How to make a board game

So you’ve got this great idea for a board or card game, and you wonder how to turn this vague idea into reality. Well first of all: be warned, as it will take a lot of effort. Making a single copy just to play with you and your friends is no problem: there are tutorials for this, or you could search for ways on how to make a ‘prototype’.

But what if you want lots of people to be able to play? There are many tutorials on publishing a board game as well, so this blog will just show a quick overview of things you need to worry about, with some insight into the process I went through with my game. Warning: Apocalypse Frenzy is my first game and it isn’t even published yet, so this blog won’t be as good as an expert’s blog!

1. Play modern board games

Having played Risk and Monopoly is not enough: since Settlers of Catan, there has been a boost in popularity, quantity and quality in the board game market, and you need to know what’s out there if you want to make a serious effort. If you know the type of board game you want to make (miniature war game, card game, rpg, etc.) check the most popular games in that genre, for example on boardgamegeek.com.

2. Make a quick prototype and test it alone

The design process of a board game goes like this: test > change > test > change > etc. Repeat 1000 times. Your game won’t be perfect from the start. Probably it will really suck at the start. That’s why you don’t start making something that looks pretty: you start making something FAST. Make something small first and see if it works if you play it alone. You might notice that you need to add or remove something, or that some part is not fun at all. I will give two examples.

oldApocalypseFrenzy.jpg
The first version of Apocalypse Frenzy. An easy to make, easy to modify draft.

In Apocalypse Frenzy, players are allowed to only play cards of their own colour. While testing the game, I noticed that having three cards in your hand makes it a VERY likely situation to not have any cards of your colour. So it often happened that you couldn´t do anything at all in a turn. After testing some more, the hand limit was increased so this situation would not occur as often, and a trading mechanism was invented just in case you do need to get more cards of your colour.

A trickier part of Apocalypse Frenzy is that all cards have the feature that their value is dependent on the alignment of the player. So each card has two values: one for Protectors, and one for Destroyers. You can use this to guess what someone else’s alignment would be, as a Destroyer would be more likely to play a card that gives a lot of points to Destroyers. While playing alone it looked like this mechanism would work, but it was hard to see because I can’t really pretend that I don’t know another player’s alignment, because I was controlling that other player as well. So in this case I had to test with others, which is the next step.

3. Test the prototype with others

Once you’ve designed a game that actually works (at least, when you play it alone), you can test it on others. Some parts of the game, like the previous example, can only be tested this way. Ask for honest feedback from the players: this can be hard with friends and family, so try the game with strangers too. Strangers who probably want to try a prototype can be found at board game conventions and game stores and on the internet. Listen to the feedback and use it to improve your game until you think it’s finished.

12291045_881447641969472_2902195444602379447_o.jpg
Testing a prototype of Apocalypse Frenzy at a board game convention.

4. Publishing: the two paths

Now that you’ve got a game that works and that people think is fun to play, you have two possibilities to go from prototype to real board game: finding a publisher, or self-publishing. Self-publishing has become easy with crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, where the financial risks are low, however they require a lot of knowledge and effort in marketing, distributing, contacting manufacturers, artists and reviewers, etc. If you manage to find a publisher, you can show them your game and see if they like it enough to publish it for you. They will do the marketing and other things for you, but you will lose some control over your game as they adapt it to their style and what they think sells better.

This was just a quick overview of the design process of Apocalypse Frenzy and board games in general. For further reading, check some of the links below:

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