All My Best Ideas: Tom Dalgliesh on Gaming & Writing

Tom Dalgliesh is a Scottish-born game designer and president of Columbia Games.  He has designed such boardgames as Napoleon, Klondike, Pacific Victory, and Wizard Kings.  He contributed an essay on the game Britannia to Hobby Games: The 100 Best.

Below, Dalgliesh talks about the interplay between games and writing.


What has playing games taught you about writing (of any sort)?


Tom Dalgliesh: The connection between games and writing is obviously very strong with Role Playing Games (RPGs).  Most of them involve fictional worlds or cities, stocked with detailed heroes and villains, and deft plots and grim scenes. I have done a lot of that kind of writing in Columbia Games’ RPG Harn World.

Connections between traditional boardgames and writing are much weaker.  Game designers and authors both need a creative spark, of course, and both must be able to organize their thoughts and get them down on paper.  But writing is a much more solitary process. Games require extensive playtests which are not, I suppose, similar to an author benefitting from readers and editors.

As for your specific question: I have learned to be more active in my writing and more character driven. Most of this has come from my RPG writing which is nothing if not character driven.


Is there a game every writer should try?


Tom Dalgliesh: Most game designers are heavy readers and some are decent writers.    I’m not at all sure if the reverse is true.  Agatha Christie was a card game fanatic and used this in many of her crime novels. I also expect that most writers are decent SCRABBLE players.  Obviously many other word games are good for writers.   And Clue would be good as well.

Most of my designs are military games:  I read a lot of military history books to develop these games, and anyone writing a book on the subject would get a lot of insight from playing the type of games I design.

Game playing, because it involves several senses, is a wonderful teaching tool.    Better or compliments reading any book on a similar subject.

Typing this, I just had an idea:  how about a series of murder mysteries involving games — “The Monopoly Murders” or  the “The Chess Corpse”?


In what ways does playing games enhance your creativity?


Tom Dalgliesh: Playing games is a bit like pacing (or keyboarding).   The right side of my brain gets involved in the physical act of playing the game which allows my left brain (creative side) to think of an idea or two.  I certainly get all my best game ideas when I am playing the game I am designing.