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This is an open letter to the people that feed our passion and lust for bits of cardboard to push around to conquer our enemies.
Dear Board Game Designers, Publishers and Mobile Developers,
I beg you to please please please when you decide to do a mobile version of your game take into consideration what you are designing for. You are designing for a hand held device that can be as small as couple of credit cards and as large as a sheet of 8x10 paper. Please try to avoid bringing a board game experience and re think they way your game could flow. Usability is king in holding the attention of a gamer. Unless they are totally cracked out on your game to begin with, the app may sit in a darkened corner of their device and collect bits of digital dust. Make it easy to use. It's a touch screen for God's sake. Don't make me "click" on anything. Design your interface in a way that makes me want fondle it and use it. Make it intuitive enough your mom can play with little or no knowledge of the subject matter.
Please provide the full rules to your game. Or better yet, make gameplay intuitive enough to play with little or no instructions. One game I have almost assumes that its players have played the cardboard version and know the rules of the road. I for one have not played the cardboard version and find things happening in the game that seem to be happening for no rhyme or reason but I'm not familiar with the full rules. There are some basic rules but they do not explain other things that happen in the game itself.
Just because you are making a board game for a mobile device does not mean it has to look exactly like the real board game itself. I encourage you to take advantage of the devices capabilities and design an experience that rivals the board game itself. Enhance it. Do things that you can't do with cardboard and paper bits. Hide all the charts and modifiers and book keeping. But offer them for those who want to see them. Make your graphics pretty. Get the original game graphics. That's always a good place to START not end up. Hire an artist. If you can't afford one I'm sure there are people out there who would like to contribute to a project pro bono or maybe sign a deal to do work based on projected income. Some may just want the experience to see if they like doing that kind of work or not.
Don't neglect sound and music. Sound effects and music certainly do enhance gameplay. Even for board games. Musical cues as to what is happening in the game itself or sound effects for any number of events add to the overall atmosphere. Again, if you can't do this yourself enlist help from the community. I for one am willing to offer my services as a composer and sound designer for one game. That's right. Zero dollars, kronurs, drachmas, rubles.
The bottom line is a one to one conversion may work but chances are it can be made even better and open a whole new fan base to your game. I know money is tight and deciding to do a port of a board game to different devices is a daunting task at times. You don't have to charge the requisite .99 for a title but if you charge, let's say 14.99, better dang well give us grognards a good reason to pony up for that. Show us that you have your act together and you realize that gaming on a handheld device is different than having a table full of maps, charts and counters and you know how to enhance the user experience.
Most importantly, test, test, test, test, test. Make that game as polished as can be. I don't want to lose the Bismarck to a British Naval Officer firing his sidearm at my ship from 1,000 yards. Make sure all your visuals are not misleading and clear. Just when you think you have it polished, test some more.
Remember, we love the games you guys make. We don't mind spending upwards of 60 bucks a game if it's good and we like the subject matter. My challenge to you is to make the mobile port of your game so good and enticing it will make want to buy a tablet or upgrade my phone just to play it.
A concerned gamer