Game Development

How to Make a Board Game

So you have an idea for the next great board game, but you're not sure where to go next? You're in luck! Board games are one of the most simple types of media to prototype - All you need is a pencil and paper. From there, however, you must be willing to do tons of research, development, and testing to make your product stand out in a growing field. Yes, board game development is a full-time job (albeit a fun one).

Read on to find out how to take your project from idea to reality.

Making your own tabletop game can be quite a balancing act.

Making your own tabletop game can be quite a balancing act.

Why Make a Board Game?

Before you begin development in earnest, you may wonder whether making a board game is right for you. After all, many of us are busy, and creating a brand new game from scratch can be time-consuming. Some won't find the endeavor worth it, but for many of us, game development is a fulfilling and dynamic pastime.

Here are a few reasons it's worth the time to make your own board game.

1. You can explore ideas that would falter in other mediums

Board games appeal to all types of people, and are played around the world. That means even a game with a relatively obscure topic can go on to great success. Look at Ticket to Ride, a game about train racing which has sold over 3 million copies to date. Or King of Tokyo, a tribute to classic kaiju films that has launched several successful expansions.

2. You can tell dynamic, evolving stories

Because players are unpredictable, your rules can launch any number of memorable adventures for your audience. Your game could be the subject of fond memories and shared stories for years to come!

3. Players can build off of your game to create personalized experiences

Unlike video games, tabletop games can be easily modified by any player wishing to put their own spin on the rules. This makes them even more flexible and fun for your audience.

4. Creating is rewarding and fun

If nothing else, board game development is personally rewarding in a major way. There's nothing quite like seeing an idea go from your head to a finished product that everyone can play. It's creatively empowering to create something where there was nothing before.

King of Tokyo is a popular board game based on a relatively niche theme

King of Tokyo is a popular board game based on a relatively niche theme

Brainstorming

Once you've decided that game development is for you, the first step of the creation process is brainstorming.

A game idea can begin with either mechanics or theme.

Mechanics are the rules and interactions of a game. In the game Monopoly, for instance, rolling dice to move and collecting money on the "GO" space are both game mechanics. These interactions determine the type of experience players will have with your game, so they must be carefully designed and tested.

Theme, on the other hand, refers to the world in which your game takes place. Theme can encompass fiction, artwork, and overall motif of your game. At HobbyHorse Games, we generally tend to begin designing based on theme first. That way, we can mold the mechanics of our game to better fit the experience we are looking to create for players.

Game mechanics are often based around dice or cards.

Game mechanics are often based around dice or cards.

Prototyping

After the brainstorming process comes prototyping. In this stage, your goal is to create a rough physical facsimile of your game and use it to refine your rules. You want to get a sense for exactly how your game will play out when other people first get their hands on it.

When you start prototyping, it's often best to simply use rough sketches on note cards. This allows you to quickly add, remove, and alter game mechanics on the fly. Plus, you won't have the burden of putting lots of effort into something that just doesn't work in the end.

When you first begin playing, you will want to focus on rapid prototyping. Play lots of games using your materials, and quickly strike out the elements that don't work so you can focus on those that do. Remember to only change one mechanic at a time, so you can see the specific impact that each edit has on the game.

You can start testing by yourself, even if your game is intended for multiple players. Simply place yourself in the role of all players. This is a good way to iron out any glaring flaws that make your game difficult to play or understand. 

Next, pan out to a small group of close friends. You friends are more likely to jump in to a testing session than strangers. Remember to encourage objective feedback as you play. 

Although friends are often more willing, they may not be as helpful as complete strangers in the long run. Even as you begin testing your game, try to slowly expose it to more and more strangers. They will be the most objective, and they can tell you definitively if your idea is worth producing commercially.

This is how we first began testing Firelight. Encouragement we received from blind playtests indicated that our testers would be willing to purchase the game commercially, and here we are today preparing for our Kickstarter!

When you test with strangers, it is important to pick up some info about each person who plays your game. Find out how experienced they are with your genre, what types of games they enjoy, and any other info that might pertain to your game. Why? Simple - You want to make sure that you are receiving feedback from the right audience. Someone who only plays European strategy games will be less likely to provide actionable feedback for your casual party game, for instance.

Places like UnPub can be great for getting feedback from strangers and fellow designers

Places like UnPub can be great for getting feedback from strangers and fellow designers

Making Components

Around the same time you start playtesting publicly, you may also want to invest in creating better components. There are several ways to do this.

Early games can benefit from sites like DriveThruCards and The Game Crafter. These services typically offer fast turnaround times and numerous materials, making them perfect for testing a wide variety of games.

When you settle on design components, keep in mind the sizes and shapes you're going for. Uncommon material shapes can make it harder to get quality playtesting materials, and can drive up your price of production in the end. Similarly, try to mitigate the number of uniquely-sized components in your game when you're designing - Firelight uses two different card sizes, and the second is only there because our Quest cards feature prominent artwork and lots of information.

It is also imperative to reach out to manufacturing companies sooner rather than later. These companies can give you an idea of the required sizing, colors (many use CMYK instead of RGB images because their printing facilities are located in China), and other helpful tips. We have received lots of helpful info from Whatz Games, PrintNinja, and others.

Some printers, like PrintNinja, will even offer incentives to Kickstarters for placing banners like this on their project page

Some printers, like PrintNinja, will even offer incentives to Kickstarters for placing banners like this on their project page

Finalizing & Shipping

Last but not least, finalize your designs according to your manufacturer's specifications. Keep in mind the proper bleed room and anything else that may be needed. 

Once you're ready to ship, keep in mind that shipping is often done from China and can take a while. Your manufacturer should provide you with an estimated schedule ahead of time. It can often take up to two months for your game boxes to make their way to your office. Additionally, keep in mind that the estimated schedule is just that - An estimate. Manufacturers can always fall behind, and you should take that into account when working out the timing of your release.

Finally, international shipping can be a real pain. Board games are a universal hobby, and are very popular in the US, Canada, and Europe. You may want to set up EU-friendly shipping, a topic which is complex enough to demand its own post but which can help you expand your game into new and profitable markets.

Examples of EU, US, and AU-friendly shipping icons

Examples of EU, US, and AU-friendly shipping icons

Take a Deep Breath

Phew - You did it! After all the testing, production, and back-and-forth, you've created your very own board game. But the fun doesn't stop there. Expect to play your game plenty after it's released, especially if you want to garner a larger crowd! For now, though, just take time to bask in your achievement. After all, it isn't every day that someone takes a concept all the way from idea to reality.