As many aspiring game designers likely do I have been trolling numerous game companies online. With so many possible directions to go in game design it is really easy to design a bad game. When I stumbled upon Stonemaier Games list of design tenets I was really challenged in my thinking. I am sure other companies have similar principles, even if they aren’t in writing. But to so visibly see the exact guidelines they use to assess games and select them for production was insightful. And although these might not be exactly the rules I want to live by, they are really great list for consideration. In fact they are so solid in my opinion that at this moment I don’t see anything I would change. For now, this will be my go-to checklist.
And here they are, 12 tenets of board game design at Stonemaier Games (source link):
- 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).
- 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).
- Very, very few 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, 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 simply as the cardboard Tetris-style pieces in Patchwork or as complex (yet important) 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.