So you want to be a board game inventor?

Jack Jaffe

By Jack Jaffe

April 9th 2015 at 12:21PM
UPDATED April 10th 2015 at 12:08PM
So you want to be a board game inventor?

Veteran board game creator Jack Jaffe outlines some do's and don'ts for launching a new board game into the UK market.

I lost count of the number of would-be inventors who contacted me when I was running SIGMA, the Society of Inventors of Games & Mathematical Attractions, which I founded and ran for eight years in the 1970s. (We ran a highly popular weekly games club in Soho during that time.)

At the same time, my attempts to persuade the then UK manufacturers to form a representative body to project games playing as an enjoyable adult activity came to naught. They all responded by claiming ‘we already do that.’

When I did manage to persuade them to send a company representative to attend a meeting in London, they all sent someone who didn’t have the power to make any decision - and refused to take the proposal seriously. Consequently, all of these companies were either bought up by US manufacturers or went out of business.
Would-be inventors all had one thing in common – they believed that their concept was unique and had never before been published. In a majority of cases, I had to reply that the idea had appeared on the market years ago, sometimes in the UK but more often, abroad.

So the first step for any inventor is to research and as far as possible discover if the idea hasn’t been done. (I didn’t do anything to gear up Velodrome, my latest game, until I was certain that nothing like it had ever appeared anywhere on the international market.)
If, having researched, you believe your game idea is unique, give it a name, one which communicates its subject. (Velodrome clearly says ‘cycling.’) And this is important: apply to have the name registered as a trade mark. It’s an inexpensive way of protecting the name and, as such, the concept. If your application is rejected for some reason, it also means that no-one else can object to your use of it.
Your idea must incorporate player interaction. When it’s your turn to play, you should be able to make a move that affects other players’ to the detriment of their intentions. If your game doesn’t have that element, forget it!
Now comes the slog: playtesting. Playing your mock-up of the game with friends and relatives isn’t enough – you have to find a neutral source of critics. Best choice lies with neighbourhood games clubs, if one can be found. Several exist in London but I don’t have details of those elsewhere, so find them and if necessary travel to them.

Don’t get disheartened if some players at first glance say they don’t want to play your game or criticise it after playing. As far as games are concerned, tastes vary. Just make sure that a goodly number of games buffs play it and comment. If comments are favourable, give a small cheer; if unfavourable, back to the drawing board. (When I first play-tested Velodrome, it didn’t work smoothly until I doubled the number of laps.)
Let’s assume that you’ve play-tested your game and you’re convinced that it works. The chances are that your current model of the game hasn’t had any professional designer reproduce your basic design ideas. Now is the time to pay for one (say, £200 to £300) to design the layout of the games board and box.

Try to find a designer who has previously worked on a game and who will show you examples of his work. If you’re impressed, ask for a quote. Make sure you like the guy but even then, get at least another two quotes. And don’t be afraid to bargain!

Also, request a date when a rough will be done. (Always request a rough as the first step in design.) Your ultimate objective has to be to have a finished-looking product that will attract initial interest at first sight.
What now?

In the UK, most games that go into production are based on TV programmes. There’s little point therefore in your designing one such game – it will probably exist or be under consideration already.

If your game is based on an original idea, you need to decide whether you should produce it yourself – if you can afford a limited run of, say, 500 pieces – or if you can’t afford to do that, how to get to show it to existing companies.

There are currently two good opportunities to display your game:

1)     The Inventors Workshop as run by ToyNews later this year in Northampton on September 22nd.
2)     British Games Expo in Birmingham, May 27th to 31st.
I plan to attend both and I issue a challenge to all and sundry attending the latter. Play VELODROME and if you can beat me over three games I’ll give you a copy of the game.

It currently sells for £24.99. I would have said ‘try your luck’ – except that it’s a strategy cycling game, without dice...

Jack Jaffe has designed and produced board-games since 1970. Among them are Libido, Persona, In the Money, Save the President! (which Jack is considering relaucnhing via crowdfunding) and Velodrome.