What boardgame ‘mods’ would you want?

Do you modify your boardgames? Swapping out different physical components, making custom cards, adding new resources? There’s a few common reasons to do so, and you may recognize some of these.

  • Rejigging your storage methods (Gloomhaven being the most obvious example, but pretty much every game has something changed)

  • Physical components for ease of use (the most infamous being the Terraforming Mars currency mat or the Star Realms health tracker)

  • Scoring rules for fun or balance (like the all-or-nothing Carcassone rule)

  • Adding new fanmade content (like custom D&D classes)

  • Changing art for the sake of personalization or classiness (like altered Magic: the Gathering cards)

Deep and robust.

Deep and robust.

But compared to the deep and robust modding community for videogames - especially games like Skyrim or The Sims - boardgames tend to be a lot less popular to mess with. We swap components and make house rules for scoring often, but don’t often go mechanically deeper than that for the majority of our games. Only in tabletop RPGs do custom classes, custom enemies, custom storylines and scenarios get created and shared. Why not other boardgames? I believe there is one main reason:

There’s no unified infrastructure for sharing board game mods.

For example, there’s no primary website for sharing such information. Most board game sites don’t have a section to host fanmade content, and usually the ones that do tend to be ‘competitive house rules’ for balancing (no Rusviet industrial, etc) - there’s little in the way of new classes, campaigns, actions, rules, etc without lots of digging. There’s also little in place to easily print out or acquire any new components that may be necessary for a mod to work.

And it’s a shame! If we had better methods of sharing information about board game mods, I believe the compounding knowledge would encourage creators to put more time and love into making modifications - knowing that your work may be beneficial and appreciated by others can be a powerful motivator, and can help us get more longevity out of even our oldest boardgames.

If there was a more unified place to share board game mods, what would you look for?

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Enjoy Learning Board Games: 3 Reasons to Play like a Fool

Are new games stressful when the optimal strategy isn’t clear? Does not-knowing come with negative feelings about your own aptitude or character?

I have an approach to learning board games that’s helped me have more fun, and I hope it can help you too.

Play Like An Absolute Fool:

Make The Most Baseline, Impulsive, Low-Hanging-Fruit, Obviously-Noob Decisions Possible

Sometimes you know a strategy is suboptimal, but there’s only one way to figure out why

Sometimes you know a strategy is suboptimal, but there’s only one way to figure out why

Basically… while the goal of most games is to win, that doesn’t have to be your goal for playing - especially if it’s your first time. There are plenty of other goals…

  • See how far a specific strategy or gimmick can take you.

  • See how much you can [responsibly] upset or amuse someone.

  • Play as if you were a character/faction in the game. Only make choices that your character/faction would ‘realistically’ make (ie, roleplay) and see how you’d fare.

  • See what a ‘default idiot’ strategy looks like, so next time you play, you can learn what differentiates it from a thought-out strategy.

Today we’ll explore three reasons to do that last one.


1: You Learn Faster

It may seem like you wouldn’t learn as much by playing like a fool, but by making incredibly short-sighted and baseline decisions, you make a great control group for yourself. You’re free to experiment, you’re free to take risky moves, and you’re generally able to see what the ‘default’ progress looks like before layering on strategy. That way, once you actually do start using strategy in future games, you can compare to your original fool-game to see exactly how good your strategy fares compared to before.

2: Choice Paralysis is Diminished

“I have to choose it because it has ‘log’ in the name”

“I have to choose it because it has ‘log’ in the name”

Usually choice paralysis comes when you’re having trouble calculating the long-term benefits of each option available to you, and you get nervous about doing the inferior option. I acknowledge it’s easier said than done, but if you can relinquish the need to make optimal decisions and become comfortable with just playing ‘to see what happens’, then there is no longer such thing as the right or wrong choice. Instead, they become ‘tested’ and ‘untested’ decisions, and it’s always up to you which one gets tested.

3: Winning Becomes Less of a Worry

Playing like a fool doesn’t mean disregarding the race for victory, but it does shift the ‘point’ of playing. Instead of your decisions revolving around point-optimization, they’ll revolve around heart-listening-optimization. You’re playing to observe the result of your actions, to see what happens, and that somewhat shifts your goal away from winning this specific game in lieu of better teaching you fundamentals for any games you play in the future.

And, since it’s ‘obvious’ to that you’re probably not going to win this specific game by playing in such a way, with that acceptance comes a freedom to enjoy yourself in every other way.

Learning board games is kind of always rough, but nobody is great the first time they play. It’s okay to be suboptimal. My advice is to lean into that, since you won’t know the best strategy anyway, and to spend your first game exploring your options instead of trying to win.

It’s not necessarily an easy transition to becoming a fool, but if you can swing it, I hope you may find yourself feeling just a little less apprehension when someone decides to bust out a new box on board game night.


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Dized and Confused: An Exploration of Board Game Learning Methods

Learning how to play a board game is hard. It’s not because board games are inherently more difficult or complicated than other types of games (they aren’t), but because of how their rules are enforced. In a video game, the game itself enforces its own rules. If you attack an enemy, the game knows exactly how much damage you are supposed to do to that enemy and will make sure that damage calculation is done correctly. It doesn’t matter if the player doesn’t know how those calculations are done, they’ll be done correctly anyways. But with a board game, it’s up to the players to enforce the rules. If you don’t know how damage is calculated, the game isn’t going to do it for you. Or worse, if you think you know it is calculated but are wrong, the game isn’t going to step in and fix your mistake. Because of this, players need to know all the rules of a board game before they can start playing. Otherwise they are likely to either get stuck or break the game. But what is the best way to teach someone how to play a board game? As part of my Game Research course this semester I ran a small preliminary study testing out different learning methods for teaching board games, and I’ve got some cool initial findings to share with you.

What did we do?

Given time and budget constraints, the study we ran was kept pretty simple. In total, we collected 27 participants (16 female, 11 male). Each participant first picked one of five different board games to learn (7 Wonders, Bang!, Scythe, Thanos Rising, or Carcassonne). Once they had picked their game, each participant then picked which learning method they wanted to use. They could either 1) read through a pdf of the rules booklet for the game; 2) watch a YouTube tutorial on how to play the game; or 3) use the digital rules available on the Dized app. Dized is a board game companion app that uses searchable rules and interactive tutorials to help players learn how to play board games. It’s currently in beta and hasn’t fully launched its tutorial functions yet, so we were only testing the digital rules function for this study. Once they were done learning how to play, the participants then filled out a short survey based on their experience. We used a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures to assess what they thought about their learning method, why they chose their learning method, how likely they are to use that method again, and how well they understood the rules of the game.

What did we find?

To avoid boring people with a big pile of stats, here are our main condensed conclusions:

1. People who chose the rules booklet chose it for authenticity and fidelity. They chose the rules booklet because it was the “most original one” and they wanted to know they were getting correct information. A lot of our participants did find the rules booklets somewhat confusing, but still ultimately found them detailed and satisfying.

2. People who chose the app wanted something new…and were disappointed. Our participants were super intrigued by the app and thought it was going to be a clear, novel, and engaging way to learn. Unfortunately, they didn’t get want they were hoping for. Our participants had a lot of difficulty navigating through the menus and found the whole experience a lot more annoying than they expected. To be fair, I think this is mostly because the tutorial function isn’t available yet. From what I’ve seen of it so far, the tutorial function looks really promising and could be an excellent, step-by-step guide for new players. But as is, the participants felt they would have been better off using one of the other methods.

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3. People who chose the video tutorials got an engaging and informative experience. Based on our findings people who used the video tutorials understood the rules better, were more likely to play their game, and were more likely to use their method again in the future. This method was both the most chosen and most effective of our three methods, which really highlights the usefulness of video tutorials.

4. Most people don’t like reading and want other people to teach them how to play. This was a fairly common trend we found in our participants responses. Participants who used the app or the rules got bored because they had to sit and read through the rules, and many people chose the video specifically because they didn’t want to read. As well, several participants expressed that they wished they could have learned their game by having a real person explain it to them.

What now?

Obviously since this was only a preliminary study with a relatively small sample size, you should take all this with a grain of salt. But I think there’s some practical things we can learn from this.

Game Designers: First, I don’t think you need to design the rules booklets with all players in mind. Don’t get me wrong, you should still try to make them as clear and easy to read as possible. But it seems like the kinds of people attracted to the booklet are expecting to read through detailed and dense instructions, so it doesn’t matter so much if they are a bit long and boring. However, I think that board game designers should make video tutorials for their game or collaborate with some of the awesome content creators on YouTube (such as Geek & Sundry, Teach the Table, Triple S Games, or Watch It Played) to make it for them. Based on how many people gravitate to these videos and how effective they are I would also recommend that video tutorials should be the default teaching method for players rather than the rules booklet. It might be a good idea to put a link or QR code to a video tutorial right in the rules booklet or on the game box to help direct new players towards them.

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Dized Developers: I think that the Dized app has a ton of potential but has some room for improvement. For its rules function, I think it should try to incorporate more of the images and visual flow you get in the physical rules booklet so that it’s easier to read through in one go. The menus and searchability are useful if you already somewhat know how to play the game, but can be overwhelming for new players that don’t know where to start. I’m also very excited for when the tutorial function gets released later this year, as I think it can address all of the criticisms our participants had of the app (and I’d love to do a follow-up study looking specifically at this feature in the future).

Players: If you take anything away from this, I hope it’s that there are lots of different ways to learn how to play a game. You don’t always need to learn by reading through dense instruction manuals if that’s not your preferred way to learn. You can learn how to play through video tutorials, through apps, from game gurus at a board game cafe, or even from your friends. There isn’t a right way to learn, only the way that works best for you. And once you’ve learned how to play, consider teaching other people how to play too so that our community can continue to grow!


Special thanks to Steve Kaltenbaugh, Wentao Zhuo, Sharmarke Alisalad, and Benjamin Stokes for their help running the study! If we ever do a deeper follow-up study, I’ll make sure to share what we find. How do you like to learn to play board games? Let us know in the comments below!

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