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5 Attributes of a Great Game

I had just made my first game.  I was so excited.  Everyone was going to be begging me to play it!

I was wrong…

I had made Memaw’s Monsters using a pen and a pack of notecards that I cut in half.  The game itself wasn’t too bad, though it was untested and obviously looked horrible with no pictures on it.  I bugged my brothers Drew and BoA enough to finally play it with me.

We played two rounds and quit.

What I’ve Learned Since Then

I have learned a lot over the last 9 years of designing my own games and researching/playing other games.  Through this, I have discovered 5 attributes of a great game.



You can look/play through a portion of this list of “35 Best New Board Games of the year (2015)”.  Then make note which of these great games have the best of the following 5 attributes:

1. Theme

“Thematics” was the most popular word at BGG con 2014 (Popular board game convention held in Dallas Texas at the end of the year). Having a great theme will pique the interests of your players.

Some sample board game themes that immediately come to my mind would by:

  • Zombies
  • World War 2
  • Pirates
  • Medieval
  • Aliens
  • Robots
  • Horror

For example, you could make a Horror game that is about the zombie apocalypse during World War 2.  Be as creative as you want with your theme!

Here is an interesting BGG discussion on how to make your theme more interesting.

A theme is an essential attribute to making a great game.  Having a boring theme could be the difference between finding playtesters and not.

2. Goal 

Explain the goal of your game first (or second) when explaining it to players. This will help capture their attention and understand why their wizard needs to learn new spells.  It’s to conquer Valdor, the horrific dragon lord of course.

A few different ways to win (goal) include:

  • Gain the most points/gold by the end of round 5
  • Make your opponent’s hero run out of health
  • Be the first player to capture 3 treasures

I have seen many players be confused through an entire 10 minute rules explanation because they weren’t told the “goal of the game” immediately.  While designing your next great game, think of a really fun, attention grabbing goal to spark the interest of your playtesters.

3. Length

15-45 minutes is a nice range for game length. Although you can find exceptions, anything longer than an hour starts to lose people’s attention. I sometimes struggle staying focused with even some of the 15 minute gam……. oh look! A squirrel just ran by my window.  I wonder what he’s up to.  Probably just hungry.  Moving on!

4. Player Interaction 

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are designing your next great game.  The goal of the game is to have your players cooperatively build the 8th wonder of the world. Players work individually on specific sections of the wonder.  When they complete enough sections of the wonder, they win!

You have designed 4 separate “skills” decks (1 for each player).  And 1 “resource” deck.

Now the “resource” deck is used to collect the appropriate materials to build the 8th wonder.  While the “skills” decks are ways that players can either:

  1. Gain massive benefits for themselves, or
  2. Help out other players finish their section of the wonder.

If you designed 1 “skills” deck to contain ONLY cards that benefit the player that plays the card,  then that player would have zero player interaction.  At least not from their own cards.

On the other hand, if 1 “skills” deck contained only cards that helped OTHER players, then they might feel cheated or helpless.

My guess is that players would enjoy having 4 “skills” decks that allowed them to do powerful things for themselves while also being able to help others.  However, you might want to try playtesting the 2 “skills” decks mentioned above alongside 2 decks of equally mixed skills cards.  And see what your players enjoy the most when playtesting.

Finding the right amount of interaction between players is tricky yet important. Too much interaction can slow down the game by interrupting players train of thought on their own plays. While too little interaction makes players feel they didn’t have a meaningful impact on the game (or helpless/cheated).

5. Surprise Factor 

You can add surprise factor to your game by:

  • Having a hidden scoring system – I love playing Ticket to Ride. Specifically to see my opponents face when I win after being “behind” by 20-30 points all game.  Just because my trains aren’t long doesn’t mean I haven’t connected all 8 of my tickets!
  • Creating an “events deck” – Your team of highly educated doctors and scientists may think you are curing all of the diseases in the world before… UGH!  Another “epidemic” is revealed from the event deck in Pandemic, spreading disease all over Europe.

 These are 2 of the many great ways to add “Surprise Factor” to your next great game. What are some other ways you like to add surprise factor to your game?

 *Honorable Mention – Rounds 

Games with rounds help players feel as if they still have a chance. Even if they are getting crushed early. You can usually create more “broken” (powerful) cards when rounds are involved.

I like playing Drew  in best 2 out of 3 paper-rock-scissors. This usually turns into more rounds because neither of us can stand to see the other win.  He won the last match 11-10 (I don’t even remember who won the original 2 out of 3).

Werewolf is one of my all time favorites. It has a fun theme, straightforward goal and an abundance of suspense (surprise factor) throughout the entire game. It even has rounds!

This reminds me. Last week, people were requesting to test out my newest game, Armageddon, while I wanted to play Werewolf.  We even played more than 2 rounds of my “dinosaurs-surviving-the-end-of-the-world” themed game before quitting…

I guess I have learned a thing or two!


How do you plan on adding these 5 attributes of a great game into your game design?  Comment below and tell everyone about your awesome game idea.

2 Responses

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