How to create your own board game
Board games are more popular than ever, even in this age of screens and streaming. In 2017, over 3,500 new board games were published, and this number is likely to increase as more people discover the joy of analog games.
If you are thinking about designing your own board game, whether it's for your own enjoyment or to seek publication, there are a few steps you can take to begin your design journey.
Creating a game can be a deeply gratifying experience, and there's a good chance you already have all the supplies you need to make your first prototype.
After tweaking your design and playtesting, you may find yourself ready to seek publication.
Maybe you have a notebook full of ideas of how your game will work, or maybe it's all just in your head.
Either way, before you make a rough prototype, you may want to write a brief document about what your game will be, and what goals you hope your game will achieve. These can be as simple as you like. Consider writing a short list of themes or emotions to evoke in your game. Some examples include: planning, rewarding, cooperative, frightening, silly.
Use this document as your reference point as you develop and adjust your game. Understanding what your goals are will help keep you on track as you make major changes later.
Some people prefer to start with a theme first, while other start with the mechanics of the game--what decisions players can make and how they interact with the game and with each other. There is no right answer, but you should have either theme or mechanics at the core of your idea.
Your first prototype
The uglier and cheaper your first prototype is, the easier it will be to change--and it will change a lot.
In most cases, all you need to get started are some index cards, scissors, and a pencil. Resist the temptation to add artwork of any kind. If you find yourself reluctant to get rid of a component because you put time and effort into it, your game may suffer.
Bear in mind that there is a slim chance anyone else will see this prototype. All it needs to do is represent the early ideas of your game.
Your first playtests will usually just be you running through your game alone, approximating the decisions players may make. Avoid showing others your game before you do a solo playtest. In most cases, you will spot problems quickly and will be able to change them before your first multiplayer playtests.
Once your game is running smoothly in solo tests, take it to a group of trusted friends who are willing and interested in playtesting.
Remember that playtesting is different from playing a completed game. It's okay to change the rules mid-game. In fact, you can learn a lot from making small revisions while you play. If something is clearly not working the way you intended, there usually isn't too much to learn by playing the game to completion.
Listen carefully to the advice of others, taking notes of their reactions and suggestions, but remember only you know what is best for your game. Always remember what game you set out to create, and keep that idea at the core of the experience.
Any game will undergo changes during its design process. As you tweak, you may want to make only one change at a time to see how it affects the game as a whole.
Keeping a journal of changes and your current rule set can be helpful. Tracking playtests is another useful tool, especially if you are trying to balance your game.
Writing the rules
You probably have an early rules document from when you started playtesting, but at some point you should create a well-edited rules document.
One of the toughest tests you can put your game through is a blind playtest, which is when a group of first-time players learn the game from the rulebook, while you watch them play without commenting or correcting mistakes. This will help you both edit your rules and fine-tune your game's experience.
Creating a polished prototype
Once you are happy with how your game plays, the next step is to create a prototype that is functional and possibly even eye-catching.
There's no need to hire an artist, unless you're making the game for you and your friends. If you are seeking publication, placeholder art will work fine, whether it's art you find online or from a resource like game-icons.net.
The graphic design should be clean and intuitive, and the type should be large enough to read easily.
The most common way to sign a game with a publisher is to set up meetings at game conventions like GenCon.
Research publishers to see which ones publish games similar to yours. The publisher's website should have a submission page with guidelines. These should be followed as closely as possible.
If a publisher is interested in your game, they will set up a meeting at a convention where you will pitch your game to them.
If you have put in the work and research, there's a chance you will see your game on the shelves someday.
However, publishing doesn't have to be the endgame. Creating a game is an achievement on its own that anyone should be proud of.
Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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