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I'm trying to design a board game (and am not an artist) but want to ensure that I've got some practical aspects designed appropriately for the layout of a card. I tried asking on boardgames.stackexchange.com but the community felt here would be a better fit.

There are going to be a range of cards that have a 'track' on it with multiple branches (the top section in the image), each requiring a dice roll of a particular colour. If that dice roll is obtained then you can move to the next one - if there is a branch you can choose either route.

If a dice roll fails then there is a consequence, currently illustrated via a 'Failure Track' at the bottom. The different symbols will have a meaning that is documented. So in this example:

enter image description here

  1. Red 6 fail = thumbs down
  2. Green 5 fail = trash can
  3. Blue 6 fail = tear
  4. Blue 14 fail = tear

These symbols can mean complete fail (i.e. stop progressing on this card), or continue but you may have some form of a penalty to pay. I need to illustrate the failure consequence for each roll somehow. I should note that you only ever follow the main track - the 'Failure Track' has paths on just to help illustrate which symbol you need by tallying it up with the track with dice rolls on.

The top track could get quite complex, and if (unlike in this example) there are different consequences for a failed dice roll in the same column, then the failure track will become quite complicated and compressed. I don't however want this area to take up too much space.

There are also some circumstances where you may be required to roll more different dice (e.g. Green 5 and Red 6. Up to a max of 4 colours) at the same time, and roll higher than both numbers, which would essentially combine two circles on the diagram at one point.

I'm wondering if a better approach might be to remove the bottom track completely and change the top track to have blobs like:

enter image description here

This however crams quite a lot of potential information onto a single circle (especially if there are 4 colour segments on the left). I'm wondering which of these is best or if there is another alternative approach that I could use to visualize this information clearly?

  • If red 6 is successful and green 5 is not, will you get a thumbs down or a trashcan? – Lyrion Oct 22 '14 at 9:14
  • @Lyrion - sorry, you just made me realize my example is quite bad. The second image example illustrates something not present on the first. The first requires a Red 6 then Green 5 then a blue roll. The other image illustrates how an AND works, you need a Red 6 AND Green 5 otherwise a trash can. – Ian Oct 22 '14 at 9:26
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    At the moment in the first illustration you've got lots of empty space. I appreciate this can provide space for artwork, but I'd make the circles much larger, with rather small lines connecting them into a track. With bigger circles you can include more info inside the circle. (And it doesn't have to be a circle: two stacked circles followed by a trash can in a rectangle could work just as well.) – AlexC Oct 22 '14 at 10:27
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The key to good UX in game design is not only to make it easy to interpret and enjoy, but to make the physical design cohesive with the conceptual design of your game. It is difficult to completely understand the significance of the failure paths and consequences without fully understanding the game objectives. While the circle representation is simple and easy to read, I don't know whether it makes more sense to have a complex linear representation within the context of the game.

In my experience of creating testing procedures for gaming UX, we often first test a "wire frame" version of the game before focusing on the visual design. This reduces the chances of wasting time getting caught up in making something pretty and allows more focus to be spent on making a more enjoyable game. Right now, it sounds like its probably more important that you create a visual that helps your players understand your game first. That way, you can test the game itself and then see how the mechanics may need to be changed, which could then affect the type of visual layout you will need to use.

I would recommend first evaluating if you are creating a simple game (like candyland, apples to apples, or sorry) or a more complex game (like magic, munchkin, or monopoly) which will help you pick an initial design for the cards. THEN grab some paper and a sharpie and draw out a quick prototype of your game and test it out with some friends. Based on their gameplay experience you will have a better idea whether you need a more detailed visualization or a more simplified one. Once you have the basic mechanics all ironed out then you can focus on making the physical design of your game more attractive.

  • Thanks for your answer - testing it is the plan. I was just hoping to have something decent to start with so they'd get the concept easily. The game itself will be more complex - and I'm purely after trying to get the visual for the understanding, rather than how it looks. – Ian Oct 21 '14 at 15:09
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    In that case, right now either one of them will be good for testing playability :) You could try picking your 3 most complex scenarios and drawing them out on "cards" to see which one communicates better. If the decision is still not clear then it will come down to either: A) whether it is easier for you to start complex and simplify or to start simple and add details you test; or B) which is going to be faster to prototype so you can move forward with your game. Honestly you can't go wrong with either one at this stage since it's still the rapid prototyping phase. – SheTeeples Oct 21 '14 at 15:27
  • @Ian The people I know who test prototype games are not picky about looks; they only care about the logistics and balance aspects. They'll play any ugly game (as long as it's legible). You have to pitch why you think the mechanic is worth studying, but if you hook them on the pitch they'll find the game in it. Most of their work as game players is figuring out how to "un-see" all the obscuring art and facade anyway and become Optimizers... – HostileFork Oct 22 '14 at 11:05
  • @HostileFork interesting - I don't know anyone who has tested a prototype myself. I'll probably pitch it to our monthly board game group as a start to see what they think and get their feedback. I probably need to read some more about the prototyping stages. – Ian Oct 22 '14 at 11:46
  • @Ian Many prototypes really are just the numbers, completely pre-art. The kind of people most qualified to analyze and judge balance and gameplay would rather you not distract them with things they're just going to have to mentally erase anyway to see the logic. – HostileFork Oct 22 '14 at 12:05
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Most games succeed by taking a good game design and combining it with a compelling theme (Taking over the world, building a real estate empire, or solving a murder--to name a few obvious examples).

Without knowing much about your game, I would say it would probably benefit from adding some kind of theme that will make it less abstract and inform the visual design. The way you express something like "failure" would then be dictated by the theme.

This also highlights the fact that game design choices aren't driven purely by usability concerns (in the strictest sense). The goal of a game is enjoyment, a subjective goal which isn't necessarily met by accomplishing tasks in the clearest, most efficient manner.

  • Thanks for your answer Dan, there is a theme which I will take into account - but I didn't feel it was overly important in still conveying the clear message. But I'll have a re-think. – Ian Oct 22 '14 at 8:03
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    This is not always true, there is a difference in games. You have the Eurostyle games where the mechanics and design work nicely together. With or without theme these games can still work. Then you have the American style games where the Theme is all that matters, remove that and you don't have a game. – Lyrion Oct 22 '14 at 9:33
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Removal of the failure track would be preferable, since it clutters the card, and causes a lot of "look-up" work for the reader.

The combined circle is the direction I believe you should go, however; as you have stated, having multiple dice roll numbers on the circle is to much information for a single circle.

My solution is to have a (Dice Roll | Failure) half-split for each circle. To accommodate for sections that require multiple rolls, place circles in the progression tree immediately after one another. You might also signify the grouping of the circles by a box, or possibly a larger circle encompassing them. Another option could be an overlap of the circles (only slightly), to visually signify that they are together, and in sequence.

By having each circle have it's own failure option, you are allowing more freedom of design for yourself. You can have a sequence of three circles, all having different failure options.

Edit: As people have posted, the changes you make must conform to the general theme you are creating. The answer I have provided is based off only what you have provided. If you develop a more concrete theme for this game, my answer may not be sufficient to achieve that experience.

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