How to Play a Lot of Board Games with Little Time and Little Money

Posted on Posted in Dev Diary

Dev Diary posts are made to teach game development through specific examples from my latest project: Highways & BywaysJust here for Highways & Byways updates? Click here.

This week with Highways & Byways, I’ve been making little improvements to the game to make it more usable and easy-to-understand. I’m at a stage where I’m optimizing instead of iterating, which makes me thankful for the extensive background in board gaming that I’ve gained in the last couple of years. Yet it has just been a couple of years – I’m not a lifelong board gamer. I wasn’t there when Catan came out in 1995. I built up my knowledge of board gaming quickly and inexpensively, two things I don’t think a lot of people think to do.

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Playing a lot of board games is necessary to creating great board games. Playing games exposes you to mechanics and design trends. It helps you know what gamers like and how they interact. You learn what you find awesome and what you find annoying, and you come to have convictions about changing what you can change. I don’t take issue with the belief that you can benefit from playing a lot of games to be a good designer, I take issue with the invisible scripts people think they have to follow in order to play lots of games.

Photo taken by Kristina D.C. Hoeppner and posted to Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 License (Source)

Before we get to how you play lots of board games with little time and little money, I’d like to put three myths in the ground right now.

First, you don’t have to play hundreds of board games before you start designing. In fact, I think the point of diminishing return is somewhere in the dozens before your own personal experimentation and experience teaches you more than broad exposure to games will. A lot of people, left to their own devices will use the pernicious myth of “I need to play more games” to defend their game dev procrastination.

Second, you don’t have to spend tons of time or money through Amazon shopping sprees or conventions to play lots of games. There are better ways that are more suited to the lifestyles of those with a limited amount of discretionary income. I’ve seen people with shelves of 500 games. That’s awesome and I love that they’re so dedicated to the hobby! Just understand that you don’t have to spend $15,000 on games like that gamer to be a good game dev.

Third, the board gaming hobby doesn’t have to be for the upper middle class like a lot of people make it out to be. In fact, this bothers me a lot. I see gamers making fun of gamers for not having the newest $100 game and it makes me raw. Gaming shouldn’t exclude people because board gaming is intrinsically social and cannot benefit from in-groups and out-groups. If you’re an aspiring game dev, avoid snobbery. 

This all brings me to the crux of this Dev Diary entry…

How to Play a Lot of Board Games with Little Time and Little Money

Broadly speaking, I can think of three ways that you can play a lot of board games without much time or money commitment. To become a good game developer, your goal should be to play a wide variety of games. That means you’ll want to play games that are new and old, for large groups and small groups, and ones that have all sorts of different mechanics. Each of these three ways should enable you to do that.

Method #1: Go to and create an account. Search for board game related events in your community. Odds are good that if you live in or near a moderately populated urban center, you’ll find multiple board gaming groups. I personally live in Chattanooga, TN, which barely cracks the top 100 populated metropolitan areas in the United States and there is no shortage of meetup groups near me.

Method #2: Go to a local board gaming store. If you don’t have one, you might be able to find a video game store or comic shop that also carries board games. Odds are very strong that if you find a place near you that sells hobby board games, they’ll have meet-ups every week or every two weeks where you can play the board games in the store. All you have to do is look them up on Google and give them a call.

Method #3: Let’s say for example that you live in a remote place like the desert of Nevada. There are no meet-up groups or game shops for a hundred miles in any direction. As long as you still have a broadband connection, you can download Tabletop Simulator, a $19.99 Steam game, that will enable you to play board games online. You can then find other players by searching around in the Server Browser. Better yet, you can find Facebook groups that coordinate Tabletop Sim games. Not only will this tool allow you to play lots of games cheaply and from the comfort of your home, but it will also give you the ability to play other designers’ prototypes if they make them available on Tabletop Sim.

Like I was saying earlier this week in 5 Games to Make You a Better Board Game Dev for $64.63, it doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to get started in board gaming. Sometimes it helps just to have a sense of direction, and I’m happy to provide that 🙂

Most Important Highways & Byways Updates

  • I’m experimenting with new components on Tabletop Simulator. This lets me approximate size, color, and shape to see if they pass basic play-tests before I test with actual components.
  • I added a small token for the first player – a simple accessibility gesture.
  • I applied James’ art for the card backs and templates to Tabletop Simulator – this will let the play-testers and i catch readability issues before I spend money printing a physical prototype.
  • I rebalanced the Event Cards. I had one card that was overpowered and a couple others that were awkwardly worded and had unusual implications as a result.
  • I improved the Reference Cards to be simpler.
  • I rewrote the rules from scratch to be simpler – no major changes to actual gameplay. This is purely a usability fix.

2 thoughts on “How to Play a Lot of Board Games with Little Time and Little Money

  1. Good ideas for how to play lots of games! My local Sacramento, California, USA library has a board game selection they lend out as well. I don’t think this is common, but worth exploring! The library also has a number of open gaming events!

    1. Another great avenue for discovery! I’m not sure if the Chattanooga library has board games that can be checked out the way they do in Sacramento, but you just helped me discover another meetup. Good suggestion 🙂

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