This blog post is going to go over my thoughts on components in board games, and what questions you should ask yourself regarding components when designing your board games. I talk about games such as Wingspan, Hideous Abomination, Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, Jaipur and Splendor.
Ask yourself... why?
Making the most out of the components you use for your board game is good for many reasons, both for yourself and your players. Firstly, let’s start with yourself. When initially prototyping your designs for playtesting, you don’t want to spend hours and hours cutting cards and tokens, gluing pieces together, taping boards so they fold perfectly. When prototyping, you are prototyping to fail and you want to fail quickly so you can learn from your experience, and when you are failing quickly, you want to be able to turn round an updated prototyping ASAP. Tettix developer Judson Cowan said this in his presentation about his latest Kickstarter game, Hideous Abomination, which I will leave a link to here. So if not for anyone else, limit the amount of components you need to make your board game for your own time and mental health.
Secondly, there is of course cost. For each additional punch board token, wooden meeple or cardboard standee, there comes an additional cost for you, which will have to be passed onto the consumer. So you have to ask yourself, is this component something which firstly, adds to the gameplay of the game, but secondly, provides enough added value for it to be worth it to the consumer. An easy example of a very unnecessary component in terms of gameplay, but is great for added value for a certain type of consumer is well sculpted mini-figures. It seems from an outsider's perspective that adding mini figs to any Kickstarter game seems to just print money, but I do not have the facts to back that up as of yet.
Finally, there is the case of whether or not the components are actually necessary for gameplay, or whether they just provide faff and encumber the gameplay. Two great examples and polar opposite examples of this is Wingspan and Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. In both games, you need resources in order to either feed your animals initially, or keep them in your enclosure. In Wingspan, you must first gain food tokens so you can use them to gain birds into your enclosure later on. Birds can cost any of 5 types of food tokens in the base game, and the game comes with heaps of punch board tokens in order to facilitate this gameplay element. In my experience, grabbing at these small tokens can be very annoying, especially since the containers for these components are a bit too small, so it’s very easy for the tokens to overflow when you are trying to take out a token, which is doubly difficult because it can be a task to find resources if a few are being currently held by other players.
Meanwhile, in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs, you just have a singular token for each of the three resources that you move up a track on your player mat. As Wingspan already has a board, this could have easily been implemented. This, for me personally, would have had zero downsides to the game, and only positives. It would have made a great game slightly more accessible price wise. Based on my experience with my own games, I would consider the price difference to be around £5-7 less at retail value, maybe more. Not only that, it would have made gaining resources, a very common and integral part of gameplay, less cumbersome. Some could argue that taking the large amount of tokens away from the game would have made it a less attractive purchase, but for Wingspan in particular, I feel like the unique looking egg tokens are the only cosmetic token in the game which is worth keeping purely for the theming.
Now I mentioned my own experience with making my own games, so I will quickly talk about my game which is currently on Kickstarter, Food Time Battle in Space, as I believe it is relevant. In Food Time Battle in Space, the aim of the game is to be the first player to have a 5 star rating. To keep track of this, I initially tried to use zero tokens, and just use the cards in which you complete in order to gain the star tokens as a way to track this. However, due to a few gameplay elements, such as if you fail an order you lose half a star (which would have caused you to lose the card and subsequently an ability if we used the cards as an indicator) as well as the mechanism involving luxury ingredients, (in which you can complete an order and gain the star reward, but if you did not use enough luxury ingredients, then the critic would instead go to the bottom of the deck), would make this whole solution pretty much a no go. So, I did decide to use tokens, and as it is a card game and had no boards, I did not use a resource track like in Tiny Epic Dinosaurs. Instead, I used the minimum amount of tokens. As it is a 4 player game, the maximum number of stars that could be in use at any one point is 17, three players with 4 stars and one player with 5 stars. On top of that, you can get half stars in the game, but at no point will there be more than 4 half stars required in a 4 player game, because if a player was to gain another half star whilst already having a half star, they would just swap it for a full star. So, the game comes with just 17 full star tokens, and 4 half star tokens. There are many other ways that I used my limited resources to improve gameplay, as well as decrease the price for consumers to make it more accessible, but let's move on.
There are ways in which games can use limited components to improve gameplay. Two that come to mind are Jaipur and Splendor. Jaipur uses limited components as an integral part of the gameplay. In Jaipur, your aim is to get as much money as possible by selling goods and gaining the corresponding tokens. However, the first players to sell a particular good get more money. For example, if you sell one spice first, you will gain 5 money, but if you are second to do it, you will only gain 3. Due to the limited amount of these tokens, and therefore how quickly they descend in value, for example after the first three leather sold, they are only worth 1 a piece, it really bolsters the urgency that players feel when playing Jaipur. On top of that, one of the two ways that a round ends is when three types of tokens have sold out. So constantly, the number of components that are in the game is at the forefront of the player’s mind, which is really quite genius.
Splendor has a similar system, but it's different enough to mention. In Splendor, you are trying to gain resources to spend on cards which help you win the game. You can choose to either gain 1 token from three different resource piles, or you can gain 2 tokens from one resource pile UNLESS there are less than 4 tokens in that pile. This can happen very quickly due to the lack of components in the game, which again creates a sense of urgency at the start of the game, and again once other players use these resource tokens and are then returned to their resource piles.
I wanted to talk about this topic because I feel like a lot of new designers want to make huge games because they are cool, and they are. If you want to impress someone/scare someone with one of your creations, make it huge and beautiful and amazing and expensive. But, remember to be mindful of the process, whether it actually works for the gameplay, and how many people you could be shutting out to your game due to the price and the perceived complexity of it.
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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