You can't create tabletop games without playing them. Lots of them. Currently I have a nice little curated collection, around 25 or so. Not so many that I'll never play some of them, but enough to make our choice of what to play on Friday nights a bit challenging sometimes!
There are specific things I'm looking for in the games I play. What I've noticed is that I'm drawn to games with these characteristics and gameplay mechanics:
As a designer and illustrator I have an appreciation for the effort which drives creative work. But I'm also a consumer just like everyone else. Artwork is a hook. It charms us and draws us in to look at something closer.
The games I'm drawn to differentiate themselves from others with their art and style. Ryan Laukat's Islebound is a great example of this. Personally, I enjoy a sense of immersion in games and the art is a big factor. When a game's visuals feel fresh and not copied from the latest trends, I'm much more excited to find out more.
Story and Lore
While I've played party games like Apples to Apples, they're less enjoyable for me. Games with story are my favorite. I'm looking for a story to enter through gameplay. Being able to make decisions within the context of a story, even if it's surface level and not really deep, satisfies my desire for adventure and exploration.
Most of the games in my collection are rooted in stories. Then there's lore. To me, lore is deeper than story. It's about broad narratives involving the histories of peoples and the telling of legends. I have games that offer a sense of this as well, such as Legends of Andor and Lords of Waterdeep. When I play games like this, I experience a more complete sense of immersion.
Signature Game Mechanics
It's impossible for every experience in tabletop gaming to be original. However, games that feature signature game mechanics which become part of their identity, win me over. I remember playing Potion Explosion for the first time and thinking, "Now this is different"! In a similar way, Scythe struck me as unique when it comes to worker placement and resource management.
As a small indie example, I'm really proud of the work done on Iconica in this regard. Making use of our meter system to track character health contributes to the game's signature mechanic, which differentiates it from other character driven games such TCGs and CCGs.
So those are some things I look for in the games I play (and make). What are your favorites? Do you have games in your collection you'd recommend?