7 Steps for How to Create an Original Board Game


You have played board games for years.  You love the competition and some of the games you have dominated.  Once you achieve this mastery you find another game to challenge yourself and others.  After you have completed this cycle a couple of times what’s next?  Consider creating your own board game.

How can you create your own board game?  The first step in creating your board game is to determine the concept of your game as well as a working theme.  Secondly you need to set-up and implement the game mechanics.  The next step is to determine the randomizers that you want to have included in your game.  Then test the game and see if it the concept woks the way you imagined that it would.  Continue to modify and test the game until it’s finished.  Finally complete a prototype of your game and get is published.

Step 1 – Concept / Game Objective

This is the basic idea of what your game is about.  Perhaps your concept is a game that eliminates all of your opponents.  Another concept is to reach a certain amount of points and players race to this total.  Some games just continue to a natural conclusion and when the game ends the player with the most points wins.  Cooperative games a very popular now and the concept of these games is that players work together to win. 

RISK and Monopoly are examples of games that eventually eliminate all other opponents.  Settlers of Catan is a game that has players racing to 10 points.  Ticket to Ride doesn’t end until one player only has 2 trains remaining and the player with the most points win.  Pandemic Legacy is an example of a cooperative game.

Step 2 – Theme

Themes are just what you want your game to be about.  A good theme will work well with your concept and make the game more enjoyable to play.  Although both RISK and Monopoly have the same concept of eliminating all other opponents their themes are very different.  RISK’s them is to take over the World by waging war while Monopoly’s theme is to bankrupt your opponent’s by being a real estate tycoon.

Developing your theme isn’t as important as your concept.  Once you complete all the stages of designing your game you may find that your theme doesn’t work.  If this is the case you can re-theme your game at a later date, so all you need right now is a “working theme”.

Step 3 – Set-Up Mechanics

The mechanics of your game include your game pieces and the game board.  The game objective determines how the pieces are played and moved throughout the board.  Sometimes the board itself can be a mechanic.  Settlers of Catan’s hexagonal board pieces are a good example of how the board itself becomes an integral game mechanic.

Game mechanics don’t need to be too difficult for you to discover.  Chances are that you have played a lot of board games by now and you are familiar with the mechanics that you like, and the mechanics that you do not care for.  Use the mechanics that you like and tweak them fit your game’s concept and theme.

In Monopoly you can put houses and hotels on your properties.  The houses and the hotel are game pieces and part of the mechanics is that you cannot build a hotel until you have built four houses.  Sixty years after Monopoly was published Settlers of Catan introduced us to settlements and cities.  Cities could not be built until a settlement is established.  These mechanics are similar but not the same.  You can do the same thing.

Step 4 – Randomizers

Randomizers are integral to the game.  These help the game move along and provide players with the different obstacles or rewards to help them reach the games overall objective.

Dice and cards are common examples of randomizers.  Dice commonly are associated with numerical value but they can be constructed with icons as well.  Dice Forge is a good example of using dice without numerical values.  Many games use cards as a randomizer and the cards usually dictate your game in a way that is consistent with your theme.

Games designed with good randomizers can make the game have a high level of re-playability.  Settlers of Catan uses dice as a randomizer, but the dice are associated to numbers on the elements.  This randomizer can be changed from game to game making for excellent re-playability.  Compare this to the game of LIFE.  LIFE uses a numbered spinner as a randomizer and the actions on the game board are always fixed in the same location.  Because LIFE’s randomizer cannot be changed it has a lower level of re-playability.  When was the last time you went to a Game Night where LIFE was the featured game?

Step 5 – Test and Modify

At this point you have your board game designed and it’s time to take if for a ride.  Play the game and see what happens.  During the test phase you can play the game as all players.  When you do this you can move from place to place around the table.  Although it may be a little tedious it will give you the best feel for the game. 

Another option during the test phase is to recruit some other willing participants to play the game with you.  The benefit of having volunteers play with you is that they can give you an unbiased opinion of what they think about your game.

YOUR GAME ISN’T GOING TO WORK.  The first few times you play the game you will most certainly incur a number of hiccups.  Don’t become frustrated, this is normal.  Just make the appropriate modifications and test again.

Consider Settlers of Catan, there is a disproportionate amount of Wood compared to Ore.  It would make sense to have the same amount of each element but when this happens the game’s competitive play is out of whack.  Catan also has 25 development cards with 19 of them being soldiers.  Why aren’t there more Year of Plenty’s and fewer Soldiers?  The answer is because it would adversely affect the concept of the game that Klaus Teuber wanted to design.

Step 6 – Build a Prototype and Write Rules

Once you get the game designed and you have a clear objective with mechanics and randomizers it’s time to develop a prototype.  At this time revisit the theme that you originally chose.  Does your theme still work, or would there be another theme that works better for your game?  This is the time to change your theme.

The theme will not only affect the feel of your game but also the look of your game.  Great games have great artwork and are aesthetically pleasing to the players.  Believe it or not, this visual appeal is one of the things that makes people want to play your game over, and over, and over again.

Developing a board game prototype today isn’t too complicated today.  Once you have all of the elements roughed out that you will need you can contact a designer with a 3D printer to have your parts produced.  You will incur some cost, but again this expense is much more affordable than what you would have experienced decades ago.

An important part of your game is the rules.  Take some time to write understandable rules.  By now you have played the game enough that you should be able to explain the step by step process for how to play your game.  You have probably also experienced some unique experiences that could be confusing for new player of your game.  Include this information, perhaps a FAQ, section with your rules to clarify these circumstances.

Step 7 – Get Published

Now that you have a prototype you have a presentable copy of your game.  This is helpful when looking for someone to publish your game.

One of your publishing options is using traditional corporate publishing company like Hasbro or Parker Brothers.  However, there are other options that may be more accessible for you to use to help your game go main stream.  A smaller publishing company like Stonemaier Games is a great option.  Finally, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have had great success launching new board games.  Exploding Kittens is an example of a successful game launched by Kickstarter.

Key Tips to Keep in Mind when Designing Your Game

  1. Don’t Copy Another Game – Specifically don’t make a game that matches the concept of an existing game. For example do not create “Trucking Across America” which rewards players for making successful deliveries from one port to another.  This is just Ticket to Ride with a different theme.
  2. Do Modify Game Mechanics from Other Games – Spending time trying to create brand new game mechanics will paralyze your game design creativity, so don’t do it. Just use mechanics from games that you are already familiar with and modify, or improve, them to best meet the needs of your game.
  3. Number of Players – A lot of games are designed for four players and the may have an extension that allows for more. Consider designing a game for more than four players.  Game Night often involve more than just four players so a game that can include everyone has the opportunity to become a quick favorite.
  4. Limit the Use of Randomizers – The randomizers are important to allow your game to progress but adding too many randomizers will make your game less strategic and more a game of chance. Strategic game players strive to learn and achieve mastery of the board games.  If your game can only be won by luck then it will quickly lose favor and serious gamers will never rank your game at the top of their list.
  5. Make Sure the Game is Fun – You are always going to love your creation, this means you cannot be 100% objective. So it is important to keep the next four points in mind to make sure game will be fun for other people too.
  6. Have Your Game Play Tested – Other people are willing to play test your game. Board Game Geek has a great forum where you can submit your game for play testing and receive 100% unbiased feedback.  This is usually accomplished best with reciprocity, so consider offering some time to help other board game developers and pay test their games too.
  7. Manage the Playing Time – Games that seem to go on forever aren’t as fun as games that have a consistent playing time. Today most people have short attention spans and people would rather play one game three or four times rather than one game one time.  A good rule of thumb is to keep your games playing time around 60 minutes.
  8. Keep Players Engaged – Many classic games are designed with everyone taking their turn and then waiting until it is their turn again. These games require a lot of waiting for your next turn.  Newer games have all players involved during every turn.  For example, everyone may collect elements in Settlers of Catan during every turn.  Then when it is your turn these elements can be used to build or purchase development cards.
  9. Game Play Complexity – Complex board games are desired by strategic board games but do not make it too complex. The goal would be to create a game that everyone can clearly understand after playing it three to four times.  You do not want to have a game that players need to constantly refer to the rules of the game.
  10. Add a FAQ Sheet with Rules – A good strategic game will have situations that at first glance will seem contradicting, and maybe they are contradicting, but as the game creator you can write the rules to clarify this.
  11. Multiple Ways to Win – Games that can be won when different strategies are pursued are better than games where everyone is competing using the same strategy. During your testing phase experiment with different strategies.  Make sure that each strategy can be used to win the game. 

Other Game Creation Resources

Stonemaier Games

Stonemaier Games is a great resource for anyone who is serious about creating their own board game and desires to have their game played by hundreds of thousands of people.  The following two links will be extremely helpful:

Lessons from Stonemaier’s game design experience will allow you to learn from their mistakes and allow you to find quicker game design success.

Submitting a Game to Stonemaier for Review – note that Stonemaier Games does not always receive applications for new game proposals.

3D Printing

3D Printing will be needed when you are ready to make your prototype.  The great thing is that you don’t need your own 3D printer; here are a couple of good options.

Fusion 360 is 3D design software.  This is free software for projects less than $100,000.  To learn how to use this software start with this Fusion 360 video tutorial.

After you get your prototypes designed you can get them produced at 3D Hubs.

There are other 3D printing options too if you prefer not to do the design by yourself. 

You3Dit and Shapeways are all in one site where you can create, design, and print your board game prototypes.

Many local libraries also have 3D printers, so consider visiting your library today.  Check out makexyx to find 3D printers near you.

Launch your Game

Option 1 – Kickstarter

After you have don all of the hard work Kickstarter can take your game to the next level.  Kickstarter is the Crowdfunding arena that not only provides you with funds but also the attention that your game will need for success.  Watch this video explaining how Exploding Kittens successfully used Kickstarter.

Go to Kickstarter and start your campaign.

Option 2 – Amazon

If you have the funds to produce your game and you want to launch it on your own then these are the steps that you will want to follow.

Produce your game, the game instructions, and games boxes from your local productions team.  Some of these parts can also be produced by Alibaba.  Only use Alibaba to produce just one part of your game.  Having them produce your entire game will put you at risk of having your game copied and sold without your permission.  However, they are a good option if you need specialized dice or other generic game pieces produced in mass.

Then open an Amazon Seller Account and list your product for sell on Amazon in the Toys and Games section.  Fulfillment by Amazon can manage your board game inventory, take orders, and deliver the games.   

One of the great benefits of Kickstarter is that they bring you the “crowd”.  Using this method you need to find the crowd yourself.  You can do this in three specific ways.  First start with your current social media accounts and contacts; let everyone know about your game and where they can find it with a link to your amazon listing.  Encourage your close friends to continue to share this information.

Then open a YouTube channel and create 10 different videos highlighting your board game in different ways.  Post one new video every other day, or every third day.  Again after these are posted to your channel be sure to share this information on all of your other social media accounts too.

Finally leverage Pinterest the same way as YouTube.  Create 10 Pins and periodically post them on your boards.  Again share them with your friends and encourage them to save them to their boards too.

Obviously there is more work with this option to launch your board game, but if you are concerned about the additional expenses with Kickstarter you should be aware that other options do exist. 

Summary

If you are tired of just playing board games, or you and your Game Night Bros think you can make the next Epic game then stop playing for a while and start creating.

Creating a board game will not be an easy process, but when you have completed your original board game you will find a great deal of satisfaction.  Even if your game isn’t as successful as you would like it to be there is a good chance that you will learn a lot in this process and you will be one step closer to success the next time you try.  Don’t let the fear of failure, or the actual failure, hold you back.  Most great success have come after many great setbacks.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”  –  Walt Disney

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  –  also Walt Disney

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