• Andrew Jonhardt

Why I want to make a board game before making a video game

I've completed half of a video game Design degree from Austin Community College, and I've played video games for most of my life. Neither my experience in play, nor my half-degree, qualify me as a Game Designer.

To some extent, this is only a problem of means. He (or she) who publishes a game is a Game Designer. Or, a Developer who helped a Designer refine an idea. Either way, at the surface level, all you need to do is get enough money and push out a product with your name on it.

I'm not satisfied with the above definition, because it includes jerks who throw half-baked ideas onto Steam and throw tantrums when no one likes them.

To my mind, the title of Game Designer implies someone who can rationally construct, test, and assign a medium to a form of play. Yes, I did just place assign the medium after testing. The point in my doing so, aside from re-enforcing the idea that even video games may be physically prototyped (I would argue this is an assumption that doesn't fit every genre, but that's a whole 'nother blog post), is to convey that a Game Designer should be as capable of designing a physical game as a digital one.

In the past, when I would attempt to design a digital game, I was caught always between 2 worlds (art, animation, UI, sound, etc). My Game Design skill, the skill that defined my interest and that I would hope most to strengthen, seems always to come second. The best example of this was a result from one of the few game jams I've tried to participate in:


A game was made, but the game isn't fun. At least, it's not fun to me. And, everything digital I've tried to start has possessed similar barriers to the testing of a design. Physical prototyping can be useful, but I was never shown a way to predict the fun in prototypes that cannot carry over to the digital. Not unless you're already designing for board game-like interactions.

Board gaming, on the other hand, is a medium with extremely low barriers to Design. A large part of the benefit, in terms of learning Design, stems from incredibly rapid prototyping. You need to test something? Just put it together. Even better, you can work a full time job and have a new version of your board game ready for testers to play in 7 days (or less, depending on how much stress you want to take on). As you get better, the prototypes and game versions get easier to produce. And, there is a much lower investment needed to find out what is fun.

I'm putting off video game making because board games make me a better designer. I say this because versions of my current card game have already produced reactions I've never seen in response to one of my digital creations. I'm learning how to construct a testable idea, and there's no reason I can't bring this skill to the digital realm. Unfortunately, the only design skill I ever took from digital to board games was Photoshop.

If you're unsure where to start with games, or if you're feeling stuck on video games, I highly encourage giving a few board game designs a shot. You'd be surprised what mechanics the world of board games has produced over the years. Think Splendor, not Monopoly.

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