Making a board game on a budget – Part 1: the idea

In this series of blog posts I will tell you the history of how my first game Apocalypse Frenzy came to be, while at the same time I will give some tips on how you can create your own board or card game. These are my assumptions for the series:

  • You want to make a board or card game.
  • The game is not just for you and your friends, you want to bring it into the world.
  • You have never made a board or card game before.
  • You don’t have a lot of money to spend.

If any (preferably all) apply to you, keep on reading! Or maybe you’re just interested in the history of this particular game, that’s also fine. Also check out my earlier blog post for a general overview of the board game design process (I will go into more detail in this series).

The birth of Apocalypse Frenzy

It was late 2013, and winter was coming. The idea of making my own board game had been in my head for a while. This was not the idea I used in Apocalypse Frenzy, but an idea for a game where you were part of a country that wanted to become independent, like Scotland, Basque country, Friesland, etc. But I had no idea how to start or where to look for making my own game. If you google “how to make a board game” the first hit gives some information, but it doesn’t really look professional. A few hits later I arrived on the site of thegamecrafter: a web-based custom print-on-demand game publishing service for independent designers . This was exactly what I was looking for!

After looking around on the site, I noticed there was a challenge running. Who could make the best mystery game? It should be a game with deductive elements or hidden information.

The deadline was in two months. But my current game idea did not really fit, so I had to invent a new game. Below were the steps I took. I do not recommend following the same steps, so I will point out what I’ve learned.

  1. Brainstorm about a setting for the game with my girlfriend. We ended up with aliens trying to destroy Earth.
  2. Think of a nice game mechanic. It started out simple for me: a deduction element like in werewolves/mafia, where you have to find out who the bad guys are, but with less discussion and more accusations based on the actual actions of the players. Also with less players. This was my core mechanic: you would play cards whose value depended on your alignment. This information could be used by other people to give an indication of who is who. I added some other mechanics (set collection, card abilities, etc.) and together they formed the first version of the game.
  3. Test the mechanic. I made an early prototype (see below) of the game cards and played it by myself a few times to see if it worked. This is very hard with a multiplayer game with hidden information, but it is an easy first step. It seemed to work in my case, but more testing was required.oldApocalypseFrenzy
  4. Find an artist. Since I could not draw, I tried to find someone who could. I asked my friends on social media and one of them was interested in joining this project which should have lasted for two months but really lasted for years in the end. I actually did this step too early: I should have tested the game more, the game was not ready yet. Still, the art made it way more attractive than the ugly first prototype above.
  5. Make the artwork, design the cards and other components, write a rulebook. At this point the deadline of the mystery challenge was approaching soon. I did everything in a rush, and so did my poor illustrator friend. The illustrations turned out great though, and so did the rulebook. The lay-out of the cards could have been better, as well as the game box, but they were acceptable. However, it was all done too fast: point 3 was way more important. I think I tested the game only once or twice with other people than myself. The game looked good, but it was mediocre at best.
  6. Order a prototype. I did this on thegamecrafter. International shipping took a long time and was expensive, but the result was very good for a prototype. I played it with some friends. I took some photos to use as action shots. This is one of the few points in the whole history of my game where I actually spent money.
  7. Enter the contest. I made a page for the game on thegamecrafter and submitted it. I ended up 36th out of 57, which was not bad for a first rushed effort. But I did not end up with a good game. I spent at least two years improving it.

As I said, I do not recommend following these steps. What do I recommend? Well, in the remainder of this blog series I will point out the lessons I’ve learned, and I will give an actual recommendation. So be sure to read the next parts!

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