First of all, I’m using this nondigital games terminology to talk about board, card, figure, and Role Playing games. Some of you must have noticed that nondigital games are coming back and beginning to be more popular than they used to be in last 20-30 years (probably since before the Atari 2600 and Nintendo NES consoles era). They made a comeback in the 1990’s with Trading Card Games boom, and in the 2000’s with the new Board Games fever. Today we have a new era of nondigital games being made by small indie companies, crowdfunded and marketed by YouTubers. So why not make a career by also making nondigital games in parallel to the digital ones?
Nondigital Games: the origin of Game Design
Before video games, board games used to the most popular gaming hobby around the world. They are probably around 3,000 years old and can be found in practically every old culture, from Incan to Chinese society. Most of the first video games were made according to the rules of board and card games. Today, with video games selling more than most board games, we see the opposite, as video games are serving as inspiration for making board or card games. So yes, if you are a game designer, you should probably not have any problem in making nondigital games because game design is universal. The rules are the same for any medium. Just look at Hero’s Quest or Space Hulk, classical board games that have the same rules in their computer versions. Of course, turn based games are simpler when it comes to making this transition and vice versa, but some real-time games can be converted too. It only takes some imagination for abstracting the gameplay into something different.
Building a Nondigital Game
Nondigital games must have well-established rules. They must be written in a simple yet satisfactory way. Remember that, for this kind of game, you don’t have a computer system at hand for controlling variables and defining winners and losers. Therefore, an easy-to-grasp set of rules is vital. Try working with the simplest concept as possible, since complex games have more rules and more components. More components equal more setup time and not everyone enjoys having to spend 20 minutes preparing for a game with a 5-second playtime. So, get to know your mechanics and your audience really well. Good mechanics are based on the balance between chance and strategy. If you’re a player of any board RPG you must already know that, but pure strategy (Diplomacy) or pure chance games (Yahtzee) can also be fun. Just try finding a nice way for presenting it to the player. If you don’t play that kind of game, maybe it’s time for you to start and learn new mechanics, even if you don’t want to make a nondigital game. My tip for you is that you should start with 2-player games with a reduced setup time and with an abstract theme like Chess, Go or Hanafuda. These kinds of game are focused on the mechanics. They are simple to play but really hard to master. Remember to test your game with more people other than your family members and friends so you can have a more diverse critical analysis of your gameplay. During that development phase, you might benefit from visiting nondigital game stores where they offer a nice environment for testing out your game with an experienced audience that could give you important advice. Not to mention the possibility for you to find a partner or an investor for your project.
Nondigital Games in the Digital Medium
As many have already noticed, nondigital games don’t remain in the board and paper medium for very long. They are expanding and reaching the digital medium, first by reinventing the old board and card games for video games, and now with sandbox games emulating them. The first case is really old, as I said before. Some of the first video games are adaptations of board and card games, like chess, checkers, and solitaire. Today, we have adaptations of Magic The Gathering and Talisman, games with rules way more complex. The second case is the opening of the game rules in an open environment where players have less systemic control over the game rules. Of course, is not a new way to play. Bear in mind that some players used to play chess by mail, then by email and finally over this kind of free-range environment. In the early 2000’s some open-ended environments like Vassal and Apprentice started to gather players from around the world to play those games that, not very long before, you could only play with another player in front of you, but then online and at any time. Today, we have more freedom, especially with environments like Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia that provide players with boards, dice, tokens and everything else the real games have, and let then play with the same freedom they would have while playing live, even for silly things like throwing your board on the ground. That kind of environment should be probably successful if played with the VR goggles. Think of the possibility of playing some board games with friends from around the world without leaving your room. Imagine all the possible events that a board game could make happen just by using that kind of technology, like championships, ranking matches, meeting rooms for meeting new people and learning new strategies, etc. The future looks pretty good.
Nondigital Games are a growing market and they are becoming even more popular because of the digital medium. The internet made it possible for people around the world to play centuries-old games against opponents they will probably never see face-to-face. It is also helping game designers to show their games to a broader audience, without a publisher support, but supported by people who want to play a new game and thanks to crowdfunding campaigns and other kinds of creative funding. The future looks even brighter by the mixing of nondigital games with the digital medium. Next time we’ll talk about serious games, see ya!