Agile Board Game Development 2020
Creating a board game requires a host of tasks. Getting bogged down or overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done can destroy the effort. A project management mindset helps breakdown and prioritize tasks. Agile typically refers to software development, but we will adapt some of the terms, concepts and values to help keep your game moving towards completion.
Values - ideals you should internalize to make the most of this method.
More playing less pondering. Board games are supposed to be fun. Complete your board game in such a way that you get to enjoy your own progress. Additionally, playing your game will be more stimulating and produce more progress.
Embrace “the most common unit of fun” in your game and build out from there making your efforts more efficient and enjoyable.
Tools - light/free online project management/collaboration helpers.
We suggest Trello, but you can just do it in shared google docs too. Using Trello, however, you can mirror the steps laid out here more closely.
The very first step in following our Agile method is determine requirements. Requirements are features of your game that HAVE to be included. Keeping the requirements in mind will help limit wasted effort. Funny thing about requirements is that they can and should change based on feedback and discovery. Just remember the requirements have everything to do with you, your players and how ultimately you hope the project ends. The more you build the more you learn and that education may change your direction.
Example requirements: 1-6 of players, Cooperative, plays in 45min, costs less than $40 to make, approachable, and theme agnostic.
With inspiration and requirements in place, next up is the first “sprint.” A sprint is a regular time unit in the Agile method where these four steps happen: plan, write, test, and review. Typically, it is one or two weeks, but there’s no set time length. Generally, shorter is better.
Planning - the list of things you want to tackle this sprint.
Planning can be the most important step especially early on. Most folks think the plan is “write the whole game,” but that’s not realistic. Especially if your game is large/long/complicated. Your mindset for planning should be “the minimum I need to create so players can interact with each other and the game.” It’s too easy to get lost with individual mechanics/details; if you try and take all of them at once you’ll never get it done. In this mindset, the goal for a first sprint should be like: “minimum I need to write so that one player might play one turn.” Even that might be ambitious.
Think about all the objects/concepts necessary to play one turn. List all those objects like: game board, player board, player deck, player piece, victory point tracker. The human brain can only hang onto so many things at a time. An entire game can be a lot of things to keep top of mind. Break up those things into small and discrete tasks. Pick a number of those things based on the current sprint’s goal.
Example: Let’s say you want to write a euro-style game about mutant agriculture/economics after the apocalypse. You want it to be Agricola-esk but where the peasants might take time to eat each other. For the first sprint, don’t take on the mutant peasants fighting each other. Keep it in the back of your mind, but the scope of your first sprint is make the mutant farmer farm.
Now that you picked a scope, peel off tasks. You need a mutant. You need a place for that mutant to be. You need stuff for the to plant. You might want different types of mutants, but for the first scope keep to one type of mutant.
Design - make minimalist versions of the things you listed as tasks for this sprint.
Designing is equal parts creativity and discipline. The golden rule during this step is to have fun, but focus efforts towards immediately play. While sticking to the plan, look for every opportunity to capture your own imagination. When something new occurs to you, add it to the list to be considered for the next sprint. Delayed creative gratification is a thing; it will get you to sit down and do more game stuff sooner.
Some tasks can seem trivially small while others might be monumentally huge. The big ones should be broken up if possible.
Playtesting is a beast. It is the goal of every sprint to get your project out there and have people who arent you to “play” the game the best they can with as little participation from you as possible (which isn’t very possible at first). At the beginning, playtesting might just be you and a friend you guilt into sitting down with you, but any regular progress and feedback is amazing. It will take some time to forge a group of individuals who are onboard with that kind of experience. Bribery works: offer food and adult beverages. Find others who need you to participate in the same capacity. End the playtest when either the fun is done or you have enough feedback to start the planning process all over again.
Review is the final step. List all the things playtesting found is broken/unfun, what was surprising/successful and the new possibilities that occured to you after feedback. Those items which need work break them down into tasks and send them back to planning.
Occasionally but critically, if things went very, very well or very, very poorly, you might need to adjust the game requirements during Review. You might discover 6 players might just be too long or players wanted it to be more semi-coop rather than competitive. You might find solo mode drains your soul or instead that is the game you really want to focus on.
That takes us back to planning! You have a list of new and old tasks waiting to be prioritized to start the whole process over again.
The entire point of this “Agile Board Game Development” is to create something that is fun and playable as soon as possible. Using playtest sessions to give you deadlines and valuable feedback while taking things in manageable chunks will help your project from getting lost in your head.
If you have a friend who’s trying to organize themselves to get their game started, please feel free to share this with them. Additionally, if you have any questions feel free to email email@example.com or message us on FB.