The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Make your own board game – Step 1: Create a prototype quickly

You have the best idea for a game. You can see the entire thing playing out in your head and you know it’s going to be perfect. It’s time to make your own board game.

But then, you realize that one part of it won’t work. It’s going to drag on. It won’t be any fun. There’s no way those two mechanics will go together.

You keep second-guessing yourself.

Weeks pass, and you’ve never actually even played your game. You’ve only played it out in your head.

The problem is, until you actually make some sort prototype and try it out, your idea will remain just that… an idea.

You need to take action to get that idea out of your head, and I’m going to show you how.

MVP (minimum viable prototype/product)

The easiest way to get going is to create a minimum viable prototype (MVP).

This means that rather than create the entire game you have in your head, which may consist of hundreds of cards with distinctive art, an elaborate board, and dozens of different components, you start with the minimal game you need to just get started.

What you’re doing is testing a concept. That means you don’t need to have everything fully in place.

The problem is, if you wait until you have everything you need and your game is absolutely perfect before you test it, you’ll never get your game to the table.

Don’t let perfection get in the way of what could be a really great game.

Create the minimal number of cards, a simple board, and grab whatever components you need from around the house, and let’s get this to the table fast!

Make sure to think about your audience and the niche for your game.                                                              

Tools and components you can use to make your own board game

When you’re creating your MVP, use what you have available to you. Don’t worry about going to the store or ordering special components online to get it just right.

You probably have a computer, hopefully also a printer, along with paper, scissors, pens and pencils. This is all you need to really get started.

You can make some simple cards from paper, card stock, blank playing cards, or index cards, if you have these.

As a gamer, you probably have plenty of games on your shelf as well. Borrow whatever meeples, cubes, dice, tokens, money, or anything else you may need. You can always put these back in the original game box later.

Get with the program

While you can definitely create cards and other components by hand, there’s something to be said about being able to make multiple changes quickly.

This is where computer software can help you to create and make iterations to cards and other components quickly.

Rather than changing the value and actions on multiple cards by hand, you can set things up to make one change that will be reflected throughout your entire deck.

There are plenty of computer programs you can use to create cards, tokens, boards, etc.

You can use any of the following programs to create most of what you need:

  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Canva
  • InDesign
  • Photoshop
  • Nandeck
  • Component Studio
  • Various others

There is not necessarily a “best” program. However, you could say that the best program for you right now is the one you’ll use.

You can always learn Nandeck or InDesign another time. These programs will likely save you time down the road, but if all you know right now is PowerPoint, stick to this for now.

Keep it simple

Don’t overcomplicate things. I can’t stress this enough.

Delaying the creation of your MVP because you don’t have the perfect wooden rutabagas or image of a sorcerer is just procrastination. These things are not needed to test your concept, which is all you’re doing at the stage.

What you’re trying to do is see if there is something fun and engaging about your idea to let you know whether it’s worth developing further.

Imagine spending countless hours trying to put together the perfect prototype just to find out the idea is terrible. It will never work.

Now imagine you’d spent 10 minutes to create a simple prototype to get this same information. This will allow you to make some quick changes to see if the game can work another way or decide to move on to your next idea quickly.

Take action

It’s time to take that idea that’s in your head and turn it into something you can play around with. Make the simplest prototype you can and get this to the table quickly.

Try to spend no more than 10-20 minutes creating this MVP.

In the next article, I’ll show you how to test your MVP by yourself to avoid the embarrassment of finding out the game doesn’t work at all before you show it to anyone else.

What do you struggle with it when it comes to creating your prototype?

Leave a comment below.

Did you know you can download my 10 Minute Board Game Design Blueprint for free? It’s the fastest way to get your game started and stay focused on your end goal.

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    Hi Joe. I was wondering what you should do if the idea isn’t fun. Should you keep trying different ideas until you find one that’s fun? Or tweak the one idea until it’s fun?


    Hi Jeremiah! It’s a tricky call. If I find something about the game fun or interesting, I will want to keep working on it to really bring this out and make it a great game. However, if there isn’t that much that’s fun about it and it doesn’t have much potential, it’s easy to set this aside, at least for now. Maybe an idea will come to me that could make it more fun but more often than not, I’ll have other ideas and games with more promise, so I will focus on them. I like to prioritize the games and ideas with the most potential.

    Thanks! That makes sense. You keep working on a game if you feel pulled to keep working on it. Otherwise, it’s easy to set it aside.