At the risk of over-posting about how much I appreciate Stonemaier Games’s, and their owner, Jamey Stegmaier’s, approach to design and publishing (see Everybody All the Time), I feel compelled to share their 12 Tenants of Game Design. It’s a list of what they are looking for from submitted designs, and can be found on their website. It’s a compact and concise summary of what makes a design good, and presents an attainable framework for designing an interesting and complete board game. There are plenty of designs that exist and are successful outside of this framework, but the list below constitutes an excellent set of guidelines for making goals for myself as a game designer. I wanted to share it here for the benefit for any designers that haven’t come across this yet. It’s sublime, and should be considered by anyone thinking about designing a board game.
12 Tenants of Game Design
- Quick beginning and organic end: Streamlined setup with (at most) minimal pre-game choices, and an organic end-game trigger (we’re generally not drawn to games with a set number of rounds, though there are instances–particularly in engine-building games like in Wingspan–where they provide a better experience than a race to the finish).
- Ability to plan ahead before taking your turn (you shouldn’t have to wait for the previous player to complete their turn to be able to decide what you’re doing on your turn).
- Limited analysis paralysis with choices displayed on player mats, game board, etc. This also manifests in a reasonable amount of information on display, not dozens of cards and tiles with detailed text that players need to read from across the table.
- Tension, not hostility. We like to limit the potential for spite while still encouraging various forms of interaction.
- Interesting choices are better than luck. If there are elements of randomness, players should be able to make decisions based on random input (instead of, say, rolling dice to determine the outcome). Agency is very important; it means that players have control over their fate.
- Rewards and forward momentum, not punishment and backwards movement. Players should feel like they’ve progressed during the game to a superior position than at the beginning, and the mechanisms should support this (i.e., engine building).
- Intuitive to learn and retain. The design of the game should take into account the accessibility and learning experience–ideally, new players can be presented with a few core rules and start to take turns due to the presentation and order of operations. Retention should also be a factor, enabled by few to no rules exceptions.
- Strong connection between theme and mechanisms. Mechanisms should be designed to keep players immersed in the game instead of reminding them they’re playing a game. Two key examples of mechanisms that don’t do this are phases and action checklists. There are much better, more thematic ways of showing players what they can do on their turn.
- The potential for dramatic, memorable moments in a game is difficult to achieve, but it’s a huge plus when the game allows and encourages them to happen.
- Board games are tactile experiences. We love games with some type of appealing, exciting component. It can be as simple as the cardboard Tetris-style pieces in Patchwork or as complex (yet important) as the wheels in Tzolk’in.
- Variable factors to create replayability–you can’t play the same exact game twice, even if you try.
- Multiple paths to victory. Various game subsystems should be equal in their ability to reach the winning criteria.
That’s enough gushing, for now.