The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

5 reasons we design games

Last week we discussed the top 3 ways to tell your game isn’t ready to pitch or publish. Today, we’re going to take a look inside ourselves as game designers and talk about why we design games.

There are so many reasons people make the leap from gamers to game designers. We’re going to look at 5 of these reasons.

#5 Improve an existing game

If you’re like me, you might have started designing your own games because you noticed aspects of existing games that you thought could be improved.

Many years ago, my friends were hooked on Cards Against Humanity. They couldn’t get enough. I really liked it at first, but found that it quickly got repetitive and some “trump cards” usually won. It also lacked any personal aspect, as I might have had funnier answers in my head, but was restricted to the cards in my hand. My first game took the concepts from this party game and added more creativity and replayability.

My second idea was based on a card game my family used to play whenever we got together over the holidays. It was known as Frustration or Bug Your Neighbour. It was a fun game but it took hours to play. So, I set out to create a dice version of the game that you could play in under 20 minutes. It was almost completely luck-based and will likely never be published, but it’s fun and my family still asks to play it.

Maybe you found yourself in the same position, wanting to improve upon an existing game. This is a very common starting point for board game designers.

#4 Creating the game YOU want to play

Similarly, maybe you had a game in your head that you wanted to play, but when you went out looking for that game in stores or scoured BGG, you couldn’t find a game like this that existed.

So, you do what any determined gamer would do and create it yourself!

Being your first foray into game design, it may or may not have been very good, but it may have started you off on a journey into game design.

While deciding to start making your first game may have involved improving an existing game or designing the game you wanted to play, the reason you keep designing probably goes a bit deeper. Let’s get into some of those longer lasting reasons.

#3 We love a good challenge

I’m a problem solver. I always have been. I love a good challenge. Put a problem in front of me and I’ll work away at it until I find a solution. And sometimes that first solution doesn’t work so well and another solution is necessary. It’s all about experimentation. And persistence.

This is essentially the whole process of designing a game: identifying problems and coming up with solutions.

Whether it’s using a concept from an existing game, getting ideas from playtesters and other designers, or coming up with the solution on your own, this process is repeated time and again when you’re designing a game.

Some will design their first game and then almost immediately put it on the shelf and never return to it when they realize how much work goes into turning an idea into an amazing game. If you’re not good with taking constructive criticism or problem solving, board game design is going to be a frustrating undertaking.

#2 Games can help others

Some suggest we learn best by playing (or at least by doing things “hands on”). Board games are all about play. They are tactile. They require interaction.

Teachers are turning more and more to games to teach and reinforce concepts to their students.

You want to teach addition and subtraction? Games are great for this.

You want your students to understand how to work together? Give them a cooperative game.

You want to teach coding? Put a game in front of your students that requires programmed movement.

Games promote social skills and can help students learn how to win and lose graciously. Students can learn how to plan and strategize.

However, this is not limited to children. Many of these same skills and others are beneficial to adults as well.

I have a friend who credits playing games for helping him recover from a stroke. The act of focusing on pieces on the board and moving them around allowed him to regain many of his fine motor skills. Just incredible!

And they say games are just for kids…

#1 Games bring joy

When you playtest a game of yours with others and see player’s faces light up, a group of friends sharing some laughs, or that moment the player who everyone thought was out of the game pull off a combo against all odds to win the game, you’ve created memories. Memories that will stay with people for a long time.

This is my biggest reason for creating games. While I got into creating games as a way to improve on other games, I stayed with it because I loved solving problems and I could see how games could help others, yet I ultimately am still here making games because they bring other people joy.

This brings me happiness and makes me want to continue to make more games. Games that will bring more people into this amazing community and give them a reason to smile.

If you’re like me, playing games and sharing them with others brings a joy that is unmatched. That’s why I make games.

Wrapping it up

Whatever your reason for making games, it’s likely way more focused on enjoyment and the love of a good challenge than on making money. It’s a creative endeavor that is unlike any other.

If you make games for the right reasons and continue to improve your skills, you never know – maybe one day you’ll create that next hit game.

Why do you make games?

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

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6 comments

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    Cheers Joe.
    I can tell you how those 5 points reflect mine!
    Its why I wanted to design games and not just play them. I cant wait for the pandemic to end so we can play more in RL. I am running a game design project at my School this term. The kids love it, and are surprised by the level of challenge skill and thought. If only there was more financial reward as a Games designer, I could afford ot do it do it full time 😉

    Thanks so much for the comment, Lawrence! I too can’t wait to get back to playing more games in real life.

    That’s great that you’ve been able to incorporate a game design project at school. There is SO much to learn from designing a game and you use and hone many skills.

    Thanks for this great article, which I can relate to strongly Joe. I started off with a creative urge, and then realised how much work was involved to actually come up with a decent game people would want to play more than once. That last part, the playability and the longevity is maybe the biggest part of the challenge as there is soooo much stuff out there….thousands of other options!

    Game creation can go really deep, and has much more to it than appears at first. But it’s also always about the human interaction and the emotions invoked by playing, so I like that there is a lot you can learn and many ways to make things better, but also that you can always bring it back to basics too; Was it fun to play?

    Thanks for your comment, Jason! Game design definitely can get really deep. It can take time to craft a really great player experience and get it just right.

    When it comes down to it though, that’s usually the question. Was it fun to play?

    Great information, I’m a first time game designer and it has helped me a lot with my depression, living by myself and away from my family in Mexico it’s been very hard this past years. Thanks for the tips and all the information that you bring to the industry. Greetings from Texas.

    Thanks, Ekan. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with that. I’m glad that you’ve found designing games helps you. That’s a powerful thing.