The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Why games are about so much more than winning or losing

We’re grown adults. We should be spending our time checking the stock market and shopping for sensible shoes, right? 

So, why is it that we still play games?

Is it because of our competitive nature?

How it feels to win?

Even when you’re playing solo or cooperative game, games can make you feel that competitive spirit. Sure, you’re not trying to defeat other players, but you are trying to beat the game, whether by yourself or with a group of friends.

Is it because of our inherent need to belong and be with other people? Board games certainly do have this strong social aspect to them. I feel that games can truly shape who we are and who we become.

Whether it be sports, video games, or tabletop games, they become a part of us.

Why games are about so much more than winning or losing 1

My grandma has been gone for over 14 years now. Some of the best memories that I have of her and our time together were eating her homemade chocolate chip cookies and playing card games like cribbage and euchre around her kitchen table.

There were also all the family get-togethers. Christmas at my grandma and grandpa’s could get to be dull for us kids, especially trying to make conversation with people you only see a few times a year.

Then one time after dinner, someone broke out a new game they got, called Balderdash. It’s a game where one player reads a very obscure word from their card and everyone else tries to make up a definition. Then everyone tries to guess the right one. But sometimes my family would veer away from reasonable answers and choose instead to get ridiculous pretty quickly. We were soon erupting with laughter.

It wasn’t long before Balderdash became a regular after-dinner staple at Christmas. We still laugh when we think about some of the crazy things that we came up with. I don’t know what compelled my uncle to write down “a buzzard’s udder”, but soon everyone was including some variation of this in their answer, and it always induced a lot of laughs.

Then there was the time my grandpa Scott took off his shirt before dinner because he was getting too hot. Funny enough, the word “Scotophobia” came up that night in the game, and wouldn’t you know it, one of my cousins defined this as “the fear of grandpa taking off his shirt.” We were all on the floor!

These are memories I’ll never forget, and we still laugh over them to this day.

There were other times when my cousin or I would bring over our Nintendo and we would play Mario, Blades of Steel, and other games while the adults talked and got dinner ready. But you know what? I barely remember those moments. What I remember is the connection and the fun that three generations of our family had coming up with ridiculous definitions and laughing our heads off!

I try to keep this tradition going by introducing my family to games after Christmas dinners, but also at any other family gatherings. We always have a great time and lots of laughs.

I also think back to when I started high school. I went from a small elementary school with a few hundred kids where everyone knew each other to a high school that was at least five times that size. Some of my old friends got into some bad habits like drinking, smoking, and worse. I could’ve ended up down the same path and almost did if it weren’t for a few other friends I made in grade 9. They often played cards at lunch and as I started to get to know them better, I sat with them more often.

When the weather was good, we’d usually go outside and play football. But while we were eating our lunches (and quite often for most of the lunch period), we would play card games like President and different variations of euchre, including some new ones I learned from them. By hanging out with these new friends at lunch and playing games, I became much closer with them and developed amazing friendships, some of which have lasted to this day. If it weren’t for these friends and the games that brought us together, I’m sure my life would have gone down a different path and probably one that I would be much less proud of today.

Oddly enough, something similar happened when I went to university. Here, I really knew nobody. But I got to know a couple of people in one of my early morning classes and through them, I was introduced to others who are still friends to this day. I was also really fortunate at that time to meet my soon-to-be-wife. We would all often find ourselves breaking out a deck of cards or a board game. Funny how this pattern just kept repeating!

Yet, I didn’t really think much about it or the impact it had on my life at the time. But my wife still remembers the time that she, as the lone female remaining, beat all of us guys at Monopoly. That’s something she won’t forget (or let us forget)!

All these memories. All these experiences. All these feelings that return and the people you remember when you think back to those times in your life… That’s why we play games.

We may grow up, but we never grow too old to play games.

This is also why we create games. While it’s an amazing feeling to be part of these experiences, imagine how it feels to be the one who created them. To stand back and watch others create their own memories. To be part of something awesome. We don’t just create games. We make memories.

What memories do you have of playing a game that you’ll never forget? Did you make a great friend or perhaps even meet your future partner while playing a game?

Tell me your story. I’d love to hear it. And if you’d love to make your own memories by creating your own board game, you’ll want to check this out.


Joe Slack

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    Hey Joe, thanks for this post! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the things that are best for us are the hardest to do, and I’d include playing/designing games in that category. My family likes playing games, but they also like watching TV. Sometimes it feels like a struggle to get everyone off the screens and into the physical world. But once we finally do pry ourselves away, we realize that playing games is so much more fun than watching TV or playing video games. It’s an effort, but a worthwhile effort and one that you’ve inspired me to double down on for my next family get-together!

    Hey Emily!

    That’s amazing to hear! It’s easy to lapse into something like watching TV that takes so little effort. But when we do something like play (or design) a board game, there’s so much more that we get out of it.

    Just like going to the gym, it’s difficult to start, but once you do you can see the benefits.


    I totally agree! Board games and RPGs have created and enhanced many essential relationships with my friends.

    Hello Joe, Funny you should mention trying to make conversation with relatives and a memory not forgotten …
    When I was dating my wife, I’d go to her house and try to be (seem to be) comfortable talking with her parents while waiting for her to get herself together. One day I came in the kitchen door and there was a deck of cards on the table. I don’t remember who started it, but by the time Mary came in there was coffee on and her mom & I were playing Gin Rummy with her dad kibitzing from his window seat. I enjoyed their company happily ever after.