Board games have been stretching the creativity, strategy, and luck of both children and adults since time immemorial – even in the days of Egypt, the board game Senet entertained Pharaohs in their spare time (Attia, 2016). Just as satisfying as playing a well-crafted board game, however, is creating one yourself, and advances in technology and the ease of finding materials makes such a task simple and easy. There’s never been a better time to learn how to build a game from the ground up, and give your family an extra activity in the process!
Step 1: Necessary Materials and Safety Information
Before you begin the creation of your board game, there are several items you’ll need to construct your game from the ground up. All of these supplies should be readily available at any nearby Office Depot or Staples store:
- 1 6-sided dice
- 1 printer/photo-copier or access to a print-shop
- At least 230 square inches of foam board
- 4 sheets of white paper
- 1 sheet of newspaper or other disposable material
- Pencils, pens, or other writing utensils
- 1 pair of sharp scissors
- 1 box-cutter, razor, or sharp knife
- Glue stick, Super Glue, or Glue Gun
- At least 4 colors of paint
- One roll of duct tape
- At least 4 printable full-sheet labels
- 1 12-inch ruler
- 1 sheet of lined paper for rules
Many materials listed can be dangerous in the hands of children. Do not leave scissors unattended near children, as they can cause injury when misused. Keep the dice in a safe place as it can prevent a choking hazard, and call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 is glue or paint is swallowed by a child. If using a glue gun, glue guns can present a burning hazard as it cools and should be kept out of the hands of small children.
Step 2: Creating the Rules
The first step towards making any board game is creating a set of
rules that direct what players are and are not allowed to do, as well as the objective of the game and conditions for victory. In our example we’ll create a simple 4-player “race game” where the general goal is to move a token to the end of a track. The steps to designing a fun, engaging set of rules are as follows:
1. First, decide on the number of players that will be able to play your game at one time. This will determine the number of player tokens we need later.
2. Next, decide on the length of the game – the harder it is to win, the longer the game will last. In this example, the number of tiles (“steps” a player token needs to cross) between the start and the finish should be 40 for a game that will probably last between 15 and 30 minutes. Tiles should be around 2 inches x 2 inches, larger if particularly important or with large amounts of text.
3. Once the basic questions are out of the way, you need to decide what choices the players will have. This is what makes the game fun – players must be able to affect how the game plays out. In this example, we’ll decide that some of the tiles will give players the ability to move enemy pieces or their own piece in specific ways, depending on the square.
4. Next, decide how the game progresses. Does everyone move at the same time, or do they take turns? In our example game, we’ll say that the game progresses one player’s turn at a time, starting from the youngest player.
5. One of our last steps is determining what a player can do on their turn – what’s the list of actions a player can take? Furthermore, how do we decide the outcome of these actions? In our game, a player is simply allowed to roll the dice and move a number of squares equal to their roll on their own turn, as well as choose a unique outcome when they land on a square that gives them a choice.
6. Finally, we need to determine the goal of the game – what are players trying to accomplish, and how do they win? When it comes to a simple race-game like ours, landing directly on the final tile is a simple win condition.
7. Write all of the answers to these questions on a lined sheet of paper – these are the rules of your game.
Step 3: Designing and Printing Your Game Board
At this point, you can use the rules you’ve created to design a game board – this is the field that the players will play the game on.
1. The first step is to draw a board that corresponds to your rules, objective, and number of players. For a simple game like our example, draw out a path of 40 tiles and split it among 4 sheets of white paper, cut into squares with sides 7.25 inches long. Each of these sheets will correspond to a corner of the game board when printed. When preparing a larger game, increase the size of the squares of foam board you use to make the game board later to accommodate a larger play area.
2. In about 25-40% of the tiles (in our case 12), write extra effects of your choosing. Some of these should provide the player with a choice of some sort, such as “Move ahead 1 space or move another player back 2 spaces.” This way, players feel they have a role in winning the game outside of lucky rolls of the dice.
3. Once your board has been drawn, either take it to a print-shop or load it into your photo-copier and print the 4 sections onto 4 full-sheet labels.
4. Cut out the board pieces from the label to make sure that the length matches the size of the game board, with a 0.25-inch margin between pieces to let the board fold easily. For example, if the board is in 4 squares with sides of 7.5 inches, make sure your labels are squares with sides of 7.25 inches to account for the margin.
5. Once the board pieces have been cut out, set them aside to be used towards the end of the process.
Step 4: Constructing the Board
The second to last step is the creation of the board itself – now that you’re done deciding what it will look like, you can create the sturdy copy that your players will use. The creation of this board follows these steps:
1. First, take the foam board and measure out 4 7.5 inch squares using the ruler.
2. Cut these squares out with a pair of scissors and lay them out, side by side.
3. Take 2 of these squares and attach them to each other using a 7.5-inch-long piece of duct-tape, as shown in the image of the bottom of the board below.
4. Flip these squares so that the non-taped side is facing upwards.
5. Take a third square and line it up with the side of the first 2, creating a 90-degree angle.
6. Tape this square to the first 2 with another 7.5 inch long piece of duct-tape along the seam where the sides connect.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the 4th square, lining it up at a 90-degree angle in the final remaining corner. At this point you should have one large square with one strip of tape on the bottom and two strips of tape on the top.
8. Take this opportunity to use another 8 7.5 inch lengths of tape to cover the edges of the board, wrapping the tape around and underneath as you go to protect the edges from wear and tear. The board should now resemble the figures above from both the top and the bottom.
9. Take the labels that we set aside earlier, peel off the backing, and attach to the four corners of the board. Make sure that the 0.25 inch margin we allowed for is along the seams, to make folding the board easy.
10. Your game board is now finished, and can be laid to the side as we construct the last set of pieces for our game.
Step 5: Constructing the Game Pieces
The only remaining unfinished pieces are the player tokens for our game – the pieces that denote where players are along the board.
1. First, take the foam board and cut it into 4 3 inch by 1 inch rectangles and 4 2 inch by 2 inch squares.
2. Paint these 4 sets of foam pieces four different colors or patterns to help differentiate them, then set them aside to dry on a sheet of newspaper for roughly 2-4 hours.
3. Once the pieces are dry, glue the 3 by 1 inch rectangles to the 2 by 2 inch squares. Attach them so that the long end of the rectangles are perpendicular to the square – the square will be the base of the piece with the rectangle affixed on top, as the figure to the right demonstrates.
4. Let the glue dry for 1-5 minutes, then place the pieces with the board and dice.
Step 6: Conclusion
At this point, you’vecreated the rules, board, and pieces for your very own home-made board game - the only remaining components you will need are time and players. It’s also easy to substitute different answers or designs at any point in the first set of steps to create an entirely different game – with an adequate supply of materials, you can make any of a variety of games that catch your interest. The only step left is to enjoy testing out your new board game with friends and family!