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I think that a lot of us who grew up playing board games have thought about what it would be like to make one. In the age of technology, innovation, and social media, there are now hundreds – if not thousands – of blogs and vlogs dedicated to the topic of board games. Whether it’s creating board games, reviewing board games, or teaching you how to play board games, millennials just can’t seem to get enough board gaming content.
If you have looked into any of these “how to create your own board game” tutorials, you would likely hear one of the most common pieces of advice: develop the game mechanics of the game first, and then you can figure out a theme that fits your game later. They may suggest that once you decide what genre of game you’d like to design – strategy, party, card, word, etc. – you play as many of those types of games as possible for research, noting what you did and did not like about the gameplay for each one. Some might tell you to come up with multiple sets of rules and playtest them to see what you like better. This is all good, actionable advice. I didn’t follow any of it.
My creative process is often much different than most anyone. When I decided to make a board game, it went something like this:
Me: “I want to design a board game.”
*A few months go by. *
My brain, while my body lounges in a chair doing nothing: “How about a pet adoption game where you collect services for the animals and adopt them out to the perfect family by picking up cards through a classic roll-and-move style of play.”
Within a couple of weeks, I made my prototype of Like Cats and Dogs and wrote the rulebook, and was ready to start playtesting. This is a highly unusual process for developing a product, but in this case, it worked for me.
I think the reason it worked for me, and why it came together so seamlessly, is because I knew the things that made me happy and brought me joy. Once I realized that I could connect them together, I let my imagination take it from there.
First, I knew that I wanted it to be a board game. Obviously.
Family nights were always a lot of fun in my family growing up. One of my very favorite Christmas traditions from when I was a kid was how my siblings and I would stay up all night (or most of it, anyway) on Christmas Eve and play games while my parents did their last-minute wrapping and put the gifts out under the tree. Like all siblings, we could bicker and quarrel, but I honestly cannot recall a Christmas Eve when we didn’t all get along and enjoy ourselves.
So, board games are special to me. But so is family. And I have realized that we have gotten away from the classic family board game that everyone can play together, and more into hyper-categorized games that only a certain number of players of a certain age can play, and only those with a certain interest can enjoy. This certainly has much to do with internet marketing – the more specific you can be with your product, the easier it is to market it to your target audience. But while horror fans may enjoy The Shining board game, it doesn’t exactly get the whole family involved. I knew that I wanted to design one of those classic, family-style board games that everyone could enjoy together. So, I instinctively decided on my game type without much thought or research.
I also immediately knew that my game would have something to do with dogs. I had just lost my first dog, Maddie, when I began creating this game, and she meant the world to me. In fact, my most recent book, Compass Points the Way, is dedicated to her. She brought me a lot of joy, and I wanted my game to bring joy to others, so associating dogs with my board game was a no-brainer.
“But, as much as I love dogs, some people love cats,” I reminded myself. I remembered an interview I did at the local Humane Society and how their cat room was just packed full of felines in need of a loving home. Instantly, I had a theme for my game. I would make a board game about pet adoption. The idea promotes pet adoption and teaches the responsibilities of pet ownership. It’s heartwarming, marketable, and enjoyable.
The rest – the mechanics and rules – came next and almost as naturally. At this point, knowing the theme and game style of game I was going for, I could almost see the game in my mind’s eye. After making the prototype and playtesting, I only had to make a few minor tweaks before I was happy and got good feedback.
Again, this is a highly unusual process for developing a new board game, but it’s how I did it. And I think it worked out pretty well – but I’ll let you be the judge. Order Like Cats and Dogs now on the Game Crafter and schedule your next family game night today.