Make Your Own Board Game

Designing, Building, and Playing an Original Tabletop Game


By Jesse Terrance Daniels

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 30, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Tabletop board games are having a comeback, and especially within a younger, tech-y audience who enjoys the challenge and opportunity to work in an analog sphere. Game design expert Jesse Terrance Daniels teaches all the fundamentals of game design, from rule-setting to physical construction, along with original illustrations that capture the ethos and energy of the young, contemporary gaming community.
Readers will learn the “building blocks” of game design, including game components, rules, and gameplay mechanics, and then how to craft a game, with a variety of examples and design prompts. After completing Make Your Own Board Game, readers are equipped with a broad understanding of game construction and flow and ready to create games that are playable and satisfying, while also expressing the makers’ unique creativity and passions.



For the Gamer in Everyone

Crafting a Game

Why Gaming?

1. What Makes a Game?




2. Mechanics

Turn Order



Boards & Maps


Currency & Ownership


Negotiation & Hidden Information

Role Playing


Physical Dexterity



3. Game Crafting

Catch the Spark

Ready, Set . . .

Duely Noted

Rain Toads

Intergalactic Laboratory

Hovels & Hydras





Downloadable Printable Boards

Explore Your Creativity with More Books from Storey

Share Your Experience!

To those who believed in me when I forged my own path.

Thank you to my teachers, Bonnie Tatro Capogna and Patricia Galvis Assmus.

Thank you to my wife, Jaclyn Gladstein.

Thank you to my friends and family.

For the Gamer in Everyone

Make Your Own Board Game focuses on tabletop game creation. It takes the tricky terminology of game design and translates it into easily understandable language. Piece by piece, tabletop games are broken down into their most basic parts so that you can understand how the pieces work and use them to build your own game from the ground up.

This book is designed for the gamer in everyone. It's accessible to a younger audience, and adults will find it a useful resource. It's a handbook that focuses on design—not funding, publishing, manufacturing, marketing, or any of the less creative aspects associated with crafting a game. The first step to success is to focus on creating a game that is accessible, fun, and timeless.

This handbook is for aspiring young game designers. It's for the ones creating house rules in existing games and crafting together expansions by collaging homemade components. It's also for those who are attempting to produce brand-new games. It's for all crafters: from those designing their first game to pros looking to improve their crafting skills.

This book will strengthen your understanding of what makes a game great and illustrate how to facilitate fair gameplay. It explains the art of timeless replayability. It is a reference for gamers who want to use it as a collection of mechanics, explanations, and motivations. Even teachers who want to understand how to relay this information to students could use this book in their lesson plans.

Crafting a Game

Gaming is full of educational opportunities. Players read and memorize; use math, logic, and deduction; gain social skills; bolster cooperation; and boost their creativity in a fun and interactive way. Game crafting is an artistic medium and an educational engine. Not only can crafting deepen your imagination and ingenuity, but it can also be enriching for the players. You may inspire players to wonder about strategy or create a game of their own.

Make Your Own Board Game will give you an understanding of the tools at your disposal. Just like understanding brush strokes and color theory before beginning to paint, or tempo and rhythm before playing music, the basics are the first step. Of course, you can pick up some drumsticks and start drumming. Maybe you're a natural! But it's important to study and practice; even the most naturally talented artists, in any field, learn about theory and style.

This book contains those theories, in an accessible format for all experience levels, but is especially helpful for those just starting. It displays a multitude of styles and interpretations in a practical order that you can easily reference. After completing Make Your Own Board Game, you can hit the ground running and create your very own games.

And not only will it make you a better game crafter, but it will also make you a better gamer once you have an empowered understanding of the construction, rules, and natural flow of a game.

Navigating this Book

When it comes to gaming, a mechanic, also known as a mechanism, is a combination of components, rules, and gameplay, resulting in a process. It's similar to combining pulleys, gears, and screws to form a complex machine like an engine or a motor. A game is the culmination of multiple mechanisms, in the same way that many complex machines combine to create a car or robot.

This book has collected these mechanics into broad categories, such as what happens in a turn, or how pieces move around a board. Under each category, you will find examples of specific mechanics. Once you've digested the options available, you will be ready to move on to the Game Crafting chapter.

The Game Crafting chapter will show you where to begin and where you can go. Designers can craft games in millions of different ways—the creativity and original ideas you bring to the table will create a unique game.

The last section of the book provides customizable games to give you a starting point. These games are like a drawing reference that an artist uses to learn with their eyes and hands. Perhaps an artist is interested in sketching geckos. Without any geckos nearby, how can an artist know what they look like? A reference lets the artist cement an image in their mind and a muscle memory in their hand of how to draw a gecko.

The very same concept applies to this book's customizable games. They offer an example of a balanced game. The instructions provide the groundwork, and the customizations make it yours.

When you feel ready, you can craft games on your own. That's when this book will serve as a resource to help you figure out which mechanic will demonstrate your original game's concepts best.

Note that pink type identifies a term that will be followed by its definition.

Choose Your Own Route

If you're eager to get designing, feel free to start at the Game Crafting chapter. If you come across a term that you don't quite understand, use the index to find out where an example or explanation appears in the book. Jumping in with both feet, bounding around the text, is in the spirit of interactive stories where players make choices throughout.

Why Gaming?

Gaming can be an excellent hobby for one, or a fun way to interact with friends, family, and people you've just met. It's an outstanding ice breaker for meetings, classes, parties, and just about any event.

Games come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may require a board, cards, and props, or just your imagination. The term tabletop game encompasses all games that people can play on a table, on the floor, or in an entire room or space. There are many kinds, such as children's games, family games, strategy games, hobby games, indie games, designer games, Euro games, party games, and so on. All fall under the same broad terminology. Classic examples are Backgammon, Cribbage, and Charades.

Games tell stories. Like a television show or a book, gaming can include a narrative from beginning to end, game start to game over. Each time you play, you get to contribute to a cooperatively told, ongoing epic.

Games use various formats and goals. You could be building a society, gaining currency, and properly allocating resources; or using deduction to identify a traitor or solving the mystery of a missing person. However you like to game, you are reaping many benefits.

Now you know why gaming is so outstanding, and why people play. There's a game out there for every type of player!

Chapter 1 What Makes a Game?

Games tell a story through words, images, and interactions. Game design is a balance of patterns, shapes, numbers, colors, and abstract symbols. Let's take a close look at what makes a successful game work.


There are countless variations of gaming components. Here are some key elements you'll want to understand and become familiar with as you get ready to design your own game.


Many games have an element of chance. Unexpected, random outcomes change the course of the game. A die (plural: dice) is one of the simplest, most convenient ways to ensure randomization.

The six-sided die (d6) is the one most commonly used in games. The faces traditionally have small dots on them, known as pips, arranged in patterns signifying the numbers one through six. Gamers use many other unique dice, from the strange pyramid-shaped four-sided die (d4) to the 20-sided icosahedron (i-koe-suh-hee-drehn; d20) and more.

Or you could use a spinner, or spin wheel, with numbers or outcomes written on each "pie slice." Other methods of producing random results are to flip a coin and to pull labeled pieces of paper out of a hat.

Not all dice have pips or numbers. Some have images or icons. Players can advance a scenario or win a battle by rolling a particular symbol, a mechanic known as die icon resolution.


Traditional playing cards have 52 cards in each deck, divided into four suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs). Each suit includes number cards ranging from 2 to 10, face cards (Jack, Queen, King), and an Ace, which can be used in different ways, depending on the game. Usually, decks also include a couple of Joker cards that can play various roles but have no value in the way that the other cards do.

Cards can come in a variety of sizes: for example, traditional playing cards measure 2.5 by 3.5 inches (6.4 by 8.9 cm); tarot cards are typically 2.75 by 4.75 inches (7 by 12 cm). The back sides usually display a single design on all of the cards within a deck. That way, players cannot tell which card they are about to draw. You can make them from paper or cardboard; experiment to find the right thickness for shuffling and heavy handling.

Game Pieces

A game piece represents the player using it. It works best with a game board or tiles, so it has something to stand on, and often travels around the game board to accomplish a particular goal.

Game pieces can appear in a variety of shapes and materials, from folded paper cutouts to metallic statuettes. Miniatures are highly detailed and often painted by hand—a hobby associated with gaming. Meeples are traditionally wooden, designed in animal and people shapes, and come in a variety of colors. Figurines and pawns are other names for game pieces.


The game board is where the action happens—where the game pieces, cards, dice, and other components come together during gameplay.

Boards come in a multitude of designs, from simple line drawings to lush imagery—or artwork that's somewhere in between. They can be crafted out of paper, cardboard, or any number of materials, and they often provide paths for game pieces as well as locations for other components. The terms board and map are often interchangeable.


A set of tiles can be used as a substitute for a board or map. Players may start with a completed board of joined tiles or be required to build the board with tiles during gameplay. The tiles may be square, rectangular, or hexagonal.

Many tiles have specific traits or limitations. For example, in Dominoes, when tiles are laid, their ends must match. Other times tiles may provide a resource, or you may need to buy them before you can play them.

Gaming with tiles offers a unique experience every time you play because the way the pieces connect varies.


In simple terms, currency is an item that represents a specific value. It does the same thing in the gaming world as in the real world. It can be an object, such as a plastic coin, faux paper money, or even just a number written on a piece of paper. And just as in the real world, in the gaming world you can gain, find, lose, and spend your currency. For example:

  • You can earn currency by reaching a specific goal or by occupying a particular space on a game board.
  • You can lose it to an opponent who has robbed you because a card they drew instructed them to do so.
  • You can spend it by purchasing a particular location or buying cards to add to a progressively growing deck.

Currency primarily represents money but can also be called something else, such as "energy" used to accomplish tasks. You could gain energy by resting, and then use it to buy cards that allow you to perform actions, as in the game Hibernation.


A resource is very similar to currency. Both can be earned and spent in the same ways. One crucial difference is that a resource is usuallly a material, like corn, timber, or jewels.

Sometimes these objects require some form of labor. Using the examples given above, that labor would be harvesting, lumbering, or mining. Gathering resources then becomes part of a player's strategy.

A resource might be something general (like minerals) or specific (like iron ore); it depends on the game and its goal. With resources, designers can eliminate currency and embrace bartering. This can make it harder to pin down exactly what an item is worth but adds a fun negotiation element.


Some games have tools that the players use for specific tasks. A tool can be any real-world object, such as a small hammer to knock pieces out from the game board, or a key to open a chest. Tools can be a fun addition, allowing you to do something that you couldn't do with only your hands—just like in the real world.

Other miscellaneous tools could include a ruler to measure the distance between miniatures, or a pencil to mark on a scorecard. Even a magnifying glass or a decoder card could assist in searching for hidden clues on other components.


A timer's only job is to keep track of time. Some games require individuals to come up with clever words within a short period, while others ask players to work as a team, trying to escape a room as fast as possible.

Timers can come in many forms and sizes. "Sand timers" look like an hourglass and usually have enough sand for only a minute. Mechanical timers are dials that you rotate, with an alarm at the end. They are often constructed of internal gears and springs and don't require a power source of any kind.


Players use tokens to represent things that have happened during gameplay. For example, tokens may show ownership of a location, track points earned, or show that a player has sustained damage.

Tokens can take many forms, from glass beads to small pieces of painted wood or little cardboard cutouts. Games may refer to them as counters, markers, or even chits. A token or counter may even represent a character or a military unit, making them virtually the same as game pieces.


Many games use props to create an immersive experience. It could be an immense volcano in the center of the game board, or a set of castle walls to represent a dungeon. Props could also serve a specific purpose, such as a map to display quest information or a type of terrain to signify slower movement.

Essentially, a prop is anything that the game could function without but that adds fun and flavor. Some may confuse a prop with a tool, but a tool is required to accomplish a task that cannot be done easily, or at all, without it. Some props simply make gameplay smoother, like a reference card that displays a list of potential actions and their costs.


Rules are the bones of gaming: They tie together the ideas and components.

They explain plainly what a game is all about and what you are meant to accomplish. They contain crucial information, including a game's structure and turn order, as well as how to end the game, and how to win. The rules may also clarify specific situations and commonly debated issues.

Ideally, the rules (or instructions) create a fair and balanced playing field for all involved. They are like laws—you can bend or push them to their limits, you may find wiggle room or an innovative interpretation, but you cannot break them.

The rules are where you can find answers to your questions. They are the ultimate authority for the options and restrictions within a game.

There are two general types of rules: concrete and flexible.

Be sure of the kind of game you want to create.


An example of a concrete rule would be:

"Draw a card at the beginning of your turn."

This rule plainly states that when your turn starts, you draw a single card. There is only one situation where this action can occur, and no other interpretation is possible. It is inflexible, and therefore, a concrete rule.

Concrete rules have less varied outcomes than flexible rules do. This leads to straightforward gameplay with fewer questions about the instructions.


  • straightforward gameplay
  • less-confusing rules


  • less-creative gameplay
  • can feel repetitive


An example of a flexible rule would be:

"If a game piece moves for any reason, then its owner gains one resource."

This rule states that you gain a resource any time your game piece moves, for any reason. This situation can occur over and over for many different reasons, making it open to interpretation.

It doesn't tell you every way a game piece can move. This lets players find many ways to shift the game piece and gain more resources.

For example, a player may roll a die to step their game piece forward. Or they may play a card that moves their game piece to a completely separate position from where it was. Or an opponent may spend currency to send their game piece backward. For each of these situations, that player would gain one resource.

A flexible rule like this could be used in many situations and come into play many times in one turn. How flexible it is depends on the structure. Some rules in games are purposely vague to allow for a broad interpretation. Because flexible rules lead to many different outcomes, they can raise a game's replay value, with each session feeling unique.

Although flexible rules are fluid, they do have limits. You cannot manipulate them to fit any situation desired. They are specific and finite.

Be wary: Too much flexibility in rules requires a moderator, referee, or rule enforcer, also known as a game master (GM), to oversee outcomes fairly. Using a GM means that one person is running the show instead of interacting as a player.

Be sure of the kind of game you want to create.


  • unique gameplay with every session
  • more replayable


  • rules could appear confusing
  • harder for a new player to learn
  • extreme situations require a game master


At the center of all the rules and components is the concept of gameplay. It's how a player interacts with a game. The rules say what you are allowed to do, and the components help you do it.

For example, if designers intend players to move a figurine around a game board, then they have to come up with a way for this to happen. Players may roll a die to move spaces, or they may play values from a hand of cards to move the game piece. The difference between those options is that one relies on chance and the other on choice.

How will players of your game take action? Will their fate be left to the roll of the die? Or will they create their own fate based on the cards in their hand? In its purest form, you can divide gameplay down to either a choice you make or a chance you take.

In its purest form, gameplay is either a choice you make or a chance you take.


An example of a rule that offers a choice would be:

"When you draw a card, add it to your hand. Then you may play any one card from your hand."

This rule allows you to decide which one card you will play on your turn. With the freedom to choose, players feel more in control of their actions. Plus, they can more easily adapt to situations and become more strategic over time.


On Sale
Aug 30, 2022
Page Count
144 pages

Jesse Terrance Daniels

About the Author

Jesse Terrance Daniels,creator of the award-winning “Hibernation” game, is the founder of Pied Raven Games. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in Animation. He’s worked in the marketing industry, held gallery shows, and published his art in magazines and journals. Jesse, his wife, and his pup live in Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author