1st Edition

Anatomy of Game Design

By Tom Smith Copyright 2025
    288 Pages 103 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    288 Pages 103 B/W Illustrations
    by CRC Press

    People have played games forever, but it’s only in the past few decades that people really started thinking about what games are and how they work and how to make them better.


    Anatomy of Game Design takes some of the most popular and beloved games of all time and dissects them to see what makes them tick. By breaking down the systems and content of each game, the underlying systems of game design are laid bare.


    Ten games are analyzed – including Settlers of Catan, Centipede, Candy Crush Saga, Papers, Please, Magic: the Gathering, and more - each representing a different genre or era of game design. Each game is discussed in detail, using the same methods for each game. What are the verbs of the game that give the player agency? How do those verbs fit together to form a core loop that makes the game engaging? What are the systems that power the gameplay? What is the larger flow that makes the game interesting over and over again?


    Each game is then used as an example to tie back to one or more larger topics in game design, such as systems design, randomness, monetization, game theory, and iterative approaches to game development.

    Key Features:

    • Uses well-known games to provide specific, discrete examples of broader game design theory.

    • Discusses ten popular games using the same methodology to allow comparison of different types of games.
    • Includes both high level theory and academic perspective and practical real-world guidance from a working game designer who has created these games for commercial release.
    • Provides clear direction for deeper inquiry into game design or related fields such as psychology, anthropology, game development, or systems thinking.

    Chapter 01          Introduction

    Chapter 02          Shovel Knight

    Chapter 03          Candy Crush Saga

    Chapter 04          Centipede

    Chapter 05          Settlers of Catan

    Chapter 06          Spelunky: Systems

    Chapter 07          Magic the Gathering

    Chapter 08          Royale High

    Chapter 09          Papers, Please

    Chapter 10          Wrap up


    Tom Smith has been a professional game designer since 1995. In that time, Tom has worked on games of all types – board games, console games, educational games, mobile games, advertising games, PC games, big companies like Disney, small startups that got bought by big companies like Roblox, and many more. Tom also teaches game design at Moorpark College. Tom lives near Los Angeles with his wife, children, and cats.