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Subject: Ranking The Eight Most Important Parts Of A Board Game rss

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Robert Burke
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I have been thinking about what makes a great game and I think most of us would agree on the basics: gameplay, theme, art, etc.

But how do you rank these elements?

Here's mine, what are yours?

1. Gameplay - this has to be first for any publisher. A great game with bad art is still worth owning (i.e.: Glory To Rome) A great game with poor components is still worth owning (i.e.: 7 Wonders), A great game with poor graphic design is still worth owning (i.e.: Defenders of the Realm) Of course, improving other elements of the game only make it better. But a great game, is a great game, is a great game, and this should always be the top concern of every designer!

2. Art - As important as gameplay is, it is art that initially attracts players to a game, and immerses them in a theme. No matter how great a game is, art can ALWAYS make it better. It's easy to find incredible artists, hire them!

3. Rules - Well-written rules are more important to the success of a game than most believe. An epic game like Twilight Imperium, which takes at least 6 hours to play, can be learned easily from its finely crafted rulebook with detailed examples. But trying to learn a simple two player card game like Dixie: Bull Run from its poorly written rules is an exercise in frustration. The easier you make it for people to learn your game the more it will be played, taught and purchased! Make sure your rules are proofread by a professional who's first language is the language being used!

4. Theme - For the well-initiated, theme is of absolutely no importance. However, a poor, or overused theme can automatically limit your audience. It's always something to be considered carefully as you can corner yourself in a niche much too easily. Want to do a fantasy, trading in the Mediterranean, or zombie themed game? It better be absolutely incredible in order stand out against the competition! Want to do a game about sex-crazed, satanic, hermaphrodite witches? It could create a buzz for its uniqueness, or it could end up being put on fire sale at Tanga like Cleopatra's Caboose. Tread carefully.

5. Component Quality
- In this day and age of high tech manufacturing, there is simply no excuse for poor components! Demand that your components are of the highest quality. Poor components may not kill a game, but it will upset your customers and hurt your brand. And if your brand develops a reputation for bad component quality you will begin every new project with a strike against you!

6. Graphic Design - I appreciate great graphic design. And great graphic design can really put a game on a whole new level of awesome. But when it comes down to it, its one of the least important items on my list. Great art can carry poor graphic design, but great graphic design cannot carry poor art. Graphic design can have a tangible impact on point of purchase sales, but the majority of sales are driven by having a great game that's FUN to play! (see item #1)! I may be convinced to switch this with #5. Component Quality, but this is where my ranking stands at the moment.

7. Accessibility (Number of Players, Age Range) - This is a tough one, but I believe that your game design should dictate the number of players and age range. We are all aware of games that are fantastic with a certain number of players, but not so good with a different (supported) number (i.e.: Game Of Thrones) You should not try to "design around" great mechanics to improve the supported number of players, or age range unless you can do so without detracting. If you want to expand your accessibility, instead of changing your core game mechanics, consider a completely different ruleset. Sure it will take a lot more development, rules updates, play testing and everything that goes along with it, but it's a far better option than putting a great game at risk to artificially expand the supported ages and number of players listed on the box.

8. Complexity (Weight) - Complexity has nothing to do with how good a game is, but it can certainly limit profitability. There are excellent light games, and horrible light games. There are excellent heavy games, and horrible heavy games. How complex a game is should not factor into your decision, unless the complexity is DISTRACTING FROM THE FUN! See item #1! If you are making a game for NASA scientists called "The Tectonic Plates of Io", with a 100 page rulebook, make it the best game you can, even if your audience is limited to 23 people. If you are making a game that will appeal to the big world outside of the gaming community, make it the best game you can! In other words, make a kick-ass game, no matter what the weight.

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Nate K
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Well-said. I may not agree with the exact ranking, but your points are well-made and clearly thought-out.
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Oliver Kiley
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Nice article! I appreciate your thoughts.

For me, I'd put graphic design in the #2 spot. You can have games that are pure graphic design with no "art" that look great nonetheless. And for me, the graphic design playes directly into the gameplay and how ledigble and clear the game is during play. Art work itself matters much much less to me.

Also, here is a repost from an older thread that summarizes my thoughts on the matter:

Mezmorki wrote:
Well, I'm back with a bit of a final tally ... again with another round of creative lumping. I've aggregated all the suggestions into a 9 bucket categories and provided the total votes for all items within the buckets. You can also see the specific comment references and number of votes within each bucket.

(14) Tension and Uncertainty
Tension, a lot hangs in balance, no pain no gain (8)
Right amount of luck, players can adapt/respond to randomness (6)

(11) Choices and Execution
Choices that matter, wide range of choice, interesting AND meaningful choices, depth of strategy (6)
Ambiguity, uncertainty in decisions, risk vs. reward, no one "correct" move (3)
Understandable "game state" (2)

(10) Balance and Interaction
Keep players engaged - all players should be able to work towards winning throughout (2)
Player interaction, game as a social tool, appropriate level of interaction, avoidance of "mutual inaction" (4)
Balance, avoidance of runaway leaders/looses (2)
Either elimination or no elimination (1)
Appropriate challenge (1)
*** Counterpoints (2)

(9) Clarity and Simplicity
Clear, unambigious rules, streamlined rules/play, "consistency and simplicity", elegance, avoid "special cases", rules should cover all possible outcomes (7)
Easy to learn / lifetime to master. (2)

(8) Depth and Scope
Pacing matches depth / Play time commensurate with level of competition, integration of design, synergy… appropriate amount of actions, choices (4)
Appropriate scope, right amount of detail to fit the concept (1)
Multiple pathways / multiple layers to victory (1)
Appropriate use of strategy-tactics to match game intent, Contains both strategy and tactics - have an overall approach that requires particular executions (2)

(8)Mechanics and Theme
Mechanics fit theme, believability of mechanics, minimize themeatic absurdities, immersion (7)
"Invisibile" game mechanics / all components work in synergy (1)
*** Counterpoints (3) Feeling that theme is not criticial to the "design"

(8) Ergonomics and Aethetics
"Ergonomics" (avoid repetitive tasks), efficiency in use , functional components (4)
Good Component quality/artwork design, aesthetics, easy to comprehend board state (4)

(7) Design Intent and Outcomes
Intent / execution (2)
Clear goal or objective (1)
Decisive results, avoid draws or inconclusive outcomes, need tie-breakers (2)
Clear endpoint / endgame condition, controlled game length, don't go on forever (2)
Scales well across players (2)
*** Counterpoints (2) NPlayer scaling not a critical quality, but nice

(5) Variety
Variability, Replay value, variety, each game could be different, each turn could be different (5)

That's it!

Incidentially, you might also refer to this article by Wolfgang Kramer, which covers a very similar listing of "good game" qualities.
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Steven Durst
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All good points. As an aside, why do you call 7 wonders out for poor components? I have no grief with the components at all and neither does my gaming group. Am I missing something?
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Robert Burke
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Mezmorki wrote:
Nice article! I appreciate your thoughts.

For me, I'd put graphic design in the #2 spot. You can have games that are pure graphic design with no "art" that look great nonetheless. And for me, the graphic design playes directly into the gameplay and how ledigble and clear the game is during play. Art work itself matters much much less to me.

Also, here is a repost from an older thread that summarizes my thoughts on the matter:



Dominant Species comes to mind when you talk about great graphic design and no art. I think that's a fine exception. Just think of how great the game would be with GREAT art though. Even the new third edition does not use art as well as the game deserves!

I like your list! It goes into detail on my #1.
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Robert Burke
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Wario83 wrote:
All good points. As an aside, why do you call 7 wonders out for poor components? I have no grief with the components at all and neither does my gaming group. Am I missing something?


The cards in the 7 Wonders games I have played have been poor quality, and the boards tend not to lay flat. My experience with the quality is not good and many agree. It may be that the component issues have since been improved.
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CJ
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There seems to be an unspoken consensus here on the difference between art and graphic design. Anyone care to elaborate as I'm struggling to see them as seperate entities..?
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Steven Durst
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elgin_j wrote:
There seems to be an unspoken consensus here on the difference between art and graphic design. Anyone care to elaborate as I'm struggling to see them as seperate entities..?


Not sure about anyone elsehere, but for me art has to do with the pictures in the board game while 'graphic design' is how they are laid out and presented on the playing pieces.

So say you can have great artwork but your playing board is a jumbled mess of icons and text that makes it hard to play. Someone let me know if I'm wrong.
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Robert Burke
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Wario83 wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
There seems to be an unspoken consensus here on the difference between art and graphic design. Anyone care to elaborate as I'm struggling to see them as seperate entities..?


Not sure about anyone elsehere, but for me art has to do with the pictures in the board game while 'graphic design' is how they are laid out and presented on the playing pieces.

So say you can have great artwork but your playing board is a jumbled mess of icons and text that makes it hard to play. Someone let me know if I'm wrong.


Yep. Except the graphic design is not limited to playing pieces. You need graphic design for the box and rulebook as well as the board, components and maybe any other stuff in the box.

The art is the actual painting, or digital images used in the game.
The layout, text, icons, border elements, etc. would be the graphic design.
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Tinyelvis wrote:
Wario83 wrote:
elgin_j wrote:
There seems to be an unspoken consensus here on the difference between art and graphic design. Anyone care to elaborate as I'm struggling to see them as seperate entities..?


Not sure about anyone elsehere, but for me art has to do with the pictures in the board game while 'graphic design' is how they are laid out and presented on the playing pieces.

So say you can have great artwork but your playing board is a jumbled mess of icons and text that makes it hard to play. Someone let me know if I'm wrong.


Yep. Except the graphic design is not limited to playing pieces. You need graphic design for the box and rulebook as well as the board, components and maybe any other stuff in the box.

The art is the actual painting, or digital images used in the game.
The layout, text, icons, border elements, etc. would be the graphic design.


Thanks for that, Gents.

I now have a follow-up: why has art been elevated beyond a sub-component of graphic design? I can appreciate people wanting to distinguish between them at the user end as great art is great art. What benefit is there to discussing them seperately when talking within the realm of game design?
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Derek H
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I agree that all these are important, but my ranking differs somewhat...

1. Gameplay
2. Rules
3. Graphic Design
4. Accessibility
5. Component Quality
6. Theme
7. Art
8. Complexity (Weight)
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Matt Davis
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Well, art and graphic design are really different things. Take something like Race for the Galaxy. The "art" is what makes up most of the cards - you know, your pictures of space stations and whatnot. The graphic design encompasses the (unfairly, IMHO) much-maligned iconography and the way the cards are laid out, and it should be debated quite separately from the art.

And more generally, art tends to impact the overall feel of the game and is a more esthetic discussion. Good graphic design has its own esthetics, of course, but it has much more of an impact on the actual playability of the game.
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Oliver Kiley
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elgin_j wrote:
I now have a follow-up: why has art been elevated beyond a sub-component of graphic design? I can appreciate people wanting to distinguish between them at the user end as great art is great art. What benefit is there to discussing them seperately when talking within the realm of game design?


Another way of looking at it...

You can play a game without art; but you generally can't play a game without a graphic design.

I say "generally" because you can have a game like Dixit where the component cards are just a piece of "art" and nothing more. In Dixit's case, the artwork on the cards IS the graphic design.

Another way of looking at it...

The graphic design conveys the mechanics, the art conveys the theme.
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Drake Villareal
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I'd like to go a step deeper with this and look at the most important components of Gameplay.

Which, in my opinion are -

Resources - Every game has resources whether it knows it or not, resources are pieces managed by the player. Resources have many of their own components too, most notably Resource in -> Resource out. How easy is it to gain resources, and what is the benefit of expending them?

Balance - The game board should react to what a player does and vice-versa. A game too heavy one way is often imbalanced in my experience.

Downtime - Everyone HATES excess downtime. How are you managing this? Timers? Out-of-turn actions? Special Cards or abilities? Strategic depth that demands attention and figuring out what to do when it's not your turn? How you address this one can be a huge deal for some people.

Length
- Not just length, but length relative to player accomplishment. Some people just don't feel accomplished when they win a 3 hour game because it felt like the game's experience stayed about 2 hours too long. The length doesn't matter if it is well-filled and minimizes downtime.

Tension - A great game should make a player scoot to the edge of their seat, hoping that your opponent doesn't make move X or Y so you can make move A on your turn. Solo play isn't usually fun, but without Tension created in someway it's unbearable.

Decisions vs Options
- Options are what you can do, decisions are deciding the most optimal thing to do. When you add try to improve the depth of a game by adding more options, the growth of decisions becomes exponential. But having a heirarchy of decisions to be made, players can pick a "category" and then pick an action "within that category" to speed up decision making. Also, when players are not being "challenged" by another player on the board or the board itself, they often will not know what to do, because nothing is beneficial, avoid this.

Barrier of Entry (weight) - How complex is the game? Remember, a game can be deep and rich in gameplay while being light in complexity. Anytime you wish to complicate the game, you must ask yourself if the gameplay benefit of said mechanic enhances the overall experience enough to warrant convoluting it.

Refinement vs. Creativity - Is your game basically another game that you tried to make better? Or is it only tangentially related to other games? Whichever path you choose, you must embrace what you are doing or your game may end up jumbled and clunky. Trying too many new things can be bad (there are established mechanics for a reason), but trying nothing new at all is probably even worse.

Polish
- This is almost impossible to nail-down to a description. A good game must be well polished. Even 1 dimple or protrusion can disrupt an otherwise smooth surface.

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Benjamin Maggi
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OddCrow19 wrote:
Polish - This is almost impossible to nail-down to a description. A good game must be well polished. Even 1 dimple or protrusion can disrupt an otherwise smooth surface.


I don't think this is a big factor. I am half-Polish and lose more than half the time I play games.

As to the first point, I put rules #1. No matter how great the game, or how lovely the components, if the rules suck then the game will suck. No amount of pretty wooden bits or crafty, innovative mechanics will save a gaming experience plagued with unclear situations, vague rule interpretations, or broken elements not addressed somewhere in the rules.
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Sen-Foong Lim
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:

As to the first point, I put rules #1. No matter how great the game, or how lovely the components, if the rules suck then the game will suck. No amount of pretty wooden bits or crafty, innovative mechanics will save a gaming experience plagued with unclear situations, vague rule interpretations, or broken elements not addressed somewhere in the rules.


Give this man a prize.
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Tinyelvis wrote:
For the well-initiated, theme is of absolutely no importance.


WTF?
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
OddCrow19 wrote:
Polish - This is almost impossible to nail-down to a description. A good game must be well polished. Even 1 dimple or protrusion can disrupt an otherwise smooth surface.


I don't think this is a big factor. I am half-Polish and lose more than half the time I play games.

As to the first point, I put rules #1. No matter how great the game, or how lovely the components, if the rules suck then the game will suck. No amount of pretty wooden bits or crafty, innovative mechanics will save a gaming experience plagued with unclear situations, vague rule interpretations, or broken elements not addressed somewhere in the rules.


Valid opinion. But if someone who knew the rules taught you the game and it was a GREAT game, a good ruleset is not required. But even the most expertly communicated ruleset won't make a bad game good.
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Mezmorki wrote:


The graphic design conveys the mechanics, the art conveys the theme.


Nicely said.
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To me, this is all fairly nonsensical since the items listed fall into different categories at different levels of subdivision. For instance, you cannot weigh "rules" against "gameplay" or "complexity" because one determines the others on different levels of abstraction.

Edit: Seems "rules" meant something else. Well, "gameplay" against "complexity", then. Also how "art" can be judged good or bad but "theme" is just a label.
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Tinyelvis wrote:
Benjamin Maggi wrote:

As to the first point, I put rules #1. No matter how great the game, or how lovely the components, if the rules suck then the game will suck. No amount of pretty wooden bits or crafty, innovative mechanics will save a gaming experience plagued with unclear situations, vague rule interpretations, or broken elements not addressed somewhere in the rules.


Valid opinion. But if someone who knew the rules taught you the game and it was a GREAT game, a good ruleset is not required. But even the most expertly communicated ruleset won't make a bad game good.


Except that games don't come packaged with a human being explaining how to play the game. They come with rules which are all too often open to interpretation. Sure, nowadays there are videos etc. that teach how a game is played. But I actually enjoy well-written rules. To me, they are close to the holy grail of game design.

But yes, well-written rules does not a good game make. Neither does good art, packaging, or any other single factor.
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Robert Burke
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senfoonglim wrote:
Tinyelvis wrote:
Benjamin Maggi wrote:

As to the first point, I put rules #1. No matter how great the game, or how lovely the components, if the rules suck then the game will suck. No amount of pretty wooden bits or crafty, innovative mechanics will save a gaming experience plagued with unclear situations, vague rule interpretations, or broken elements not addressed somewhere in the rules.


Valid opinion. But if someone who knew the rules taught you the game and it was a GREAT game, a good ruleset is not required. But even the most expertly communicated ruleset won't make a bad game good.


Except that games don't come packaged with a human being explaining how to play the game. They come with rules which are all too often open to interpretation. Sure, nowadays there are videos etc. that teach how a game is played. But I actually enjoy well-written rules. To me, they are close to the holy grail of game design.

But yes, well-written rules does not a good game make. Neither does good art, packaging, or any other single factor.


I agree with you that rules are very important. That's why it is on my list of 8 things that I think are the most important for a board game. My only disagreement is that they are more important than the gameplay. There are many games I love that were taught to me where I have not even cracked the rulebook. And no rulebook can save a bad game.
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The most important parts varies absolutely wildly from game to game.

There really is no one best anything. Though rules presentation and mechanics play the most important aspects.

Theme is at the near absolute bottom of importance since it is the most variable and un-reliable element. One person will pick up that zombie game, someone else will never ever touch it. One person will snub a space game, the next will be totally into it. etc. And there is no telling what will and will not work, even within a single theme.
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Tinyelvis wrote:
Want to do a game about sex-crazed, satanic, hermaphrodite witches?


I would, quite seriously, buy this game. It has all of the things I love in life.
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Omega2064 wrote:
The most important parts varies absolutely wildly from game to game.

There really is no one best anything. Though rules presentation and mechanics play the most important aspects.

Theme is at the near absolute bottom of importance since it is the most variable and un-reliable element. One person will pick up that zombie game, someone else will never ever touch it. One person will snub a space game, the next will be totally into it. etc. And there is no telling what will and will not work, even within a single theme.


I disagree on theme. While the theme chosen may not be important, how well it is implemented is. It can be the difference between a good game and an amazing, immersive one.

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