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Board Game Diary: The Secret Formula

Dear Board Game Diary,

I have to confess my love for board games. They constantly tug at my heartstrings – enticing me to play more. Every meeple placed, dice rolled, and resource collected only increases my infatuation. What kind of magic do they employ to have me drooling over the latest Kickstarter or a new release? What about these games that has kept my interest for over 10 years now? What is that secret formula that makes a great board game?

Let us begin with a bit of history. My first foray into board games was through a little card game named Bohnanza: a quirky game which is commonly referred to as the bean game. Play after play, my admiration grew and, in turn, my love for the hobby. A cute art direction is paired with a heaping helping of player interaction – a perfect gaming experience. One that I have cherished since 2012 and still do to this day. So much so that I turned my fun with games into almost a lifestyle of sorts.

Scythe by Stonemaier Games

The rest of my gaming experience was a path paved in gold. Hit after hit found the table with me and all the players at the table. Viticulture, Scythe, Caverna, A Feast for Odin, Orleans, and Euphoria are among my favorites and have all been a privilege to play. Each of which carries different mechanics and styles but all share the same quality: My love for them. So I ask what makes these seemingly different games better than any other?

I’ve come to the realization that bias does have some effect here. An example here would be the game Viticulture. My love for wine and the winemaking industry knows no limits – Viticulture had me before I even opened the box. This may have set the balances in its favor before I even played the game. Obviously, this must be taken into account but not discredited. Theme is a heavy weighted factor when trying to define what makes a game great. It must be universal but different enough to set itself apart from the masses.

Viticulture by Stonemaier Games

I want to believe, or need to believe, that it has to do with the manner of how they tackle the production of a board game. Every inch of the game has to be run over with a fine tooth comb. The production – art, components, rules, and graphic design – needs to be beautiful yet functional. Every aspect meticulously put together in such a way that almost makes the process look like an art form. A board game is an experience: each component must enhance this or be lost in a flurry of trivial pursuits.

Another aspect to all of this that makes me truly appreciate a great board game its design of gaming mechanics woven together. These elements will come into effect at various times in the game and will inevitably intermingle. It becomes vitally important that this system of a particular game must make sense together: an elegant blend that feels seamless. This only comes from rigorous playtesting before production. Many aspects of game design can stay hidden from the design process that only comes out during actual play. This is easily sidestepped if the designer puts in the necessary work with playtesting.

Caverna by Lookout Games

What makes a great board game?

It is all in the player experience. All the previously stated elements are all in place to facilitate an experience – excitement, engagement, and fun. This I call the player experience. It is the most important aspect of any great game. The game engages its players in such a way to draw them in and never let go. Many of my favorite games accomplish this in different ways but always to the same effect. I have fun.



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