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The City of Games

The unknown world of game design

18th July 2016 0

On Friday 15th Frank ran a 1-hour workshop on game design for UXBristol 2016, a conference for user experience professionals from around the country and all over the world.

It was a tough challenge, many of the attendees work with the web or in other industries and very few (if any!) had any game design experience.


The first 15 minutes were used to introduce the concept of modern board games, to get an understanding of the attendees experience and to get their imaginations running. Everyone had heard of Monopoly but only a few were familiar with Catan, Carcassonne and other modern games.

We introduced:

  • Dexterity games with Flick ‘em up
  • Party games with Codenames and Werewolf
  • Racing games with Steampunk Rally and Formula D
  • Cooperative games with Pandemic
  • And other concepts with Robo Rally, Carcassonne, Polarity, Eclipse and Kodama

We also discussed the growth of board games touching on how the huge rise in popularity has created thousands of design problems waiting to be solved.


We split the attendees into 8 groups and gave each a small board game kit containing:

  • 4, 6, 8, 10 and 20 sided dice
  • A handful of different coloured 6 sided dice
  • Blank 6 sided dice
  • 4 different coloured cubes
  • Blank cards
  • A pre-designed blank board
  • Paper should they be brave enough to make their own board!
  • A variety of coloured tokens
  • 5 coloured player pieces
  • Biros
  • Sharpies


The goal was to create a racing game by exploring better movement mechanics than ‘roll and move’, with everyone being familiar with Monopoly this was a safe starting point that everyone should be comfortable with.


Going theme first was an important part of the workshop, with a room full of people not familiar with game mechanics it would have been challenging to come up with ideas from a blank slate. By deciding on a theme first there was a level of familiarity.

We presented a variety of options but asked people to be imaginative, which they did! Perhaps the most interesting was the race to create a cream tea.

Once you have a theme you can start to imagine the steps that might be needed, for instance whilst creating a cream tea you will need to get a scone, then some jam and cream and perhaps a cup of tea. This lends itself to moving from point to point, collecting items. When you make a cream tea there can often be a queue as only 1 person can use each part of the table at a time. This suggests racing to different parts of the table so choosing your order could be important. With this in mind you can start to picture a board and how players may want to move around it.

Once the themes were chosen we moved on to making the game.



Each group was given 15 minutes to come up with their idea and to build it, at the end of the 15 minutes it had to be playable! Groups contained 4 – 5 people so with everyone doing a different task it should be achievable.

It was obvious people found it a little challenging to start with but the noise levels quickly rose as the ideas starting flowing. Walking around and checking each team was clear on the task was a key factor at this point.

Loads of different ideas starting flowing!



After 15 minutes had gone by each team was given an additional 5 minutes to play their game.

‘Who goes first’ were the first words that came from nearly every table!

Of the 8 groups 6 had managed to get straight into playing, the other 2 still needed to finish writing on a few pieces but it didn’t take long. It’s amazing to think in just 15 minutes we had a room full of new games ready for their first playtest.



A few minutes were spent discussing the importance of teaching games and how challenging rule books are in the board game world.

The groups were paired up and each given 5 minutes to teach their game to the other group. Amazingly 5 groups (out of the 8) played the other teams game during the 5 minutes and some of them worked. There was laughter, screaming and when the time was over they didn’t want to stop playing.



With the teaching complete each group was given just a couple of minutes to discuss what they had learned and to think about the next steps in improving their game.

It became apparent if we had more time everyone would have had a second improved version of their game created and ready to play very quickly!


Only 40 minutes had passed since they were set the task of making a game and each team finished with a prototype in front of them. Something playable, something that had been tested by strangers and in many cases something fun.

Many game designers spend months if not years delaying their first play test, they over think everything and are worried to make a start.

So my advice is don’t be afraid, just put something rough on paper and get testing, you really can start getting feedback on day 1.

Frank West

Frank West is a gamer and designer based in Bristol, UK. He published his first board game, The City of Kings, in 2018 and now works on other games and organising events in the local area. His goal? To design and publish games focusing on immersive themes, fun mechanics and beautiful components. If you have any questions or would just like a chat, feel free to get in touch at any time!

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