Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

2 November, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Project Research

Based on last week’s feedback, it seems there is some interest in doing a shared project. I’ve decided that a board game would be a nice first step. As Aaron pointed out, this also allows us to focus more on the game instead of computer tech.

So this first week we’re going to do our research to learn more about doing a board game. This won’t be the only research we’ll do, but it’s the important first step.

Read on for more thoughts and some guidelines for the project.

First, let me set some expectations for the project. I primarily want this as an exercise for people to enjoy. I don’t really plan on putting the game together and formally trying to get it published. Depending on the skill set we have here, there might be a handsome PDF file people can download to build their own game set.

Second, even though I’m calling this a “board game”, it could also be a card game. Depends on what theme and mechanics are appropriate. Also note that this is going to be a fairly lengthy process, since each step is going to take about a week. Also note that I might abandon this project if interest wanes significantly. A week without a reply to a post will tell me people aren’t interested. So, please, make sure to participate.

Also, if you’re thinking Monopoly when I say “board game”, time to expand your horizons. Go check out some modern games. The classic is Settlers of Catan, which Randy Farmer dubbed a “co-opetition” game. The game is interesting because of the variable game board, as well as the aspect of having to cooperate with other people to get ahead of the pack.

So, for you research, go out and post a link to a resource about board games in general. Or, post multiple links. Links to books will help, too, but it’d be nice if everyone could read the info online. Any information will be helpful. Try to find information about an area you might not be well-versed in. For example, what steps should you take if we were going to try to publish the game?

Here’s my contribution: Brenda Brathwaite’s Blog. She’s actually been constructing a board game, and has interesting links to other resources. Brenda worked on the Wizardry series of games, so she has a long history of game design. She’s now teaching game design and been looking into non-digital games, hence the board game project she’s been posting about.

So, what are the fruits of your research? What will help us on our project?


  1. Monopoly‘s a hell of a starting point, though. Luck and strategy both play strong roles in that game, providing a lot of dynamics. Catan and Carcassonne are my favorite XBL Arcade games. Sometime this week, I’ll post on my site about what features I liked in several boardgames, card games, and games like Dominoes. I grew up in a big family with many extended relations (cousins, aunts and uncles, etc), so I have a lot of experience with boardgames.

    There’s an insightful interview with Catan creator Klaus Teuber here. One thing I thought was interesting is that he originally planned the game to be about both exploration and settlement, but he chose to split it into two separate games to keep the rules simple. I’ve played the game countless times on my 360, and I never realized how reality-based the game is, such as “the cycle of harvesting-trading-building”. Just like Monopoly, Catan was apparently created with reality as a very deliberate inspiration.

    Another important part of the interview is where Klaus says he thinks that successful boardgames encourage communication between players.

    And in regard to testing, Klaus says “too many negative test rounds can kill a game, even if it has some great core elements. In order to prevent a resulting fatigue effect with a certain game, I make sure to think about it a lot before I test it with others.” I imagine Brian and others might have experience with other strategies for maintaining enthusiasm during prototyping and testing.

    I’ll search for more links later in the week. I did read another interview with Teuber in which he said he prefers to emphasize chance, not only to keep gameplay unpredictable and fresh, but also so that people of various ages and skill levels can play together. Before I was eight years old, I was already enjoying several boardgames and cardgames with my parents and grandparents. I’ve only once enjoyed a video game with my parents (Mario Party 64), and never with a grandparent or someone of that age. I agree with Teuber.

    Comment by Aaron — 3 November, 2008 @ 10:21 PM

  2. I’m not sure what type of game you’re contemplating, but these are useful for abstract strategy game design:

    The Games Journal is a magazine about board game design, including articles about specific games and also about the design process. I believe it is no longer running, but the articles are available for free download.

    Abstract Games Magazine is another magazine that is no longer running. Selected articles are available for free download.

    Zillions of Games is a universal game engine. It includes an object-oriented programming language that allows you to design a board, specify the moves available to various pieces, win conditions, etc., and then you can play your game against a fairly sophisticated AI. It’s great for playtesting as long as your game isn’t too complicated.

    Again, most of these are focused on abstract strategy games (turn based games with fairly simple rules and little luck), so whether they’ll be useful depends on the type of game you’re designing.

    -Scott G.

    Comment by Scott — 4 November, 2008 @ 12:36 AM

  3. Ticket to Ride is another good example to look at; it’s kind of clever in that the randomness is mitigated by applying the same random factor to all players (viz. the shared draw). However it also lacks most of the wonderful co-operation dynamics which are such an integral part of Settlers.

    As a side point, on the whole I think that – all other things being equal – randomness trumps strategy when it comes to generating broad appeal. If we consider two games which both have extremely simple rules, viz. Snakes and Ladders vs. Go, the former is much more popular than the latter, which generates a very strong “cult” following but can’t really capture a broad audience. Seen in that light, Teuber’s argument makes good sense, but one has to consider the implications.

    That being said, I also think it might be a good idea to make a co-operative board game with varying difficulty levels – cooperation is just more engaging than competition in many ways, and difficulty adjustment can address the issue of weaker players. In this case, the function of randomness is not to balance against stronger players but to balance against degenerate strategies (although it also performs the former function to some degree). The issue here is that the game system may need to become more complex to avoid easy identification of said degenerate strategies (see: Shadows over Camelot).

    Comment by n.n — 4 November, 2008 @ 7:09 PM

  4. Links, hmmm. especially

    Comment by Rik — 5 November, 2008 @ 2:52 AM

  5. Here is a pretty useful site of tons of links to lots of Board Game sites, blogs, and other information about the subject. This site also has resources from around the world about Board Games.

    2006 Board Game sales $802.2 million – Boston Globe November 29, 2007

    Comment by Danny Smith Jr. — 8 November, 2008 @ 1:38 PM

  6. Here is a good link

    Comment by Minopoli — 30 November, 2008 @ 8:23 PM

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