The Board Game Design Course

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Game Design

Why Table Presence Matters

In my blog a few weeks ago about how to make your game unique and stand out,  I said I would go more in-depth on how to give your game good table presence.

Part of making your game unique and attractive is being able to draw people in when they first see it. Of course, the game also has to be really solid, otherwise, their expectations will not be met.

Have a look at the games below. Don’t you want to know more just by looking at them?

Why Table Presence Matters 1

Fireball Island

Why Table Presence Matters 2

Rising Sun

Why Table Presence Matters 3

The Climbers

Why Table Presence Matters 4


It just so happens that these are great games as well. But it’s that first initial reaction when you see a game on the table that makes you want to sit down and try it out.

First impressions are important.

So, how do you make sure your game has great table presence?

Well, you can start by thinking of some interesting components or board configurations that will get people’s attention. The components could be miniatures, dragons, or meeples armed with equipment, like in the Tiny Epic series of games. Think of something that will stand out, be different than people have seen in other games, and will get others asking questions and wanting to know more. People can be captivated by toy-like components that really capture your imagination.

One other thing I’ve noticed is that height can be your friend. What do I mean by that? Games that have either a board or components that are elevated well above the tabletop can be very visually appealing.

Look back at the pictures above. Santorini has an elevated board, along with building pieces that increase the structure’s height as you play. The Climbers uses building blocks that can reach a good height. Fireball Island has a raised board with a volcano at the top that sends fireballs all over the terrain.

Just by being raised well above the height of the table, they attract attention from anyone walking by. This is especially the case where the height of the game is above the heads of the players at the table.

Of course, these examples may not apply as well to the game you’re working on. If your game doesn’t lend itself to a board or stacking components, then this may be a bit more of a challenge.

If you’re working on a deck-builder, another type of card game, or a game with minimal components, see if you can make those components more interesting and unique. Just think differently when you’re crafting your deck builder, or at least make sure the art and graphic design is visually stunning. Try to find ways to make your game stand out compared to others.

I myself am not that artistic, and this is an area where I struggle. Fortunately, I do have friends who are game designers that are much better at this than me. Sometimes it’s best to enlist help when needed.

For example, I had an idea for a game that is currently going by the name Jewel Heist. I knew that if this was done right, it would look fantastic on the table. I love working with my friend Sylvain (who always has great game ideas and suggestions) and knew that he was the one to help me make this happen, so I asked if he would co-design this game with me. It’s much further along now and the game looks fantastic!

Why Table Presence Matters 5

A few years ago I took this to Proto TO, a local game designer event, and everybody that walked by the game commented on how cool it looked. That’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for!

Why Table Presence Matters 6

I’ve definitely kept table presence at the top of mind since then.

What is one game that you feel has really great table presence? What makes people stop in their tracks when they see it being played?

I’d be interested to know some examples of the games you feel have great table presence.

Also, The Board Game Design Course has recently been chosen as a top game design blog by Feedspot! Check it out:

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    Shadows in the forest

    Both use light and shadow to guide the players move abilities and create a great visual. Downside is they need a darker area to play. Not full black room but darker is better. Most of the time this is fine, we just in the lights. Perhaps not the best for a big game hall.

    One that captivated me the first time I saw it was “Camel Up”, having the custom dice tower and the deployable board, hooked me.
    I agree that in games that don’t have a board; this very topic can be challenging, but the game “Oceans” tackles this problem with astonishing art, and masterful game pieces

    Camel up is a great example! The stacking of the camels and the unpredictability of how they will all move really keeps you on the edge of your seat.

    I haven’t played Oceans but you are right that great art and components are another way to give your game (even a simple card game) more table presence.