Introduction: Making a Board Game From Scratch

There are a lot of board games available for enthusiasts who'd spend a lazy afternoon curled up around some quality bonding time with friends and family.

But for those who want to make their own Board Game, it's actually something quite new, fun and challenging.

We're from a design background, so we have a some design-y jargon to bring out what we want/think to something more productive and useful, and we call it a design process.

And this instructable will guide you into using that process to fulfill your need to make a board game from scratch, by yourself!

Minimum materials required:

  1. Papers and pencils/pens

I'd like to point out that this was a college group project and due to heavy time constraints, we couldn't provide the best example for a DIY board game. Also, this only talk about the outline of the process involved in designing a board game, and will not, obviously be a generic guide and talk about everything you could possibly do. That said, I'm more than welcome to accept suggestions.

Step 1: Who Is It For?

The first question to ask before you set out to make a board game is "Who is going to play".

In design, it's called 'creating personas of users', where you sketch out a few ideal, common, relatable characters of specific age-groups, demographics and include details like why would they play, what do they think of board games in general, and so on, as much as required, or as much as you want.

In fact, making a board game is as fun and almost just like playing a board game! (we found that soon enough....)

In our board game, we picked a bunch of adults (18+ years), and decided to keep the mechanics and strategies very basic and simple in order to incorporate even the most uninterested sort of people to have a good time bonding with even people who need to have a sound source of mental stimulation.

Step 2: The Game Story

The best way to figure out things is to tell a story.

When you tell a story, you would have incorporated quite a few nuances that need to be addressed in order to make something meaningful.

So to make a board game, think of a story in which the characters (the prospective players of your game), come together to face a situation.

Our story had :

  1. Four characters - a botanist, a philologist, businessman and an engineer.
  2. Plot - all four land on a mysterious island in the middle of nowhere. They discover that eons ago, the island was cursed by a powerful demon, allowing only one of them to escape alive. How they strategise and challenge each other to survive the island and win the game, depends on a well proportioned concoction of brains and luck.
  3. Elements - forest, natural disasters to entrap each character, water bodies to cross, animals to conquer and some ways to challenge each other in duels.

Step 3: Game Mechanics

Now that you have your main idea in place, delve into the mechanics - the rules and methods used to interact with the game.

Some ideas:

  • Turns - how each player will play their turn
  • Action points - what each player will be limited to do in their turn
  • Cards
  • Movement
  • Resource management
  • Risk-reward

and so on...

In our game:

  • Each player had to play by turn, by rolling the dice.
  • They have to move ahead as many steps as indicated on their die roll.
  • They could encounter any of the following:
  • Resources (collectibles):
    • Medicine - saves player from the effect of poison berries
    • Map - saves player from being lost when they go through a memory lapse phase
    • Tools - saves player from an animal attack
    • Shelter - saves player from thunderstorm, cyclone and earthquake.
  • Unfortunate Events :
    • Poison Berries
    • Animal Attack
    • Memory Lapse
    • Slow Spell
    • Thunderstorm
    • Cyclone
    • Earthquake

Upon testing our game, we realised that the disadvantages were too monotonous so we decided to keep some more variety.

Also, since ours was a college project under severe time constraints, we just printed out cards to be used as collectibles. You can even make your own 3D collectibles using moulding clay, foam-board, and so on..

Step 4: Game Layout

Making the layout of the board game is trickier than it sounds. The first thing to note is that each time you make a layout, you need to test it with a group of people to see if they can navigate through the game, understand what it's about and know what is to be done. Here are a few inspirations we went through.


  1. Size : Have a clear image as to how big your board has to be. Ideally, in every square/step, at least 2-3 pegs should be placed comfortably without blocking the number on the step. Our game is A2 size - 420 x 594 mm or 16.5 x 23.4 in.
  2. Map : Sketch out how the area is supposed to look - what elements fit where on the board. Since we had forests, water bodies, animal attacks and natural disasters, we had to keep those elements at logical places.
  3. Pathway : To navigate through the board, or the map, you need paths/steps/squares where the players would keep their pegs.
  4. Instructions : Have a basic set of instructions ready, either on a piece of paper, or on the pathway instructing the players on what is to be done.Here's a picture of the numbering we tried to figure out for at least 4 times before we could get it to make sense.

Please note: When you're making an area, like an island, or a valley, city, etc., always map out all your elements before deciding the pathway.

Test your layout and game mechanics over and over again to ensure that it makes as much sense as possible to both the game-maker, i.e, you, and the game-player. Each iteration will bring about a few changes that you'd need to incorporate in order to make your board game as interesting as possible.

Step 5: Additional Mini Games

You may also choose to add mini games to your board game. These run parallel to the original game play and the result of these mini games affect the original game by some means.

In our game of the Cursed Island, we had something called "Challenges" were if the player were to land (by rolling the dice) on a challenge tile, they would pick a player to play the given mini-game with.

We had 4 simple mini games :

  1. Rock Paper Scissors
  2. Maze
  3. Decode
  4. Break the Word

The winner of the challenge would get to choose whether they can take a Reward card, or make the loser pick up a Penalty card.

I've attached a sample (ready to be printed), of the mini-games we used.

Step 6: Graphics and Visual Design

The next important part after you develop the strategies and functions of the game, is the visual design of each part.

The story you had jotted down in the second step will be of utmost help when deciding what your overall game should look like. The challenge is to keep it all similar, so that anyone who sees or interacts with the game will know that all the elements are part of the same game.

The visual design could be incorporated in:

  • the board game graphics - the pathways, the text on the path, the icons on the game to lead the player and to support the game elements (in our case, the island, water bodies, forests, animals, unfortunate events, etc.)
  • the additional cards - anything apart from the board game that is aiding your game mechanics, like Reward cards and Penalty cards, could have icons and could be colour coded for easy identification.
  • the rule book - documenting all the game mechanics so that a user can easily navigate through the game

Here too, it is important to test your entire set up to know if players understand the graphics easily, if it conveys the write meanings, if they are legible, etc.

I've attached some samples that we'd used for our game. We designed these on Adobe Illustrator. Also attached are samples we'd made initially - the hexagon things. Note how the cards and the board game on the hexagon designs match.

Step 7: Packaging

The last step, once all the elements of the game are done, is packaging.

The packaging involves:

  • Over all look - form, material, etc.

Here again, go back to your story and ensure that the material you use goes with the visual design of the board game.

  • Graphics -

On the packaging of the board game, you'd need to write a short description of what the game is all about and what its contents are, genre, how many players can play and so on..

Due to time constraints, we merely wrapped our box of foam board with rexine (fake leather) and painted "The Cursed Island" on it. Given time, we'd have rather given it a rusted, musty old look with paper mache and lots of acrylic paint to make it look like its been retrieved from the forest.

Have a great time making your own board game!