Brainstorm A Board Game Concept In 3 Days

As a Product Designer, the most common mistake I see are people jumping to conclusions too early when solving a problem. Everyone wants to think they know the answers and solutions, but they have zero considerations of other possibilities.

Don’t get me wrong. Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions on the spot is highly efficient. We want to use the least amount of brain power when making small decisions and solving tiny problems. However, we tend to apply this mentality when solving big complex problems as well.

I’d often hear “I have an idea for an app. It’s like product x, but for this instead”. They are usually passionate and ambitious people that wants to make a difference. So they pour their time, money, and effort to try and make this happen.

This is when you know the person has created a solution and is in search for problems to plug their solution into. If they’re lucky they pivot to find a problem that they did not set out to solve. If they’re not lucky, it’s a solution that solves nothing. Either way, resources have been wasted.

When it comes down to designing board games, I see a similar problem.

Game Design is not same as Product Design, but they do suffer from the same underlying problems in the initial stages of design; having an idea too early.

It’s tough because we instinctively want to have all the answers to every given problem. But, in order to tackle big problems and explore creative boundaries, it requires people to embrace uncertainty.

This is why at Fourtato Games, we started with a blank canvas to design our game from scratch.

The Game Plan

Over the course of 3 days, we conducted a series of workshops. These workshops were broken down into themes, mechanics, and rapid prototyping. Each day took about 4–6 hours with a bit of homework in between. The goal of the workshops was to help us uncover different possibilities, mash our creative brains together, and generate different solutions.

Day 1 — Coming Up With the Theme

Our first activity was to brainstorm as many interesting stories as possible. Each Fourtato member was to come up with stories they found interesting and had to explain what made it interesting to them. After sharing ideas, the team voted on the top stories they found most interesting.

With the top 4 voted stories, we deconstructed each one down to its working components. These components fall under 7 distinct categories: setting, departure, preparation, encounter, climax(or problem), and ending(objective). After we filled out all the details, we chose the most interesting component out in each category.

A new story was created by merging 4 different stories together. We used this as a base and allowed the team to change any category if it yield a better story. We called this our story map.

With the story map we had, we continued on to our next exercise to “generate the world”. In this exercise, we brainstormed all the possible characters, roles, items, currency, equipment, and anything relevant to the story. The world will later be used when designing mechanics.

Great, we got the story and the world down. However, the most important thing we need is actually the core. The core is the “why” of our game. Everything in the game should reinforce the core.

To come up with the core, we used a quick exercise called “How Might We”. This exercise explores and frames the why in multiple perspectives.

The core turned out to be very useful when settling disagreements. Did the creative decision enforce or detract from the core? It helped us massively as a guide through the tough decisions.

With a core down, along with the story map, we were able to generate core loops. Every game has a core loop. For Diablo, the core loop is to kill monsters, level up, get weapons, fight stronger monsters, and repeat.

Putting it all together, this was it. Our theme.

Day 2 — Brainstorm Mechanics

We started the mechanics workshop with a creative exercise. I call it the “improvise game”.

To begin, we gathered paper, sharpie, post-its, dice, playing cards, and tape.

The team agreed on one objective, then made up mechanics to the game as we play through it. The only instructions were that anyone can make up anything at anytime (rules, cards, conditions, and mechanics) as long as it aligned with the story map, the world, and the core.

In the first game, a stack of blank papers was placed on the side while pieces of post-it’s were laid out in the centre to act as the board. Everyone was handed sharpies and post-it’s to make things up as the game progressed. We agreed on a turn based game where players drew one action card and took 1 step to progress their character.

The exercise forced players to spew out creative ideas on the spot. For example, every round a player draws a card from the stack. The card is blank and has nothing on it. The player would then scribble something down and make things up as they go. When players are under pressure, they would make up action cards that would help them relieve their situation. This resulted in players pumping out lots of cards, rules, and mechanics.

Upon completing the game, we dissected it to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We didn’t want to think in terms of keeping certain mechanics. Instead, we thought about keeping certain moments that were engaging and interesting.

With these moments in mind, we played another improvise game with different set of mechanics to see what other insights we can uncover.

Nearing the end, we completed about 4 improvised games. It took longer than expected, but we tested almost every mechanic possible.

At the end of the day everyone was sent home with the homework of creating their own game to bring to the next workshop.

Day 3 — Merging Prototype

Everyone came into the third workshop with their own version of the game. This was the most exciting part since it was like a mini show and tell.

Every game we played, we took notes and tried to find the best moment for each game. It took about 5 hours before we finish testing through all 4 versions (along with game breakdown and note taking).

With the 4 versions, we broken it down to small working components for us to pick and choose from. We combined the most exciting component from each game and formed one single game. Of course, there were always small holes that needed to be filled when doing this. But it was easily solved since the 2 days of work provided us with many angles to work with.

There you have it. One game in 3 quick workshops.


Over the course of 3 days, we completed a series of workshops to generate themes, mechanics, and prototypes. The theory behind the workshops was that 4 brains are better than 1. By working together, we should be able to uncover many more ideas, possibilities and solutions

Our theme (Story map, world, and core) guided us when facing tough decisions. Our mechanics exercise opened up different doors for us to choose from. Instead of relying on subjective thoughts and feelings of what makes something cool in this moment, we worked out the details that would craft great mechanics with the given theme.

Although the workshop offered guidance to create a board game from scratch, it was still not perfect. We ran the process a couple of times and refined it by making minor tweaks here and there. For example, brainstorming the Core before the story in day 1 would give the story exercise some structure and direction. In day 3, we brought in a completed game but there were a lot of overlapping elements that can be reused in other games. If we had the group create the game on the spot it would save everyone time from working at home.

This is an iterative process and it eventually lead us to Chicken Heist?

Disclaimer: We don’t claim to be professional board game designers and we don’t know how professionals would design a board game. This is how we did it as a team, based on Product Design principles, methodologies, and theories. This is our Product Designer’s interpretation of the design process for board games.

Learn more about Chicken Heist here:

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Tiny crew of board game designers! Four potatoes trying to make their ideas come to life!

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Fourtato Games

Fourtato Games

Tiny crew of board game designers! Four potatoes trying to make their ideas come to life!

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