When playing board games with new players, there are many barriers to getting your favourite games onto the table, especially for players who are relatively new to the hobby. These barriers are essential to understand because if someone buys your game and can never get it to the table, they are much less likely to buy your next game.
Disclaimer, I will be mentioning my game Food Time Battle in Space a lot, as these lessons were learnt whilst developing it.
Barrier #1 - Theme.
Yes, unfortunately, the appeal of your game isn't JUST about the mechanisms. You might be proud of how smooth your game plays or how innovated a mechanic is, but it doesn't matter to many people if it isn't initially wrapped up in a beautiful, appealing package.
Original Source https://www.boardgamequest.com/wingspan-review/
I can't tell you the number of times I have tried to get Wingspan to the table, only for people to exclaim, "A game about birds? Sounds boring and complicated, let's play a game where cute kittens explode" - that last part might have been exaggerated. But more to the point, if a theme seems boring or niche, or more so, if it doesn't have broad appeal, then it is more often than not seen as a more complex game.
In my most recent game, Food Time Battle in Space, the mechanics aren't inherently tied to food, or space, at all. It's a game about placing numbered cards in the correct order, with limitations such as handsize and a limit drawing pool making it challenging. However, by adding the theme of stacking ingredients in the correct order to please beautifully illustrated critics in a cartoony style, it becomes a game with a wide-appealing theme, which makes getting it to the table easier.
Barrier #2 - Box Size.
Box size doesn't directly affect how complicated a game is, but that doesn't stop people from assuming that it might. Games like Ticket to Ride and Everdell are games that I feel fall victim to these assumptions.
However, if your game DOESN'T have a board, it is up to you to make the game as compact as possible. Learn from my mistake with my first published game, Blockers: The Stacking Game.
On the left, you can see the prototype version of the game where I ordered the box and fit all the components into it myself. You can see the published version with the same components on the right, but I left the box's dimensions up to the manufacturer. This is a topic for another blog, but discrepancies and inefficiencies like this can lead to a misrepresentation of the complexity and value of your product, as well as damaged components and inserts, which you want to avoid, of course.
Barrier #3 - Deck Size.
Games like Wingspan, The Binding of Isaac Four Souls, and Everdell are culprits for this barrier. Deck size is an interesting one because it can be a double-edged sword. When you add heaps of cards to your game, you add replay value, unique gameplay, and just a more fun, dynamic time when you do it right. But there are also needlessly large decks that can be deterring more than being inviting.
Original Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K88JBu5fBOE
It's difficult to say whether these games mentioned would be better off without as many cards as they have. I am not here to write about some games' negative aspects, but it is fun to think about whether the designers went at their game with a weed whacker, whether anything would be cut, and whether it might have got a few more people to play.
Barrier #4 - The Instruction Manual Size.
The instruction manual is something that can rarely make but often break a gaming experience for me. When designing a game, it is always at the forefront of my mind, as without an incredible, flawless instruction manual, it will sully your game with questions and confusion, not fun. This problem can happen for many reasons, and I believe an entire blog post might be more apt to cover it. Still, regarding overwhelming the player from a more superficial standpoint, the instruction manual's size is critical. Games like Azul and Love Letter have pages upon pages of information, most of which aren't necessary to teach the game, especially regarding Love Letter, making getting the game to the table more difficult. The number of times I had seen the mood change at the table from excitement to dread the moment when I plopped the instruction manual on the table has made it essential to me to attempt to keep the rulebook to the bare necessities.
I am sure there are many more ways not to overwhelm the player, such as token types, dice variations and game genre, but for now, I think I have covered what I believe to be the most critical aspects of design to consider when creating your next hit game.
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Niall from Crab Studios.
Hello, my name is Niall Crabtree, and this is my comprehensive blog showcasing all of my game development endeavors and successes, as well as essays on game design.
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