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tell your story with a board game

One of the blind spots in all this newfangled talk about “the power of storytelling” is board games, or tabletop games. These are general terms that paint pictures in our minds of Monopoly or Battleship. That’s accurate, of course, but the world of tabletop games is massive.

Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan, Dixit, Mice and Mystics — all of these are popular among gamers who prefer the table to the screen. What’s the appeal? Being a huge Catan fan myself, I can tell you there’s nothing to compare with the bartering, nail-biting, bonding experience of trading sheep, stone, brick and wheat. The point Catan is to amass 10 points through development of land. It sounds like Monopoly — and there are similarities — but the trading aspect is sophisticated, elegant and allows for cooperation and confrontation equally.

Mice and Mystics


Within the game world, the player can get so immersed that the story of the game takes over. The dynamics of player interaction are intoxicating, as two or more people step into the deep waters of the game designer’s mechanics. The art of the board or cards shines even brighter and takes on even more life as the turns progress. Our world falls away, and the game’s story is paramount.

Lovely stuff, when it happens.

So, as a storyteller, I’ve had that “One Day I’m Gonna” attitude toward board gaming. Is it tough? Do I have the kind of brain that can make something good? Will it bring out the world builder in me? Where will I have a chance to build cool characters? How do I make sure it’s fun?

So, this week, I dove into research mode, and found a wealth of information and guidance from a surprisingly vibrant tabletop gaming community. Wealth may be an understatement. It’s more like a flood. Within an hour of starting my deep dive, I found myself overwhelmed with information. Design tips and practical advice piled up like a twisted, maniacal, and over-helpful beast.

So, here’s my simple list of the fundamentals. If you start with these sites, you’ll get a sense of how to begin, where to get help, and a taste of the fascinating tabletop gaming community.

The fundamentals of tabletop game design

This is the simplest entry point, showing how you can go about making your first board game:

Make your first board game

Once you get your head around the basics, dive into this puppy and get your mind blown!

First steps in board game design

To get an idea of the competition, here’s a list of what’s popular these days:

Top 10 Tabletop games of 2012

A film is in the works that aims to capture the designers behind today’s hottest titles:

Adventures on the Tabletop

An exhaustive list of how to build and launch a tabletop game. This one is pretty involved, but it shows how complex the process of launching a title can be:

Game Design and Self-Publishing

Yes, this is a board game-centric list. But, in my opinion, you can go the card route, or just about any mechanic you want, with these fundamentals in mind.

I’m off to sketch some board game visuals on Paper for iPad! I hope this list of starter links is helpful to you, my fellow storyteller.

Ben Zackheim

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