3 Signs It’s Time to Quit Working a Board Game Design Idea

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From time to time, I see board game creators on social media who have been working on the same design day-in, day-out for years on end. Of them, they seem to fall into two basic camps. The first are people making a board game as a labor of love, who know they’re taking their sweet time on it, and they’re OK with it.

And the second camp? They don’t like what they’re doing, and they just won’t quit.

Depending on your point of view, you may find the second camp admirable. I used to, but now I think there’s a lot of darkness that comes with voluntarily sticking to a project you don’t like. Sometimes, it just makes sense to quit.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain!

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Why Try

Now before I extol the virtues of quitting, I’d like to give hard work and effort its fair share of compliments.

If you don’t consistently work to improve, you won’t make the game you want to make. You have to block off time for your creativity to flow, do the hard work, and take tough feedback to make the best game you can. All of this means trying hard!

I also think that if you’re brand new to board game design, it’s worth pushing a small project all the way through its full lifecycle from start to finish. Don’t try to get it 100% perfect and don’t take forever to do it. Just work your way through the whole process and see what goes into making a board game. That way you get a ton of information in a short period of time, which you can use on your later, better projects.

Why Quit

Saying “you should quit your passion project” is kind of a heresy. In our culture of workaholic hustling, it’s tempting to glorify the pain of an artistic endeavor.

But I don’t think that makes very much sense at all! Creative projects are supposed to be fun, or at least meaningful, even if you end up doing them for money.

Note that when I say “quit”, I don’t mean “quit board game design.” I simply mean “quit working on one specific game.” You shouldn’t quit board game design altogether unless you find it a joyless endeavor. (In which case, you absolutely should. There are plenty of joyless endeavors out there that make much more money!)

Someone once told me that “quantity is often the fastest route to quality.” I thought it was the damnedest piece of advice I’d ever heard. I grew up hearing that you’re supposed to finish what you start and if you want to stand out, you should give extra effort.

Creativity, though, it’s a funny thing! Sometimes great ideas pop up 80% formed while you’re on a long drive or in the shower. Sometimes ideas masquerade as great and get stuck in your head for years, and then completely flop once put on paper. Tough thing is, you’ll never know whether an idea is good until you try to implement it.

If you try forcing an idea that sort of sucks or that you’re not passionate about, it probably won’t work out well. There’s something to be said for an ethic of workmanship, but there’s also something to be said for picking your battles too. Finding the balance is difficult, and I think many creatives lean too much into the former category.

Here’s a goal that stands the test of time better than most: focus on becoming a board game designer. Don’t focus on making a specific board game. The former gives you a chance to pursue an identity you’re proud of. The latter saddles your self-worth to a completion of a project that may or may not need to be completed.

When to Quit

So with all this in mind, here are three golden signs that you can use to decide when you need to abandon a design.

1. You’re physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted most of the time.

I ripped this point from an article on when to quit your job. Being physically, emotionally, and/or mentally drained is a sign of burnout. I can tell you firsthand that burnout is no joke.

There is no game design in the world worth you feeling like garbage all the time. If a design project is making you feel like life is an endless slog of misery and pain, then abandon the design!

2. You dread working on your design.

Of course, burnout doesn’t just happen all at once. It sneaks up on you and gives you warnings. One of the clearest warnings is that you dread working on your design.

Now look, some parts of game design – like playtesting or accessibility testing – can be tedious. Tedium is OK, but dreading working on your design in general is not OK. If you find yourself dreading your project for more than a couple weeks in a row, then take a week off. Then if you don’t feel recharged, it might be time to switch gears.

3. You don’t care about the basic idea/experience behind your game.

Often game ideas sound better in our heads. When you put an idea down on paper, you should generally feel a little bit of excitement. At a minimum, you should feel some accomplishment.

Yet if you put an idea down on paper or start working on your design, and you find that it does nothing for you, then ask yourself this question. “Do I care about the basic concept of the game?”

If the answer to that is no, then you’re probably better off working on another game idea. If you don’t care about your idea, there’s a good chance that will come through in the final product.

Final Thoughts

Quitting isn’t a dirty word. Sometimes, it’s a logical step forward in the longer creative journey.

Set your sights on becoming a board game designer, not on simply creating a specific board game. It’s a more durable goal for the future, better for your self-worth, and gives you maneuverability to make the best art you can possibly make!

5 Alternatives to Kickstarter for Your Board Game

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Many of you who read this blog know that I am self-publishing board game designer who uses Kickstarter as my platform of choice for funding the bulk of my projects. Certainly no surprise if you’ve read some of my articles like A Crash Course on Kickstarter for Board Games. Yet I want to make it absolutely clear that Kickstarter is not the only, or even necessarily the best, way for indie board game developers to self-publish their work. It just happens to be the flashiest way to make your dreams come true.

Let’s explore some alternatives to Kickstarter.

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Alternative 1: Go through a Publisher

Self-publishing is attractive. Well, at least it looks that way at a distance, and that’s enough to get naive game designers in the door. As I discussed in Choose Your Own Adventure: Self-Publish or Not, sometimes its best to give up creative control and call in the cavalry. It is hard work to develop a board game and a lot of this hard work has to do with marketing, promotion, bookkeeping, manufacturing, and sales. A publishing company would take care of some or all of that for you, freeing up a lot of your bandwidth and allowing you to focus on other games.

On top of freeing up your time, you might very well end up making more money in the long run. If the publisher sells 10 times what you would have sold and you walk away with a fifth of the profit per game that you would have going solo, you’re twice as well off when it’s all said and done. As far as the expenses that come with getting a game started, namely art and prototyping, there is a good chance the publisher will take care of that for you. In fact, going through a publisher might even be more friendly to new designers. Don’t write it off as an option.

Alternative 2: Traditional Online Product Launch

Let’s suppose you’ve written off going through a publisher as an option. You’re striking it out on your own and you’re going to self-publish. Instead of going to Kickstarter for funds, you get the art, manufacturing, and other setup bills paid by your own equity and/or a traditional bank loan. Though this is expensive, risky, and out-of-reach for many people, it gives you the certainty that your game will exist as a printed, published game.

During the development of the game, you can follow many of the same ideas I’ve expressed in A Crash Course in Board Game Marketing & Promotion. Namely, you can build up a great email list with thousands of people on it. If you do this, you can sell directly to your list through a traditional online product launch. This is how web-based businesses sold products and services prior to the advent of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.

Alternative 3: Focus on Local Distribution

The vast majority of business is done offline. It doesn’t feel that way, but it’s the truth. Turns out those friendly local gaming stores are not simply cool places to hang out, drink coffee, and play board games. They also sell a lot of board games. An entrepreneur could create a board game and sell a few dozen copies to all the gaming stores within a 200 mile radius.

(Can you tell I wrote that paragraph before COVID? The vast majority of business is still done offline, but obviously, follow the safety guidelines!)

From where I live in Chattanooga, there are a number of metropolitan and micropolitan regions that almost certainly have one or more game stores or comic shops. Chattanooga itself, Nashville, Atlanta, Knoxville, plus a bunch of other smaller towns and cities of regional importance that have around 100,000 residents. My region of the country is fairly sparse, too. Try mapping this out with your town. You might be surprised.

When you’ve got a list of local gaming stores, you can walk in or make a call. Talk to people around the store and get to know people. Eventually you may have the pleasure of speaking to the manager about the game that you’re making. They may be very happy to support you in your endeavors if they believe they can sell your game and take a handsome markup.

Alternative 4: Fund on Indiegogo Instead

If you’re really set on crowdfunding your board game project, Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding platform. Indiegogo also has a pretty healthy tabletop gaming community. While it doesn’t have the powerful name that Kickstarter has, Indiegogo has the distinct advantage of offering creators to take or leave partial funding.

Famously, Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. If you don’t meet your goal, nobody’s cards get charged. This is great because it keeps creators for being on the hook to deliver with insufficient funds and backers don’t end up paying for a hopeless project. On the other hand, though, if you’re okay with receiving partial funding, Indiegogo may be the better option. It’s a very personal choice to make, but it’s one that not enough creators consider.

There is more than one way to see your board game project through to completion. Game development is a long, winding journey, so you want to make sure you consider your alternatives before committing to any one course of action. By taking a long look at the different paths you can take, you’ll be better equipped to make a conscious choice about which direction to travel.

5. Fund on Gamefound Instead

When I first wrote this post back in 2017, Gamefound didn’t exist. There didn’t seem to be a market for a platform like it either.

To fill you in on the news, here’s the idea. Gamefound is a Kickstarter-like platform that specializes in board games. In particular, they make it easier to handle add-ons, stretch goals, and pledge management.

Gamefound has already started seeing some big-ticket campaigns, some of which are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is a very real possibility that Gamefound will continue to compete with Kickstarter in the board game crowdfunding space for years to come.

You might be able to make a good business case for being an early adopter as well! The same crowdfunding principles will apply, but this time, to a platform which caters exclusively to board gamers.

The Top 10 Best Solo Board Games (for Coronavirus Quarantine)

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Board games have been wildly successful in the last ten years. Much of this can be attributed to people’s need to socialize in person. That’s why many are surprised to hear that solo board games not only exist but are very common.

Good thing, too. In 2019, no one could have predicted that we all have to isolate ourselves in our homes to hide front a yet-undiscovered virus. At the tail end of the year, the coronavirus was just starting to spread in Wuhan, China, and now people across the globe are sitting six feet apart, looking for ways to entertain themselves.

Odd little world we live in these days. To help you survive not only the virus but the stultifying boredom of being stuck in your own home, I’ve put together a list of the very best solo board games in the world.

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How I Chose the Top 10 Solo Board Games

First things first, I want to go over how I chose the top 10 best solo board games. As you can imagine, any “top 10” ranking of any sort is subjective by nature. To keep things as fair as possible, I referenced Board Game Geek’s Top 100 best board games.

From there, I started at the top of the list and worked my way down, finding the highest-ranking board games with solo modes. Of the top 25 board games, 12 – almost half – had solo modes. As such, this list has a lot of overlap with The 10 Best Board Games of All Time.

Is there a better way to pick the best solo games? Oh yeah, definitely. And in fact, I’d love to hear your favorite solo board games in the comments below. We’re going to inevitably miss some phenomenal solo games in this article. There are too many to choose from!

10. A Feast for Odin

A Feast for Odin is a truly epic game: it takes a while to play (usually) and it’s got a whopping 3.83 out of 5 complexity rating on Board Game Geek. That means all the satisfying strategic maneuvering that hardcore gamers appreciate is present in this game.

The publisher describes it as a “saga in the form of a board game.” In it, you play as a viking tribe that explores and raids new lands. The end goal: accumulate the most material wealth.

While generally considered a multiplayer game, A Feast for Odin can easily be modified for solo play. In the robust solo mode, your goal is simple: achieve the highest score you can.

9. Wingspan

Photo by PZS69, CC-BY-SA 2.0 license. Source: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/4647501/wingspan

Wingspan is one of the most recent board games published by Stonemaier Games, a name you will see a few more times on this list. Designed by
Elizabeth Hargrave, it is described on Board Game Geek as a “competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game.”

Despite the avian theme, Wingspan has a lot in common with another perennial strategy gamer favorite: Terraforming Mars. It is an easy to approach, relatively quick-playing engine-building game.

In Wingspan, you use the Automa Factory when flying solo. After each of your turns, you flip over Automa cards, resolve the effects, and then proceed with your turn. The effect is that game builds an engine all on its own while you are. It’s pretty challenging too!

8. Viticulture

This is the second of three Stonemaier Games that you will see on this list. Much like Wingspan, Viticulture also has an off-the-beaten path, natural world theme. You and other players now have vineyards to run in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Over the course of the game, you allocate your workers and resources in different ways. This lets you slowly change your vineyard to take advantage of different seasons, create more attractive winery tours, build structures, and plant vines. Your goal: run the best winery in Tuscany.

When playing solo, you again have an Automa deck just like you do with Wingspan. Your goal is to score more victory points than the Automa. What makes Viticulture remarkable in this regard is that there are five different difficulty levels, and you can also use an “aggressive variant” that changes how scoring is calculated. The means you have a remarkable variety of options.

7. Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Arkham Horror is based off of the terrifying works of H.P. Lovecraft, complete with “mystery, monsters, and madness.” In the game, your characters reside in the New England town of Arkham where things are not quite as they ought to be, what with the haunted houses and hellish creatures…

The game itself is a living card game in which you can create custom decks of cards. The multiplayer game is cooperative. You’re playing against the evils of Arkham.

Now beware, solo gamers. It’s said that playing alone is very similar to playing in a group, but you lose the player interaction. For this reason, it’s said to be very difficult, but very satisfying to win!

6. 7th Continent

Photo Credit: Stephan Beal

Imagine this: it’s the early 1900s and after a sailing voyage, you discover that there is an entirely new continent that no one has ever seen before! But after you visit it, you are cursed and you must go back to the continent to have the curse lifted.

Like Arkham, 7th Continent is a solo or cooperative game. It’s also an exploration game in which you must create tools, weapons, and shelter to survive. It’s also a brutally difficult game that will kill you again and again and again.

Similar to Arkham again, 7th Continent does not change much at all when playing solo. All you lose is the ability to rely on others to back you up. The game itself is largely unchanged!

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5. Spirit Island

Spirit Island is another cooperative game, but what really sets it apart is its unique theme. In this game, you play as an island spirit with unique elemental powers. The villains in this game are colonizers who wish to exploit your lands for profit. (Which they won’t if you have anything to say about it!)

The invaders act in ways dictated by the game itself, spreading across the island and attempting to build an engine. Meanwhile, you spread to other parts of the island, seek to increase your powers, and then eventually wipe the invaders off the map.

While many recommend playing Spirit Island with 2 or more players, it is a perfectly serviceable one-player game. You don’t have to change anything about the game itself in order to play it alone. You just don’t have backup when you may want it!

4. Scythe

The final Stonemaier game on this list is a big one: Scythe. A ton of physical and digital ink has been spilled to describe this game and I don’t know if it’s ever fallen off the Board Game Geek Hotness list in the last four years.

To borrow directly from the Board Game Geek page: “it is a time of unrest in 1920s Europa. The ashes from the first great war still darken the snow. The capitalistic city-state known simply as ‘The Factory’, which fueled the war with heavily armored mechs, has closed its doors, drawing the attention of several nearby countries.”

This is an engine-building, competitive game at its core. Every single aspect of the game has some engine-building element to it. There is also very little luck in the game, making in the kind of brain-burning, crunchy game that hardcore board gamers adore.

Scythe relies on an Automa deck for its solo mode. Each card specifies what the Automa player gets, does, or deploys. In short, the game builds its own engine while you do the same. Some even describe the Automa as being aggressive, so in many ways, the game will feel like you are playing against other real people!

3. Gaia Project

As if Terra Mystica weren’t a fantastic achievement in board gaming in its own right, Gaia Project is a souped up version IN SPACE. It doubles down on everything that made Terra Mystica brilliant – the complex decision making and the epic theme of expanding civilization. Then it marries the game to a theme board gamers have demonstrated time and time again that they love – science fiction.

Gaia Project is a picture-perfect study on how to “fix something that ain’t broken.” The game’s existence is proof that the creators were listening to feedback on a deep level, addressing gamers’ basic needs while taking the game in a surprising cosmic direction.

The 10 Best Board Games of All Time and What We Can Learn from Them

Gaia Project uses an Automa deck to play solo. The Automa takes one action per turn and slowly builds its deck by adding random cards. Much of the surprise comes in how familiar cards are used in odd and new ways. The clever chemistry between different cards keeps the game fresh for a long time.

2. Terraforming Mars

In Terraforming Mars, you and your opponents play as different corporations. Each corporation does its part to make Mars a more liveable place by raising the oxygen level, creating oceans, and increasing the temperature. You can do this through clever allocation of resources as well as the use of different project cards.

Terraforming Mars has so many unique cards that no two games feel alike. This penchant for creative play is extended to the solo mode as well. The board starts with a couple of neutral cities and greenery, whereas it would normally be completely barren. You have 14 generations to terraform Mars to a livable state. That’s not much time, and you have to be very efficient to make it happen.

1. Gloomhaven

Photo by Daniel Mizieliński. Found on Board Game Geek under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Last but not least, we have the ultimate in all epic games, the #1 on Board Game Geek for two or three years running: Gloomhaven.

Goodness, where do you begin with describing this game?

You play as a wandering adventurer in a dark, menancing world of dungeons and ruins. The story branches and unfolds in unique ways that always feel fresh no matter how many times you play. Many people have likened it to “a choose your own adventure” book in board game form.

Gloomhaven is a cooperative game based on dungeon crawling and hand management. It’s a heady, complex game for people who love complex games.

When you play solo, you act as two or more characters at once. Not only can you play the game with minimal changes to the rules, but you don’t even see many changes to the gameplay itself because you take on multiple roles. Gloomhaven is a formidable challenge in solo mode, and that makes it quite possibly the perfect game to learn while under lockdown!

Honorable Mentions (August 2020 Update)

This post got a bit more attention than I expected when I posted in April 2020. Here are a handful of favorites mentioned by commenters along with their short BGG descriptions. Carl King left a big list, including:

  • Nemesis: Survive an alien-infested spaceship but beware of other players and their agendas.
  • Everdell: Use resources to build a village of critters and constructions in this woodland game.
  • Anachrony: Venture into the wasteland, or back in time, to gain resources & avert the cataclysm. 
  • Rurik Dawn of Kiev: Claim your father’s throne! Build, tax, & fight through unique “auction programming.”
  • Barbarians the Invasion: Enter the mysterious World of Thunmar, a place where barbarian clans rule the wild lands and corrupted civilizations live in their decadent cities.
  • Raiders of the North Sea: Assemble and prepare a formidable crew of vikings to pillage towns and gain glory.
  • Architects of the West Kingdom: Will you be a virtuous or nefarious servant of the king? Build your way to glory.
  • Paladins of the West Kingdom: Invaders are coming from everywhere. Keep the faith and defend your homeland.
  • Bag of Dungeon: A dungeon crawling tile-based game harking back to the good old deadly days of exploring dungeons, slaying monsters and stealing treasure.
  • Mythic Battles Pantheon: Gather your team from the vast Greek pantheon and fight to the death!

Everett So recommended Hellenica: Story of Greece, which is where you “lead your city-state to become the preeminent symbol of Greece in this 3.5x game!” Wicaksono Adi recommended Mage Knight, a game in which you “build your hero’s spells, abilities, and artifacts as you explore & conquer cities.”

Honorable Mentions (March 2021 Update)

Good grief, COVID is still a thing?

I’m updating this list as of March 2021 in hopes that this final edit will be enough to see us through to the end of this pandemic!

Though not technically a solo game, commenter Mau is fond of Carcassonne. Daniel Scott is a fan of Marvel Champions in lieu of Arkham.

Justin Leingang recommends Lost Expedition, Maquis, and Aerion. Ian Walton is a fan of Town Builder: Coevorden and, of course, Pandemic (though you’ll have to play as multiple players).

Kager suggests giving The Drifter a little love, and Alex wisely shouted out Plague Inc.

Finally, Will Reardon provided a list which could be an article in its own right:

  • Thunderbirds (with Tracy Island and Above and Beyond Expansions)
  • Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective
  • Atlantis Rising
  • Back to the Future – Back in Time
  • Black Orchestra
  • Parks

Want me to include more games? Let me know in the comments below! I’d like to keep this list updated so that nobody gets bored during this pandemic.