Diagramming for Clarity


Post by: Grant Rodiek

A fundamental problem with every board game is that a game designer doesn’t ship with every copy of the game to teach it to customers. This is a difficult problem to solve before the advent of cloning or teaching droids.

If you’ve read my blog, you know that I believe very strongly that accessibility, or the lack thereof, is a key component to the growth or stagnation of our hobby. Therefore, today we’re going to talk about diagrams and how this very crucial element should be used to improve even the simplest game.

Every player learns to play your game differently. Some people like to read, some love to watch videos, others insist on being taught, and finally, some may simply be visual learners. Most likely, most people are a little bit of everything. Every designer has the budget and time to write clean rules — it just takes practice. Furthermore, every designer has the skills to create even the most rudimentary diagrams to illustrate even the simplest point.

Remember, a picture is worth 1000 words. And a picture paired with 1000 words is a far superior rules document. My goal for this post is to give you a variety of examples and cases from my own games and others to demonstrate how to use diagrams to improve your rules.

One Quick Note: Do not bother with diagrams until your rules are relatively stable. You’ll kick yourself if you have to constantly re-make the diagram to match your shifting rules. Wait until you’re at a point of relative stability, or a big moment (Con, pitch) to do it.

If you want to see my words in action, check out the Hocus Poker rules. They now contain diagrams for many aspects of the rules.

What should diagrams teach? Diagrams should teach anything that can be misconstrued with written communication. A board game rule booklet is a construction manual, a how to manual, and a trouble shooting manual all in one.

Construction Manual: For construction, let’s look to some of the best manuals in the business: Lego and Ikea. Without a single word, they teach people how to communicate elaborate, intricate things. Or, cheap plywood stools.

Therefore, a standard for game diagrams is how to setup the board and play space. Unless your game has a single deck as a component, this holds great value. Not only does it clear up any confusion surrounding the interpretation of the text, but it is your chance as the designer to show your players the ideal way to setup the game to maximize their space.


In the diagram above, I demonstrate how to setup the Actions and Spells. I provide context and examples for how the Mana and Rune tokens will be used. I give an idea for how players should sit, and remind them subtly that hands are private (face down). Finally, I show where to setup the square. This is all fully explained in text in the rules, but providing an image with captions really drives it home.

Use diagrams to demonstrate how precisely to setup the game so that there are no questions from your players on whether they read correctly.

How To: There are some standards in games that don’t need visual backups. Shuffling, for example. Then again, Pandemic, which I consider a standard setter for accessibility, has a diagram that shows you how to hold cards in your hands (in the first edition, at least)!

Here: Just go read Pandemic’s rules.

What do I want you to take away from this? Pandemic uses a visual to help explain every single choice you can make in the game. They tell you how to move your pawns, what cards you spend to cure, how you remove cubes, how to travel. All via diagrams. I assure you that a large part of Pandemic’s main stream success is how difficult it is to screw up your play experience. People hate feeling stupid. This is one of the reasons they don’t play board games. Pandemic does everything it can to ease this.

For Hocus Poker, we created diagrams to cover a few things with which people might have confusion, each shown below: Paying to activate spells, creating a hand, and tie breakers.

Each of these is backed up with a text explanation, but each is intended to drive home things that should be relatively simple.

The key element we’re trying to communicate in the diagram immediately above this is that you stack your Mana and that you do so above the Spell cards. The text explains the finer points, but driving home visually what it means to “stack” is really key.


Here, we used this snapshot of a game to outline several points. One, a player’s possession and that it includes both their hand and shown cards. We also wanted to highlight that players can build hands using their possession and the Square. Thanks to a tip from a reader, we used blue and red outlines to note one example player’s hand from another. Finally, this helps reinforce that some hands are better than others.


For this last one, we’re explaining the tie breakers. You see three hands in the third image, each a pair of 2 matching cards. The first tie breaker is that 11 is better than 3. That knocks out Merlin. The second tie breaker is that the best Arcana card in ties wins. Morgan is the only one with an Arcana (the 11 of Hexis), so she wins.

One thing you hopefully noticed in both my examples and the far superior Pandemic ones is the sense of context. The diagrams are not just useful for teaching a single item, but multiple items wrapped together in context. Every diagram is an opportunity to teach a new thing and remind the player about another thing they just learned.

The Trouble Shooting Guide: We use diagrams to teach players to setup correctly. We then use diagrams to teach the basics. Diagrams should then be used to teach the difficult stuff.

One thing I like about the rules for Horus Heresy is that within their diagrams, they not only show you what you can do, but what you can’t. Check out the movement diagram on page 22.

If you’ve ever tested a game, you know that immediately after you or your rules explain what a player can do, players will ask if they can’t do something. I have mixed feelings on how to solve this. If your rules specify everything a player can’t do, the document will soon grow to 300 pages. However, diagrams are a great way to highlight the most often asked issues.

In Battle for York, players are allowed to completely abandon a region on the board. This is different than Risk. Therefore, I used a diagram to show that you could move all your units and therefore subtly teach that, yes, it’s okay to leave a territory naked.

In addition to edge cases and examples like the ones above, diagrams can be used to demonstrate written rules whose implications may not be immediately clear. For example, in Sol Rising, activated Units can Move, Attack, Change Formation, and Activate Abilities in any order. However, players who have played Memoir ’44 or Summoner Wars may think they need to move first, then attack. OR, they may think that they can attack, then move, but they need to do them entirely as a chunk. Not true!

Therefore, I used diagrams to show an activated Squadron moving one space, attacking, then moving the remaining two spaces and changing formation. This would have been a cumbersome and easily misinterpreted paragraph in the rules booklet. But, as a captioned image, it illustrates the point perfectly.

How should you create your diagrams? You have so many tools at your disposal! Google Drawing is FREE and is really fantastic for creating simple diagrams. Their tools let you create simple shapes, like cards, very quickly. And, you can import images to use as well. You can also setup your prototype and take a Photo using a smart phone.

You may laugh, but it’s possible to even doodle something on pen and paper, then scan it into your rules. You’d be shocked to find what a square with an arrow can teach your players.

What are your favorite examples of diagrams in rules? What are some tricks you’ve found useful for crafting diagrams? What did I get wrong? Share it in the comments below.

New Ways to Teach

Post by: Grant Rodiek

The single greatest barrier to entry for board games is learning to play the game, or put another way, reading the rules. This is a tiny, niche hobby that when compared to other forms of spending one’s time is merely a spec on the landscape.

Consider a potential gamer’s alternatives, and by alternatives, I mean alternate ways in which they can spend their time.

  • A movie is ready to go. You show up, pick a film, and passively enjoy.
  • Televisions is ready to go. You select a channel and passively enjoy.
  • A book is ready to go. You open it and actively enjoy.
  • A video game requires learning (sequels and copycats aside), but it interactively teaches you. Ideally, you are also having fun.
  • Facebook is constantly updated with things to see and do. It is fairly mindless and easy to appreciate.
  • Browsing the Internet is a semi-active, sometimes subconscious trawl through the depths of human depravity and accomplishment.

A board game requires you learn the game, sufficiently to teach it, then learn to play it. Even if you are taught, you must still actively listen and learn. Personally, I enjoy reading rules and learning games. But, I’m a freak exception in this regard. For many people, learning a new game feels like work. Why work when you can watch TV, read, or play Candy Crush?

Innovations in teaching players our games are the single most important way to grow our hobby. There have been several lately that I wanted to gather and bring to your attention.

Video Tutorials: A few folks have done this very well, notably Plaid Hat Games and Watch it Played with Mice and Mystics, or Van Ryder Games and Ryan Metzler with If I’m Going Down. This is a great trend that matches consumer habits and really gives folks an alternative way to learn. Everyone learns in different ways, so forcing people to read, and read only, isn’t always right.

The back of the box for Theseus mentions this.

The back of the box for Theseus mentions this.


The front cover of the Mice and Mystics rules.

Videos can be easily found by putting a big notice on your game cover, either a simple graphic or a QR code. Don’t snicker! They can be useful.

You may not have the budget to hire someone, but using a smartphone video camera and open source or low cost software, you can make something. With zero editing and only two takes, I created a walk through of my prototype Battle for York. Were I to spend just a little more effort, I could use the $6 iMovie editing app to arrange scenes better, then I could overlay Voice Memo audio with better camera shots.

What I’m trying to get at is that if you are serious about making your games more accessible, you don’t have an excuse.

Learn to Play manual versus Reference manual: Fantasy Flight has begun a new rules tactic where they ship two booklets with each game. Battlelore 2nd Edition is one game to feature this.  One teaches the players how to play the game. This book focuses on the initial experience and minimizes edge case and one-off explanations. The second booklet is an index for quickly answering rules questions (ex: how does movement work when I am out of money?) and goes deeper into more complex and less common rules.

This accomplishes quite a few things.

  • It services the needs of the first time player. It presents a smooth, narrative of learning. It is A to Z service as far as most people need to know.
  • It services the needs of the experienced player with quick, simple check ups.
  • It makes the rules seem shorter. Don’t believe me? Joel Eddy noted how short the rules were in his recent Battlelore 2nd Edition review. People notice.
  • It eases the burden on designers from teaching everything at once.

To continue with this last point, have you ever explained a game to a friend, only to have him hold up a hand and say “just stop, I’m full.” There’s a point where people can’t learn any more, so even if there are more rules, they are finished. I hit this 2 weeks ago explaining City of Remnants. On my second play with another group of friends, I completely changed my strategy. I simplified it and told them the basics. As the game progressed, I revealed more details. No problems.

There are a few twists and variations on this premise.

  • X-Wing Miniatures Game offers first game, quick start rules. They are dead simple and exclude over half the game, but they can be learned very quickly and get the point across.
  • Conflict of Heroes and Earth Reborn both offer layered, teaching rules. Both games are scenario driven, so much like video games, they introduce a few mechanics, have you play the scenario to drive home the point, then teach a few more rules.

Use Cards to Teach Exceptions, not the Rules: This is one of the great benefits of using cards, but it bears repeating. If you have a game where the rule book conveys a few simple, systematic rules, then you use your cards to convey exceptions, you will generally have a smoother game experience.

I was playing Blockade at GenCon with a publishing contact. At one point we were discussing a kamikaze mechanic (no longer in Mars Rising for a few reasons) and whether it should be a rule, or a card. The publisher stressed emphatically that it should be a card. “There are already so many things to learn and keep in my head. Why add this one that is only used conditionally?”

He had a point. If you have an exception to the main, an “if then” (which should arguably be avoided regardless), a rare occurrence, or something similar, consider using a card to help people learn the game more easily.

1812: The Invasion of Canada and Summoner Wars are two good examples of this.

Solo Variants: It can be intimidating for some to learn the game and teach it to friends without having tried the game. Some folks are visual learners, or learn by doing, and a rule book just won’t cut it. No matter how good the booklet, it’s just not how their mind works.

Consider adding a solo variant to your experience, or a puzzle mode that uses the pieces and mechanics in a fresh way, or perhaps just create a 20 minute teaching walk through game.

Folks may roll their eyes, but how difficult would it be to craft a 30 minute challenge for your game for only one person to enjoy and learn? If you love your games to be brain burners, here’s your chance to craft one.

  • Earn N of a resource using only 15 workers. Teaches resource management and manipulating the resource economy.
  • Earn N points in 3 rounds. Teaches the importance of scoring and how to win.
  • Conquer this region using only these troops. Teaches tactical formations and using units sparingly.
  • And so forth…

Ultimately, you can seek to give your players a helping hand to learn and stumble in the privacy of their own living room before standing before their friends.

Fully Illustrated Turn Examples: This may seem like overkill, but providing a fully illustrated game play example for your players is another way to reach different learning types.One of my recent purchases, Theseus, devotes a few pages in the back of its rule book to walking new players through a game, step by step.


This is relatively simple to execute, assuming you can afford the book space.

Add Rules as you Go: As far as I know there’s only one example (so far) of this, but Risk Legacy is brilliant in that more of the world, complexity, and rules unlock as the game progresses.  As the game has been out for quite some time now, below, I’m going to SPOIL some of the mechanics. NOT the story, but the mechanics.







Here are some of the mechanics:

  • A drafting mechanic is introduced to let players vie for starting territory, starting units, starting resources, and order of faction selection. Introducing this later is good in that it spares new players the complexity, but also doesn’t force them to make choices they don’t yet fully understand.
  • New factions are introduced that offer new mechanics, specifically ones that take advantage of the modified state of the game board.
  • Factions gain new abilities. All begin with 1, which is relatively simple to understand. Over time, they gain many new abilities that are easier to learn.
  • Cities are quickly introduced, which provide an alternate incentive for gaining troops, as well as a tactical decision regarding gaining and defending territory.

Creating a legacy-style game is intimidating and difficult, but consider finding ways to add complexity over time. This example is, of course, very similar to Conflict of Heroes, which uses scenarios to introduce complexity.

What are some of the other innovations in teaching rules that you have seen lately? Share in the comments below!

Testing for Usability

Post by: Grant Rodiek

The image above is the cover of a popular web design book by Steve Krug called Don’t Make Me Think. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read and is incredibly applicable to almost any form of product design and development. You should read it. It’s a quick read. 

As a professional game developer, an overwhelming percentage of my job is focused towards usability. We spend a tiny amount of time coming up with a feature and designing it, quite a bit of time overseeing its execution and implementation, then months and months and years tweaking and tuning things to be as easy to use as possible.

Naturally, this is a big deal for me as a board game designer. I can’t help but process things through the lens of how people will use it, learn it, and think about it. This is often the role of the publisher in our space, but as the business space changes and designers become publishers as well, or designers are expected to take their games further for publishers who don’t have as many development resources, I see this as a very important skill.

When I think of usability, I mentally highlight a few things:

  • Make your game incredibly easy to learn.
  • Remove all distractions and complications that detract from the strategy and fun.
  • Create a layout that emphasizes the art and functional elements (text, iconography) and subdues the rest.
  • Reduce the amount of things players must memorize. Is there a way to put it in front of them and eliminate the need to store it mentally?
  • Present your game in a way that players can begin the path to mastery as soon as possible, as opposed to several games of merely learning.

When I discuss accessibility with my fellow designers, many often scoff at the notion of “dumbing down” a design or “compromising complexity” in order to appeal to a player they view as the lowest common denominator. This is a mistake and a very foolish one. The key is not to compromise your design for someone who isn’t interested. That is also foolish. The key is to make it so the people who should play your game actually love it and play it.You want to remove all confusion for everyone, especially the people whom you are targeting.

Usability is universal. For everyone.

Even if you intend to pitch your game to a publisher, the publisher will be “new players” who must play your game blindly. They must understand it and see the vision you hold for the title. If they can’t quite see the game’s potential due to bad presentation, or if they are overwhelmed by all of the things they need to fix in development, they just might pass.

Maybe? Maybe not. I’m not an expert on publisher relations. I just know if I was shown something that’s immediately great and beautifully presented, I’d be more eager to sign that and speak to that designer.

How does one test for usability? Before we answer this, there’s some preparation that must occur. Many designers opt for the quick and dirty prototype: index cards, scribbles, “pictures,” and lots and lots of tape. This is fine, but at some point when you move beyond mechanical tweaking you need to begin focusing on usability.

For this, you must create a game that is more presentable, cohesive, and presentable (Editor’s Note: I noticed I wrote it twice as a typo, but liked it so much I kept it.). You can remove all art and merely focus on black and white elements. This has become my preferred method.

I use a few tools to make this possible. Firstly, Photoshop. This is expensive, so it may not work for you. Google Drawing, which is a part of their online suite of free office software, is a great way to quickly mock and layout simple images. You can also use Inkscape.

Secondly, you’ll need some cohesive icons, unless your game is one of the few that doesn’t have icons. I use two sites: Game-Icons.net and The Noun Project. These sites give you a free and legal way to create a cohesive game experience.

Finally, pick a clear, functional typeface. Arial is just fine. Remember, remove all distractions.

By improving your game visually you finally remove the caveat of “oh this is placeholder” or “oh the publisher will fix this.” I’ve said that so many times and it’s a mistake. You will miss things and overlook real, fundamental problems under the excuse of it not being your issue. Make it your issue, fix it, and improve the game as a whole. You’ll be surprised at just how often your mechanics and balance improve indirectly as a result of a usability solution.

With your game in a more presentable state, you’re able to take a step back from the purely mechanical exercise of testing and process it through the usability lens. You want to find the right testers to do this.

Who are the right testers? You need a good mix of folks. I seek out people who normally wouldn’t be interested in my game. For Dawn Sector, I sought people who were slightly overwhelmed by my game due to their inexperience with board games of this heft. Again, the goal is not to win them over but identify the low-hanging fruit of confusion and frustration. Their suffering will ultimately make my true customers happier.

You’re looking for repeat points of confusion. You’ll typically see these with experienced gamers if the problem is bad enough, but it will make itself clear much more quickly with novice testers. You can more quickly identify pacing concerns. Gamers have a bit more durability and will hold off on pulling out the cell phones. Non-gamers will again exacerbate an issue.

Last week I tested Dawn Sector with my girlfriend, a complete non-gamer who typically plays Dixit, Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity, and the occasional ”real game” I force her to play. I tested it with a guy who only plays Catan and has been overwhelmed by everything else I’ve shown him ever. I tested with a non-gamer friend who is pretty sharp and picks things up, but doesn’t play games often so things that aren’t intuitive will hold him back. Finally, I played with a professional designer friend who likes video games and has no love whatsoever for board games. In my opinion, he was perfect for this exercise as he’s an expert in usability with no restraint on feedback for things he didn’t like.

After testing with them I did not change a single mechanic or re-tune anything. I did, however, update every single piece of “user interface,” including the game board, player boards, cards, rules, and I even added a new board to aid them further.

You can read about some of those changes more specifically here and here.

At a high level this sounds good, but what are some practical ways of testing usability? There are a few things you can do.

  • Constantly optimize the text for your cards and abilities. Constantly scrub them to have as few words as possible and test repeatedly to find the right word that leads to the least amount of confusion and misinterpretation.
  • Experiment with presenting text-based content as a purely visual diagram. I’ve done this for Farmageddon (didn’t work) and now Dawn Sector (success!). For Dawn Sector, my diagrams don’t replace the text, but support it. Whether you put it onto your player boards or put it into the rules to help demonstrate a point, never forget the power of images. It’s the closest you’ll get to shipping with every copy of your game to explain things.
  • Examine the layout of the best selling games to determine why they work. Why do the following games sell so well? It may be partially due to how they present information: Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders (lots of info on cards), Citadels, Summoner Wars, Eclipse (player boards), Ascending Empires (player board), Dominion.
  • Be sure to create icons with distinct shapes. If you have 8 icons that are all circles with very few distinguishing characteristics, it’ll be difficult to differentiate them. Experiment with ways to have distinct shapes more easily identified from across the table.
  • Use colors to enhance your presentation, but not as the basis for it. Remember that a significant portion of the player base can’t see color, or certain colors, and you can’t solely rely on that one tool. Use all the visual and usability tools at your disposal.

Making a game as easy to learn and play as possible should be your goal regardless of its ultimate complexity and strategic depth. Your role as a designer is about mechanics and tuning, but it’s also to be an ambassador to your experience. Make everything as seamless and simple as possible. Let people get to the FUN, not stumble through the ticket counter.

How do you focus on accessibility? What are some of your tactics? Share below!

Posted in Blog | Tagged , don't make me think, game testing, usability | 4 Replies

Dawn Sector: Player Boards

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I think I’m going to use Dawn Sector as the new name instead of Empire. If that rubs you the wrong way, please tell me!

The focus of 3 of my 4 tests this week were accessibility. I deliberately sought out 4 people who don’t really play board games and in some cases, just don’t like them. The purpose of this was NOT to find out how to make my game for them. Frankly, it isn’t and I don’t think I need to compromise the design of this gamer’s game for people who won’t buy it anyways.

However, by testing with absolute board game novices I was able to play the game through the lens of their confusion. I was able to see what made the game difficult to learn, where the strategy wasn’t clear, and how I can present the game better so that the people who WILL buy my game enjoy it more.

The tests were amazingly fruitful.

I’ve spent my weekend and will probably spend the majority of this week integrating all of the feedback. The time has come to discard my old Game Crafter prototype. The interface and layout is far out of date, a handful of things have been tweaked too far, and I need to integrate the new theme (sci fi). One of the biggest changes, which is the focus of this post, are the new player boards. You can see the new one at the top.

For reference, as I walk through the changes, here is the old one (for the same faction):

My best feedback came from a friend who, like me, has worked in the digital game industry as a designer for 8 years. He’s an expert on usability and presenting information to the player. He also finds games as big as Dawn Sector just too big for his tastes. Perfect.

Based on the old board above, he had this feedback:

Input 1: I mix the player’s unique abilities all over. However, there is a lot of info that everyone needs (round order, possible actions). Why not move that stuff to a central location and make it so my board only shows the unique stuff for me?

Solution: Round Order will now be put on the main game board. All Tactics and Staff Orders (and the special ability) are synced to the left side. The Battle Order information will now be contained on its own battle board (future post). I also put a minor call out on the special ability to say just that so nobody assumes it’s flavor text.

Input 2: There is a lot of text. I’d love a way to easily reference things.

Solution: Every tactic and staff order (now Spec Ops) will have a euro-game style diagram that explains at a high level what will happen. I think this is a good hybrid of pure Euro that has only symbols (that require print aids or memorization) and Ameritrash style which is just years of text. My hope is that you can now scan the image, get an idea for what will happen, then check the text for the fine print.

Input 3: The color coding is helpful, but it needs to be even more obvious.

Solution: Actions will now have a category symbol. You’ll notice that Offensive, Defensive, and Spec Ops tactics now have symbols for them. These will be integrated throughout the other player aids (especially the battle board). You also see sharper, more useful icons for the basic player actions. I want to help players connect the dots as easily as possible.

I now need to propagate these changes forward for the other 3 factions. Plus, probably the biggest change, the new fifth faction. But, this faction isn’t a unique, special one. No, they are going to be a generic Tutorial Faction. They will use a combination of abilities from the other four factions. Like Eclipse, every player board will have this generic faction on the opposite side. My friend noted that it was very difficult to both learn the game AND the faction gameplay. If people can use the tutorial faction for the first few games, they can then easily step into the advanced faction driven game.

What a great idea! I’m very excited about these changes.

Thoughts? Input? Back to Photoshop I go.

Building Towards the Target

Post by: Grant Rodiek

Design pal Jesse Catron prompted me to write about designing a game towards a target audience. What components, themes, complexity levels, and marketing tactics should you use to reach your game’s target audience? Challenge accepted!

This is a difficult topic for to me to make decisive statements towards. I have never published a game, though I have had a board game published and I’ve been on the development team of many many digital products in the marketplace today. But, I consider myself a keen observer and a decent listener. Just because I haven’t done it doesn’t mean all of us cannot learn from those who have.

Defining the Target Grouups

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to address two market extremes: Casual consumers and Core consumers. I’m painting with a broad brush, which I think is reasonable as this is not a dissertation, but a theoretical exercise.

I define casual consumers as people who play games to pass the time, do not want to spend a great deal of time or money on games, tend to adhere to word of mouth for recommendations, and purchase most games from larger retailers (Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Amazon).

Companies that serve this demographic well are Gamewright, Hasbro, 5th Street Games. Towards the outside leaning towards core would be companies like Days of Wonder and WizKids.

I define core consumers as people who play games with purpose. They gain satisfaction from victory, the challenge presented, and the camaraderie of the table. This is their primary hobby and they spend money as such. They listen to reviews, use hobbyist sites for information (Board Game Geek, Boardgaming.com, Twitter, Facebook), and purchase games from local hobby game stores and sites like Cool Stuff Inc., Funagain.com, and Amazon.

Companies that serve this demographic well are Plaid Hat Games, Z-Man Games, GMT, and every German publisher ever. I’d argue that Plaid Hat, like Days of Wonder, sits comfortably in the middle.

Component Considerations: Good casual components should help players quickly connect the dots on how to play the game. Dice are immediately obvious and well understood. Casual games should have fewer components as heft and a pile of pieces can be quite intimidating. Casual games should use simple iconography or as little text as possible as reading seems burdensome and for some will feel like work. A side effect of reading is that people’s heads will be down, reading, not up for players to make eye contact and engage with one another.

Good casual components should also look fun. Scallywags by Gamewright comes with a huge, awesome pile of gold pirate doubloons. The Big Fat Tomato Game, also by Gamewright, has little spongy tomatoes, big plastic tomato baskets, and huge hefty six-sided dice. King of Tokyo by Iello has awesome custom dice, big monster cut outs, and transparent green energy cubes. People should look at your game and think subconsciously ”I want to touch that.” Oh, and have amazing art.

Never forget that many casual players are very used to Risk and Monopoly. These games provide a sense of ownership (my territory, my army, my property) and use dice as a central element.

Core consumers share some of these characteristics. After all, board gamers love stuff. There are differences. Core consumers will lift your box to gauge its heft and weight. More is better. Core consumers may be leery of dice, or more leery, as it might be an omen of a highly random experience. Core consumers are less concerned about cards filled with text and are perfectly fine with a pile of punch board counters.

Core consumers like tableaus, reference cards, and lots of information. They want to know the card distribution and every side rule. If possible, core consumers also want miniatures. This often isn’t practical, but hey, we’re not limiting ourselves with reality for this post.

Seasons is a game box filled with fun, inviting stuff for more core consumers. Eclipse is wonderful and its components are magical. Don’t get me going on Mice and Mystics. These first two games will terrify more casual consumers — I’ve watched it happen. The last one listed hopes to attract them soon. We’ll see how it goes!

Thematic Considerations: Theme is a difficult one to nail down for either consumers. People of all types LOVE zombies. Just look at Zombie Dice (casual) and ZPocalypse (core). It’s cool to knock zombie games (I’ve done it, rudely), but it’s a mistake to overlook something so beloved by so many.

Orcs and spaceships are always a good path to take. Sometimes, combine them. Honestly, with proper art and mechanic design you can make farming the #2 game of all time (core), or a silly fracas (casual).

There are some general rules of thumb. For casual, focus on art and themes, or presentations of themes, that steer clear of violence and gore. Craft art that’s more silly, less serious. Make it very gender neutral, which is something you can do through a wide array of actions. Hire a real graphic designer — they’ll help. Avoid things that are too rooted in reality. Casual players don’t want to be reminded of war, famine, history, and things that are eerily similar to work.

For core, you can be more serious, darker (sometimes go way dark), and violent. You can use pictures of British Soldiers from a precise regiment or and orc carrying the head of a poor, defeated human.

Complexity Considerations: I feel like this goes closely hand in hand with my components comment. But, I’ll quickly go over a few points. Dave Chalker, designer of Get Bit, commented on Twitter that casual gamers find the rules for Fluxx overwhelming. You scoff, but it’s true. You’d be surprised just how often questions are asked of me about Farmageddon. Questions about content that I thought was straightforward.

With a casual game, it’s all about simplicity. Keep it simple, keep the game quick, keep it focused. Pick one mechanic and make sure the game ends in a half hour or less. Never forget that casual games are designed to appeal to people who play Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, UnoMonopoly, Dominoes, Go Fish. You can never test too much and you should never make an assumption.

For core gamers? Well, go nuts. But, be warned. I sincerely believe that with the Internet, Kickstarter, growing traditional publishers, Table Top, and more, a time of great growth for our hobby is upon us. Yes, you can make the four hour brain killer. And frankly, you should. There needs to be something for everyone. But, if you go too far off the deep end of complexity, you may overlook a huge, eager audience of new gamers. People who may get their hands dirty with Munchkin and then move on to YOUR game. How cool would that be?

Marketing Considerations: Casual consumers are way more price conscious than core consumers. By this, I mean anything over $20 will cause a casual consumer to pause at the point of purchase. Core consumers are also price conscious, but their point of pause may be far higher. Hell, I am personally only limited by personal budget and a guilty feeling if I spend too much money on games.

Casual consumers don’t use Board Game Geek. They don’t care about Board Game Geek. To get to them, you need to be on retail shelves (difficult), build word of mouth (slow), and get them onto a mailing list (slow). Core consumers know all about the Geek, review sites, friends and forums, and will actively seek new content to add to their shelves. They will also buy more if they hear the word of mouth, see it on a big retailer’s shelf, or happen to be on your mailing list.

Casual consumers are way more likely to gravitate towards a company’s brand/logo than remember a designer. Core consumers are more likely to care about the designer. Casual consumers will provide face-to-face word of mouth, whereas core consumers will post ratings on the Geek, Tweet, and use social media to excitedly recommend your game to others.

Both groups greatly respect good value, treating customers well, and being consistent. The Golden Rule will carry you far where marketing is concerned. Be good to others and make great products. Consumers will treat you well in return.

Where are my assumptions off? Did I make any points that resonated? Where does your game fall? Comment below!