Digital Board Game Design: A Guideline 

There is something so intimate, cozy, and nostalgic about gathering with friends and family around a table to play board games. Nothing beats the connection and laughter that comes from an evening of Pictionary, Risk, or Scrabble. Board games have endured the test of time, but, as the world grows increasingly more digital, creative minds are bringing tech to the board game sector.

When the pandemic hit, many in-person gamers had to find a workaround to continue to pursue their favorite hobbies. Many game makers saw the opportunity for growth and quickly released digital versions of popular games that allowed families to play together without being in the same space. Now, as people have begun to gather again, we are seeing an interest in a hybrid approach to gaming with things like digital tabletops and downloadable ad-ons.

ReportLinker presents the expected growth of the board games market at a CAGR of 13% in 2021-2028 years.

Global Board Games Market

In our blog, you will find information about:

  • genres of digital board games
  • specifics of building them
  • stages of development
  • how to create a game that will benefit your business

The Diversity of Board Games Genres: Choose the Most Appropriate for Your Business

The 3-minutes Board Games Community speaks about different board game types in this YouTube video. They distinguish:

  • Euro-style games: these are strategy-focused games with limited randomness. There is often resource management and passive competition. Players do not experience bad or good luck but can win by trading their resources wisely (Power Grid, Carcassonne, Lancaster).
  • Deck-building games (DBGs): players use different decks of cards to play, constructed prior to the game. Players make their deck of cards over time by trading or by purchasing available card sets. DBGs have a lot of replay value (Magic: The Gathering, Thunderstone, Nightfall).
  • Classic board games or family games: in which players race around the board to reach a goal. These games have the least strategy and the most luck in choosing the winner (Snakes and Ladders, Parcheesi, Candyland).
  • Abstract Strategy Games: players must place game elements in the right location— these games have a variety of rules (Chess, Shobu).
  • Area control games: involve narration and co-op gameplay. Games with some form of map or board defining a space that players compete for. Users take risks to compete, and the game sessions usually last many hours (Risk, Small World).
  • Card-based strategy games: have rules following which players use cards (essential game element) to obtain abilities and bonuses (Bang, 7 Wonders).

No matter which game type you choose, identify more critical elements by removing one and analyzing how the gameplay will flow. Then, the game development process proceeds by eliminating and changing game elements to give deep insights into the game mechanics for a custom prototype design.

Board Game Development Process: Stages and Milestones

According to Statista, the gaming industry generated around $79 billion dollars in 2021. And every two days, publishers release a new game. suggests a $50,000 minimum budget for game development as the cost for a solo developer working for a year on a game. They specify a publisher can extend the budget to make a top title allocating money for marketing, PR, and more precise testing.

In the beginning of the game development process, you must decide whether you will outsource to a development team or a solo developer. Some developers share that they appreciate working solo on game development and enjoy the freedom to ‘go wild and experiment’ with a new language or engine. Many developers, however, can appreciate that it’s unlikely for any one person to be proficient at all expertise needed in the process. Development teams like those at Innovecs can enhance your game with remarkable artwork and emerging trends. Whether you choose solo development or team outsourcing, the stages of board game development are the same from conceptualization to post-production and launch.

Developing a Digital Board Game Concept and Prototype as the First Steps of the Journey: Challenges and Benchmarks

ResearchGate places a substantial emphasis on designing for meaningful play when creating games. Their study on hybrid digital game elements highlights seventeen design guidelines that aim to help designers avoid common pitfalls and evaluate different trade-offs including prevention of non-essential game component usage. The key idea of these guidelines lies in conducting “continuous game experience testing”: play, grasp inconsistencies, play one more time, and repeat the process.

While playing and testing the prototype, developers can see if games have inconsistent narration: such as introducing a character and not involving them in gameplay, unused components throughout the gameplay, odd themes, or unnecessary achievements. Identifying these issues before the start of gaming software development is essential to prevent wasted time and funds.

Game design is based around three core elements: theme, components, and mechanics. Game designers usually describe them in game documentation. It contains game vision (detailed game description of the theme, game components, and mechanics) and a Concept Document (initial game aspects, rules, and gameplay ideas and description).

Core Elements of the Game Concept

Prototyping of the game starts with analyzing these core fundamentals:

  • Mechanics: the game should provide risky rules and interactions for engaging gameplay.
  • Components: dice, cards, and the game cover itself should be eye-catching art pieces.
  • Theme: game narration, choices, and actions throughout the game should be meaningful.

During game conceptualization, the designer chooses the core game adventure (mechanics) and decides whether it will be closer to a simulation (real world complexities) or abstraction (more simplicity). The development team gathers information about each game element relevant to the game experience we’re trying to emulate (movements, actions, fighters, clothes, or characters’ skills and abilities).

These core game components will make an MVP (minimum viable product), and the prototype is an idea translated into the game mechanics. The best way to test it is to play. For example, if your game involves energy management concepts (e.g., captain is striving to strengthen the shields), you should be sure all the possible actions (mechanisms) of obtaining the strength are in the toolbox.

Game design ideas come from different sources. Wiki even created the Game Ontology Project, a framework for describing, analyzing, and studying games. No matter where the idea comes from, two components are essential: rules and fiction. Rules (the principles controlling the gameplay) and game fiction (gameworld, settings, story and narration, characters) allow game designers the possibility to implement game interdependencies, interactions, and other mechanics.

Inventive part of the game concept

After conceptualization and prototyping, game documentation offers the following:

  • the game designer explains game ideas, rules, mechanics, narration theme;
  • the investor sees where money is allocated;
  • the project manager can plan the task process considering the described issues; and
  • QA specialists have information on what features to test while playing MVP games.

Board Game Development Lifecycle: After Conceptualization and Prototyping

After pre-production (game conceptualization, prototype testing, inventing rules and fiction), it’s time for production, and post-production. Let’s review some features and processes they involve.

Stage of Board Game Development

After creating game concepts and prototyping, game designers create the “vertical slice”, the smallest possible full version of the game – in which they’ve completed the basic game features in the draft (details are not specified if they do not influence the whole gameplay perception). Content production proceeds with the basic draft board game design, and it is the first full version available for public audience presentation.

During both stages of production (vertical slice and content production) and pre-launching, it’s worthwhile to start thinking about built-in monetization tools. You can use in-app ads, in-app purchases (e.g., players can buy more military pieces or shield strength features to succeed in the game), or utilize any subscription model.

After completion of the game production and pre-launch period, it’s time to think about the markets for the game release. You may consider an international online platform (e.g., Steam), introduction in a certain regional market, or the App Store or Google Play. Here, App-store Review Guidelines or Google Play Publishing Manuals come in handy to smooth the registration, publishing, and in-app monetization process management.

The post-production stage involves the “feature complete”, or Alpha, milestone. This can be both a cause for celebration and a stressful time for the game development team. If your team has run out of scheduled time or funds before the game is truly complete, the alpha version may be less than the desired product. Of course, it’s normal for some aspects of the original game version to be cut during post-production and the pre-launch period, but all art, sounds, and basic game mechanics should be fully implemented.

Your choice of a game development company is essential. Do your best to ensure the quality of an expert team, efficient collaborative company culture, and a suitable game development approach (e.g., Agile, Waterfall, or Spiral).

Conclusion: A Smooth Game Development Process

Once you have a digital board game idea, you can choose development team outsourcing or an extension of your own development department. During every stage of game development, the game concept, rules, and story should be meaningful, illicit positive gameplay experience, and retain loyal users through connection.

Every board game genre (Euro-style games, family board games, area control, or abstract strategy games) has unique rules (principles of the players’ interactions) and fiction (gameplay narration, game story, and game art pieces).

Throughout game conceptualization, your development team should remember that board game mechanics should be intuitive (not too complicated, but not easy and boring either), logical (no unnecessary features, or senseless actions), and incentivize in-game purchases.

No matter how complex your game development project is, a simple family board game or a cooperative, long-session strategy game, the development team follows a fixed set of stages:

  • The game idea in mind and on paper (pre-production period)
  • The game on the computer (production period) involving code iterations
  • Playtesting, beta, and alpha versions release (post-production period)
  • Choosing monetization strategy
  • Game release on the market

If you wish to create a high-quality product, contact Innovecs with any questions you’d like to discuss.

If you need assistance in building a product from scratch or supporting the existing one, drop us a line to discuss details, and we will reply within 24 hours.