In order to understand what makes a board game fun to play, we must first look at some basics. Why there are some that we play once or twice and then never look at again and why we keep coming back to those all time classics. What is a board game? What is it made of?
Definition of a Board Game
By definition, a board game is any game that is played on a board. A board here is quite broad term: strictly it means a playing board, but it could also mean various other physical objects. It’s played against (or with) human opponents who are positioned around the board. (There are solo board games also available these days.)
Building Blocks of a Board Game
Different elements form a board game. Let’s name them.
Theme and Concept
These are fundamental in a board game and they go hand in hand as they effect each other greatly. A theme is simply a skin of a game (i.e. all the different variants of Monopoly) and the concept means what the game is about. The ideas here are endless and authors are trying to come up with new ones all the time: it can be map based (with acquisition of territories like Sctyhe, with building things, with trading like Settlers of Catan), card based (card swapping, card collecting), board based with laying or moving pieces (like Kahuna), with money or betting involved, including or excluding various dices or drawing of cards etc. The list is endless.
Important thing here is that the theme and concept complement each other and make sense together.
This is further development of the concept and it defines in detail how the board game is going to be played: the starting situation, distribution of goods among players, who goes next, what happens in a turn, what is and what is not allowed, and in the end, what the victory conditions are.
Game mechanics are written in board game’s manual. They are also known as rules.
It’s these rules that create the longevity of a board game. As we said in the previous article: you want them simple to learn to bring in new players, yet complex to master to keep the better players studying and coming back to the game.
Influence of Chance
This element is built in with basic concept and game mechanics. Majority of board games depend (some more, some less) on the random factor. It makes the game more unpredictable, exciting and alluring to beginner players as it gives them an illusion that they can beat the good players.
Luck can be implemented in different ways. The most popular are rolling the dice(s) when determining various outcomes and drawing cards when a player receives new stuff. Other board games only randomize starting settings, like board/terrain or resource distribution. Exactly what is determined by chance is a matter of the game concept and practical implementation is described in the rules.
As a general rule, you want a moderate amount of chance influencing a board game. Just so that it brings some freshness but at the same time does not cause chaos.
In my native language board games are named “družabne igre”. A word-by-word translation of that would be “socializing games”. It is one of the main reasons we play board games: to have fun with other people.
Board games do that through different ways: encouraging players to cooperate to achieve mutual goals, compete for resources, cards, money or territory, trade resources, bargain, buy and sell property, fight over valuables. Some even encourage backstabbing (fortunately not literally), ridiculing each other and using other dirty tricks on the path to victory.
How the players interact with each other is a very important element of a board game and is often neglected in game design. A deep socializing element can heavily influence on how the games play out and can even replace some element of luck – games use different characters of the players to bring variety into gameplay instead of luck.
Physical Elements of a Board Game
Last but not least, we have the physical items: the board, figures, dice, cards, instructions, the box and other. How these elements look like, is heavily influenced by the theme of the board game and artistic style. Quality natural materials like wood, metal and paper are usually favored by players over plastic.
This element does not influence gameplay much, but it’s the face of a board game. This is what costumers will see first and often it’s that first impression that is crucial in buying process. That’s why game designers put a lot of emphasis on this element (sometimes forgetting about others in the process) and board games these days look very attractive.
All the above elements blend in a mixture and form a board game. It’s the combination of all the elements and how they affect each other that makes a board game good or fun. Or contrary – bad.
Manufacturers will often focus marketing around elements they think are good and ignore those they failed with. That’s why we have to look at the whole picture when dealing (reviewing, buying, playing) with board games and not judge them just by the cover.
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