|Keeping It Simple
Belongs To Us -
the story of how Breaking Away was published
PRODUCING A BOARD GAME FOR YOUR GRAPHICS
I am a student at The xxx xxxxx School in xxxxxxxxx.
I am studying graphics for one of my GCSE's. The
course includes designing a board game. I would be
much oblidged if you could send me some information
regarding the production of board/card game and
how/why they are successful.
I must get about two e-mails of this sort per month from
people lulled by our web site into thinking we are some
sort of big time games company. Some, thankfully,
ask some very specific questions about the games
production business but most make a very general request
for any information I think relevant. Not having
done a Graphics course of any sort it is very difficult
for me to determine what might be relevant - do they want
to know about the design of the game or the manufacturing
process? - but the text below is my shot at satisfying
the students' demands. I don't suppose for a moment any
of them will stumble across this article before sending
me an e-mail but at least I will be able to direct them
to this page in my reply.
GENERAL DESIGN CONCEPTS
The key ingredients to a good game are player interaction
and decision making.
By player interaction I mean that decisions or actions
taken by one player must have some impact on the
decisions or actions taken by another player. Ways of
encouraging player interaction include auctions, trading,
territorial expansion or what is known in the games hobby
as "Ha! Take that!" - which is usually achieved
by Player One playing a card on Player Two (e.g.
"You are too drunk to go to work today. Miss one
turn." Player Two might have a "Hangover
Cure" card in her hand which would enable her to
negate the effects of Player One's card.)
If we take Monopoly as an example, the game achieves
player interaction in three main ways.
Firstly, if a player lands on an property and declines to
buy it, the property goes up for auction. All players,
including the player who declined to buy it, then bid for
the property. (Notice here that this gives the player a
decision to make; will she get the property cheaper if
she allows it to go for auction or would she be better
off buying the property outright? If the other players
are strapped for cash she would be better off allowing
the property to go to auction).
Secondly, if players want to they may
trade properties between each other. This encourages
interaction in the form of negotiating the best deal.
Thirdly, there is a more passive form of interaction
which occurs when Player A lands on Player B's property
and has to pay rent.
In order to maintain interest in a game a player should
be offered the opportunity to make decisions often. The
game should offer the opportunity to analyse the current
situation (i.e. look at the board, look at the other
players' assets etc.) and make a decent guess at what
would be the best decision to make. The decision may be
right or wrong (perhaps through a misreading of another
player's strategy) but ideally the game should be one
where the quality of the decision is determined by the
play of the players, not the roll of the dice or the turn
of the card. In other words, try not to make your game
too luck dependent.
If we take the game Snakes & Ladders, for instance,
there is no decision making whatsoever in it, you just
roll the dice and move the "dobber" (counter).
However, what if instead of rolling the dice we gave the
players a hand of cards numbered from 1 to 6 and allowed
them to choose how many squares to move, playing 1 card
each turn and only replenishing the hand when all 6 cards
have been used? This adds a little more decision making
but makes it quite easy to navigate up the board. So what
if we introduced rules where players can play cards to
move other players' dobbers if, say, their own dobber is
on a square number that is divisible by 4 (when designing
the board you would colour code these squares)? What if
we also introduced rules which said only one dobber is
allowed on a square? This would allow a certain amount of
blocking, particularly if each player had 2 or more
dobbers to navigate up the board.
You could take the basic idea behind Snakes &
Ladders, include some of the ideas I have outlined above,
and completely change the theme so that it becomes a game
of exploring ancient ruins (lots of pits and ladders) or
beating the rush hour (lots of road blocks and short
One other good design concept is to keep the game moving
along at a brisk pace. Asking the player to make 1
agonising choice between 2 or 3 almost equally desirable
options every 3 minutes is much more preferable than
allowing the player to make 7 or 8 decisions out of a
possible 25 every twenty minutes. In other words, as a
player you are much more likely to have fun if your turn
comes round often, even if you don't have much to do on
your turn. If the game has a reasonable amount of
interaction you'll be involved on other players' turns
When designing your game bear in mind the production
process. How difficult will it be to produce the game you
are designing? Will it need a big board? Will it need
thousands of counters? Will it require lots of record
keeping on the part of players? Will it require special
In some ways it may be easier to look at what game
components you can easily lay your hands on and use that
as an inspiration for the game's theme. For instance, sea
shells, toy soldiers, beads, pebbles and marbles are easy
to get hold of. I've even thought of using cake
decorations in my games. Whatever you choose, as a
general rule it is better to have a few components than a
lot. Believe me, I have designed a game that requires
counting out 6 lots of 25 small counters, 6 lots of 5
medium counters, 6 lots of 4 large counters and 6 lots of
12 pawns into 6 plastic bags for one of my games and it
drives me nuts.
These days there is pretty good software available to
draw the board for you (if you choose to have a board;
not all "board" games do). Hopefully your
school will have an A3 inkjet printer to use so you can
print off a colour board. The ink will run if played on,
however, so you'll need to get it laminated. This can be
done at somewhere such as Ryman's. You won't be able to
fold the board after folding it, but you will be able to
roll it up.
If you need counters (of the tiddley-wink sort) I usually
have some in stock or you can get small quantities from
the Early Learning Centre, or even a Sunday morning car
Your game will look better in a box with a cover on it.
Again, we have blank (white) boxes available which we'll
be happy to sell to you (about 70p plus postage). On to
the blank box you can put a cover on the front, featuring
eye catching colour artwork and a logo. The cover should
contain the game's name, the designer (it is common
practice in mainland Europe to credit the designer), how
many players it is suitable for (e.g. 3 to 6), how long a
typical game takes (e.g. 90 minutes) and what age group
(e.g. 10 to 90).
On the back you can get by with black & white copy,
although colour is better. Here you should give a brief
description of the game and maybe showcase the
On the sides of the box you will need to put the name of
the game and possibly how many players it is for etc.
(e.g. "Saddle Up" - the game of pony trekking.
For 3 to 6 players, aged 10 and up)
The game should also contain rules. This
will possibly be the hardest bit if you actually have to
design a playable game. Typically it takes me 2 years to
design a game that works, which does not have any
loopholes in it, which keeps everyone involved and which
is actually enjoyable to play. In
order to get it to that stage I have to invite people to
play it over and over again, taking notes on what worked
and what didn't. Finally I have to find a group of people
who have never played it before and let them try the
finished version without any assistance from me to see
whether they can play
the game properly. Given that half the world seems to
play the wrong rules to Monopoly it is a lot easier than
you think for players to get the wrong end of the stick
Hopefully, however, your game will only have to look the
part, and not actually play well all the way through the
finish. So long as the first two turns look OK when you
demonstrate it, you should be all right; don't have a
rule in the Pony Trekking game where the first player can
hire all 6 available ponies on turn 1 and thereby prevent
all the other players from doing anything useful on their
When designing rules always include lots of examples,
preferably with diagrams.
I'll finish off by answering a few specific queries I
have received from other GCSE candidates.
1) How your games get from being designed
to being produced for the market
We do two types of game. "Game
kit" standard and "semi-pro" standard.
"Game kit" is for a game which we think
will sell to a small but dedicated following who
won't mind doing a bit of DIY on the game components;
this mainly means cutting out their own cards,
sticking labels on to counters and so on. Typically
the boards for these games are produced on our A3
high quality inkjet and laminated using a lamination
pouch (which makes it difficult to fold the board).
The artwork is typically done in-house by the lousy
but dedicated Fiendish partners, using software such
as Corel Draw, SmartDraw and Page Plus. The
"semi-pro" games are done to a higher
standard, which means employing a graphic artist to
do the artwork, getting the board produced
professionally by a printing company who will give it
a laminate coating and fold the boards for us. In
both the game kit and semi-pro versions our
components are sourced from either Dice & Games
or Plastics for
The "market" we are aiming at is the
committed board gamer who plays at least once a week
and who buys magazines on the subject. We do not sell
to the "gift" market or the high street
chains (chance would be a fine thing). The high
street market is very different to the one we aim at;
although none of the games companies would admit it,
they do not expect the games they sell to be played
more than once, if at all. Market research backs this
up - a game purchased in Britain is, on average,
played less than once.
2) How many people
does it take to produce a single game design?
How many people does it take to write
a song? Really, it depends. Most game designs are
solo efforts, although occasionally there are
2-person collaborations. A game designed by committee
would probably be a horrible concoction.
Having said that, although the design is usually a
solo effort there is a lot of consultation and
play-testing along the way, as alluded to above.
Ideally I'd like to try my game out on at least 3
groups of 4 or 5 people, typically people who play a
lot of games. These gamers have a lot of experience
of games - they will almost certainly have played
over 1,000 distinct board games in their life - so
they know what works and will have ideas which can be
borrowed and adapted from other games.
In addition, the graphic artist will have some input
on the design process, not only in terms of coming up
with interesting visuals but game aids too. Game aids
are things like scoreboards, markers to show whose
turn it is, crib sheets which outline the order of
play and such like.
GCSE Graphics Course