one page design that I used in a video game design class. The assignment was to create a learning puzzle game. What I came up with was a game where the player has to correctly assemble circuits to solve the puzzle.

This one page design shows a sample of what the players would expect to see on their device, along with descriptions of controls, objectives, and other levels. Very quickly you can get a feel for the kind of game that you’ll see at the end of the process. 

One page design for Captain Math Saves The Universe gameThis is the one page design for an AR learning app called Captain Math Saves The Universe. I did a little more work here to capture the feel of how you could use any surface to create the gamespace with AR, and how the game might create the level around the spaces you are in during gameplay. Again, you get the feel of the game very quickly, and can begin to figure out how the player will interact with the game.

How Would That Look In Cardboard?

There are a few notable differences between a video game and a tabletop game. So, what does this look like for a tabletop game?

One page design document for Superhero gameThis is the one page design from an RPG-in-a-box superhero game that I was working on with a modular board. The game design didn’t get far enough for me to add information like objectives and the outline of a typical turn, but you can see where I started working out the gamespace and where the various components would sit on the table relative to each other. I also had a clear idea of what information needed to be presented on each card, and how the cards would be used.

If I were to keep designing this game, I would add a player count and my target play time. I would also add the objective of the game and a basic turn order. I use this information during design as a reminder of what my goal is for the game. It’s easy to suffer scope creep in a game design process, so having this reminder of what I wanted for the game helps me to stay true to the original intent when any iterations occur.

I use a one page design document as a living document, meaning that as I need to iterate, I change the one page design. I always keep previous versions, so if something doesn’t work out and I need to return to an earlier version, I can. 

I make changes to the card layouts as I go, so that I know where the information will be presented when I get to the printed prototype phase. This helps me make decisions about the length of card text, the types of icons to use, and determine if I have too much information on a card.

One Page Design Everything

A one page design is great for everything in your game. You might do one for each type of card you plan to include, the layout of your custom dice, or your game board. While my examples here are focused on the larger scale, a one page design can focus on anything, even a visualization of how you want the characters to unlock upgrades in a legacy game.

There’s some additional useful information at in this lecture from GDC by Stone Librande from EA.

A one page design is a great way to brainstorm your game, visualize your final project, and keep it within scope during the design and development process.