The 10 commandments of boardgame design

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The god of boardgaming is an angry god. Very Old Testament. I have just come down from the mountain with these 10 commandments printed on quality cardboard stock mounted on boards that unfold like, uh, like this, I think. Here, you hold that side, and…no, no, that doesn’t bend that way, it bends the other way. No, no, yeah, okay now this part folds out like so. Okay, lay it out on the table. I think it’s upside down, spin it around thisaway. Okay, there. Let’s see what we’ve got here.

After the jump, this god sure does cuss a lot.

The Tenth Commandment
Thou shalt have the common courtesy to include plastic bags!
I just paid $40. At least. And you’re not going to include a couple of zip-lock baggies for the pieces? Dude.

The Ninth Commandment
Thou shalt not allow ties
There must always be a tie-breaker. I don’t want any of this shared victory nonsense. I didn’t sit here for three hours so none of us could prevail. Winners and losers are mandatory.

The Eighth Commandment
Thou shalt not include variants
Design your damn game! Part of your job designing your game is tuning it. Don’t chuck a bunch of variants into the rules just because. If you want to set up some sort of scoring mechanism where the variants have an effect, that’s fine. But I don’t need you to make something and then waffle over how you’ve made it by not having the presence of mind to trim or include certain rules. This one time I was in a a crowded theatre when some people came in after the movie had started. They went down near the front and shuffled around in front of the screen trying to find a place to sit while the movie was playing. Much to everyone’s delight, my friend yelled, “Figure it out!” I will bring my friend in here to yell that at you if I have to.

The Seventh Commandment
Thou shalt not fucking cover important information with the pieces
This is one of the stupidest things ever and I’m astonished every time I see it. It’s one of the most basic interface rules. If I need to know a piece of information, don’t fucking put a marker right on top of it. Design your board, your goddamn interface, to make it as readable as humanly possible, and then some. A boardgame should never ever ever ever ever fucking hide someting. I mean, Jesus H. Christ, if I wanted to play a game where stuff was hidden, I have a computer in my office with games in which 95% of the stuff is completely hidden in a soup of ones and zeros.

The Sixth Commandment
Thou shalt minimize downtime
Okay, downtime is going to happen sometimes. I mean, some players are slower than others anyway. But if a group of us are going to sit around a table and play your game, you need to do whatever you can to minimize the time where we’re just sitting with our thumbs up our asses waiting for our turn. That used to fly with Monopoly. Which was made in 1873 or something. This is 2016 and we’ve long since discovered good game design. Engaging players — all of them — as often as possible is part of your job.

The Fifth Commandment
Thou shalt make me interact with everyone else at the table
If I wanted to play solitaire, I’d play solitaire. But guess what. My friends are here, so I’m going to play something with them because they’re here. I don’t want to stick my nose in my own solitaire board while they stick their noses into their own solitaire board and maybe we occasionally look up to draw a resource from a pool or place a worker. Boardgames should be built for maximum interaction, because the players are always more interesting than the systems. Always. I don’t care if you had to trawl your local gaming store on a Saturday morning for players. They will always be the point more than the systems. The systems are a way for the players to interact. They serve the players, not the other way around. So serve us by making us interact.

The Fourth Commandment
Thou shalt just give up estimating playing time
Don’t bother. You’re never right. Never. You don’t know how many players are showing up tonight and you don’t know how slow some of them are. Furthermore, we don’t know your rules yet. The only proper entry after “Playing Time:” is “?????”

The Third Commandment
Thou shalt not keep sending me back to the rules book
Okay, I love reading manuals. Once. Maybe twice. And then sometimes having to look something up. But unless you’re some sort of hardcore wargame — and let’s face it, you aren’t — you need to put the information necessary to play on the tabletop. Ideally, put it on the board. If you can’t manage that, put it on a player aid. And for God’s sake, make your player aid readable. It’s not much of an aid if you’re just cramming stuff onto it with no regard for how it’s laid out, or how it reads, or whether it just confuses the issue and sends me back to the manual, which has now rendered your player aid superfluous.

The Second Commandment
Thou shalt write a goddamn excellent rules book
Seriously. I mean, come on, seriously. You made the game. Sure, you know how to play it. But I don’t. I’ve never seen it before in my life. It’s a complete unnknown to me. The next most important thing for you to do after making your game good is showing it to me so I know it’s good. That’s what your rules book does. So if you can’t write good rules — thorough, readable, easy to reference — then don’t fucking bother making a game in the first place. And while we’re at it, I don’t need you trying to be funny in your rules book. It’s a book of rules, for fuck’s sake, not a showcase for your sparkling wit.

The First Commandment
Thou shalt not bother with toys
If I wanted to buy a set of action figures, I’d buy a set of action figures. Which I’m not going to do because I’m not twelve anymore. I don’t need fancy miniatures, and neither does your game. Go hawk that nonsense to X-Wing and Warhammer players who don’t know any better.

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