Make Your Own Board Game

The Toothpaste Millionaire is a juvenile level book that has many lessons to teach. I’m reading it to my Grand-kids this year in Grandma Rie’s Money Camp and needed an activity to go with it. One of the lessons in the book on which I will focus is that starting your own business can be lucrative and that all business ideas start by observing and solving a problem.

The book leads the reader through various stages of the growth of The Toothpaste Company, from idea germination to a full fledged enterprise.

I thought it would be fun to have a board game that reinforces thoughts on starting and growing a business. Unfortunately none seemed to be available to purchase.

Although I never before had tried to create a board game, I had no doubt I could do it. The year before, after all, I successfully made up a role playing game to reinforce the idea of budgets and household cash flow.

Little did I know I was entering a whole new genre of hobbyists. If I can create a board game, so can you, and you don’t have to spend a ton of money to do it.

Why develop your own board game?

It will help your family foster their creative side. Creating your very own board game draws on many skills – both artistic and logical.

You will build something unique to your family, customized to the things you care about, individualized with family member names, pictures, interests and etc.

It can reinforce a family value or an educational need specific to your family.

You might save money (but not time!).

Your family will share an experience and create some long lasting memories.

Where to start?

Prepare to devote some time to game development. So far I have spent many hours on mine, but it has been great fun for me.

Decide what you want to accomplish with the game. Do you want it to be only for fun or will it try to teach a lesson or hone a skill?

This was easy for me, because I already knew why I wanted the game – it is to be educational – to teach business lessons.

What will the theme of your game be? Is it about movies, business, science, math or something else? Again, I had a built in theme – the toothpaste business.

How to create your own board game.

To get a start, you might want to browse through some of the websites that are devoted to board game enthusiast. A couple of these are: Board Game Designers Forum  and Board Game Geek.

You have to work through the mechanics of the game

Mechanics include things like how do players interact, how do they advance through the game, how do they win, and etc.

Apparently there are mathematical ways to work on game mechanics, but a more practical method for me as a first time creator of a board game was just to keep playing it after I came up with most of the design.

But, one of the first things you need to do is to figure out how a player will win the game. What is the objective?

I struggled awhile with this one. I knew I wanted players to have to make certain decisions that would lead to the start up and growing of the business. For instance, in the book, one of the main characters notes that a tube of toothpaste seems way too expensive. He decides that he can make toothpaste much cheaper. This decision has to be made before the company can even get started. It is the idea behind the business.

Because just deciding to have a business, or buy a bunch of empty toothpaste tubes to fill (or whatever the decision might be), doesn’t mean that you will actually make any money, I knew that I needed the winner to have to meet a certain profit goal.

Once I realized those two goals, the rest of the game play mechanics fell pretty quickly into place.

Make or assemble the parts and pieces of the game.

Next I made a brown paper hand drawn mat to use as a game board.

I keep a roll of heavy paper (which I buy at Home Depot for about $11 for a roll about 2 inches thick and 2 feet wide) to use in wrapping packages, protecting floors during home projects, making garage sale signs and etc. I measured my Monopoly board, thinking it would be a pretty standard size, cut the paper to that size and measured and drew.

There are sites that have templates you can fill in and print to make board games too, but they didn’t suit my needs. For example, the University of North Carolina has several you could use. Apparently teachers are now using these with lesson plans and some are even asking students to design their own game.

Then I made some cards to accomplish the games goals and facilitate play.

For the first round, I used an Open Office Text document and inserted a two column table to make cards about the size of business cards. I just printed them out on my ink jet home printer.

Last, I searched through the games I had at home to find player tokens, play money and dice.

When I finally get the board design the way I want it for Money Camp, I will draw it up in Paint or maybe in a free open source product called InkScape and then take it up to a local printer and have it printed out to the size I want (I’m hoping I can use Walmart for this).

I will probably use an old garage sale board game as the base, and just glue the printed game mat to it.  You can actually start from scratch to make your own game board.  I found a You Tube video by Brian Beech that shows you how, but I think it will be cheaper (and easier) to just use a board I get from a $1 garage sale game instead.

Play test the game.

Once I had developed and assembled the parts of the game, I just started playing it. Over and over, changing and tweaking the squares, the words on the cards, the rules and mechanics in general.

Then, I asked my spouse to play it with me. Getting other people’s comments and thoughts can only make your game better. First I had him read the rules I made up and printed off and then we just started playing. I took notes of his comments, timed our play and am making adjustments based on his input.

This is called play testing and it is crucial to make sure the game works as you want it to. I understand that there are online communities devoted to play testing each others games. The developer draws up online resources that can be downloaded and printed so that others can play. There are also local meet ups for game playing and game testing that could be use.

Don’t count on going commercial.

Although your idea may be the next great game, and no doubt you think that Toy’s R’Us will pick it up for sure, there are just as many (if not more) indie game developers as there are indie authors! Getting a game published by a major game manufacturer does not typically happen without a great deal of effort, time (and expense to develop professional prototype games).

Be content if your game is fun, accomplishes its goal and your family has exercised their creative and logical abilities together to develop it. You’ve created a wonderful family experience.

If you have created a board game, I’d love suggestions from you!


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