10 Tips for Making Your Own Board Game

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For the past few years (read as pretty my whole life) I have enjoyed playing board games. I started with the “gateway” game of Candyland and never looked back. From there it was on to Clue, Monopoly, Risk, and Warhammer.

The whole concept of playing a fictional game, doing amazing feats, completing epic quests, or living in a different world for at least a few hours at a time was amazing to me. But I kept wanting more. Sure the first time you settle Catan it is exciting. The one-thousandth not so much.

I live for puzzles and challenges but what should I do when the challenge is gone (or everyone is tired of loosing Call of Cthulhu)? You can do what I did and make your own game.

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In a way it is actually the logical next step. I wanted puzzling challenges and that is what making a board game is: a challenge. Here are a few things you can do to make your own game, not get discouraged, and hopefully have a lot of fun:

1) Don’t be a hero. That is to say, don’t over do it. Gaming should be fun. If you’re not having fun then maybe try something else.

2) Have a clear concept of your game. I wanted a dungeon questing game. Something we could open, play, and be done in an hour or six depending on what we wanted. So I needed modular rules, ways to control the session time. None of that has to do with the theme or art. At first you need just a clear vision of what you want your game to be.

My game, Dragon Bait, took the idea of a dungeon game like the D&D board game and made it into a competitive sport. The concept was to do missions that had scoring, a variety of play, and a sense of danger. To do this I decided on basically making a RPG in a box.

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I took the rules from a RPG I was working on, simplified them, and added a card deck to simulate a dungeon master.

3) Create rules that make sense and are fair. A game that isn’t fair isn’t a game. It’s ego stroking. Don’t stroke an ego.

This may sound weird but anytime I have been on a game development meeting where the creator of the game just wanted to win it felt weird. Think about when kids cry out, “I have a force field you can’t get me,” on the playground. You may think this is an odd point but think about it in another way–can your players beat the game?

Board games like Pandemic and Ghost Stories seem like they want to actively abuse their players. Winning is a huge accomplishment. I will make play Cthulhu’s advocate however that players like to have some hope when they play as well. If players feel like they have no chance, no hope, and no way of beating a game they are either in a session of the Doom the board game or not having fun (or both).

4) Give your player some locus of control. This is like the last point but has to do with the motivation and control a player can feel during a game. Is it all chance? Is it all strategy? Is it both?

Consider Chess. THE classic board game–both players take turns moving pieces on the board. No dice rolling, no coin toss–it is pure knowledge, cunning, and mental prowess. Then there are games like Poker or Texas Hold’em that are nearly all luck of the draw. Yes I know you can do things to better your odds but that is it–odds, chance, luck.

For Dragon Bait I wanted to include random chance. So I made the actions pass or fail on dice rolls. I wanted my players to feel like they had some control however and gave them character stats so they would put some investment into their characters.

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5) Keep it simple, stupid (KISS). This is actually something I learned from software development. Essentially any task, operation, or game should be easy to understand. Too many rules or too much complication can ruin a good time. Try to make rules simple enough that others can understand them.

For practice, try writing out from memory the rules of your favorite board game. Then try writing out the rules to the Game of Thrones Board Game. I won’t say it is a bad game (personally I really enjoy it) but it is hard to keep up with.

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For my game I started out with an RPG which is by natural law complicated. After a play through I realised how awful it would be to play with more than two people for more than an hour. If we were actually role-playing maybe but not a board game. So I cut the stats in half and made it “Paper Rock Scissors” to make it easy to digest. Now the game play is actually fun and I can write out the directions in a way that doesn’t make me want to go on a rampage.

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6) Go on a rampage! No wait, I mean play your game a lot. If you have a game concept or idea try playing it with a friend or a couple of friends. Write down what they say, try to make changes that make sense, and then play some more.

7) Don’t marry your theme. This is a hard lesson but too many people want to make a specific game that only adheres to a specific theme. Sometimes it works other times it doesn’t. Try to think of a them as secondary.

My game was created as a dungeon clone however now I am thinking it would make an awesome space ship game. Changing something like that may actually make the game better. Try not to create rules or concepts that require a certain theme but rather add to it later.

Again, people will call foul on this idea however I have it on good authority that players, developers, and publishers would rather have a good time than a cool theme. For instance think about Gloom, the card game of misfortune. It plays out in a noir semi-Victorian setting where you actively try to kill your characters. Awesome–but the gameplay is what sales decks not the setting. It could be a game where you try to build an escape pod to get off an abandoned planet, or you try to get the vote of senators at a party. Very few times will a good game be completely dependent on the theme.

8) Play lots of games. I was completely lost on how to make my game better. The rules sucked, playing sucked, the whole thing was pretty bad. Then I played some games like mine. I saw quickly how they handled the challenges I hit. Bam! My game got a lot better.

Go watch Wil Wheaton’s Let’s Play videos and see what interests you. Then order it online, go to your local game shop, or find a friend with a copy and try it out. See what other games like your idea are doing to be more awesome. Make sure you don’t plagiarize but learn how to be better by letting the best better you (also I am totes copyrighting that last line. It needs to be on a t-shirt, lol).

9) Play your game. I guess this may sound dumb (my expertise) but try your game out with different people. Grab your grandparents, your cat, your roommate–whoever will sit for an hour and play. This is because gamers may be your audience but non-gamers will be the best ones to show you flaws in your rulebook, game design, and gameplay.

This is because if you take your game to market it won’t be just gamers buying it. There are lots of families, friend groups, drunk people, rich people, poor people, living people, undead people, sentient machines, zombies, and talking house plants that will likely play your game–so strive to make it fun no matter the person.

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Great example is Dungeon Dice. The game is amazeballs and I love playing it with everybody. The problem? The rule book is just terrible. It took three YouTube video tutorials to explain it to me and even then I was a little fuzzy on some rules. The game itself is great but it takes time to understand the rules. That said the game is so good I wouldn’t hold it against them.

10) Game first, art later. The last big thing people do right before rushing to put their head through a brick wall while game developing is get caught up in the art. That is to say the game board art, card art–the graphics your game will have to make it interesting and visually appearing. I say this as a warning to make your game first. There is nothing wrong with making some mock-up designs or doodling but don’t let it ruin your game.

When I started working on Dragon Bait, I started by drawing characters. Now I know that was pretty backwards. I spent time thinking about the aspects of the art for the finished product before I ever had a game. Take things slow and start with a good game before making it awesome.

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ALRIGHT–that’s all the wisdom I can make up for one post about making the mechanics of board game DIY, Nerdship. Check out my other posts, reviews, and whatnot’s for more information and remember to stay awesome.

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