Step 1: "No one’s going to buy a board game without a board!"


Many people get into designing their own board games because they play a lot of board games and think to themselves from time to time that they could make something even better.

Other people don’t play that many board games at all, but have stumbled across an idea that they believe is the next Trivia Pursuit.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to play games. A lot of games.
Here’s why:
I went to a game store on an advertised board game night where I came across another board game designer. He had brought his game and he wanted some people to help play test it. I was intrigued and agreed to play the game. I won’t bore you with the details of the game, but you can believe that all the playtesters had some advice for this would-be game designer.
My first suggestion was to get rid of the board. There was needless rolling of a die to move around the board when in the end it didn’t really matter. He was outraged at the idea of removing the board game!
“You can’t have a board game without a board! No one’s going to buy a board game without a board!”

My initial response to this was referring him to Apples to Apples, which at the time had sold over 3 million copies, and uses just cards and no board whatsoever. He had never heard of it.
Now it’s no crime to NOT play every game out there – but you should be familiar with what’s out there. If you’re making a party game – play a lot of party games! If you’re making a strategy game – play strategy games! Of course you can’t play every game (but I do try!), so instead think of it as researching your competition. Go into game stores and look at games that are targeting the same customers as yours is. Go online (www.boardgamegeek.com) and do the same.
    Why is this important (besides the anecdotal reason above)? You need to be familiar with game mechanics in other games, themes that are popular (and not popular!), how many pieces are in the games that are similar to the one you want to make and you need to be familiar with what kind of games each publisher publishes. This last point is important and will be the topic of an upcoming post.
    So the obvious take away here is to become familiar with what you’re getting into. They say the number one advice for writers is to read a lot, and the same can be said of game designers – play a lot!
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3 thoughts on “Step 1: "No one’s going to buy a board game without a board!"

  1. Even if he hadn’t investigated the world of board games, he would still have heard of card games.

    So I don’t know if this is a story about someone not knowing enough about board game design, so much as a story about someone who asked for feedback but didn’t really want to change anything.

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    • Yes he definitely had some issues with receiving feedback unfortunately. I do know that a better knowledge of what games are out there (at least in the genre of the game that you’re making), can only benefit you. There have been a few times when we had an idea for a game but then had to change it drastically or cancel it altogether when someone would beat us to the punch.

      Imagine trying to pitch a game about pulling rectangular blocks out of a tower without making it topple to a publisher. They’d wonder if you have never seen Jenga before!

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  2. Ii think, and correct me if I’m wrong, Jay, that the point is that the person didn’t realize that board games don’t necessarily have to have a board in order to sell and sell well. It seems like someone who doesn’t understand the market as well as someone who isn’t open to feedback – so definitely a good point, James.

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