Many modern board games generate huge publicity pre-release based on who the designer is. Using the designer's name as a calling card to raise awareness of one game out of the thousands released every year. A certain segment of the buying public will recognise the name, the style and immediately add the latest game to an ever-expanding collection.
However, unless you are already an experienced board gamer, well versed in the styles of a range of designers, how can you tell which designer creates games suited to you? Which names should you look out for when browsing the shelves of your friendly local game store?
Some board game designers take an idea and meld into it an array of mechanisms so labyrinthine it’s challenging to know where one part stops and the next begins to move. Like a cog in a gigantic complex machine that solitary idea plays a small part in the whole. Without it, the construction slows to a stop and yet on its own it looks small and insignificant.
The designer weaves theme into these machines like a tapestry in a loom. Indivisible from the mechanics, the theme is rich and rewarding and makes the player invest in the game. Rewarding this investment with each roll of a die or turn of a card. Yet sometimes these designers create games that are perhaps too luck-based for those that like to see a well-constructed plan brought to fruition.
Other times, the themes are barely there. Leaving these wonderful machines cold and soulless. Fine examples of design, certainly, and interesting, no doubt, but not necessarily games that everyone wants to come back to, to tell their friends about, to welcome new members of their game group into the fold with.
Ideal, perhaps, for players who want to focus on a system; building, refining, thinking multiple turns ahead, waiting patiently until the time is right to reveal a hidden move and crush their opponents.
Other designers take an idea, a single solitary idea and nurture it, refine it, streamline it. The theme and the mechanics build into this idea without ever overpowering it, letting its simplicity shine through, enticing you.
Each new game box is a joy to open, the components providing an almost intuitive feel for how things work even before you read the rules. That card goes there, that block here.
Often making excellent games to introduce to new gamer's and families, however, sadly sometimes overlooked in favour of the creators of those big machines. These designers provide an essential component in any board game collection: the fun.
And yet these same designers may create games that are too simplistic. Not enough combat perhaps or too family friendly for your group. Streamlined to the point of blandness when you want to focus on the minutia of multiple interlocking decisions…
So, how can you tell which designer is right for you?
An Intro To...
This series of articles will aim to shine a light on the work of some of the most popular designers, helping you to answer just that question. What better way to start than to focus on a designer that specialises in creating accessible, family friendly games that place the emphasis firmly on players enjoying time in each other’s company…Phil Walker-Harding. Look out for article number one in the coming days.