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Tips for designing game boards?

6 replies [Last post]
kungfugeek's picture
Joined: 09/10/2008

It seems that for me, the game board is the hardest thing to get right, especially when I'm making some kind of adventure game, war game, or traveling merchant game, where the game board is a map broken up by either territories or a hex-grid. With other aspects of the game (supply/demand, vp cost, action point cost, odds) I can play with numbers and figure things out, but I just get totally stumped when it comes to making the game board. So I usually just go with a gut feel for things but the end result is usually something I have no confidence in, and not having confidence means I won't likely get it playtested.

So do any of you have some tips for designing a map-like game board (broken up by either territories or a grid -- obviously very different beasts) that is both interesting, functional, and balanced? I posted this under Design Theory because I'm not really interested in prototyping; I just want some tips on how to objectively validate the design of my boards.

Joined: 08/04/2008
This is really dependant on

This is really dependant on the type of game it is and how the board functions with the mechanics of the game. I don't think either way is wrong sometimes just takes a few times until you get the one you want for that game.

MatthewF's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
Here are things I'd

Here are things I'd consider:

  • Starting Places: If the game supports a variable number of players, the map needs to be laid out in a way that each number of players can have reasonably equal starting positions. A map with perfect starting positions for three players might not work at all well for four. If the starting positions have to be unequal -- especially if they're vastly uneven -- then some game mechanic needs to even out the start, such as bidding for starting choice, extra resources or what-have-you for lesser positions, etc.
  • Buildup: If the players will need to "build up" anything before or during conflict -- troops, resources, etc. -- the map design needs to allow them to have a reasonably defensible or remote place to do so
  • Supply Routes: If there's a system in the game where players have to keep their lines supplied -- sending more troops to the "front lines," building an expanding wave of majority control, etc. -- then the map can't have too many easy cut-off points where supply lines could be easily wiped out. If there are, it should be fairly obvious that such is the case.
  • Fronts: If there's some kind of battle, be it with troops or with simple area majority, look for "natural" areas where conflict is likely. If you want to encourage such things, manipulate the map to encourage them, and vice versa.
  • Flooding: Look for areas on your map where one victory/success allows for a massive change in who is winning the game. For example, a bottleneck territory where if it's conquered/controlled, a whole bunch of other territories become easy to conquer/control. If you want this in the game, create such areas, and if you don't, remove them.

I'm sure there are other things to consider, but those come immediately to mind.

After all of those considerations when first creating my map, I'd use those same criteria during playtesting, to see if these things were playing out the way I'd meant them to, and look for interesting plays and outcomes to further tweak it. No need, for example, to insist that fights take place on the fronts I originally had in mind: just look for how it's working out and tweak to make the game play better.

MatthewF's picture
Joined: 07/22/2008
Is this not what you were

Is this not what you were looking for, btw?

kungfugeek's picture
Joined: 09/10/2008
Yes, thanks

Sorry my question was vague. I think it's because I don't really have much of starting point. I look at professional boards like the one in Runebound or Fury of Dracula and I think, "How did they come up with it, and how do they know when they got it right?"

I guess part of it will be that saying among architects -- "Form follows function."
Do the pieces move on the board in "baby steps"? Then a board made up of a hex or square grid would be appropriate.
Do the pieces move in leaps from one destination to the next? Then the roads will have to be displayed prominently.

So maybe I need to start with:
1) Define points of interest
2) Determine how many turns it should take for the pieces to move from each point to each other point.
3) Decide whether to allow game events to alter the travel time (in game turns) between points.
4) What other things to consider?

Pinebars's picture
Joined: 12/13/2008
game boarding

I have always thought of the game board as the easiest part of the process, but I am in love with maps of all shapes and sizes.

Still, I feel that the best way to resolve issues of balancing size/travel time/points of interest/location is to take baby steps. I always start by making a board that is just a rough sketch of what I want with locations and other important points placed nearly at random. This board doesn't look good at all, but since you are expecting to change the locations significantly then it can be easily thrown away and remodeled. Its a lot harder to trash something you have spent a lot of time on anyway.

After play testing on the first board I usually analyze what works/didn't work, revise the locations, and make a board that looks just a little bit better. Then I play test this map, find out what needs to be changed and scrap it for an even more developed and better looking one, and so on until the final breathtakingly awesome version takes shape.

Perhaps this isn't scientific enough. Just my way of doing things...


Curufea's picture
Joined: 12/14/2008
I like following usability

I like following usability and accessibility guidelines that I also use for website design-
KISS is a must to begin with (keep it simple, stupid)
High contrast and no busy graphics around text so it's easily read.
Reduce text and keep it as concise and non-ambiguous as possible.
Always have at least two things different between parts of the board - ie different colours AND different patterns - very useful for the colour blind.

Mind you, I tend to overide those rules if it will mean the board no longer fits the theme.

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