Inventing board games, a whole job
The board game market is growing by a thousand new games each year with as many new mechanisms, involving chance or strategy. Behind each of these games is a board game designer, defining the goal, creating the universe, setting the rules and the mechanisms associated. Did you ever wonder who was behind your favorite board game? Reading this article, challenge your opinion about this job and learn a few anecdotes about the most famous board game designers.
Often working in the shadows, we all know their creations but their names remain unknown. If I tell you Scott Abbott and Chris Hany, Robert Angel or Anthony Pratt, I’m pretty sure that you would not know they were the creators of the Trivial Pursuit, the Pictionary and the Cluedo (which are my 3 favorite classic board games by the way, something that you surely ignore as well).
Creating a board game is more of a passion than a job
Being a board game designer is not only about having a good idea, the game also has to be well balanced, that is to say making it coherent and playable. In the field of video games, the equivalent of the board game author is the videogame designer. This refers to the person coming up with the gameplay and the mechanisms. Nowadays, there is no training to become a board game designer, while it is possible to train to become a videogame designer. The frontier between these jobs is yet very thin, and board game design courses are even taught during game design training…
It is very rare for board game authors to earn enough to make a living from this job, they are often passionate players that create during their free time, alongside their work. In France, no more than 20 people practice exclusively this job, full time. However, having another job can also be an advantage since it can inspire the creator with a new universe and a new game mechanism. The inventor of Mastermind was an expert in telecommunication, that of The Laughing Pig [a French game that consists of recreating a pig by throwing dices] was a grocer, that of the Cluedo was a pianist. Can you see any connection? They were all inspired by their everyday life to create their games. Edmond Dujardin was an editor of driving school supplies when he created in 1954… the Mille Bornes! Joseph Michel was a grocer when he came up with The Laughing Pig in a bar, to replace the traditional dice game that aims at determining the person paying for his round. Eventually, Anthony Pratt was a pianist and he was often playing notably during “murder parties” in great English mansions, where he provided the musical atmosphere for these life-size role-playing games. He then got the idea of adapting it to a board game. The lives of game authors are still their primary source of inspiration today: Roberto Fraga was inspired by his experience as a marine to create Captain Sonar in 2016, a coordination and communication game where 2 teams compete aboard their submarines.
Board Game author, who are you?
What are the qualities needed to be a board game author? Creativity, of course, since you have to be able to imagine worlds and invent new rules. It is also important to know how to work in a team, because authors and game designers never work alone. They have to work in collaboration with the game’s illustrator, the developer, the editor, or the graphic designer. When an author develops a prototype of a new game, he or she needs to be inventive in order to tinker with the model, the pieces or the cards, but also to be persistent because developing a game can take years and requires many test games. Finally, the author must have a good knowledge of games in general, and should have tested a large number of them in order to understand the different mechanisms of these games, and target what appeals to each audience.
From creation to marketing, a tortuous path
Unlike the popular belief, creating a game is not the most difficult task. As soon as the game is created, it has to be published so it can go all the way to the players’ hands. Indeed, the publisher buys the game from its creator before developing and coordinating the different actors of the chain, from the illustrator to the manufacturer. There are hundreds of publishers, including the very famous Asmodee, Hasbro or Gigamic. Looking at that many publishers, you might think having your creation published is easy. However, meeting these publishers, describing and selling them the game is far from simple. This research period can be more or less long and above all conclusive or not.
To overcome this problem, many board game authors became their own publisher. François Petit made the choice to self-publish his games, Cat’s Family games.
Currently a full-time game author and publisher, this former teacher told us he took this decision for several reasons. Firstly to conclude his promising project despite the lack of interest from the publishers. Secondly, the first two games created by François, Multipli Cat’s and Addi Cat’s, are educative games, a field which had no publisher until 2002. Being a self-publisher is a way to always have the last word on the choice of graphics and illustrations, or to choose the communication, while some publishing contracts tend to impose their rules to the authors on these elements. However, being your own publisher is a lot of sacrifices. It requires time, money and lots of skills. As mentioned by the Cat’s Family games publisher, you should know how to be “an author, a manager and a salesperson”. But this investment has paid off since: François Petit is now the author of more than 100 board games, all published by himself.
The life of an author is an adventure itself. For more people to have access to this thriving experience, LudoTech will offer in a few months a programming platform to create your own game and give the community access to it, whether you are an amateur, a professional or a beginner. Are you willing to join the author’s journey?
Written by Julie E. on 2020/06/12, translated by Sandrine Maude.