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Designing for a Board Game and a Mobile App

By Tom & Jean Greenawalt

Both physical board games and mobile app games provide hours and hours of entertainment value. This paper lists some of the benefits of designing a game that crosses over into both categories. Designing such a game can be challenging. This paper describes some of the game features we feel are important in order to meet these challenges.

We are using the term board game in a more general sense to include games such as card, strategy, word, party, and trivia games as well as the more precise definition of a board game where pawns advance on a playing surfface. In general, we are talking about games that require the handling of physical elements, such as cards or pawns, according to rules where players use strategy, chance, or knowledge to achieve goals. We are not talking about role‐playing, action, or adventure games one might typically think of as common to mobile app gaming.

Some people tend to like apps and some people favor the physical games. Having the game as both an app and a physical game expands the customer base to cover both types of players. A customer who usually plays one category of games over the other is more apt to try the same game in the other category since they are more familiar with it. The app can be used to promote the physical game and vice versa, perhaps by offering a coupon. An app could be introduced to the market ahead of the physical game and vice versa, thereby realizing the game’s full potential or to generate good buzz.

Physical games are typically multi‐player, focus on social interaction, and last at least 20 minutes. Apps are typically solitaire and last less than 5 minutes. Apps that are multi-player are typically played over social networks or the Internet where players “wait” offline for other players to move. So, how can a cross‐category game be designed? Our approach is to create variations in the game play of a single core design but keeping the title and theme intact. The trick is to offer variability without making the two versions too different. We are currently working on a game concept where the board game version has both a cooperative and a competitive mode, has many pieces to it that extend the time of play, and can be accommodated on a larger playing surface. The app game version is either solitaire or two‐player, has fewer pieeces and is therefore a shorter game, and shows well on the small device. The exact same game on the app can be played in the board game version. The physics of the board game version are reflected in the app version – pieces are moved, positioned, flipped, etc. just as they are in the physical game.

There are mobile apps that have led to board games, and vice versa. Our approach is to strategically design a game from the beginning that spans both game categories. If done correctly, this approach can be a winner for inventors, publishers, and customers!

(November 2014)

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