Just had a serendipity about a crazy board game idea and think it’ll disrupt the industry? The next logical step is learning about how video games are made, the answers to which are often overwhelming.
Game development is complicated, to put things mildly without being intimidating, and it is easy to get buried under a massive log of books and documents while trying to understand the ins and outs.
We assume that’s why you’re here—to find a clear-cut and simple answer to most things. So, let’s jump straight into the hoop and learn how you can create your dream board game.
Process of creating your board game
The process of creating a board game is the same as creating any other game and you go through the same stages, conception, production, and post-production.
Here is everything you need to know.
Stage 1: Conception
Everything from music, movies, to even business, starts with picturing the bigger picture. This is the “planning” phase
For this stage, mark your calendar with the following to-do list.
- Flesh out your idea.
- Onboard some artists and creative heads.
- Create a Game Design Document.
- Make a Prototype or target footage.
- Look for a publisher and gather initial feedback.
1. Getting The Board Game Idea Right
In the beginning, there has to be a rough outlook of how you want the board game to look, essentially, a blueprint.
Of course, much will change down the line but be prepared with the fundamentals of the game.
How will the game play? the artstyle? theme? mechanics? All of this has to be decided, not to the fullest but a tad bit, enough to create a prototype or raise discussions.
Be ready with all these:
- The general archetype of the game. Like, deckbuilders, roll-and-move, combat based like wargame, or area control.
- Pick a setting for your board game. Pirates? Mythology? History? Futuristic? Monopoly?
- 2D or 3D. Yes, most board games are 2D, but who says you can’t make anything different?
- Ambition with the game, AAA or AA? If you don’t know what AAA means, check out our detailed article on what AAA games are.
- Story (or lore). Yes, you can hire writers for the same but be ready with the core narrative, you and your writer colleagues will take it from there.
- Quirks. What makes your game different? Not all games have to be unique, however, there is always equal space for iterations, innovation, and inventions.
Another thing to decide during this stage is monetization and pricing. Although this can be done down the road, it is a key component during conception.
The monetization of your game—whether premium upfront or (and) on-going revenue—will be the fuel for your game’s post-launch, as well as your future projects.
Plenty of your design choices will depend on the revenue model you adopt.
Let’s assume you wish to drop any form of entry barrier and want your game to be free and rely on microtransactions for earnings. Your board game should host an in-game shop and there has to be something for players to purchase. This means you may have to lean towards more character-based game design.
Board games with online multiplayer will benefit the most from in-game cosmetics, as opposed to single-player.
Even if you have no clear idea, there is nothing to panic about. Down the road, depending on the scope of your game, you’ll have to hire some key people, and together price decisions can be made.
Game’s pricing strategy isn’t the only thing you’ll stall at during conception. Among other things, a lot of people find themselves confused about general game direction—creative blocks. Here’s how you can overcome it (just ignore the following texts and skip to step 2 if you are already conceptually omniscient).
Struggling with ideas…
When you find yourself struggling with ideas, the best way is to ask around, hear people’s say, read board game-related books, and play similar games.
Check out the interviews (can be blogs or books too) of the developers who worked on the game you aspire to create or regard highly. They often share their own inspiration and how they came about the different quirks of the game. Media bits like this are extremely insightful and will help you during your creative block.
Marcel Duchamp, “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.”
A good concept is critical, as in the future, it will be the very idea that you’ll pitch to investors, gamers, and other stakeholders to buy their interest.
Once you know exactly the archetype of board game you want, proceed to the next step.
2. Onboard some artists and additional heads
Unless you’re planning to go solo, it is best to hire some additional heads and form a team.
Initially, you’ll be hiring creative leads, writers, concept artists, game programmers, designers, and analysts.
An ideal solution would be to host a brainstorm session (best done face-to-face, but remote is fine too) and do what all creative people do—talk. Together you’ll discuss ideas, improvise the current concepts, plan your future approaches, and gear up for prototype production.
A question may pop up after this point, why hire programmers or analysts during conception? For creative hires, it makes sense, but why technical people? The reason is to check project feasibility and whether all the preliminary scope you’ll envision is plausible from a technical point of view.
Every development team has “founding members,” those who are there from the beginning. Among these founding members, having diversity in terms of different professional backgrounds is essential.
Analysts will help you understand your project’s prospect demand, helming all the responsibilities of research and consultancy. Designers and illustrators will tell you whether your game can be programmed and illustrated based on your scope and budget when it exists only in concept. They’ll bring your project to life and begin with a prototype at the earliest.
You may not even need to hire anyone if you know everything. Plenty of people develop games solo or with just 2-3 batchmates forming a team. Besides, a board game, in most cases, won’t be so big in scope that you need dozens of people. No need to worry about whether going solo is going to be okay or not. It is perfectly fine and will only mean the game takes a little extra time to make.
3. Create Game Design Document
Okay, what is a Game Design Document?
Well, the GDD is a document that has all the information regarding the game design. In simple terms, you curate all your design, philosophy, scope, mechanics, story, assets, and all the other stuff regarding a game in one document that binds them all. Don’t forget to add the board game rules, which is the most important.
Basically, the GDD is an internal Wikipedia about the game parts.
One of the reason why you need one during your development is that designers, artists, or other people may leave, and you have to hire someone else. GDD will not only help new recruits understand the game easily, but they can also catch up with the progress quickly.
The GDD is not a one-time document. Periodically, updates and progress have to be jotted down. Make sure the document is accessible and editable by the entire team, or least by leads and heads.
There are multiple platforms where you can host your GDD files and documents. Where you choose to keep it depends if you’re happy with simple PDF and word files kept in Google Drive and Dropbox, or want a fancy design and host GDD elsewhere.
4. Make a prototype or target footage
Now, the next step to make your board games dream a reality is make a prototype and a target footage.
A prototype is used to determine whether all of the mechanics you imagined for your game are feasible. This involves checking game physics, any unique aspects of the game.
Sounds confusing? Here are some actual prototypes of real games:
Thunderjaw – A machine in Horizon Zero Dawn
Prototype & early pictures:
Finished product for comparison:
Indie game Slam City Oracle
Final version for comparison:
Indie game Cumulo Nimblers before and after
Eh, still need more? Here is a Twitter thread where you can find more in the replies and devs talking about the prototype.
These are early versions of the game and look rough, as you can see above.
While there are loads of different variants of prototype, for a board game, we’d like to emphasize that you should look into Paper Prototype. If the purpose of your prototype is “pitching” to investors, or seeing interest among people, this is simple, easy, and cost effective.
Another thing you can create alongside it is target footage.
Creating both of these is optional, especially the target footage. If your board game has some very unique mechanics, a prototype is a good way to test the waters and target footage to lure investors.
But, what is target footage?
When building a house, an architect will display a miniature version of what a finished home will look like. In target footage, you create a pre-rendered presentation (or demo) showcasing what your game’s end product will be.
Cancelled Prince of Persia target footage for your reference.
A card game target footage should display the game’s mechanics, art styles, rules, and all the different modes.
Generally, target footage is important for the next step in the process—finding a publisher or raising funds and concept feedback.
5. Find a publisher and gather initial feedback
Most developers prefer to stay independent to retain full autonomy over their projects. Self-publishing is the best way to go, but should you find going all alone unsustainable, finding a publisher is better suited.
A deal with a publisher, depending on the nature of the agreement, may have you share royalties, image rights, and profit. In return, the publisher will help you with marketing, distribution, and finance, leaving you to worry only about designing games. Remember to always negotiate about retaining ownership and production rights whenever possible.
Early phases of development aren’t the only right time to look for a publisher. Suppose you are perfectly capable up until the creation of the board game, you can hunt for publishers after completion. This gives you greater negotiation power as the game is ready and the publisher can evaluate it much better.
Talking about which publisher will be suited, here is a good article listing all the indie-friendly publishers. As for who is the best match for a board game, there are plenty. Make sure to check whether your philosophy alings and they respect your art more than anything else. Reach them out by their preferred format (emails or form), pitch them, and wait. Be ready for lots of rejections though.
Safely ignore these funding steps if you have already strapped your boots, laced up, and revved Unity or Unreal Engine, all set to #DIY.
Gather initial feedback
Prototype and target footage can also be used to gather initial feedback. You can share your target footage on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, and any other social sites, groups, and forums asking for open feedback.
This is also a great source of initial publicity, alongside gauging general interest among gamers. Make sure to also share in spaces that are heavy on board video games. We are assuming you know where board game enthusiasts hang around, as you yourself are one.
After you’ve fully laid the groundwork for full-fledged production, gathered all the encouragement, discouragement, rejection, and praise from feedback, let’s move towards the actual work.
This is the most tiring phase as all the real work is done during this phase. Assets are placed, music is recorded, actors are hired, everything is coded, and the game is tested as well.
Before we begin detailing, much of this phase depends on whether you’re a solo developer or a team. If you’re team, you’ll need additional hires (apart from the founding member we previously talked about) who can take responsibility for these roles:
- More game programmers: They’re the ones that will code the game. Whatever you envision, programmers will bring them on your screen.
- Level designers: They will help you with your board game levels. How the level plays, interactions, and all the actions.
- Quality assurance: They’ll scrutinize your game and report any bugs.
- Character artists: All the different characters of your board game will be designed by them.
- Other artists: Environmental and Concept.
- Sound designer and composer to give your board games some rhythmic beats.
- FX artists for smokes. Everybody loves them.
- Animators for animation.
Plan an achievable roadmap, deadlines for finishing the project. This is necessary in case you’re working under a publisher.
A game typically has various stages of builds. Set a tentative target date for each of them to make sure you’re running on schedule.
Here are those stages, and what the board game you’re cooking should look like during the production.
As we have already discussed, the stage is usually reserved before the full-fledged production for pitching publishers or testing mechanics.
In this build, focus on the unique aspects of your board game. Tests of physics-based mechanics and interaction can be done to check if they’re plausible.
Plenty of developers look into prototypes as something you do to “find flaws” in your project. We have limited resources—that includes your time, most valuable of them all—and the quicker we come to terms on how good the stuff actually is, the better.
Plenty of your board game assets will be placed on this stage. At this stage, you should be able to play a complete round of your board game, though final graphics, music, and audio, will still be missing.
Pre-alpha version of Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed 2013 game, The Last of Us:
Bar the art and audio, everything about the game should see its full shape. All the different coins, counters, pawns, or whatever you named them should be visible (graphically incomplete); their interaction with the opponents and the rough board outline should be completed in this phase.
In an almost complete version of the game, QAs are all over the place trying to see if everything is fine during the alpha.
When you reach this stage, the game should be playable with some placeholder things here and there. Beyond QA, invite a select few board gamers (sign an NDA), and gather feedback regarding the game’s mechanics, gameplay, and artstyle.
Ideally, the game should also be announced well before you reach this stage. Asking people to sign up for the alpha test is also easier if the game has already been announced. Not only do you gain genuine feedback from players, but a pre-release closed beta boosts engagement and is good for publicity.
For general bugs and balancing related issues, feedback should be always welcomed. Plenty of developers, however, aren’t receptive to the test player’s opinion and trust their instinct over others when it comes to creative and design philosophy related feedbacks.
Whether you’re down to having open conversations challenging your game’s core tenets with players or back your genius, is entirely up to you. As Henry Ford himself said, “If I would have asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
Apart from bug fixing, this should be your finished product. Since this is more stable than an Alpha, you can host a pre-release demo, or as modern AAA developers dub it, an “Open Beta,” and let everyone try a slice of the game before they pre-order your kick-ass board game.
When you label your game as beta, everything should be done and just needs a bit of polishing. Once beta is done, after delegating a short team to do further improvements like performance, start working on a post-release plan, if any.
Gone Gold means your game is en route to the factory (in the case of physical release) and all the work is done. Beyond these are the day one patch and preceding patches after feedback from players.
Continue to improve and make the best board game ever. We know you can!
Marketing for your board game
People are obviously not going to purchase your game unless they know you exist. With marketing, your goal is to inform as many board game players as possible.
In case you’ve signed a deal with a publisher, they may shoulder all the responsibility of marketing, but otherwise, you have to do it yourself.
Marketing is expensive, usually. The amount of buzz you should generate from it depends on your board game. Ultimately, though, the most important thing is to identify your player base.
Picking your target market
Market planning for the game starts from the very beginning, conception. This is when you outline your objectives for, “who is going to play my game?”
A board game is a niche in itself.
After you know the exact profile of people you know will play the game, identify the advertisement channels where you can reach them.
Picking your advertisement medium
You can run ads on social sites, pay a streamer to stream your game, or do other little things like asking a popular website/journalist to review your game and get your name out there.
Self-promotion on social sites is also a good medium. Every day, we see people posting about their games on Twitter, Reddit, or Facebook and receiving thousands of reactions. If you have a strong genuine story about your development struggle to accompany the promotions, like “I’m a solo developer, dropped from college, and have been working on this game for the past 2 years. Here is a peek,” even better.
As always, there is an option between hiring a marketer, consulting with someone, learning and doing it yourself, or letting the publisher handle it.
Build a community
There has to be spaces, like Discord, or even forums, where players that love your game hang around and have direct conversation with you.
Interact with the community by keeping them up to date on your board game, giving away related merchandise, or even a physical version as a prize to lucky winners. Reward them for their loyalty and make them feel how valuable they are.
Just a few months before your board game ships, it is a bright idea to start thinking about the future.
Continue to maintain relationships with your players (as well as publishers), provide additional updates based on post-release feedback, and work on any planned DLCs or seasonal events.
Whatever fortune you’ve made, cherish it. Almost every second gamer once thought of creating their own game. You made that dream a reality. Even if you do fail, take it as a lesson and look on the bright side. What matters the most is that people like your game. That means you’ve got the potential to be a great video game maker.
Remember, on paper, every project sounds like building a wall—placing rocks orderly one after the other. In reality, however, the process will be rough and full of revisions. You may have to start from the base again after having already placed multiple tiers of bricks.
This isn’t to discourage, but a friendly reminder that deconstruction, redesign, and failures are not uncommon. A setback doesn’t mean the end of the world; there are millions of unfinished great projects lying around in people’s desks, never getting released because of a lack of persistence. Don’t let that be yours. Get it done!