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How I Decided to Design My Own Board Game

Very often, when you play board games more frequently and get deeper into the hobby, you start getting into understanding the mechanics and design of the game. Having a broader experience, you play a game and think you might be able to do it even better. Here am I, no exception. 

Now, already at this point, I’d love to mention that my game developing experience starts and ends with one ongoing project. I’m a simple gamer and at no point claiming to be an expert in developing games. I just wanted to share how we came to game development, what kind of challenges (or quests :) ) we are solving and hopefully, encourage you to try it as well.

First, it started with a few house rules for adjusting the games to my gaming party. I’m not a person who’s strict on mechanics and could make up rules on the go if they would fit better our playstyle.

Then, I noticed that I’m from time to time looking for new games to try that might be much closer to me thematically and, in the end, not finding those. That frustrated me at first, but then I got this tiny thought: what if I can create a board game?

After all, to make a board game, you don’t need much. You can also make a game! All you need is just some ideas, paper, scissors and maybe some dice (which you can borrow from any other board game you already have). 

I called my gaming buddies and suggested this crazy idea: let us try to build a game. We kept our goals relatively humble: let us love our game. If we love it, then we’ll try to find other people who will enjoy it too. After all, I wanted it to be a hobby, something I would get excited about and that would make up my free time. I love the feeling of creativity and wanted to be able to express myself.

Maybe now is a good place to introduce us. 

Here’s me, Anna, the author of the article you’re reading. I’ve always played games, but then I “grew up” and stopped doing it just as many of us do. My gamer’s soul broke through after I tried playing some of the contemporary board and video games and I’ve been a proud gamer ever since. 

My gaming buddies are Artem and Anna.

Artem dreams of becoming a video game developer and wanted to start his journey with more straightforward game design - one of a board game. He’s seriously unserious and unseriously serious and brings humor to everything he does. 

Anna (now it might get confusing) has been playing all kinds of games for as long as we know each other. She’s the storytelling master and builds unforgettable stories and gets really into character whenever we play RPGs.

Grasping the theories

So here it started. I subscribed to all video channels about game development and design. Listened to podcasts. Ordered a few books. I wanted to grasp everything there is, to learn some basics of how to build a good game. 

And in short, all design processes are very simple and obvious: Design, Test, Learn. You’ve probably already been using this basic philosophy in your daily life and work. 

Here, the most important is that we shouldn’t design games in isolation, but on the contrary, constantly ask for feedback. Don’t hide your game during any stage. Many people are afraid to show not a polished game, but the earlier you’ll get feedback, the better you can iterate. Let it start from your closest friends and family and then expand to remote game testers in later stages. 

I’d love to mention a few other remarkable places to learn about how games work. You might love them as a gamer as well, as you’ll understand better what makes a good game and learn about amazing people who bring you your favorite games.

  • Jamey Stegmaier’s 10 steps to developing a game (https://youtu.be/VgEt7PysQgc) and other videos on the Stonemaier Youtube channel. James is a person behind legendary Scythe, Euphoria, Tapestry and many others. He talks from the first-person experiences and preferences when it comes to board games.
  • Extra Credits Course on Game Design (https://youtu.be/zQvWMdWhFCc)- although it mainly talks about video games, many concepts of game design are very similar: how to keep players engaged, how to test your games, how to cover different themes. 
  • Kobold Guide to Board Game Design by Mike Selinker (https://www.amazon.de/dp/1936781042). The book walks you through how famous game designers built their games.

Making baby steps

Now that we had our minds set on building a game, what would be the first steps? We had a ton of discussions on what would be our theme and core mechanics. How complex would the game be? Who would it be for? Why would players want to keep playing? Although some questions are still up in the air, others got answers.

Our game will let you live the life of a person from birth till death in the Middle Ages. You could still be a knight fighting a dragon, but now your happiness and life choices are what you would focus on. This game would let you sit together with your friends and for 30 minutes imagine how your life would turn out if you lived 500 years ago.

We wanted to give three things to our players: Choices, Stories, and Laughs.

Choices mean that you would be investing in how your character would live. Would they go to war or turn to the Church? Would they have 5 kids or become the ruler of the kingdom? 

Stories are the tales you create. Storytelling plays an important role in where the choices take your character and how they overcome the challenges.

Laughs are here because we want you to have a good fun time. Whether you come into absurd situations by accident or build a life around them on purpose, life without laughs is a very dull thing.

Now that you know what we’re into, share some of your thoughts. Have you ever tried to build a game? What was it about?

Stay tuned to find out how we built our first prototypes and did the first user testing.

 

Anna Pogrebniak

I’ve been playing as long as I remember myself. When I was a kid I dreamt of building my own games, and now I’m trying to make it a reality. Board games carry me away into a different world where I can be a knight, a researcher, a kingdom builder or a zombie fighter. Love semi-coop and engine building games. Favorite game of all times: Dead of Winter.