The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Why playing lots of games will help make you a better game designer (even games you’ll hate)

I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge fan of deck-building games.

Maybe I just haven’t found the right one yet. Then again, maybe they’re just not for me.

In some ways, this doesn’t matter. Just the fact that I have played some deck-builders and that I’m familiar with them has given me a broader knowledge of tabletop games that can definitely be helpful when it comes not only to designing my own games but also playtesting others.

Asking the right questions

I recently playtested a deck-building game created by some new designers. This game was their first foray into board game design.

Now, while I’m not a big fan of deck-building games, I’m always willing to playtest someone else’s game at least once so that I can give them some helpful feedback.

With the game being a bit on the long side (roughly 90 minutes), the designers were very easy-going about us only playing as long as we needed in order to provide feedback, which is always appreciated. So, we played their game until the end of the first phase and decided we would stop there and share our thoughts.

Overall, the game functioned well. There were a few things in the rules that were a bit unclear and other minor issues that we identified.

When the discussion came to me, I reiterated a couple of points made by other playtesters, and I let them know that I had played a few deck builders before, but not a ton.

My question for the designers, which I stated right away did not need to be answered at the moment but rather was something for them to think about and discuss with each other later, was how their game would be different from other deck builders already on the market.

To be fair, I’ve only played Friday, Clank, Hero Realms, Marvel Legendary, Teen Titans Go: The Deck Building Game, and a bunch of deck-building prototypes. I’m familiar with others as well, but I’m nowhere near an expert!

I mentioned how (through my limited experience with them) I found a lot of deck builders very “same-y.” I encouraged them to think about how their game is different or how it could be made different from all the others out there. Otherwise, it would be a harder sell to convince someone to play their game over say, Dominion or Ascension.

I’ve still learned a lot from deck-builders and other games that I wouldn’t normally play. Even a small idea used in one of these games has triggered new game ideas or solutions to problems I’m facing.


Obviously, playing lots of games, particularly different styles of games with different mechanics, will also help you when you are designing your own games.

I’m working on a co-designed game right now that has been getting lots of playtests, but I still haven’t managed to get the kind of reaction from players I would love to have. Nobody has asked me when it would be available or even suggested that would like to play this game again in the future.

Right now, players don’t feel like they have enough choice or ability to control their own destiny. There’s just way too much randomness.

Player turns also felt long, as players could do multiple things on their turn. Other players sometimes became disengaged while they waited for their turn to come around.

In the last couple of playtests, players also indicated that they would like more opportunities to gain resources and build an engine. I mulled these thoughts over and came up with a way to do just that.

If you’ve ever played Splendor, you’ll know this is a very clean, smooth, quick-paced engine-building game. My idea was to use this type of system, in which players can do just one thing on their turn, whether it be gathering resources or purchasing a card. Then these cards would allow players to do more things and complete them faster.

However, by implementing the mechanics already existing in our game, it would definitely keep our game unique and the comparisons to Splendor or any other engine-building games would likely be minimal.

When you use a card in our game, you get the benefit right away. However, once used, you have the option to either discard this card to receive more points or you may tuck it under one of your existing characters and use its ability in the future for a set cost.

Will this work? Will it improve the game and solve the issues the playtesters identified? Only time will tell. But if I wasn’t familiar with engine-building games like Splendor and Century Spice Road, I may not have come up with this solution.

Wrapping it up

Playing lots of games, both published and in prototype form, can really help you to solve problems in your own designs and help others with their games.

What games or genre of games have you played (even if they weren’t your favourite) that have helped you in designing your own game? Have you discovered a type of game you love even though you thought you initially wouldn’t enjoy it?

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    A Kaiju board game from the early 90s. I don’t even remember the name. Anyway, used monster building with a point system, so you had no idea what the other players were coming in with. In many cases,.i pull from video games, table top roleplaying games, card games. I have two games in dev at the moment. A last man standing board game(like zombie chickens) but far more sinister and dark, and a full on triple threat space Odyssey TTRPG. These are Mlmostly doable because I can cut the art costs down to 0 with my time commitment. Honestly though, any game I didn’t think I would like, I pretty much still don’t like, like pure chance games, (I hate them so much) But plenty of games I thought I would like I don’t. Guess I am hard to please/impress. But that is autism for you. 😉