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11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Development AdvertisementGAME DEVELOPMENT HOW TO LEARNHow to Learn Board Game Design andDevelopmentby David Silverman 29 Nov 2013Length: Long Languages: EnglishHow to LearnBoard GameGame Design Over the past decade, board games have gained increased prominence within the gameindustry. With the growing popularity of Euro-style board games, such as Settlers of Catan,and the constant in ux of new games and game types such as Dominion, the populardeck-building game, board games have seen an unexpected resurgence among gamers ofall kinds. While board games share many ideas with video games, they are played in a verydifferent way, and often use very different game mechanics. Designing for board gamesbrings about different challenges than designing for video games, but the skills can beapplied universally to make all of your games better.ROUN D U P S6 Incredibly In-Depth Guides to Game Development and Design for BeginnersMichael James --gamedev-116071/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentAn Overview of Board Game GenresBefore we get started, let's brie y look at a few genres of board games. This should helpacquaint you with a couple of different types of board games, and the concepts behindthem, and give you an idea of where to start if you're new to board games. Remember,many board games now have digital counterparts that you can play on an iPad or PC, soeven if it's hard for you to play these games on an actual tabletop, you should have notrouble trying the more popular ones out.Classic Board Games or Family GamesThese games require the players to race around the board or follow a designated path toreach their goal. Sometimes there will also be a points system involved. These gameshave a heavy reliance on luck, and have less strategy than more modern board games.Games like this work best with groups where the game itself is not as important as theexperience of playing together. Most of the time, these games have very simple or absurdthemes which have little or no impact on the game mechanics.Examples: Sorry, Snakes and Ladders, and CandylandEuro-Style GamesEuro-style games are often about gaining victory points, an arbitrary resource that allowsyou to win. They usually last a certain number of turns, or continue until one player has acertain number of victory points. These games have strong themes which inform much ofthe design. There is also usually a system of resource management, and some kind of"political" play between the players as they negotiate the sale and trade of nt--gamedev-116072/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentFinally, these games have fewer elements of luck or chance, and most issues the playerexperiences because of "bad luck" can be mitigated with strong strategic play.Examples: Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Carcassone, and LancasterDeck-Building GamesDeck-Building Games (DBGs) are similar to Trading Card Games (TCGs) where each playerhas a deck of cards they use during play. The difference is that in DBGs the players allwork from the same card collection, and the deck-building occurs as part of the game.These games usually come with 15-20 different card types, but only ten are used in asingle game. This gives the games a lot of replay value. In these games players build theirdeck over time by purchasing available cards from the pool of cards. Games like thisusually end when a certain number of card types are depleted, or when a speci c situationoccurs.Examples: Dominion, Thunderstone, Nightfall, and QuarriorsAbstract Strategy GamesAbstract strategy games include chess and checkers. The point of these games is for twoplayers to have a complex strategic battle in which they try to out-match and out-thinktheir opponent. These games are harder to describe without speci c examples, and thegame elements and goals are not quite as common across the genre. Instead of dice rollsor card combinations, the goal is often to position pieces in just the right location.Examples: Chess, Checkers, Quoridor, and Push FightStrategy GamesStrategy games are much grander Euro-style games. These games usually have a veryimportant board and a narrative which drives the game's progress. These games ofteninvolve a heavy amount of co-op and competitive play, forcing players to make and breakalliances over the course of the game.Players are usually participating as much in the game itself as they are in higher-levelmind-games with each other: trying to get ahead, form alliances, and discern theiropponent's motives. These games are generally marked by very long game sessions medev-116073/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmenthours or more, for some), and are sometimes affectionately referred to as "friendshipending games", because of how passionate players become. Risk is perhaps the mostwell-known game in this genre.Examples: Risk, Twilight Imperium, Arkham Horror, and Battlestar GalacticaCard-Based Strategy GamesCard-based strategy games are strategy games where cards are the primary gameelement. Games like this vary heavily, but there is often a drafting mechanic, or an elementof character or base building where players use cards to gain abilities or bonuses. Thesegames usually have a heavy element of luck or randomness.The goal in games like this can be based on victory points, trying to complete a speci cset of cards, or eliminating certain target players, among others. Games like Poker, Spit,and Egyptian Rat Screw don't t into this category because they lack a central theme, anddon't require anything other than a standard deck of cards. Deck-Building Games could tinto this category, but have become so popular I consider them their own genre.Examples: Munchkin, Bang, 7 Wonders, and ChrononautsBefore We BeginLike video games, the creation of board games can't really be boiled down to a speci c setof steps you need to follow. You could give a general overview, but without going into thespeci cs, it's hard to explain game development of any kind.To help you understand the concepts, I am going to use this article to walk you through theprocess I took while developing one of my ideas. This is by no means a complete game,but it should still help me illustrate a lot of my points by having a concrete example for youto learn from.The key here is that you will get to see both the theory and the actual thought process I'musing as I develop this idea further. Hopefully by the end of the article you'll nt--gamedev-116074/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmenthow my idea went from concept to prototype, and how I could turn it into a nishedproject.With all this in mind, let's get started.Coming Up With an IdeaImage by Daniel Stockman from Wikimedia Commons.The rst step in any project is to gure out what your project will be. A great way to getinspired is to take a game you already play and enjoy, and to add or remove a major gameelement. Doing this forces you to look at the game from a new perspective.When you try adding or removing something from the game, you start looking at theexisting components much more critically. The moment you remove something, itbecomes much easier to see why that element was so important or unimportant to beginwith. This can give you a deeper understanding of the game you are playing around with,and a good insight into the purpose of many of the game nt--gamedev-116075/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentAnother great technique is to start with a real world theme or system you like, and to trybuilding a game around that. If you start working with a speci c theme or system in mind,it makes it much easier to determine what sort of gameplay you want. Starting this waycan also help you nail down how the players will be interacting with each other.For example, if you are making a game about zombies you could make some playershumans and some zombies; you could make everyone humans and have them working toescape or kill all the zombies; or you could have the players competing to be the nalsurvivor left standing.Starting with a theme also gives you the ability to draw from that theme when trying tothink of new game elements. If you are already making a game about characters in space,then you can always reference books, movies and other materials about space to ndinspiration for new elements. This was the method I chose to use when working on mygame.My rst idea was related to drug dealers because I was watching Breaking Bad andimagining what it would be like to be Walter White. As I thought about this idea more, Irealized that the central con ict in drug-dealing and drug empires is in gaining andcontrolling territory, and I knew speci cally that I didn't want to make a game that wouldrequire me to do a lot of work laying out territories on a game board.With that in mind, I settled on doing a card-based strategy game, and ditched the drugempire theme since it would be too hard to convey territory in that game style. I thenstarted thinking about other competitive industries, and speci cally industries wherecontrol over, or positioning on, a map are not important. Eventually I settled on the movieindustry as the system I wanted to base my game edev-116076/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentImage by Jelson25 from Wikimedia Commons.The movie industry is a good choice because it is already a competition-based industrywhere companies compete for sales and awards. On top of that, a movie can easily beboiled down to a collection of parts which you as the designer can quantify and use asgame elements, a screenplay, a director, actors, genre, and release date, among others.There's also the fact that most people already have some understanding of how the movieindustry works, or can infer many of the details. This meant that the game concept wouldbe easy to understand, and quickly accessible to most players. Finally, the movie industryis composed of many different elements and "moving parts", and would give me a lot ofresources to draw inspiration from.Fleshing Out Your IdeaOnce you've settled on your theme, you need to determine what your game is about, andhow it's played. Start by writing down everything you can think of relating to the game, andputting every idea you have onto paper.Your initial idea is going to be very rough, and if you described it quickly to ten differentpeople, they would walk away with ten different concepts of how it works. The goal rightnow is to put as much thought into the concept as you can, and to think through amedev-116077/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentaspect of it that interests you. You want to walk away from this with a solid understandingof what your game is supposed to be, and how it is played.At this point, it's also helpful to write your intent for each idea alongside the idea itself. It'snot uncommon for me to nd my initial ideas don't work as well after I esh things out.During these moments, it's helpful to know where the idea came from. This allows me tore ne ideas I don't like, while preserving the original goals. It's also important to consideralternative ideas, or variations on your initial concepts. Having a lot of potential methodsto achieve the same results will prevent you from hitting roadblocks when a key systemneeds to be reworked.This is the initial design document I put together when working on the movie studio idea. The yellow parts on theside of each page are notes to myself or future designers I bring on, about certain important game aspects or aboutother ways I could make certain systems.You should also try to detail exactly how the mechanics could work. Ask yourselfquestions about the game while you're working on it. This keeps you from ignoring thesmaller details, and allows you to continually analyze your design and where it's gamedev-116078/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentAsk yourself questions like:How many players will there be?How long should the game be?What choices will the player make, and when will they make them?How will the player make these choices?How will one player's choice impact the other players?How will the players interact with each other?Are there any choices that can be made by one player, but not by the others?How does the game progress? Is it strictly turn-based, or is it in rounds with phases?What actions will the player be able to take?How will the outcome of an action be determined?What is the player's goal?How can the player win?Even if you don't know all the answers yet, you may nd that keeping the questions in mindwhile working will lead you to the answers.I try not to move forward with development until I can read through the document withoutquestioning the details of any speci c mechanics. I also know I'm not done with this stageif I haven't determined how a round or turn progresses, how long the game is supposed tolast, how the player wins, and how many players I want in an average game.You cannot run a successful playtest, or build a prototype, without answers to thesequestions. You will know you are ready to move forward when you can look at thisdocument and understand what the game is, and how it works, even if it's not perfect.For my Movie Studio concept I started by determining the goal of the player. The mostlogical concept was for the players to create and release movies to try and gain awards(victory points) and money (the primary resource).From there I determined that the script, the director, and the actors are the most wellknown aspects of a lm, so I thought those would make good game elements as well.Making a movie also seemed pretty straightforward: buy a script, hire a director, nd theactors, and lm the movie. This made sense with what I had so far, and seemed medev-116079/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentlogical things for the player to do during their turn, so I settled on this as the structure forhow a round would progress.After settling on the basic game elements, and how they interacted, I determined howawards and money would be distributed. For this I created a genre attribute for scripts,and decided that actors and directors could specialize in certain genres. This gave me asolid way to link actors, directors, and scripts, and allowed me to quantify a nished moviebased on the ratings the associated characters had in the given genres.The rest of my development at this stage focused on lling in the details of how a roundprogressed, how actors, directors, and scripts are bought, and how the players actuallycomplete a movie. Once I'd worked through all the interaction the players would have withthe system, I settled on a progression of play for each round, and for the game as a whole.Finally, with all the major pieces in place, and a solid understanding of my game, I movedonto the next stage of development.Content DevelopmentNow that you understand what your game is about and how it is played, you need to makeall the content.If you are developing an abstract strategy game like chess or checkers, this stage will bemuch simpler because it will likely come down to balancing and nalization of rules andpieces. On the other hand, if you are developing a content-heavy game like the moviegame I'm working on, this stage will require a lot of time and effort settling on what typesof content you need, how much content you need, and what to base your content edev-1160710/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentNo matter what type of game you are working on, it's always best to start by determiningwhat types of content you need, and how much of it you need.In the movie studio game I need at least three content types: scripts or movies, actors, anddirectors. On top of that I need to settle on awards for the player, and create all the cardsthat dictate how much money the players get from their movies.My game is divided into rounds. If I assume that the maximum number of movies a playercan develop at any time is two, and the maximum number of players is four, that meansthe players need to be able to have up to eight unique scripts for each round. If I thenassume there are six rounds in the game, I now know I need 48 unique script cards in thegame, since script cards are never reused. This number tells me the bare minimumnumber of scripts my game needs for a single game session.(Once the mechanics are nalized, I may add more scripts to increase the replay value orto allow more rounds in a single game, but it's still important to know what the bareminimum is.)Next, I need to gure out how many actors and directors can be purchased among allplayers in a given round. Unlike scripts, actors and directors are eventually shu ed backinto their respective decks. This means I need to know the minimum number of actors anddirectors that can be used before any are reshu ed into the deck if I want to preventplayers from running out.Currently, actors and directors are not removed from a lm until the lm is released. Thisisn't entirely realistic, but it makes gameplay much easier. With this in mind, I need to knowhow long a lm can go unreleased to determine the maximum number of actors anddirectors that can be occupied at once. Since a round represents a year, I decided that tworounds was the longest a lm could go without being released by the player. So, with amaximum of eight lms being developed each round, and each lm requiring one directorand up to three actors, I knew that, each round, up to eight directors and 24 actors couldbe bought by players. If we multiply those values by three to account for two rounds dev-1160711/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentunreleased lms, and the lms being made in the current round, we get 24 directors and72 actors as our bare minimums.Continue to SimplifyI think it's worth noting here that at one point these numbers were actually much higher.After doing the math, I realized that I would have too much content to make before I couldtest my game. Keep in mind that, even if it's unlikely, your game could end up failing, so it'sgood to try and minimize the amount of time you spend making content, until you are surethe game is worth committing the time to.At this point I also settled on having six awards each round, one for each genre of lm.Since the awards would remain the same the whole game this was not a big deal. On topof that, I decided to make 18 scenario cards which would be used to dictate how moneywas distributed in a given round. This gave me the ability to test the game three times andbe guaranteed different outcomes, since in each round you only use one scenario card.Both of these things were easy to develop compared to the other content, so I thought thetime investment was worth it.Once you know how much content you need, you have to actually make all of that content.Until I've started play-testing and know my game is fun, I try to think about my game interms of the mechanics I'm working with, and the strategies I want the players to beimplementing, and not so much the avor text or art aspects. This saves time, andprevents me from having as much work go to waste when I need to redesign things later.Thinking about the game mechanics, I know I want some scripts to be more likely to givethe player money, and some to be more likely to get them awards. To make this work, I willlook at the stats that matter for both, and see how I can distribute them in different waysto affect the odds.I also know that I want there to be interesting ways for actors to interact with directors,scripts, and each other. To do this I can create special buffs that actors get when theywork with certain other actors, or give some scripts buffs when they have speci ev-1160712/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentdirectors attached to them. I can also add more unique features, like scripts thatautomatically come with certain actors or directors attached if those actors or directorsaren't already being used by other players.If I used real actors and directors in my game, I could have a Director card for Tim Burton,and Actor cards for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. Since these three are allknown to work together on almost all of their projects, it would make sense to give thembonuses when you use them on the same movie. The same thing could apply to JamesFranco and Seth Rogen, or Matt Damon and Ben A eck. While it's unlikely I'd use any realactors in the game, this still gives me a good model for how different characters couldinteract.Organizing Your Game's InteractionsIt helps to make a list of all the potential interactions you come up with while working, andto use that list as a reference when creating game elements. This ensures you don't forgetany potential interactions, and gives you a reference to ensure there is a good variety foreach type if you keep track of how often you use each one.You should also try writing rules for how character stats should be generated, or howcertain card types should work. In my game, I know there should be an even breakdown ofgenre specialties among actors, directors, and movie scripts to keep the game balanced.On top of that, I might consider making rules like "A character cannot have a buff greaterthan X unless a certain condition is met", or "A character should never have more than Ystat points, or fewer than Z". De ning rules like this helps you keep a your designconsistent and makes it easier to bring new designers in later on.Iterating the RulesetThis stage of development may take a while, but it's also very important, so don't rush it.You should also know that there's a strong possibility some of the work you do here willbecome useless or unusable when you realize certain mechanics don't work or need to beretooled. This is okay, though.Just because an idea doesn't work now, doesn't mean you can't re-integrate it down theline. Once you nail down all the game mechanics, the only game design step left is thisone, the rest is about understanding your game, making it look pretty, perfecting it, edev-1160713/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentmarketing it. Spend a lot of time on this step, because the more consideration you givethese elements now, the less likely it is that you will have to redo them all later.Designing and Building Your PrototypeWith your content developed, the next step is to actually make a prototype. The rst thingto remember is that your prototype doesn't have to look pretty. While well-designed cardswith beautiful artwork will improve some players' opinions, it takes a long time to getthose things right. Remember, your game may need major revisions, or get scrappedentirely, and if this happens, it stinks to know you spent an entire day or week working onbeautiful images and designs that will never get used. Believe me, I've made this mistake,and it's not fun.This is the prototype for a game called The In nity Formula, which was made by one of our editors for the GlobalGame Jam.With that said, you shouldn't just throw together your game board or cards withoutconsidering layout or readability. Although these designs are not nal, take some time todetermine what information is most important to have, and how to effectively show thatinformation. I start by listing all of the information needed on a card or game piece, andthen prioritize that information so I know how important each aspect is.If your game has multiple decks of cards, you also need to differentiate these decks sothat players can tell which deck a card is from. For the prototype, this can be as easy asusing different paper colors for each deck, but when working on the nal product youshould create clear distinctions and designs for each card or piece type.You should also consider what the piece is being used for, or what it represents. For themovie game, I tried coming up with a way to make actor cards look like the head-shots anactor gives to casting directors. This ended up not working because it didn't leave me medev-1160714/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentthe room to effectively list the actor's stats, or the price for the actor. Despite this, I stillused elements of head-shots in the design, and decided that the image of the actor usedon the card still be a head shot, even if it wasn't exactly what I had intended.This was the format I originally envisioned for the cards. The problem with this was that I had too little room toinclude more information without making these images very small. This would make it a waste to have four imagessince it would make it hard for the player to appreciate the time and effort any artists put into the images.While this format wasn't quite as compelling, it made each individual piece of art easier to appreciate, and gave memore room on the card.While some aspects of the design, such as my actor and director cards, can be leftincomplete or simpli ed in the prototype, things like game boards may need to be muchfarther along before you can really test the game. If you were making a custom Risk board,you'd need to draw an actual map, since the balancing in Risk relies on positioning,division of country borders, and the number of total countries.In these cases, there are a few techniques you could use to make preparing a prototypeeasier. You could draw the map on a whiteboard or chalkboard surface so it can bemodi ed easily, or make the map on the computer so you can print it, and wait to drawterritory lines until the map is printed. You could also put each country on separate gamedev-1160715/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and Developmentof paper or cardboard which can be moved around and re-positioned until you nd theideal con guration.Digital vs Physical EditionsAlso, keep in mind how easily you can send your prototype to others. Many of my friendsare game developers that live hundreds of miles away from me. Since they can give me adifferent perspective than the average player, I like sending them early copies of mygames.This makes it important to consider their limitations when I design items like cards whichneed to be printed, or pieces that need to be built. It also prevents me from using too manycolors, since that makes printing more expensive. I have to try and keep everything on 8.5x 11 pages, so that it can be printed more easily. I could neglect these limitations and buildthe prototypes myself and mail them, but this is obviously more expensive. You may notknow any game designers to send your game to, but you may want to do a print-andplay release on your website, and the same limitations need to be considered for that aswell.Finally, no prototype is complete without a full copy of the game rules. Your players willneed to refer to these, and you probably will too in the rst few tests. Having the ruleswritten out allows the playtest to continue with as little interference from you as possible,and allows the players to read through any rules they don't understand as many times asthey need.Writing out the rules also lets you make sure there's nothing you're forgetting to build foryour prototype. At the very least, make a reference sheet for the players so that theycan look up the cost of common purchases, or a list of basic actions, whenever they needto.One of the most useful game pieces in Settlers of Catan is the reference card which tellsyou how much each game element costs. Without the reference card, Catan would be amuch slower game, especially if one or more people had never played evelopment--gamedev-1160716/32

11/7/2018How to Learn Board Game Design and DevelopmentWith your prototype built, you are ready to move on to the most crucial stage ofdevelopment for any game: playtesting. Like with video games, playtesting is where youget to see all of your ideas in action, and when you get to see how well the game actuallyworks. Most importantly, though, you get to see if your game is fun.If you are working on the game with other people and it's possible to play through somerounds without bringing in anyone new, I highly suggest you do. Doing this allows you towork out any small kinks or bugs that are easy to solve, and gives you a better handle onhow the game actu

Strategy Games Strategy games are much grander Euro-style games. These games usually ha ve a ver y impor tant board and a narrative which driv es the game 's progress. These games often involve a heavy amount of co-op and competitiv e play, forcing players to make and break alliances o ver the course of the game.