It’s a dark, cold night. A violent thunderstorm with sheeting rain is raging outside. The wind howls like a pack of wolves in the night, and the lightning flashes across the sky, illuminating your living room with an eerie glow.
Inside, you are safe, warm, and cozy… well, except for those darn cats that keep knocking things over and making a mess. It’s times like these that begs the question: why isn’t there anything else to do?
Well, there’s plenty to do. Well, you could play video games and watch movies… but sometimes it’s nice to be creative, right? Why not take a leaf out of the book of many great designers and start making your own board game?
Creating a board game is an entertaining and challenging endeavour. Whether you’re designing for yourself or others, there are countless hours of joy in brainstorming, prototyping, and perfecting a board game. But where do you start?
This guide will walk you through the entire process of designing your own board game. From coming up with an idea to tweaking your final prototype, we’ll cover all the steps you need to take to create the perfect match. Are you ready to start your journey into board game design? Let’s go!
What’s a Board Game?
Before we can talk about how to design a board game, it helps to know what exactly a board game is. After all, most people have played Monopoly or Scrabble at some point in their life — but are these games actually ‘board games?
Well, the answer is yes and no. Many people consider board games to be the kind of games you play on a physical board, with pieces and cards. And while this definition does include famous classics like Scrabble, Monopoly, or even chess, there’s more to it than just the surface qualities.
In reality, a board game is any game that uses a physical surface as part of the game. Sure, that can be a traditional board, but it could also be a tray with pieces or even a pile of dirt. A computer game is not a board game just because it has a board that you move pieces around — your kitchen table is a board game.
That means that games like Scrabble, Monopoly, or chess are board games — but so are games like Catan and Ticket to Ride. Technically, computer games like civilization could also be called ‘board’ games!
It’s important to remember that the definition of a ‘board game’ is a little more fluid than meets the eye. After all, it’s the same ‘board’ you would use to play checkers or tic-tac-toe, but they are different games.
So, to define, a board game is a game that uses a physical surface as part of the gameplay. That can be anything from a traditional checkerboard to an underground mining simulation, but it’s always just the surface and nothing else.
A Brief History of Board Games
People have been playing board games since the beginning of civilization. A board, counters, and dice have been used since Ancient Egypt, and people have even found fragments of boards from as far back as 3000 BCE.
Ancient Egyptians played a game called Senet. The game involved dividing the board into squares and moving pieces across them. The number of moves was determined by throwing sticks, and a piece was only allowed to move forward if the sticks landed in a certain way.
Over the years, many variations of this basic idea have come to exist. Chess is one of the most popular, but there have been many more.
The Romans also played a similar game, called the Twelve Line game Ludus Duodecim scriptorium, or XII scripta, from which the modern Backgammon game is derived.
The 20th century saw a period of growth, where hundreds of new games were invented, including Scrabble and Monopoly.
Why Would Anyone Want to Design a Board Game?
While many people only know board games as the stuffy, old-fashioned classics their grandparents used to play, there’s a vibrant and exciting community around them. Like computer gamers, board game enthusiasts are everywhere — and they come from every walk of life.
Game designers are storytellers, whether telling the games’ stories themselves or developing a storyline that players can use to create their adventures. You might have heard of Dungeons and Dragons — this game relies on narrative to make the experience exciting.
Creating a board game isn’t just about coming up with an exciting and unique concept — it’s about being imaginative, creative, and thinking outside the box. It demands a different kind of thinking than other game developers.
And if creating a board game seems like too much work, you can contribute to the community in other ways, like playing games or writing reviews.
The Difference Between Board Games and Computer Games
Computer games are considered the cutting edge of gaming technology, with some deriding board games as the old-fashioned relics of a bygone age. However, now that we’ve hit the 21st century, it can be hard to tell the difference between computer games and board games.
What is a game, anyway? The definition has become so blurred that it can be hard to tell where one form of the game begins, and another ends. However, the main difference is that a computer game is interactive– you can control what happens and make choices that can change the game’s outcome.
One example is a sports simulation – football, basketball, or rugby. These games rely on the element of choice to determine the results.
Board games are still a part of everyday life, even if they aren’t as popular as computer games. They have an enduring appeal and can introduce new user skills and abilities. They can also encourage social interaction and teamwork, skills many of today’s youth lack.
Board games, in this sense, are much like the board games that ancient civilizations played — the only difference is in technology.
Today, many people believe that board games are a thing of the past. They see computer games as superior in every way – more exciting, engaging, and with better graphics and sound effects. But the truth is that both board and computer games have unique advantages.
How to Design a Board Game
#1. Start by Thinking about the Concept of your Game
What themes or settings will you use, and what gameplay mechanics will you include? That is the most important step in designing a board game, as it sets the foundation for everything else that comes afterward.
You want to develop a game that’s both original and exciting and, at the same time, easy to learn and fun to play.
The idea is to develop a game that you’ll also love to play yourself — one that challenges you and makes you think.
You can take inspiration from existing games but do so with caution. It’s important to put your own twist on things and develop an original concept that will appeal to a wide audience.
#2. Speak Out Your Idea.
Once you have a rough idea of the concept for your game, it’s time to start talking about it with other people. You can tell your friends and family, post on social media, or share your thoughts online.
Getting feedback from others is a great way to refine your ideas and learn more about what players might want from your game. And it’s also a great way to get started on developing your board game community.
You also want to note these ideas on paper, discuss them with a few people, and see what results you get.
See how people respond to different aspects of your game, and take note of any suggestions or ideas for improvement.
Invite feedback and collaborate with others to improve your game design.
#3. Get Started on the Board and Game Pieces
Once you’ve finalized the gameplay concepts for your board game, it’s time to create a prototype of the different components — designing the actual board, cards, dice, and rule book used in your game.
You can use various tools to do this, including markers and poster board for your board, coloured paper for your cards, and dice for your game pieces.
However, there is also a wide range of prototyping tools that you can use to create better-quality components for your game.
These include 3D modeling software or online services like Printable Board Games that allow you to design and print custom board games in minutes.
#4. Designing and Developing the Game Rules
Once you’ve created your prototype, the next step is to develop the rules and mechanics of your board game.
That means fleshing out all the different aspects of play, including player objectives, moves, and turns, as well as basic strategies for winning or completing each level in your game.
Again, this can be time-consuming, so it’s important to stay patient and not rush through things.
Be sure to test your game with others as you go along, getting feedback and making changes as needed. That will help ensure that the final product is both fun and engaging for players.
#5. Iterating Game Rules, Mechanics, and Balance
Game rules are a crucial element of any board game. And while they might seem simple when you first start designing your own game, it’s important to keep in mind the possibility that you’ll need to iterate and refine them over time.
That’s simply a part of the design process and something experienced designers are used to dealing with regularly.
It’s important to test your game at every stage, making changes as needed and incorporating feedback from other players.
Don’t be afraid to change things or try something new. And always keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a perfect board game.
The key is to be patient and not let yourself get discouraged — designing a board game can take time and requires a lot of hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort in the end.
#6. Preparing Prototypes for Testing or Publication
Once you’ve developed your game, the next step is to create a few different prototypes for actual playtesting.
You can either email copies of your game to other board game designers or simply by hosting a public playtesting event at a local convention centre.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you have several different game versions available for testing, including multiple copies of the rule book and any necessary components.
And don’t forget to take careful notes and review any feedback you get from your testers — this will help you develop a final product that’s even better than what you started with.
#7. Finding a Publishing Partner or Distributor
Finally, once your board game is ready for commercial release, the next step is finding a distributor or publishing partner to help get your game into players’ hands.
There are different ways to do this. Many designers team up with existing publishers, while others take their games directly to distributors to sell them online or at trade shows.
Whatever option you choose, be sure to do plenty of research beforehand and have a clear idea of your goals for the final product. That will help you find the right partner and get your game out to the public as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Why Develop a Board Game?
There are several reasons someone might want to develop their own board game.
For one, board games are a fun and engaging way to spend time with friends and family, providing entertainment and social connection in an increasingly digital world.
Here are just a few of the other benefits of developing your own board game:
#1. A creative outlet. Creating your own board game can be a fun, rewarding way to express yourself and create something unique.
#2. An opportunity to share your ideas with others. Board games are naturally social, providing the perfect space for people to come together and share ideas.
#3. A way to make money or earn royalties. Many board games become highly successful, providing their developers with a steady source of income and other financial rewards over time.
#4. Meet New People. When you publish and release your new board game, it suddenly puts you in touch with an entirely new network of people interested in playing and talking about your creation.
Whether you’re developing a family-friendly board game or something geared towards adults only, the key is to focus on quality first and foremost.
Remember that board games are meant to be entertaining — so don’t focus too much on the technical side or worry about things like deadlines.
Common Examples of Board Games
There are countless different types of board games out there, most of which follow a similar format.
Some common examples include:
#1. Strategy Games. These require more planning and forethought, often using dice or cards to create exciting probabilities. One example of this is Risk, a popular strategy game that has been around for decades and spawned many different variants.
#2. Adventure Games. These games tend to be story-driven, with players trying to find a treasure or defeat an enemy. One example is Dungeons and Dragons, which has been around since the 1970s and continues to gather new fans yearly.
#3. Kids’ Games. Board games can be great for younger players, providing them with fun and engaging ways to learn about things like history, math, and language. One popular example is Candy Land, which uses cards and simple logic to teach children the basics of movement and gameplay.
#4. Party Games. These games tend to be more fast-paced and unpredictable, focusing on social interaction instead of strategy. An example is Apples to Apples, a card game that requires players to match cards based on specific criteria.
Famous Educational Board Games
Another viable option for aspiring board game designers is to look at some of the most famous educational board games. As with any other type of development, it’s important to do your homework and understand what makes these games so successful before trying to replicate them.
Some examples include:
#1. Scrabble. This word-building classic has been around for decades, with players trying to create words from randomly-generated letters. Any new board game designer should study how the game is played and what exactly makes it appealing and engaging to users.
#2. Monopoly. That’s another game that’s been around forever. One of the reasons it’s so successful is that it interestingly incorporates several different game mechanics. With Monopoly, players move around the board collecting properties and engaging in various interactions with other characters.
#3. Chess. This relatively straightforward strategy game has been popular for centuries and is still played by millions worldwide. By learning more about how it works, you’ll understand what makes board games fun and engaging.
#4. Boggle. This word-searching game often requires players to make quick decisions under pressure and uses a unique grid of letters as its main gameplay mechanic. For anyone interested in educational board games, then Boggle is worth checking.
#5. Catan. Catan is a resource-based game that tasks players with trading resources and building roads and settlements. The game is extremely popular with teens and young adults, so understanding how it works can be a great starting point for board game designers targeting this demographic.
#6. Risk. Risk is a classic war game that lets players take on the role of army generals, moving units across the board and engaging in battles. Like many popular strategy games, there’s a lot to learn from Risk when it comes to teaching kids about history, math, and other subjects.
#7. Cluedo. Cluedo is a popular murder-mystery game that puts players in the shoes of investigators trying to figure out secrets and solve crimes.
Corporative Board Games
While educational board games are often geared toward younger players, there’s a growing market for more complex corporate-themed games. Corporative board games are a great way to teach important business concepts while still being fun and engaging.
Some examples of corporative board games include:
#1. Smallworld. This fantasy-themed game tasks players to conquer neighboring territories and expand their empires.
#2. Pandemic. Players work together in this game to stop a disease from destroying humanity. The game is an excellent teaching tool for teamwork, cooperation, and problem-solving.
#3. Carcassonne. This medieval-themed game gives players control of a territory and tasks them with building it up by completing various objectives.
#4. Agricola. This agricultural-based game gives players control of a farm and asks them to build it up using available resources.
#5. Settlers of Catan. Another resource-based game, this one tasks players with establishing new settlements and cities on a fictional island.
These are just some of the educational board games that can help aspiring designers learn more about what makes successful games tick.
How to Get Started
There are a few different ways a new or inexperienced designer can get started with board game development. One of the most common options is to team up with an established publisher, which will usually require you to develop a “complete” game design before moving forward.
Another option is to use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to generate interest and funding for your board game. That’s often a good choice for smaller projects that might not interest established publishers or require a smaller budget.
How to Design a Board Game: Key Tips for Aspiring Designers
Step #1: Pick a Game Style
The first step in designing your own board game is to choose a game style that interests you. Some popular game styles include:
- Dice games: These games use dice as their primary mechanic and emphasize luck.
- Card games: As the name suggests, card games focus on using cards to create gameplay challenges.
- Tile-based games: In tile-based games, players take turns placing tiles onto a game board, which often creates new challenges or obstacles as the game progresses.
Some other popular game styles include bluffing, racing, and word games, all of which come with their own unique set of rules, mechanics, and objectives.
Step #2: Sketch It Out
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of game that interests you most, it’s time to get out your sketchbook and start planning. You can start by drawing different ideas for game boards, cards, dice, and other components on paper as they come to mind.
As you’re sketching out your ideas, try not to get too caught up in making them look fancy. Focus on getting your ideas out of your head and onto paper so that you can refer back to them later.
Step #3: Build the Board, If Need Be
If you’re designing a board game, now is the time to start putting the ideas on paper into action. You can either draw out your idea for the game board and cut it out of cardboard or have it professionally printed by a company like The Game Crafter.
Step #4: Make Your Pieces
Building your game board is just the first step in creating a complete set of pieces for your new game.
Next, you’ll need to design and build the other components that will make up your new game.
Some standard components to consider include: ·
- Card Decks
- Tokens or Small Figures (i.e., piece-holders)
- Calendar/Time Tracker
- Game Board (if necessary)
Each of these components plays a vital role in the gameplay, so take the time to design and build them carefully using high-quality materials.
Step #5: Cast a Die
Before you can start playing your new board game, you’ll need to make one crucial decision. How many players will be able to play the game at once?
Board games typically come in 2-4 player versions. However, many modern board games are designed for more than four players at once and offer additional expansion packs that allow even more players to get in on the action.
If you’re designing a board game that more than four players will play at once, look into multi-player expansion packs and ensure that your game board is large enough to accommodate them.