Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 1

Microgames are something many publishers need from time to times–particularly so for mainstream publishers. With the huge success of Love Letter, microgames have begun appearing on gamer radar as well.

When thinking of a microgame, four criteria spring to mind: (1) short playing time,(2) short rules, (3) low component count and (4) low price point.  The best ones also feature (5) rules which are short but deep.  The aforementioned Love Letter satisfies all of these criteria, as do Cthulhu Dice, chess, 6 Nimmt!, and my own Nobody But Us Chickens.

Covering microgames has been on this column’s “to do” topic list since its inception but finding the right way to present it eluded me until recently when a publisher I work with expressed an approaching need for microgames. The opportunity to write small games excited me. Most of my design work lately has been focused on games with a large number of moving parts.  Crafting a tight game with a confined design space was a welcome change of pace.

Several days of brainstorming yielded a few promising ideas.  Half a dozen of them seemed promising.  These were fabricated into playable prototypes and brought to the test group.  Predictably enough, some didn’t work.  One of them however has evolved into something rather interesting. I showed it to Kevin Brusky–Mr. APE Games–and he agreed. With plans to move forward now in place, I thought you might enjoy coming along for the ride as this microgame gets developed.



Here are the first notes written on the game.  At the time, it was called “Sub Hunt.”

Duel 01

The high concept was to combine Stratego with Battleship.  Everything at this stage is vague. Changes were happening even as the first ideas were hitting the page. I thought initially that the game would support a 5×5 play space. By the end of the page, I’d realized this would give players too much room to dance around one another.  Bringing conflict earlier yields a stronger narrative.

A bit of scratch work refined the army concept into something playable. One quick print job later and we were ready for a test run. Here is the set that first hit the table:

Duel 1-0 Page 01 Duel 1-0 Page 02

Duel 1-0 Page 04  Duel 1-0 Page 03

Feel free to print everything and take it out for a spin yourself. Let’s see if you would make the same changes I did.  Next time, we will go over the results of the first tests; what worked, what didn’t, and what I did about it.


What’s your favorite Microgame?  What do you like best about it?  Have you written one? How did your players respond to it?  Share with your fellow readers in the comments below.  And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress ( and follow this blog.  You keep reading. I’ll keep writing.



10 thoughts on “Designing Microgames–Duel, Part 1

  1. Carl Klutzke says:

    If you set up a link to a Print & Play set, with rules, I’m sure I’ll have a chance to try this out over the weekend. The link from the second page of red cards needs fixed.

    I’m not sure what qualifies as a microgame: if the game is mostly a deck of cards, what’s the cutoff: less cards than a standard deck of playing cards?

    I assume that No Thanks qualifies as a microgame, and it’s one of my favorites. Easy to teach, quick to play, always interesting because it changes depending on who you are playing with.

    My wife and I have gotten a lot of play value from Onirim, which is a one-deck game that can be played solo or two-player co-op.

    At Protospiel this past spring I started testing a co-op storytelling game. I was really just trying to do a proof of concept prototype for a single mechanic that I was exploring for a larger game, but I got some interest in producing it as a standalone microgame. So I sort of designed a microgame once by accident.

    • I’m not sure what the issue is with the second page of red cards. I have accessed the page from 3 different computers and they show up fine on this end. *scratching head*

      The cutoff for a microgame is definitely tricky. I would agree that No Thanks! is a microgame but some might disagree because it uses two different components (cards and discs). I claim that Uno is a microgame but some disagree because of the large card count. I think the ultimate microgame is Doris & Frank’s Pico.

      • Carl Klutzke says:

        Both images of red cards in the post go to the same page: there’s no link to the red player’s page of cards that includes mines and subs. Also, what are the rules?

        I was also wondering if Uno would be considered a microgame.

        I know that my 1978 edition of Ogre was marketed as a microgame, but the meaning of the term seems to have changed. 🙂

      • Well dang. I’ll send you the files directly, how about that? 🙂

        I also own a great number of OGRE-original-sized games labeled “microgames” but no, the terminology has definitely evolved. At the time, micro referred solely to the packaging and the price not to the complexity of the game. 😉

      • Carl Klutzke says:

        Sure, send ’em over. One immediate advantage I see of a microgame is that playtest iterations are small. 🙂

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