The Decision to become a Board Game Designer
Kevin Kulp
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Like many others, game design has been something I flirted with many times in my life. When I was a kid I made my own games using paper and pencil and when I got a computer I experimented with modding of FPS and RTS games. I wanted to make games and wherever an opportunity to make games presented itself I tried to make the best of it. But sometimes life gets in the way of your passions and life then surprises you with the opportunity to explore your true passions.

In College, life surprised me again when my programming professor offered me the chance to enroll in the game design program at the college. That offer changed my life in a positive way I could not foresee. As I progressed through the program I started putting concrete thought to the idea of pursuing commercial game development.

So the choice was whether I wanted to make a go in the world of analog or digital. My first Global Game Jam kind of made up my mind on that one and led to the creation of my first commercial game Pigpen.


Pigpen Kickstarter!


So why analog and not digital, let’s do some exploring through the wonderful world of board games.
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1. Board Game: Monopoly [Average Rating:4.39 Overall Rank:16269]
Kevin Kulp
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I grew up with both worlds of gaming, my Dad picked up an Atari 2600 when I was young, but board games were also a big part of my youth. Before that Atari 2600, weekends were about getting together around a table and finding something the whole family could play. Except for my mom she just liked to sit on the couch and back seat game us. It might have been Yahtzee, Stratego and yes even Monopoly.

I will now note, I was a car type of child, my brother and I would have many arguments over that piece but I always won those contests.

The big thing about those times, the nostalgia for me, was how it brought us together the many fond memories I have of playing. Looking back it didn’t matter if I won or lost (back then it sure did) but it gave my family a way to spend time together on an equal playing field.

There is no arguing that digital games can’t do the same thing, but there is still a big difference between blowing on a cartridge versus working together as a team to setup a board game. Having a family myself, having games that I can gather everyone around is enticing in itself. But making said games for my own family was a huge factor as to why I like the world of analog games.
 
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2. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1220]
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Going back to my childhood again, one of the things I loved was the huge box of fun that the big box games presented. Games like Axis and Allies and Fortress America were boxes filled with miniature dream machines. The fact you could take them in your hand and feel the very piece you would use to move around the board was exciting. It filled your imagination and let your mind run wild. There was something special about those pieces.

There is also something about rolling poker chips in your hands. There is a tangible to the feel of dice before you roll them. Playing Yahtzee and feeling the weight of the dice in the cup is a big part of the game. Board games can bring this level of touch and closeness that you can’t find in a video game.

Board games can bring something to the table that is very enticing to a designer. Games like Forbidden Desert definitely bring the kid out of even grown adults.
 
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3. Board Game: Kalah [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:3510]
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The history of video games is pretty much set before us, it was something I grew up with and got to see most of it unfold before my eyes. I consider myself a part-time video game historian, I know quite a bit about the industry which served me well in my college studies of game design. I could draw upon a lot of my knowledge to help with various projects I worked and offer help to fellow students who had questions.

When it came to board games, it was the opposite. For me an enticing part of gaming and game design is the history of the industry. And board games offers a very rich and diverse history that is still being uncovered today. There is something very intriguing, an enigma that offers a challenging learning experience for years to come.

And not only is there a history of industry to learn, but that of deeper history that goes far back. I am talking thousands of years. It was this kind of history that inspired The Thousand-Year Design Challenge.

In the words of Daniel Sollis:
“Create a game. The game can be of any theme or genre you desire, but there is one restriction: You're creating a "new classic," like Chess, Tag or card games. So, create a game to be enjoyed by generations of players for a thousand years.”

Speaking of challenges:
 
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4. Board Game: Ingenious Challenges [Average Rating:5.90 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.90 Unranked]
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Now here is where the digital/analog will seem to merge, but facts do play out differently.

While both realms offer their own unique challenges, analog can offer a very abstract design challenge that does not exist in the digital field. A board game has to convey it’s theme through use of art, which is very true of digital, but has to encourage the player towards filling in the blanks of reality.

That little car you hold in your hand, has to represent the rich person buying property on Boardwalk. That little figurine in Pandemic represents a different role in every game that you believe can save the world. You actually start dreading cubes, thinking they are real viruses. The hex shape piece of space estate in Twilight Imperium, is bigger than the mind can imagine to the player.

Analog designers have this unique design challenge that a digital game can’t offer. In a game like Call of Duty there is nothing to separate the player from not believing they are firing a real gun, through the use of 3D models and photo realistic textures. Board games have to use other, more conventional tricks to bring the feel of the game home to the player.
 
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5. Board Game: Mertwig's Maze [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:4764]
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Now this will be a merge of the two worlds, but analog does allow the designer to express themselves in very unique ways.

A designer, with the help of an artist, bring a unique world view to the player and express that vision in some very exciting ways. And being a visual medium and tactile medium, the designer can shape a vision for the end user that is unique to each game.

Also a majority of the time, the very nature of analogue design is going to bring a very personal design that is the vision of one person, versus a team of many. Analog allows the designer to shape the vision by himself with the help of a very few people if not any.
 
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6. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:495]
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A unique aspect of analog design is the beauty of simplicity.

An analog game could be comprised of thousands of miniatures or simply 1 card. Or a game of deduction that only uses 13 cards. Analog allows the designer to deal with as few components or as many components as the designer would like.

But it is many times that you can find beauty in the use of as few pieces as possible.

Games like Hanabi, No Thanks! and Coloretto do not contain a huge number of components. Neither do you find manuals with sprawling images of example play as usually their rule sets are small because the game themselves is simple in nature. They offer a limited number of choices that are actually ingenious in their sophistication of modesty. These choices the players have before them are full of meaning, despite their illusion of etherealness. Games that have much weight in such a small package.

Again the challenge of less is very appealing to the design mind.
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7. Board Game: OddVille [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:1336]
 
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Another very appealing feature of analog game design is the freshness of the new.

The board game world is big one with many games, that no person could possibly take on in one lifetime. To someone like myself who likes the discovery aspect of gaming, there is always going to be something around the corner that will capture and enthrall the mind. There is no shortage of ideas to be found in board games.

Sometimes you get caught off guard by the small and unique flavors a new game can present or even an older title that you discover on the shelf of a local thrift store for 50 cents. The appeal of becoming part of a field that is so diverse and unique is tantalizing to the creative mind.
 
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