A lesson about dependencies when creating a physical board or card game

I’ve been designing, re-designing, re-re-re-designing my The Infected card game, and I’ve come to realize there’s one huge challenge that I could have tackled differently. Now it’s too late to do pretty much anything, but to my future self: read this blog post.

Use icons, symbols rather than text
This is hugely important lesson. This way you can create a layer between card (or piece) and the action that occurs after use of the card. Rather than having “card -> action” (e.g. “card states heal 2 wounds”, you’ll have “card -> icon -> action” (e.g. card has an medkit icon, which meaning is explained in a rulebook: “medkit icon: heal 2 wounds”).

The reason is simple: Whenever I’ve made changes to the game rules… I might end up needing to alter several card texts or reprint some of the cards.

Helps you test & change rules
Here’s a simple example: rather use “Heal 3 wounds” as the description text of a medkit, simply have a medkit icon there. And write to the game rules that “medkit icon” means you get to heal 3 wounds. If you later want to adjust the medkit to mean that you can heal “2 wounds”, you can simply do this by adjusting the rulebook. No need to touch the actual cards.

Sure, later you might still need to ensure that medkit also means “draw a card”, and then you must add a card drawing icon on the card… so there’s cases when icons won’t save you. Many times they can though.

And what happens if you want to translate the game to other languages? With symbols or icons it’s pretty simple: you only need to touch the rulebook. With text written on the cards… not so straightforward.

And then letting others test your game: if you can improve your game by changing the rulebook, that’s pretty handy.

And let’s not forget game updates later: if you want, you can tweak values of certain cards even after publishing the game. If medkit should have been “heal 2 wounds” instead of “heal 3 wounds”, it’s really simple modification to do & share to the players of your game.

This approach doesn’t necessarily work for all type of games, but for many games this type of thinking probably can come handy.

Juuso Hietalahti