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Why you shouldn’t spend design time designing your game boards

Tag - a beautiful board but no game.
Tag – a beautiful board but no game.

I was digging through my old project folder, checking what to archive and what was worth working on (I’ve got eleven games that I’m either working actively on at the moment or am not quite ready to give up on yet). There, while reminiscing about past mistakes and miscalculations, I found a children’s game from my early designing days: it was my second or third game that I ever took to the prototype stage.

The first game I designed I made the mistake of making lots and lots of cards without having any game to go along with them. In “Tag” I envisioned a game where children would chase each other in a dice based game of tag. Each child would have a type of die associated with it, with some children being faster and some children being nimbler. Nimbleness would be represented by numbers on the board, where, if you rolled your die higher than the number, you’d stumble and have to stop.
Said and done. Well, said and not quite done: I made a board for Tag but it didn’t look quite as nice as I wanted it to. So I went out (rather surfed out) and got the big [amazon asin=B000O8RS5S&template=onlytext&title=Campaign Cartograhper] bundle and fleshed the board out with graphics. And by got I mean “paid good money for”.

Making the map was great fun. I got to experiment with lots of textures and icons, got to learn Photoshop blending modes and layer styles. And I got a quite nice looking board (I’m still proud of it). Much nicer looking than the black-and-white cards that I made for my Epic Space Game (dysfunctional).

Then I sat down to playtest it. And I found out that I didn’t have a game to go along with the board.

Sure, where was something to be said for a nice board. The idea of kids playing tag was neat too. But the mechanics weren’t there. Not enough to make a game at any rate.

The strange thing is that I remember trying it out on a hand drawn paper map first, and that I thought that I’d need to do something about the game. But I still went on and made the graphic map, instead of going forward with the rules and seeing if there was a game there or not.

To this day I don’t know if there’s a game there or not. Maybe, possibly. Nah, whom am I kidding? Truth to tell I don’t think Tag will ever be played or enjoyed, by children or adults.

But I still, I did manage to make a nice looking board. And I took one more step towards the realization that in order to be a game designer one has to spend time on the design before spending time on the looks. And that’s a lesson worth paying money for.

Dreams of Futures Past Book Cover

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