The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Why do we design games?

I got to thinking recently about the question “why do we design board games?”

It certainly isn’t for the money. After all, nearly all game designers do this as a hobby in their spare time. Very few people can actually make a living full-time as a game designer and still pay the bills. Unless you come up with an evergreen hit that continues to sell really well year after year (these games are few and far between, and almost never your first game), your game will likely only ever have one print run and not make you a ton of money.

How about the fame? Well, board game designers are not exactly considered in the same league as musicians, actors, or professional athletes. In fact, most are probably not even recognized at conventions where thousands of people may be fans of their game. Even those playing your game right as you pass by!

So, if it’s not about the money and fame, why do we design games?

The challenge of designing games

Creating a good, compelling game does bring with it a number of challenges.

I for one love identifying and trying to solve problems, and game design definitely gives you tons of opportunities to develop these skills. You’re constantly finding issues and then trying to uncover the most elegant solutions to make your game better with every iteration.

Sometimes you’re creating a game within certain restrictions, whether it’s for a contest, publisher specifications, to give yourself a challenge, or simply because you’re trying to understand what’s possible and what will actually sell as a product.

So, the challenge is certainly part of it, but there’s still more to this.

Creating something new

Quite often, the reason you decide to create a game is because there’s something you find problematic in another game and you want to make something better (I know that’s how I got started).

Or maybe the game you really want to play doesn’t yet exist. I’ve heard a number of other game designers got started for this exact reason.

There’s an amazing feeling when you come up with something that’s never been done before. Maybe it’s something completely unique, or a twist on something familiar that takes it to the next level, something that no one has seen before.

This is often the “why” behind the reason we got into game design. But what keeps us coming back?

Creating an experience

There’s an amazing feeling you get when you see people laughing, smiling, and having a great time playing a game together. That feeling is greatly heightened when it’s a game that you created.

Hearing people talk about different strategies they would take the next time they play. Witnessing the joy in their faces, the memories that you helped to create, and the experience that will stay with them for a long time.

There’s something about playing a board game that’s quite different from playing video games, watching TV or a movie, or reading a book.

It’s a social experience. It’s an interactive experience. It fills a huge gap that’s often missing in our world of technological advancements and social media bombardment.

Board games can help us escape from reality. They provide a world where we can become a new character, go on an adventure, and forget about the troubles and stresses we feel throughout the day.

But at the same time, games can help us connect to each other more closely in real life. The mundane question of “how was your day?”, which is often met with a stilted “fine”, can be transformed into a naturally flowing conversation, as you relax and do something enjoyable together as a family, parent and child, couple, or friends.

Being part of this community is amazing. Creating games to help others have these types of experiences is extremely fulfilling.

We create experiences. We create memories. We create a pleasurable escape.

These are the reasons we create games.

Do you have any questions about game design? I’m always looking for more great topics to help you design your game. If you’re wondering about something, chances are you’re not alone.

Just leave a comment and let me know!

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    Thank you for writing the article about “why we design games”. I can identify with every reason you listed. My favorite three are,
    1. Creativity
    2. Problem – solving
    3. Social environment

    A topic I need help with is how to create buzz around your first game if you live in a country that doesn’t have a lot of conventions or social meetups for board games. I still believe the best way to build awareness is to get your game in front of people to play either at conventions or small meet-ups.


    Thanks, Hameed! I can definitely relate to those 3 reasons!

    I agree that getting your game in front of people is likely the best way to build a buzz. Fortunately, if you have limited access to local events, you can still demo your game online, post on social media or run ads, particularly if you are planning on self-publishing.

    Thank you for the article, Joe. For me, I think you hit the bull’s eye with this one. I enjoy the creative part but enjoy the problem solving most of all. I really like thinking outside the box. Creating a game is like getting a base hit. Creating an evergreen hit, like you said, is like hitting a home run. I always look forward to your articles.

    I completely agree, Pierre! Thanks so much for your comment and I’m glad you look forward to my articles!

    Question: what is the best way to get a decent prototype to send to potential backers/influencers, without having to purchase from a large manufacturer? I’m seeing a disconnect between getting fans and having them play the game, especially playtesters who also are active in promotion – and starting kickstarter to do a larger print without having fans/people who’ve seen the game. Are places like Launch TableTop or Print and Play Games the best option to have a prototype to send to influencers?