Board Games as a Medium

I often get a funny look when the topic of my board game and board game design hobby comes up. I usually have to explain how board games have come a long way since the days of trudging through a 5-hour game of Risk as a bored 10 year old on a rainy day, or the collective beating of heads experience of playing a full game of Monopoly with the family as kids. Some are surprised that a 34-year old man with a family and full time employment would spend his free time with a hobby that seems so childish, as if I were playing with action figures or catching fireflies. I assure them that it’s very grown up, and that the kind of games I play are challenging, interesting and exciting. I’ve even had some success in winning over skeptics to the beauty of board games as a hobby. Often, they just weren’t playing the right games.

The truth, though, is that designing board games has a greater appeal than that of other pastimes that I’ve pursued. For me, board game design has become something deep and expansive; the purest and most life-giving art form that I’ve participated in. I used to make music with some regularity. Five years ago I wrote and recorded a 6-track album with some friends of mine. I played a few small shows around Atlanta and sold two or three dozen CDs. I enjoyed the process of writing music, and was particularly drawn to that process as a means of creative expression. I’ve also written poetry and have tried my hand at writing a novel once or twice. But, all of those artistic mediums have been wildly less satisfying than designing games.

Game design is a creative process through which you not only want to create a product that is beautiful and satisfying, but you want to create an experience that people can share. With my music, people might hear a song online, or see one of my shows, or buy a CD. They would at most talk about it with a friend or relate to the lyrics or enjoy the melody. But, that was always the extent of it. It was consumable and limited, and maybe at times beautiful and inspiring. But it could only enrich the consumer so much.

Board games, however, offer a much deeper and communal experience. When a group of friends or family members sit down in front of a board game, they create a shared experience that has the potential of bringing them closer to one another. Board games are a medium, a tactile and tangible opportunity for face-to-face community and relationship development through genuine human interaction and shared experience. We are closer when we look each other in the eye, sit around a table, and focus on the same thing. While other forms of art also carry this potentiality, board games offer this process in its most pronounced form. To create a board game is to create a tool by which we as people can walk towards one another. We can laugh and plan and play together and grow closer together.

Making games brings me joy, for the complexities and problem solving opportunities that it provides. But the promise, the hope that someone will sit down with people they love or with people that they’re just getting to know and play a game I’ve made, full of ups and downs and twists and turns, constructing narratives and experiences together, that excites me. It excites me beyond the limits of other creative mediums. Hopefully, I can get games out there that do that and do it well.

Fresh Perspectives

I watched a video on youtube of a panel at SHUX that included four game designers talking about the game design process. It was a great presentation of interesting and foundational ideas and experiences of these successful and established designers. But one quote by narrative designer Leigh Alexander stood out to me:

“Game Designers need to not play more games but read more books, watch more movies, and do more traveling, and absorb other cultures”

Alexander’s assertion is a good one, and it speaks to an ideal that I have been circling for a while. It seems like a lot of games adhere to a kind of thematic status quo. And while recently we’ve seen more and more games with new and unique themes, it seems like it’s still commonplace for new games to dwell on old tropes, worlds, histories, etc. in their theme.

I once read a comment in a game design forum that said that our industry repeats themes because the mechanics that we use in games don’t change very often. Many popular games are themed after medieval tradesmen, or middle eastern markets, or civilization building of indigenous cultures, etc., because the mechanics that we use fit those themes. New themes means innovative new mechanics, which are hard to produce.

Alexander’s idea is beautiful in that it challenges us as game makers to understand that our perspective and worldview, our experience and our culture, shape our design approach. We are limited to what we understand, and the goal of any creative person should be to expand our boundaries by putting ourselves in the midst of other cultural experiences and expressions. Out of that effort comes a wider, deeper understanding of the human experience and the ways the world works. Only through that wider experience can our creative efforts become more inclusive and expressive. As game designers, this can mean new ideas and new mechanics that fit into fresh and innovative themes. The way out of creative and thematic repackaging is to develop as people, as conscious beings. The only way to get there is to seek out genuine and novel experience, and to see the world through fresh eyes and from a fresh perspective.

That’s a goal I’ve set for myself, to engage with people and ideas and traditions that are different than my own. I want to see the world in a more complete way through plopping myself down in unfamiliar contexts and learning to understand them. Hopefully the result is more interesting game designs, but at the very least, I think I can come away with a more empathetic world view and perspective.

Leigh Alexander on Instagram

The Game Design Process – SHUX Presents:

Current Design Rundown

Here are the games I’m working on

Colorfield by Mondo Davis

Name: Colorfield

Details: 2-4 players, Ages 8+, 20 minute playtime

Mechanics: Tile Laying

Story: Make Paintings by laying tiles on a canvas. Match colors to score points.

Stage: Colorfield has been signed by 25th Century Games and is set for production by summer of 2020.

Name: Into the Woods

Details: 1-5 Players, Ages 8+, 20 minute playtime

Mechanics: Hand Management, Engine Building

Story: Collect sets of cool stuff from the woods and score points by putting those sets in your pocket.

Stage: Development is completed, and the artwork is still being finished. I will start pitching this game to publishers next month.

Name: Picture Me Rolling

Detaills: 3-8 Players, Ages 10+, 15 minute playtime

Mechanics: Roll-and-Write, Drawing

Story: Use die faces to draw a picture from a card and have other players guess the word that you drew.

Stage: This is in the late playtesting stage, but I’ve floated the idea to some industry friends and have gotten some interest. I’m looking to further develop it and hopefully pitch it soon.

Name: Megachurch

Details: 2-5 Players, Ages 10+, 45 minute playtime

Mechanics: Worker Placement

Story: Try and grow your humble local church into a sprawling Megachurch. Players use their pastors to take actions and try and grow their congregation. The player with the most weekly attendants on Sunday wins.

Stage: This game is early in the playtesting stage. It’s been fun to make, and I look forward to developing it further.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Picture Me Rolling

One of my recent designs is called Picture Me Rolling. This is my first attempt at both a party game and a roll-and-write. I’ve added the video below for an explanation on how to play, but essentially players use dice faces to draw a word on a card and get other players to guess what they’ve drawn. It’s been fun to play test and I hope to get it out there more. Anyway, enjoy:

New Sell Sheet

I’ve been trying to put together the sell sheet for Into the Woods, my most recent design. Players take a walk in the woods and try to find and collect cool stuff like bones, feathers, rocks, gems, bugs, etc. Players trade cards from their hands with cards in the center of the table and score points by putting a set of three matching cards “in their pocket.” It’s quick and fun and the artwork, while still in development, looks awesome (big thanks to my wife, Priscilla Benitez, for the wonderful artwork). I’ll be contacting publishers soon to see if I can find a good fit.


Into the Woods Sellsheet

Board Game Design: A Manifesto

I’ve been designing board games for over five years. My first design was terrible, as were my second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, etc. designs. It has always been something I’ve enjoyed doing, but for a while I was more excited about coming up with a general idea for a game than I was excited to actually do the work of making a worthwhile game. This summer, I signed my first game. It’s called Colorfield, and unlike many of my previous attempts, it is not terrible. It’s actually kind of awesome. The final version of this game is a result of a lot of hard work, and of that swift and elusive mystery of creative inspiration.

Here’s the story.

Games by Mondo

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Hello. My name is Mondo Davis and I make games. This is where I’ll talk about my designs, discuss other people’s designs, and write general musings from my little perch amidst the wide world of board gaming. Aloha a mahalo.