Board Game Design
It’s a Tough Job but Somebody’s got to do it – PART 2 by James Campbell
As I discussed in my previous blog post about Board Game Design being tough, there are really 4 easy points you should tackle right at the start.
Who’s your Audience? What are your Goals? What is your Theme? What are the Mechanics you want to incorporate? Once you’ve got these 4 things figured out the rest is just the tedium of testing, revising, testing, revising and polishing, then getting that game published!
Let’s take a deeper look at these points;
Who’s Your Audience?
What age and preferences do you want to make a game for? Do you want to market your game for infants, toddlers, young kids, teens, or adults to be able to play? You can also be more specific and make a game for senior citizens, empty nesters, college students, high school students, etc. Your imagination is the only limit. You may also want to think about a specific culture (which may help you determine your theme)! Different cultures have different preferences and creating with those preferences in mind can make for an even stronger, more focused game! Do you want to allure to a mathematic crowd? Science lovers? Appeal to explorers? Fantasy fans? Maybe you’re looking to explore global cultures, religious cultures or city cultures. All of these things will help you determine your theme as well.
What Do You Want to Accomplish?
What goals do you have in mind for this game? Do you want to make a game to teach kids something? A game for parties? A game for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays?
How many players do you want to be able to play the game? Do you want it to be skill or luck based or some combination of each? (Luck based will usually include dice at key parts of the game.) How long do you want it to take to play? How simple or complex do you want the game to be (chances are you will start out way more complex than you need and pare it back)?
Many of these can be answered by knowing your audience. For instance, if you want a game to be for 4-7 year olds, this age range often has a lower attention span, so you may want it to be a shorter game or if you want it longer then you can have short parts to the game. You also would want to keep the game rules simple and may want it to be inclusive of a lot of kids in order to engage a class room of kids.
These are just ideas and examples, so if you want to break out of the norm, then go for it, but pay close attention to what your audience is actually looking for so that you don’t waste your time with a dud.
The theme of your game is what provides the atmosphere of the game. On top of the Theme, there are some genres you can choose from to gain your desired atmosphere: classic, euro-style, deck building, abstract strategy, strategy, card-based strategy, dice games to name a few.
Classic games are very simple and usually are just straight-forward “race to the finish” type game, like Sorry! and Monopoly. These games are generally seen as outdated and should probably be left to the likes of Hasbro and Mattel.
Euro games tend to have a bit more complexity and often win by a complex point system, like Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride.
Dice games are central to dice only and contain few or no other elements, like Yahtzee or Zombie Dice. These games are heavy in chance and luck to win and usually very quick to play.
Strategy games tend to be more extensive in gameplay, including long play times and really let you get involved in tactics and decision making. These games include Axis and Allies and other war (modern and fantasy) themed games.
Abstract Strategy games include usually two people pitted against one another to overcome the other by way of better game piece placement. This genre includes chess and Stratego.
Card-Based Strategy games only use cards and can be very different from game to game. For instance, Munchkin is based off of obtaining cards to boost your own players abilities and obtain levels, but Lost Cities is a journey-type game where the goal is to collect cards in a certain order. Both are part of this genre, though. This genre is so vast it contains subcategories like Deck Building games.
Deck Building games hinge upon players creating a customized deck of cards from a prearranged allotment throughout gameplay, usually needing to be purchased with some kind of resource. Dominion and Legendary: Marvel fall under this genre.
How is your game going to be played? Is it more dice focused, leaving much of the game to chance or is it with cards that actions are taken? Will you have several options for your actions? Will there be battles? If so, how will they work? For a great list of Board Game Mechanics, check out BoardGameGeek.com
How Do You Win?
One important part of the mechanics of any game is how to actually win. How do you want the game to be resolved and how will a winner be decided? Will you use a point system? Is it a race to the goal type game? Is it a collection game? Or are you simply defeating all the enemies or opponents (elimination game)?
Ok, so now you have those four questions at least kind of answered (trust me, some of it will probably change as you revise and refine your game), where do you go from there?
1 Write the Rough Draft of the Rules
Keep in mind that the rough draft is a really rough draft. I recommend writing out the rules in completion, ignore any errors and just get your thoughts down in a physical form. Then, once you have it all out, go back and edit what you need to. Don’t take too much time editing right away – it’ll all change over the next steps!
If you’re unsure about a rule you’ve put in, don’t get hung up on it! Just play test the game yourself and play each player needed by yourself. This is the best test of where your flaws are and will often be a quick fix.
During this phase you can make a rough prototype of your board, cards, game pieces, dice, etc. Use cardboard or paper and just draw it out (it’s okay if it isn’t pretty right now). You can use index cards or just paper for the cards and just put basic information on them for now. Fold over a piece of cardboard as game piece to represent this function. Dice can be regular dice or if you want specialty dice for your game, use a normal dice and white stickers from the office section of your local store and just write a symbol or number to represent what you need to represent. If you need tokens, you can use coins or poker chips. Steal pieces from your existing games and whatever you don’t have, make it cheap and quick.
2 Play test!
Once you’ve created your rough draft, play test it yourself first, playing for all roles. When you play test consider the path that is taken to complete the game, how gameplay or the battlefield is operating, the positions to land on and how the playing cards interact with the rest of the game. Always keep notes of what works and what doesn’t, changes that should be made, etc. Put into your notes everything you see, then go back and correct them later.
After you’ve played by yourself, dozens of times and revised your rules accordingly, open it up for your family and friends to play with you. If you can have them play while you observe this has many benefits to have an outside perspective, but try not to get too involved in the game if you do this. Repeat the same note-taking and correction steps. Ask them to tell you how they felt about specific parts of the game. Remember though that your friends and family aren’t going to be as critical as strangers, so keep that in mind. Make your questions as pointed and simple to answer as possible.
If you feel good with it, try it with strangers because strangers will be less inclined to hold back criticism. Play test it with as many different types of people as possible. Have a play test feedback sheet for everyone to fill out with a series of specific questions about their thoughts, and more importantly their feelings about the gameplay.
Prepare yourself for a lot of criticism in this phase and don’t be offended by anything said, just take it, write it down, then sort it out later if you can use it or not.
You should have a very clear idea of what you want your game to look like and how it will operate.
Now you’re making a close resemblance of what the game will look like after professional production. Keep in mind that this prototype may be totally scrapped and remade, so consider how much money you want in it at this stage.
What can you use to build your prototype? Boards are often built on chipboard or binder board, but you can use an old game board if you don’t want to purchase anything yet. Cardstock will be your best friend when creating your game because you’ll use it for playing cards, tokens/counters (by punching circles out of it) and you can paste the card stock onto an old board to have a blank slate to draw on.
I also recommend going to a hobby shop and ask about blank playing cards and ask the shop owner for helpful tips in board game creation. Even if they’ve never built a board game themselves, most have enough experience creating things that they will have some good ideas.
4 Publishing – Self Publish or seek out a Publisher?
Now that you have a great game, what do you want to do with it? Do you want to try to publish it yourself or seek out a publisher to license the game from you?
Both options have their ups and downs but that’s for other articles to delve into!
James J Campbell is the Lead Game Designer at I Will Never Grow Up Gaming and is the creator of several projects such as
TechMage Sci-Fantasy RPG, Into the Black and Conflict & Chaos: Vietnam 1965.