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.