Board games are kind of awesome. They are pure, complete packages of game design that communicate an idea in a beautifully accessible way. Don’t believe me? Check out Shut Up and Sit Down. It’s an awesome show that sheds light on some great game design gems.
Realizing that I love board games was easy. Coming up with a concrete reason why was the hard part. Luckily, I think I’ve done it.
Board games, by their very nature, tend to represent aspects of the game as physical objects. Obvious, right? In play, this isn’t that special because it’s pretty much a necessity. But, as a part of the design process, it’s fascinating. In order to design a board game, you have to identify what aspects of the game should become “things.” For example, in a game about Roman conquest, should carriages be “things?” Can players get them? Yes? OK, make some carriage tokens.
Now here’s where things get interesting. With board games especially, designers often make “things” at will. In my Roman conquest example, I could have made “glory” a thing. I could have made “appeasing the gods” a thing. Then, I’d just make some kind of token and toss it in the box. It’s not that video games don’t do this, but this is often one of the first thoughts when crafting a board game. Video game designers can learn from this.
The theme of a game can be very different from what matters in a game. Jesse Schell touches on this topic (“Endogenous Value”) in his awesome book. I see so many video games that seem to tackle only the obvious facets of their theme. When you’re considering what your game is about, try to be specific. It’s about ninjas? OK, what about them? Stealth? Fear? Day-to-day life in Japan as an assassin for a daimyo? Board games are good at taking these often-ignored aspects and constructing entire games around them. There’s no reason why video games can’t do the same.
I see all of these games about “modern warfare” that end up being about shooting. What about survival? Why do racing games have to be about driving? The crazy thing is, these concepts have been explored successfully in games like Reccatear and Football Manager. They took an overlooked/sidekick-ish aspect of a larger idea (RPG’s or Football/Soccer) and expanded on it. In a world of clones and “safe” big budget titles, this is the way for small developers to really grab the interest of players. By existence alone, these types of games make you say “Oh wow, I never thought of playing a game like that before.”
Don’t be afraid to play with what matters in your game. Push the envelope.