The Board Game Designer's Guide - Taking Your Game From Idea to Ideal

I'm writing this blog to help other board game designers avoid the mistakes I've made on my journey as a game designer. I'm sharing what I've learned to help you design better board games faster.

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Play Lots of Games!

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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designer
Think of this as research. By playing a wide variety of games, you’ll broaden your knowledge, while having fun at the same time. That’s the kind of research that everyone should be lucky enough to do!

If you only play party games, then try a more complex Euro game. If you mostly play Euro games, try a cooperative game. With so many different types of games available, you really need to get a feel for what’s out there.

By playing many different games, you’ll also learn about different mechanics that designers use, both by themselves, and in conjunction with other mechanics. This will give you a good feel for how games work, and how designers introduce challenges and interesting decisions for players.

You’ll see mechanics you’ve never seen before, and applied in ways you’ve never imagined. You may pick up some mechanics that will work well in your game, or ones you might want to try in future designs. You’ll also see which mechanics help or even slow down and hinder a game. With this knowledge, you’ll become a better game designer.

You’ll also discover what games are popular and get a better understanding of why this is the case. You’ll see what types of games appeal to the hard-core hobbyist, the casual gamer, and the mass market. You’ll see why people are talking about certain games so much in forums and meet ups, and you’ll make your own judgments about whether these games appeal to you.

By playing a wide variety of games, you’ll also figure out what types of games you enjoy the most. This is really important to figure out early on, because the games you will be creating are also the games you’ll be playing a whole lot. Through the process of designing a game, you’ll play your game over and over, in different iterations, and with different people, so you’d better like it!

Here are some suggestions from myself and other designers on games that all designers should try or at least be familiar with:

• Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)
• Magic: The Gathering
• Settlers of Catan (also known as Catan)
• Ticket to Ride
• Dominion
• Cards Against Humanity and/or Apples to Apples
• Agricola and/or Stone Age
• Seven Wonders
• Dixit and/or Codenames
• The Resistance
• Love Letter
• Pandemic (along with Pandemic Legacy)

So get out there and play some games!

What other games or genres do you think all designers should be familiar with?
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Wed Nov 22, 2017 11:14 am
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Of course you should use Kickstarter! Except...

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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designer
There are a number of crowdfunding sites online, but since Kickstarter has really shown itself to be the go-to place for board games, we’ll focus our attention here.

If you’re familiar with Kickstarter, you’ve no doubt seen some of the huge success stories. Tabletop games generally do fairly well on this platform, and there have even some many games that have made millions of dollars here (or have gone on to make millions). However, there are a few things they don’t tell you.

For example, while board games have a relatively high success rate of around 50%, many of the goals are very low and are just barely met. You might have a successful campaign, however you may only bring in $5,000-$10,000 in revenue. Remember as well that this is revenue, not profit – you still have to deliver a game to all your backers.

This amount may not even be enough to cover your first print run. Moreover, while there is minimal risk, at least up until you meet your funding goal, if you don’t budget well or take into account any the possible problems that could arise, you could actually lose money on the project. It’s easy to highlight the big successes, but in reality, 1% of board game campaigns are bringing in nearly half of all the money.

And why do the successful campaigns make so much money? It’s usually because the author is well known, and the project has some really phenomenal marketing behind it. If nobody knows who you are and you haven’t been promoting this game heavily leading up to your launch, you’re unlikely to be very successful.

Oh, and all the stats I’ve mentioned above? They’re based on projects that were completed. Canceled projects are not included in these numbers. So the success rate is also inflated.

Did I mention that if you run a Kickstarter campaign and are successful, you’ll now be running your own business? You’ll have to take on all the responsibilities, and will have to figure out shipping, manufacturing, fulfillment, marketing, and all the other things that go along with running a business.

You must be good at budgeting and considering all possible contingencies, because if you miss one thing, your once-profitable project will now be losing money. You’re taking on all the risk, but also getting all the rewards.

Everyone I’ve talked to who has run a Kickstarter campaign has said it was a lot more work than he or she ever expected. Oh, and you probably also have a day job, right? These are just a few of the things you want to keep in mind.

This isn't to say you shouldn't use Kickstarter. You'll just want to keep all this in mind if you do!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Are you thinking about using Kickstarter for your game? If so, why?
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Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:29 pm
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Are You Looking to Get Your Game Published by an Established Game Publisher?

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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When your game is playing really well and you are looking at ways to share this with the world, you'll want to look at your options.

Maybe you're thinking of self-publishing.

Then again, maybe you're thinking of pitching your game to a publisher...

This is definitely a good option if you want to focus on game design and are not interested in all the business aspects that go along with game publishing. While there is a lot of competition, if you can design a game that fits well with the publisher’s catalog, you could see your game on the shelf of major stores across the world.

While this may not make you rich, 5% of something is much better than a hundred percent of nothing. Now, the royalties you earn on a game may vary, so this is just an example. Remember that going this route also lets you focus on game design and moving on to your next game rather than splitting your time between game design and business.
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Thu Nov 9, 2017 2:58 pm
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So, You Want To Be a Board Game Designer...

Joe Slack
Canada
Toronto
Ontario
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Are you a person with a board game idea? Or do you want to become a board game designer? The two are very different. It’s easy to come up with a board game idea, or any idea for a product or service for that matter, but it takes a lot more to put that idea into action.

While it may seem easy to create a board game, if you want it to be something that people will really enjoy and keep coming back to, you do have to put in some hard work to get there. Sure, it’s fun work, but it’s still work.

So I have to ask you, why do you want to design a board game? What do you want to get out of this experience?

Are you creating a new game for the fun of it?

Are you designing it for the challenge?

Are you getting into board game design to make money?

Are you looking at this as a possible new career?

Or do you just love the hobby and want to get more involved in the board game community?

All of these are possibilities, although you should know up front that designing board games full-time and making any significant money from it can definitely be a challenge. So above all, you really have to have a love for board games, along with the whole process of board game design.

There’s a lot of fun and a sense of accomplishment that can come from identifying and solving problems for the challenges that come with board game design. I’m a problem-solver myself, so this is another aspect that really appeals to me.

So, why are YOU designing a board game?
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Tue Nov 7, 2017 6:39 pm
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