Tabletop Game Design Lessons from Playing with Family over Christmas

Hey everybody (yes you, 1 of 3 fans!) I’m back after a lovely Christmas and New Years break and I’m basically gunna just give you a TL;DR for this whole post right now. Board Games with family are great, but also difficult, and the choice you make really makes or breaks the flow of the day.

Put simply, this is a post to help designers, aspiring designers, and those with just a tiny interest in tabletop game design, to make their games easier and quicker to understand, and will ultimately lead to your players having more fun and a generally better time. By following a simple set of rules not only will the right people find your games and play them, but also those people will be interacting and enjoying something that is familiar, makes sense, is straightforward to understand and that they will want to play again and again. Who wouldn’t want that for their game design!

1. Keep the rules Simple and succinct

This is the number one golden rule people. There is a really easy benchmark for this as well, it just needs to be easier to understand when players read the rules to each other, than having a player attempt to explain it because they are scared the rules might seem complicated. Use visual cues, and colour, and very clear and concise language that actually describes the act of doing things within the game.

And for the love of all that is holy please start your rules off with the actual aim of the game. The aim of the game, or in other words; how to win it, literally gives context to everything that is contained in the rulebook.

Aside from that though there are loads of really cool and super fun (for copywriters maybe) ways to create clarity and present information effectively. Things like: use positive confirmation and affirmation rather than negative (say ‘move into these spaces’ rather than ‘don’t move into these spaces’), use repeated and obvious terminology that easily describes sets of actions or behaviours, and generally describing things individually instead of trying to explain broad concepts or large sets of rules at once.

Also remember, this isn’t a novel, so try to keep the paragraphs nice and short, this is especially useful for when your grandparents (or anyone really, people forget things) put on their reading glasses to read it after asking for the 50th time for you to explain it to them. Serves you right for breaking out the heavyweight Euro at the in-laws for Christmas though really…

2. Know your target audience

So, you’ve made your rules nice and simple, good? Not good! (Actually this is just my bad for not putting this point before the last one.)

Thing is, you have to cater your rules, your diagrams, and even your tone of voice to suit your target audience. You know when your relatives come over for christmas and you talk a little louder to Grandma to make sure that she can understand what you’re saying. Not in a condescending way though, just because the human body naturally deteriorates over time (true story folks.) That’s why you have to cater to your audience.

Don’t feel like you have to accept your audience and stick with that though, allow the development of your game to tell you what your target audience. Like when you started school and they do a little sports test to see which students are good at what sports, same thing (except less degrading for children.) If you can figure out first who you are writing for, and then write for them, you’ll be doing a lot better than a lot of rulebooks out there.

3. Do not assume things are self explanatory

Clarify everything. Even with a terminology glossary if you have to. The aim here is to remove any ambiguity at all. Don’t allow interpretation if a rule needs to be clear cut, and specifically state it if interpretation of the rule is allowed. Remember, the rules should explain the game better than someone simply explaining it because the rulebook is confusing.

Unfortunately, writing a made up or ambiguous word like ‘philangey’, or ‘combobulation’ is just not gunna cut it. Use words that people understand without having to look them up, and if you can’t, then explain what those words mean without breaking the flow of the reader.

I know, I know, it’s like I’m just giving you a list of things to do without explaining exactly how to do them, like some kind of proof-reading tabletop fascist over here, but so much of this stuff is subjective. So I kind of can’t explain how to do them. Or I can and I just can’t be bothered.

4. Playtest like a mother…

Like a literal mother. Not that other word that starts with mother and ends in something rude and maybe beginning with the letter F. If you test like your actual mother, then who knows what untold problems and issues you could uncover in your board game rulebook.

I mean this really depends on the type of mother you have, but for the purposes of this I’m assuming they like wine at Christmas, and also don’t have a lot of time for things that are unnecessarily confusing and take a long time. Especially not things that would require someone to think or learn. I do love my mother though, honest. I just wouldn’t play Yamatai with her…

Testing is the crux of good game design though. Blind play testing is even better. It’s incredible how much you can learn about literally every aspect of your game from just simply watching people play it. Like a creepy little board game gremlin, watching from the corner whilst people play with your precious… ok no, that sounds weird. Blind playlets, but don’t go full gremlin ok. Probably for the best that.

5. Players should never feel completely out of the game

One of the actual banes of my life. Ok, maybe that’s actually the most middle class thing I could have ever said. An issue with board games is the bane of my life, what a life eh. I’ll stop now.

This is the reason Monopoly sucks so bad though, and this is the reason why a lot of newer style board games are so good! No player ever feels completely out of the game, and if they do, then there are other incentives for them to work towards! Didn’t win guys, but I did complete the longest road. In your face road builders of this weird hexagonal island. Never thought I’d live somewhere so geometrically sensitive. Or build roads for that matter. Oh, life with your twists and turns. Just like that road I just built, who’d have known.

6. Actually scrap all of those, just always focus on clarity and unambiguousness

Unambiguity? Disambiguity? I have no idea which one it is, but you get what I’m trying to say right? Of course you do! Otherwise why would you be here! A pity read? Oh. Fair enough, I’ll take it!

Basically this whole thing just boils down to one thing. Keeping it simple.

Oh and being concise, so two things. Oh and also making sure you are aware of your target audience, and always playlets. So four things. Oh, and making sure people are always able to stay in the game.

Five things.

Should have just stuck with the 5 points I guess.

Yours playtestingly,


Games you definitely SHOULD NOT PLAY on Christmas day (and the games you should play instead)

So it’s coming up to Christmas and I can see you thinking, ‘mmm, can’t wait for some booze and some amazing lush Christmas dinner with all those totes delish trimmings and all the puddings oh yeah yum yum.’ Except wait, what’s that, your Nan, she’s grinning with the kind of maniacal excitement only a medically insane person would display and reaching slowly into the tesco bag she brought to grab a rectangle cardboard box. What is it! What could it be! ‘I’ve brought a game with me,’ she says, ‘wouldn’t it be *hic* amazing if we could all play it literally right now!’

Monopoly. Oh please god no.

Nobody likes this game, why did she even bring it. We play it every year and everybody ends up in a borderline fistfight because someone was sneaking money from the bank and someone was stuck in jail for about 57 turns. How can we submit ourselves to this torture year after year after year.

Well, fear not loyal readers, consider me your guardian angel, a blessing from the wintery north where the gods of playing board games at Christmas live, and they have sent me to deliver you from evil, and provide to you some alternatives to your terrible, awful Christmas games.

Behold! A wonderous list of all those games you SHOULD NOT play at Christmas, followed by the names of the games you SHOULD play instead. Buy them in advance, and when your nan reaches for the battered copy of Monopoly from the 60s again, you can quickly intervene, with something… actually fun to play instead.

So, without further ado, I present, games NOT to play at Christmas…


See above, this game is manipulative, evil and just purely based on luck. That’s it, luck. 100% luck. Who wants to play a game that has absolutely no strategy at all, not least a game with no strategy that actively makes people despise each other. Happy Christmas? No thanks.

Play instead: Ticket to Ride


Do you really want to take up 1 half of your Christmas day slowly realising you can’t win, and then being forced to play for another 4 hours whilst everyone else slowly figures out the exact same thing. Only 1 or 2 people have fun playing this game, and plus, Christmas is supposed to be jolly and fun, not a slow strategic slog through a fictitious war-game. Do yourself and your family a favour, and even if you like Risk, play one of these instead…

Play instead: Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan (if you’re feeling ambitious)


Here we are again, sitting on the sofa, unable to move due to the sheer volume of food we have consumed, trying to guess ‘Reservoir Dogs’ whilst Grandma rolls around on all fours pretending to be a dog. Nobody wanted this. It’s degrading, not funny, and literally nobody wants to play. There must be a better version of this game. Well, there is. It’s called monikers. Or, if you don’t fancy minor embarrassment, go for Codenames instead.

Play instead: Monikers or Codenames


This game revolves purely around luck for guessing the right combinations, slowly narrowing down the right combination of questions and crossing things off a list is not exactly the most thrilling of ways to spend your time. Murder Mystery was never meant to be this disinteresting and mundane, so why should it be! There is another way…

Play instead: Mysterium

Cards Against Humanity:

Let’s face it, we all know the cards at this point. Everyone has played this game PLENTY enough already, the answers become repetitive, and let’s face it, none of us want to explain to that prudish Aunt what ‘pixellated bukkake’ really means. Sort of puts a dampener on the whole mood you know. BUT if you still want that improv comedy party game kinda vibe, here’s a suggestion…

Play instead: Bucket of Doom


Some people are bad at art. Ok scratch that, MOST people are bad at art. Nobody wants to be forced to draw, and although the pictures MIGHT be funny, wouldn’t it just be way more fun if we were playing a much better guessing game, with cards that had beautiful, incredible artwork on, instead of being forced to guess what that questionable scribble on a page means.

Play instead: Dixit

Rummy/Go Fish:

Card games are so last century, man…

Well, not really, but these card games just rely on dumb luck and guesswork. Wouldn’t you rather play a game where you can actually swing the strategy and tactics of a game, whilst still being incredibly simple, and entirely card based. Yes! You would! (my assumption here.) Here are 2…

Play instead: Skull or Sushi Go!


Take it in turns! Only use one hand! Stop knocking the table!

Ok, so my suggestion still has these elements, and to be honest it’s more based on the fact that I’m sure you’ve played Jenga a bazillion times already. This one is just a mixed up version of Jenga, where instead of removing blocks, you stack 3d animals on top of each other. It looks absolutely incredible, and even comes with a cool partner app!

Play instead: Beasts of Balance

Yours insteadily,


PS. If you’re looking to BUY someone a board game as a gift, check out this post instead.

The Ultimate Board Game & Tabletop Christmas Gift Guide!

Ohhhh it’s that time of year again. Yep, the time of year where it gets too cold to stand outside for long periods of time, and people decide to decorate their houses with glittery ornaments just because a rotund man in a funky red and white outfit is going to come down their chimney at midnight. Ho ho how wonderful.

What ACTUALLY happens at this time of year though is we all get stuck trying to figure out what to get people as gifts, so I’m here to tell you the answer is simple… get a board game! You can even play it ON THE ACTUAL CHRISTMAS DAY, how lovely and magical is that!

The following list is a list of board games I would GENUINELY recommend (because they are all great), and covers (and I’m pretty confident here), every single type of person that you would ever know in your life. Hurrah! Plus, there’s a bonus description of each game just because y’know, some people won’t know, and that’s totally fair.

Simply read on until the type of person you’re buying for pops up, and choose something from the list!

I’m buying a Christmas gift for…

…the person who likes board games but has only ever played the classics

  1. Carcassonne – Score points for building castles, roads, and farming… farmland, obviously
  2. Forbidden Island/Desert – Work together to escape from the island/desert in a race against the clock
  3. Survive: Escape from Atlantis – Get all your people to Escape from Atlantis before everyone else whilst also simultaneously drowning other players people and eating them with sharks
  4. Machi Koro – Beatifully illustrated game where you draft buildings and cards to construct the best city

…the person who has absolutely no idea about board games but you think they might like one

  1. One Night Ultimate Werewolf – Use social deduction to figure out which player is the werewolf and stop them before they kill everybody
  2. Sushi Go/Sushi Go Party – Take turns to choose different sushi (and pudding of course) to have for dinner, different combos score points
  3. Love Letter – Try and get your love letter to the Princess before anyone else by staying in the game as long as possible

…the person just getting into tabletop as a hobby

  1. Takenoko – Score points by either growing bamboo combos, eating bamboo with a panda, or arranging your bamboo garden in the right layout
  2. Kingdomino – Build a kingdom in a pattern that scores the most points by taking turns to add land to your kingdom
  3. Tokaido – Score points by having a better holiday than everyone else in Japan (also this game looks INCREDIBLE)
  4. Pandemic – Save the world together by stopping a contagious outbreak from spreading

…the tabletop nerd who loves reaaaaaally heavy games

  1. Great Western Trail – Earn money and victory points by keeping your cattle in the best possible condition to sell in Kansas City
  2. Scythe – Area control with farmers and mechs with almost no random elements, set in a dystopian future
  3. Lisboa – Use your influence as noblemen (or women) to reconstruct Lisbon after the great earthquake (and tsunami… and fire, it was a bad time) of 1755
  4. Kingdom Death: Monster – Develop a character and settlement over multiple sessions whilst fighting incredibly difficult monsters through a unique AI system (legacy, also really really expensive)

…the tabletop nerd who hates really heavy games

  1. Jaipur – Be a better merchant and trader than your opponent to win an invitation to the Maharaja’s court (2 player)
  2. Photosynthesis – Grow trees in a forest better and… more, than anyone else (honestly not as boring as it sounds)
  3. Codenames – Word association game between 2 teams where you have to guess all your teams spies via their ‘codenames’ before the other team
  4. Burgle Bros – Work together to steal something valuable in this classic tower heist with brilliant humour and varying levels of difficulty

…the D&D Dungeon Master

  1. Dungeon World – Free yourself from the constraints of classic D&D with this narrative driven and player focused dungeon crawler
  2. Misspent Youth – Rebel against the system (DM) as anarchistic teenagers in this combative and competitive episodic role player
  3. Dread – Horror movie pen and paper role player using a Jenga tower instead of dice to decide your players fate
  4. Any dice – (no literally, any… and they’re called polyhedrals… naturally.)

…the person who loves a good murder mystery (or just mystery in general)

  1. Mysterium – Work together as a team to solve a murder mystery through picture association before the night comes to an end
  2. Sherlock: Consulting Detective – Travel around london to solve complex and difficult murder mysteries as the Broad Street Bullies in this open world whodunnit
  3. Betrayal at House on the Hill – Explore a haunted house and survive whilst a member of your party turns traitorous and tries to kill the group (LOADS of different stories here)

…the person who loves card games (and played Magic: The Gathering as a kid… or now for that matter)

  1. Arkham Horror – Living card game where you work cooperatively to beat encounters using player built decks
  2. Android: Netrunner – Living card game set in a dystopian future with player built decks where each player sets out to score points by either advancing corporate agendas, or stealing those agendas with ‘netrunners’
  3. Dominion – Medieval themed deck building game where players draft cards to their hand in order to score the most victory points
  4. MORE Magic: The Gathering cards – Ok so it’s low hanging fruit but come on, nobody can really have TOO MANY magic cards right? (Just make sure to buy the right colour)

…the Strategist who loves chess (or games like chess)

  1. Hive – Deploy and move bugs around in this chess-like, mensa award winning strategy game (great for holidays as well)
  2. Onitama – Strategic oriental themed game where players compete to either manoeuvre their master across the board or capture the opponents master using sets of positional moves
  3. Santorini – Play as a greek god and race against the other player to reach the top of a building in Santorini (unfortunately this may be out of print)

…the person who loves to lie and bluff their way to victory

  1. Coup – Lie and bluff your way to being the last player with influence left in the game
  2. Sheriff of Nottingham – Lie and bluff (or tell the truth) your way to earning the most money through smuggling (or just bringing) goods into Nottingham under the watchful eye of the Sheriff
  3. Skull – Deceptively simple push your luck bluffing game where players bet on how many flowers they can reveal from each players stack before revealing a skull

…the person who loves collecting, or building… stuff

  1. Settlers of Catan – Collect resources and score points by building settlements and roads
  2. Lords of Vegas – Play as powerful developers in an early Las Vegas, vying to make the most money and win the most points by building and running the biggest and most profitable casinos (this game is quite long)
  3. Ticket to Ride – Score points by building trains in various routes across America (or whichever version you choose to buy)
  4. Diamant – Pretend to be a rubbish Indiana Jones by pushing your luck against other players to collect the most amount of precious gems from an Aztec temple
  5. Castles of Burgundy – Classic medieval themed eurogame in which players collect and match tiles to score points

…the person who will only ever play party games (I’m looking at you cards against humanity…)

  1. Secret Hitler – Work as the German government to stop fascist regimes being pushed through by players disguised as fascists/hitler
  2. Funemployed – Card based party game where players try to convince each other why they should be employed for a certain role using ridiculous qualifications
  3. One Night ultimate werewolf – Popular version of the hidden traitor werewolf party game
  4. Monikers – Take turns in getting team members to guess well-known people by either describing or imitating them
  5. Bucket of Doom – Take it in turns to come up with ridiculous ways out of random situations from card prompts in your hand

…the person you don’t want to spend much money on (secret santa anyone?)

  1. Love Letter – Try and get your love letter to the Princess before anyone else by staying in the game as long as possible
  2. Fluxx – A card game where the victory conditions, play style and purpose of cards literally changes constantly (or in flux you could say… badum, tsh)
  3. Sushi Go – Take turns to choose different sushi (and pudding) to have for dinner, different combos score points
  4. Skull – Deceptively simple push your luck bluffing game where players bet on how many flowers they can reveal from each players cards before revealing a skull

…the person who only ever plays board games with their other half (2 player)

  1. Hive -Deploy and move bugs around in this chess-like, mensa award winning strategy game (great for holidays as well)
  2. Patchwork – Compete to score points by designing the best looking patchwork quilt (how lovely)
  3. Onitama – Strategic oriental themed game where players compete to either manoeuvre their master across the board or capture the opponents master using sets of positional moves
  4. Jaipur – Be a better merchant and trader than your opponent to win an invite to the Maharaja’s court (2 player)

…the person who already owns ALL the tabletop and board games ALREADY

  1. Honestly can’t help you here I’m afraid


Well, that’s it! The one and only ever board game and tabletop christmas list/gift guide you could ever possibly need!

And if there is someone you’re buying for who doesn’t fit into one of these categories, well then send me a comment and I’ll try my gosh darndest to find a game that they’ll love!

That or I’ll just recommend one of the games above…

Yours festively,


Out of Print Board Games that I wish were in my Collection…

We spend so long talking about all the amazing new games coming out all the time (well maybe not this blog personally, but you know, like ALL the blogs in general), what with Kickstarter going on, and… other stuff, in the industry. Turns out though, there are a LOT of old games (and some popular newer ones) that just havn’t been printed in a really long time, that people are entirely missing out on. Some well know, some not so much.

It’s like that old stack of vinyl that you inherited from your [insert elderly relative here] that you never got round to playing because, well, you just don’t have a record player, and really who has one of THOSE these days.

Well, again, turns out everyone and their hipster sister has one, and maybe you SHOULD play those records after all. So let’s stick some dusty vinyl on the old turntable, then crank it up until the speakers start to make that weird crackly distorted noise that means you’ve probably turned them up too high, and no doubt the annoying neighbours will be over any second to complain.

1. Fireball Island

We start off with an absolute classic. A classic which I, being the millenial blog writer (or ‘blogger’ as people more commonly call them) that I am, clearly had no idea about until the remake was announced this year.

But then immediately jumped onto the hype wagon.

According to those who actually PLAYED the game at one point during their lives, this game was one of few to merge the intersection of game and toy (thank geek and sundry for the commentary), and almost everybody in the community is looking forward to having this much loved 3d board back on our tables.

Sign up for the Kickstarter announcement here

2. Fury of Dracula

Another classic that has stood the test of time (enough to have 4 iterations of it printed throughout it’s life), however, another seemingly not popular enough (which I find hard to believe) to warrant regular reprints.

It’s the big daddy of the hidden movement genre and a game that everybody deserves to have played at least once, though I have played it never.

Do want.

3. Santorini

Here we go again, another game you’ve talked about before Chris I see the pattern here.

This one is genuinely out of print though, and it’s probably the one I’m MOST bitter about if I’m honest. Mostly because I’m a sucker for a great looking game and I just LOVE 2 player abstract strategy. Probably to my detriment because I’m not actually particularly good at them. I’m getting better though! Surely! I must be, right? Just one more game, I’ll win this time!

Not a chance.

4. Kingdom Death: Monster

A truly monolithic beast of a tabletop game, and THE legacy game that made legacy popular again. This one is one of the most funded Kickstarters ever, and also probably the most EXPENSIVE games ever (prove me wrong).

So, naturally, because it is really popular (and no doubt because the creators are spending their lives tirelessly poring over the intricate details of v2.0), it is out of print.

Not that I have that sort of hard cash to drop on a board game if it WAS in print, but you know, a man can dream.

5. Container

OH thanks there, end the article on a ESPECIALLY EXCITING SOUNDING GAME.

It’s about shipping containers guys, hold onto your hats here. This is gunna get CRAZY.

You basically compete, to move shipping containers around, and you score points to win. REVOLUTIONARY I know.

For some reason though I STILL WANT IT. Maybe it’s the sticker on the box art that tempts me with the hint at the ‘investment bank’ add-on (oh how tantalising!) Or maybe it’s the title in GREIGE (yes that’s a combo of grey and beige, get on board folks) CAPS that really gets me going. Or maybe it’s just the fact that the game comes with little container cuboids that you get to stack neatly onto little container boats and move around. Yeah it’s definitely that. OCD thank me later!

Also, this one is also just coming to Kickstarter after being out of print for A LONG TIME (fact checking is hard), so go get it! If you’re into that sort of thing…


Yes, you heard, thats the end of the list. Fact.

Yours out-of-printedly,


The Most Questionable Board Game Themes Ever…

Now sure, themes are something I talk a lot about on this blog but you can never talk about them enough right?

Or maybe I’m just a little obsessed with games that have good themes.

Thing is, some of these game themes just don’t make any gosh darn sense when you translate them into actual real life. Because I’m sure that’s what the publisher and designer absolutely intended for us to do when they created the game in the first place…

This often doesn’t actually make the game worse in my eyes either, it makes them better. The weirder and more obscure the theme is the more excited I generally am to sit down and play it. You’d hope that the actual game is good as well but sometimes that just isn’t the case. How dare they trick us with amazingly drafted themes into playing something boring and terrible! Unbelievable. In this day and age…

So without further ado, here is my list of games where the theme doesn’t really make sense in real life if you think about it good and proper like.

I’ll think of a catchier title later…

1. Snakes & Ladders

Ahhhh the king daddy of children’s games. For most people, this is their first foray into the board game world, and why wouldn’t it be! You literally roll a dice and move your piece up the board until you reach the end. First person to reach the end. It’s simple and full-on random.

The actual idea of snakes and ladders though in general is very confusing. Well, mainly the snakes if I’m honest.

Sure, why not, it’s totally like real life. When you stand on a snake you slide down it all the way to its tail. Hate it when that happens.

Need some ladders to climb back up…

2. Photosynthesis

Seems to me it would be a little weird to suddenly have an idea to create an incredible game around the theme of ‘the scientific process by which plants convert sunlight into food’ but hey that’s just me I’m sure.

The more games that get created, the stranger the themes start to get just simply because, well, everyone else has probably done all the good ones already. Like Cthulhu… fantasy… fantasy Cthulhu… zombies… zombie fantasy Cthulhu.

What I’m saying is the bucket of theme choices is starting to run a little low, or at least, you have to scrape the sides a little bit in the hope of getting something good.

And whilst maybe not my first choice of themes to pick when deciding on what game to play, I’m kind of a fan of this. It’s like the hipster environmentally conscious theme choice. Well done guys, now go grab yourself a cup of organic, freshly ground, only-the-best-beans-from-a-totally-underground-source-in-east-london-because-nothing-else-will-do coffee. You’ve earned it.

3. Codenames

But spies! Such a normal, and everyday theme right?

Not really in this case, at least in my opinion, and whilst the theme itself may seem generic and middle-of-the-road, the execution is anything but.

Great game by the way, but I can’t for the life of me ever remember any spy movie where the spy agency just hinted at something close to the spy’s codename, instead of just plain saying it. It’s a codename for a reason you know, like, so that nobody knows the name of the spy. It’s not like the codename itself is a giveaway, so you have to come up with a codename for the codename to get around the fact that people might already know the codename. It makes no sense!

Well, not in real life anyway, but it’s a game! Play on…

4. Pie Face!

So this is what it’s come to. You were writing a generally average quality and also totally respected blog until you wrote the name of that game just now. We’ve devolved into a place where we just call out bad christmas present cash grabs from last year and explain why they don’t make any sense in the real world.

Of course they don’t make any sense, it’s a pie going in someone’s face for Pete’s (hi Pete) sake, what more of an explanation do you want. Think of it as a contemporary take on a medieval torture device, where instead of getting brutally killed as part of a gruesome and bloody display in front of a large group of people, you simply get ritually humiliated in front of your loving family members and lovable pet dog (if you have a pet dog obviously, if not ignore that).

5. Chess

But why would you ever DARE call this game out Chris?! I can hear you from all the way over here criticising me. Well well well, don’t get your knickers in a twist (presumably this happens before you put them on? Otherwise that’s some serious yoga moves you’ve got going on there).

This game is on here because, lets be honest, the THEME of chess is loose, confusing, doesn’t make any sense in real life, and purely exists for the purposes of having really cool looking pieces. At least in my opinion, feel free to school me on the history of the game.

Imagine a fictitious  battle where the king and queen line up alongside a knight, a bishop and also the tower of a castle, to take on an opposing army of also the exact same opposite. So real life.

Yours questionably,



10 Old Board Games that Still Stand the Test of Time

Some things are better left in the past.

But then some things are better left not left in the past. If you get what I’m saying.

Ok, what I’m saying is some stuff should NEVER BE RELEGATED TO THE PAST IN THE FIRST PLACE. Like the following games for example.

These games are the stalwarts of the industry, those games that have stood the test of time, and not just because they love to create drama over something entirely luck based at your family Christmas (I’m looking at you monopoly…). But instead, they stand the test of time because they are just REALLY  REALLY genuinely good. Mechanically, thematically, other reason-ily, just totally good games.

Lets start with some more recently republished and updated classics…

1. Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

Ohhhhh I do love this one.

So much so that I must mention it in about every other article I write on this site, it’s just that good!

This one started out life relatively recently (compared to some of the ancient games on this list) in the 1980s as a text based folio of mysteries, murders and character  dialogues. Now that might SOUND boring, but it actually won the Spiel des Jahres in 1985 it was so gosh darn good. And that was WAY before all these board game hipsters (myself unfortunately included) started getting involved.

And whilst you’re here why not give my actual real life review a read…

2. Survive! Escape from Atlantis

Sticking with the 80s theme are we. Yes.

Also: awww look at that adorable child sticking his nose up against the glass of a pod under some water in what appears to be definitely the actual city of Atlantis. Definitely not some flimsy, plastic, sugary Disney ride thats for sure…

I’ve distracted myself. Back to the article!

Survive is an example of a successful game, much like Sherlock, that has been reprinted time and time again over the last 30+ years.  It is a classic survival game, that actively encourages people to be mean to each other, which is brilliant, but in a way that doesn’t seem overly mean and aggressive, double brilliant!

Alongside that it’s also a wonderful game for people getting into the hobby of board games, and continues to have replay value despite being very very simple on the surface (something I would consider a positive).

3. Backgammon

Right, less of that 80s  ‘Stranger Things’ faux nostalgia muck and more of the GOOD ANCIENT super historical stuff, ok?


Backgammon it is then.

I am a huuuuuuge fan of backgammon. And much like a lot of old timey abstract affairs it involves a geometric print playing surface and some round monochrome tokens as playing pieces.

Backgammon is great because it’s strategic, has a lot of replay value, has never needed to have different rules or mechanic changes added to make it more enjoyable, and actually has a fairly decent ability for the loosing player to come back late in the game and still win it.

4. Fury of Dracula

I want to suck your blood? More like I want to play your amazing but actually very very long hidden movement game. Nailed it.

Ok, YES we’ve come right back to the 80s again but don’t blame me! Blame the people who keep reprinting these clearly excellent games. I wish I had a game that would be reprinted and have its rules rewritten 3 or 4 times over the next 30 years. Pretty sure that counts as a win in the industry.

This game is the original modern hidden movement game (not sure there are any non-modern hidden movement games but I’m just gunna go out there and say there are JUST IN CASE someone fact checks this…), whereby one player assumes the role of Dracula, and in a bid to be really super vampirical and totally  badass, tries to evade capture for a specific number of turns.

This game can sometimes suffer from being TOO LONG, and if you’re not a fan of long games, but really want a hidden movement mechanic then go for  ‘Whitehall Mystery.’ Because that is also good.

For the original big daddy though, Fury of Dracula is where it’s AT.

5. Dungeons & Dragons

Ok, ok, choose some older games they said. Well, I’ll go one decade older but THATS ALL YOU’LL GET.

Well, maybe it’s not all you’ll get (see the rest of the article). But is IS where I’ll start.

The 70s! What a wondrous time of brown and orange coloured interior design, trousers with the foot holes cut a little bit to widely, and television sets being large cubes with bulbous screens that made a weird high pitched noise whenever you turned them on. A glorious age for sure.

Not only was the aesthetic glorious though, as was the tabletop gaming. 1974 was the year the now infamous Gary Guygax (and Dave Arneson) brought the legendary role playing system of Dungeons & Dragons into the world.

I mean, what more needs to be said really. This one goes from strength to strength. Hell, it was even a major plot point in one of the decades most watched television series.

6. Risk

70s not good enough eh?


Lets go back 2 WHOLE DECADES MORE. To a time of very businessman friendly calculated risk. Or not so calculated risk as my plastic troops keep telling me. ‘Stop invading people without properly planning a milatary strategy’ they whine at me from the game board. Well, rather fight than be the boring guy who just sits back  and watches everyone else rip each other apart, only to come back strong at the end and suddenly invade everything whilst everyone else is looking, right? Nobody likes that guy.

Everybody likes Risk though. Well, maybe not EVERYBODY, but at least enough people to keep it in print, including tons and tons of licensed versions, for just about 50 years.

7. Chess

Oh, so you want to go OLDER STILL.

Well then how about some 6th Century gaming for you.

I honestly don’t really have much to say about this one. It’s Chess, and it’s bloody brilliant. Abstract strategy at it’s purest, this game will never get old, is incredibly deep whilst being incredibly simple, and will be played for generations and generations to come.

Everybody should own a Chess set. It should basically be a human right at this point.

8. Santorini

The original version of Santorini was conceived around 30 ish years ago, as far as I can tell from loose descriptions on the internet (don’t blame me I just can’t be bothered to fully read the kickstarter page).

Sure, it’s not the oldest, but what it lacks in age it makes up for in just, well… really really good gameplay.

Like a lot of the games on this list it is an abstract strategy affair for 2 players. Unlike a lot of the games on this list however it has a theme that really elevates it to the next level. As players you take control of greek gods looking to rule the city of Santorini (you know, the place in real life with those lovely blue domed roofs that you see on people’s holiday  instagram posts), and the first player to move their piece to the top level of a building wins the game.

Again, like so many on this list, it is deceptively simple, but incredibly deep, replayable and most of all just plain fun.

9. Go

NOW we’re getting into the REALLY RUDDY OLD stuff huh?

Yeah you know it, it’s Go!

Yes, the game that some super crazy smart guy just got beaten at by an even smarter and super machine learning-able AI that google has developed.

As far as games that stand the test of time go this one is the absolute KING. It is the most abstract of the abstract, the most strategic of the strategic, and it even has a built in difficulty modifier. So if you totally suck, you can play with a handicap!

I’ll be needing that I think…

10. Love Letter

Ah the last game of the list! Finally I can stop writing!

I mean, finally I can stop… providing you all with such valuable and  relevant information.

Nope, that’s still bad.

Moving on, the last game is a wonderfully simple game called Love Letter.  I’ll be honest here as well, this game actually isn’t old at all, and after researching more is really just a very excellent and quite new game.

It’ll definitely stand the test of time though. Actually, scrap that, this is my new number 10…

Actual 10. Mancala

Look! It’s so gosh darn simple you can play it in the gosh darn SAND ON THE BEACH.

Another monster old game, this one is good, but I’d probs choose one of the others to play if I’m honest.

Where Mancala shines, is in it’s sheer simplicity.

Actually, that’s where the majority of these games shine to be honest. Just design simple games people! Can’t be that hard right?

Yours historically,


How to Find Balance in Tabletop Narrative & Theme Design (and storytelling in general)

Everybody loves a good theme. It is literally what stops some games from being complete and utter trash to be honest, and a great theme can really elevate a board game to the next level.

What’s great about tabletop is that there are so many non-traditional themes out there that break out of the mould of stale fantasy or sci-fi (or Cthulhu, just stop please!) I’m talking dental practice board games, games where you are a stroppy teenager who just listens to metal music in there room and plays computer games all day (ok maybe that one was just me…), games where everybody is a spec of dust and you have to beat the other specs to become the most… speccy? You get the point. Also none of those are actual games but part of me kinda wishes they were. Not least to relive my nerdy isolated youth involving lots of angry music.

With the theme being key to game design though, and more and more hobbyists expecting detailed and intricately balanced theme and gameplay nowadays, it has never been more important to the success of a game or ensure that the theme and narrative design is 100% on point. And that is why I have created this list. It’s all about balance really, because we all know a game that is all mechanic or all theme is usually just boring as hell…

1. Be familiar, without being cliche

Oh hey guys I can totally relate to being a spec of dust right now! Since we’re totally playing the dust spec game that inventions earlier (and definitely doesn’t exist). You know, due to feeling small and insignificant and prone to growing mold if left in a cold, damp place for extended periods of time… nobody? Ok just me.

Familiarity is your foot in the door with your players, but it shouldn’t shape your entire game.

It’s like a tool you use to get people to go ‘ooooh right I get it, that’s what you mean,’ or ‘ahhh no way, now you’ve explained this horrendously complicated mechanic to me in narrative terms within the context of this relatable story I totally get it!’

See, easy.

The trick is to making sure you have just enough of a level of familiarity to frame complex game mechanics and nuances in a way that people can get really easily.

2. Be accessible, without being dumbed down

Now this is a 2 parter because accessibility really comes in 2 forms.

The first is the kind of accessibility that lets visually or hearing impaired people participate in your game with minimal difficulty. You should 100% build this into your game from the get go. It’s very important.

The second level of accessibility comes in the form of players learning and adapting to your game quickly. This means getting your players to a point where they feel in control, and understand how to not only play the game, but succeed at it, as quickly as possible. Preferably without detracting from the quality of the game.

So how do you do this? Well a few ways really, firstly through simplicity and clarity of copy. Really refining your rules down to a point where they are suuuuuuper clear and straightforward, and for Pete’s sake get a copywriter to proof read it (hi Pete!)

Secondly, context. Phrase things in a way that reflects the familiarity and context of your theme. Posing complex problems in the context of human decisions and emotions make them far easier to understand.

Thirdly, don’t be afraid to use visual devices like colour or iconography to help people with recognising things they are going to be doing multiple times. The human brain is trained to recognise patterns, so use that to your advantage!

3. Be intriguing, without being overly complex or abstract

‘Ooo he’s so mysterious’ a random girl said to her archetypical teenage friend. ‘Yes, but also he’s a spec of dust’ said the friend.

Specs of dust are abstract ok. Probably too abstract to understand in the context of a relationship right? Maybe the girls were specs of dust too? Maybe she has a thing for specs… of dust (not just eyewear).

You were intrigued though right? Ooo the mystery.

The point is, it’s good to be mysterious, intriguing and have some surprises in your narrative and theme, just don’t make it too abstract. Abstract is ok with familiarity and context but without being able to recognise what is happening in a way that relates to the actual game, the meaning of that intrigue and mystery is lost.

4. Be evocative, without being purple

Ah man I’m gunna so decorate every room in my new house full purple. My girlfriend will love it, I know her least favourite colour is purple but just wait until you actually seee it in person.

Not convinced.

Yeah neither am I.

I’m not talking about paint colours or interior decorating though I’m taking about the literary definition of purple. That overly long wordy and flowery explanation that should have just been explained in a few simple sentences kind of purple. Bad purple! I also have a dog called purple.

Ok I don’t, but now I’m just sad because I don’t have a dog. SIGH.

There is a right and a wrong time for purple prose. Right time: an overly dramatic description of the scene that starts the game. Wrong time: explaining how your innovative turn mechanic works (and how basically any functional game mechanic works).

5. Be inclusive, without being vague

Here at BGLA we loooooove to be inclusive.

No seriously, that wasn’t even meant to sound sarcastic, I know it did.

We DO care though, and you should to when you’re designing your game! Being inclusive should be paramount to the design of your game, after al, you do want to get as many people as possible playing right?

There are a couple of exceptions and things to balance here though. If your game is designed to fill a specific niche. Go after those people first, and then work on inclusivity. Sometimes certain types of games only appeal to certain types of players, and your core demographic may be more important than watering something down to appeal to everyone.

As with everything, it’s all about the balance.

Yours balancingly,