46: Hooked

46: Hooked

How do you design great hooks to attract players to your game? What is one of your favourites?



Every one of my games has a clever copy hook written on the cover to get you to pick it up and flip it over to find out more. “Dead Last: If you didn’t see it coming, you’re already dead.” “Before there were Stars: Weave a tale older than the heavens themselves.” But my favourite is this. “Cutthroat Caverns: Without teamwork… you’ll never survive. Without betrayal… you’ll never win!” The power of a good hook is to whet the appetite and set the expectations for the experience of the game – so it has to live up to the expectation or you will disappoint players. Mine are typically crafted in the act of play testing the game. I experiment with various ways of introducing the game, mechanics and theme to see what most resonates, excites and delivers on the play experience. When you have done it well, you will find players and reviewers echoing the line as the perfect summation, and best way to tease the game to get others interested as well.

Curt Covert

I tend to utilise a mechanic, often seen in classic games, something very familiar to players and that stands out amongst the crowd, then adapt it to something new and exciting. Spell Smashers was inspired by Scrabble so a lot of people would be familiar with the concept of making words out of random letters but now I’ve introduced a new take with having players want to inflict the most damage, wanting a higher or lower letter count for initiative, and they have to consider monsters and gear, so players have to consider that what they spell will impact the game greatly. I’ve also leaned on Mahjong (my favourite) and Hearts!

Christopher Chung

I like games that offer multiple valid play styles, any of which could help lead to victory. In a game like Avalon, for example, you can do well if you’re good at solving logical puzzles OR if you’re good at playing the social manipulation game. Having multiple paths to success like that really expands the potential audience that might enjoy your games.

Alex Cutler

To me, a great hook is quick, thematic, responsive, and fun! With that in mind, I design in-game action loops that players want to repeat. I make the loop immersive, intuitive, easy to process, and exciting to complete. Quick feedback helps players recognise the value of their actions and learn from their mistakes. Players should be excited to take their next turn, to deal with the ramifications of past decisions, and to reveal future possibilities. An example of a great hook is the “hostile takeover” in Sid Sackson’s I’m The Boss – it checks all the boxes for a great hook.

Sen-Foong Lim

The power of a good hook is to whet the appetite and set the expectations for the experience of the game – so it has to live up to the expectation or you will disappoint players. — Curt Covert

I don’t design hooks, I discover them through brainstorming and testing. It’s pretty common to find a hook and then spend a long time figuring out how to build a game around it. Many designers struggle with games that work fine, but have no compelling hook. I’ve learned to avoid that trap. If my initial concept doesn’t perk people up right away, I move on. But if the hook is real, I’ll invest (maybe over-invest?) in the game to make it shine.

Isaac Shalev

For me, this is the biggest question in game design. I could write a game every 3 weeks if I didn’t care about them having hooks; as it is, I don’t think it’s worth anyone’s time (me, the publisher, the audience) to make a game that won’t land with a splash.

I don’t know a shortcut – I just come up with a lot of ideas, and only follow through on the ones that I think have a good hook. I test the premise by pitching it to friends and other designers, or thinking “what would make ME want to buy this over everything else on the market” (aside from “I made it”, that is).

On the plus side, it means when I do have a great hook, my direction is clear. Make that game! Make it with all I’ve got.

Peter C. Hayward

There are 3 types of hooks, Thematic, Mechanical, and Physical.

Thematic: An unusual or eye catching setting or theme for the game: Run an inn where you kill your clientele to make room for more guests (The Bloody Inn). Build a bird sanctuary, where the bird cards have great art and a lot of thematic consonance (Wingspan).
Mechanical: Something about the way a game plays that is new, novel, or unexpected: Shuffle the already-revealed event cards and put them back on top of the deck (Pandemic). Put this sticker on a card, it is forever changed (Legacy)
Physical: Something eye catching that gives a game unprecedented table presence: Gears in Tzolkin that turn to update multiple tracks (this could be a mechanical hook as well), or the tree in Everdell, which towers over the board and looks really nice.

If I knew how to design a successful hook, I would be churning out SdJ winners left and right! I think you gotta just look for something exciting that hasn’t been done, and do that. Or look for out-of-the-box solutions to common design problems.

Seth Jaffee

A hook, to me, is what keeps people coming back to a game. I don’t think there’s a recipe for making great hooks. You keep an eye out for hooks, pay attention to what people talk about (both industry buzz, and your play tester’s feedback and comments on your designs). If you set out to “make a great hook” you might find yourself pursuing a white whale, but if you keep an eye out for great hooks nearby your current design you might just find something that brings people to the table again and again. My favourite hook is anything that promises player’s agency over their identity/playstyle. I love customisable approaches to play, which is why deckbuilders rank amongst my most favourite games. But, I’ll play anything that lets me have agency over how I play.

Jessey Wright

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