The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

What Were They Thinking?

Ray Smith

September, 2001

Isn't it amazing that year after year, decade after decade, game manufacturers still persist on making the same bonehead design decisions. Now, I'm not talking brain surgery here. Just very simple correctable items that make a gaming experience much more hassle free at virtually no extra cost to them. I do understand that most problems arise from the lack of communication between departments. I know first hand, that unless precise information is given to the production departments by the designers, what you wanted is not going to be what you get.

Below is a set of peeves that gamers have been harping about since time began, should be paid strict attention to, and emblazoned on every game manufacturers wall.

Contrasting Colors

Don't have light green, medium green, and dark green units, or light red and dark orange. Don't print black on dark blue, or white on yellow. Is that area of the board tan or beige? We don't play these games in the bright sunshine y'know, so being able to easily differentiate and read units is a great help for our old eyes.

GGA - I think a lot of the problem here actually rests with the technology used to manufacture said items. Anyone that has done colour printing is aware of the problems with accurate color matching, it is sometimes very difficult to guarantee that what looks good on a computer screen also looks good on the printed page. I've personally experienced designing a wonderful looking document only to be shocked at how much worse it looked when printed.

Ray's basic point is valid though.

Die-Cut Counters

Using an x-acto knife or nail clippers for obtaining serviceable counters has become so commonplace that these tools have become a necessity for every gamer. How the German companies can generally cut them so fabulously while most U.S. ones can't, is beyond my comprehension.

GGA - I'm in complete agreement on this one. There's simply no excuse for poorly cut counters anymore. I suspect that it's simply a case that for many US manufacturers the local printers don't have the state of the art equipment. However, this isn't a valid excuse at all. Game companies should be letting these printing houses know that they can get a cheaper, superior product available in Germany and if they don't get up to snuff, they'll lose business. It's a global economy folks and there's no excuse for rewarding local companies for inferior service.

Enough Dice

If a game requires two or more players to roll two or three dice simultaneously and repeatedly throughout a game, why supply only one die?!

GGA - Hmmm, I've never actually seen a game that didn't supply enough dice. (In a game that supplied any that is. I think it's fair for RPGs to not include them or for you to provide your own in ButtonMen for example.) To include only a single die in a game that required rolling two or three at the same time would be astounding.

Sequence of Play

Having a handy sequence of play on a reference card for each player, or printed large on the board, is an incredible tool for learning a game and to use as a reminder throughout play. This player aid is number one in importance for me, and the item I most frequently need to create myself.

Readable Rules

No, I'm not talking about the usual typos and errata, but rules with no examples and written in micro print. (Aren't those little rules booklets in card games a killer!) Have pictures, diagrams, and at least ten point type please.

GGA - Printing the rules to a game on cards is one of the worst ideas I've seen in game production.I can understand why it's done - cards are printed in very precise numbers often 55 or 60 cards. If a game requires only 50 cards what do you do with the rest? Printing the rules on the excess essentially allows you to do so for free. Perhaps a good idea for the bottom line but a bad idea overall.


Don't you just love it when they include a single data sheet that you need to photocopy first since you don't want to write on the original. Or, only a single player reference page is enclosed for a six player game. Arrrgh! Is it so much of a burden to include a few extra sheets of paper so the game can be played immediately upon opening the box?

Tikal (left) and Torres both provide a handy reference chart for all players.

Now, all of the manufacturers will be screaming down my neck about the accumulative and somewhat substantial costs of adding a few extra dice and sheets of paper per game. I realize that if you are producing five thousand plus units, every little added item can run into hundreds of dollars. But, since when have buyers not purchased a quality product at whatever the cost? I would gladly pay a few more shekels for a hassle free game which is complete, than curse them for being stingy.

GGA - I have to take disagreement with Ray here. I think consumers regularly decide against a quality purchase because of the price. The issue of a good "price point" is a very real consideration in producing a game. A game that would sell well at $30 might not sell at all at $40 even if it has superior components. I know many gamers that have stated that they're just not willing to pay $60 for Starfarers of Catan even though they feel the wonderful components justify its high pricetag.

As for the reference charts, I'm not sure that one for each player is good value for the money. These sorts of things are great for teaching a game the first few playings but often they aren't subsequently needed. Of course this is going to depend on the game - for those that have lots of little modifiers that can't reasonably be expected to be memorized then a reference sheet for each player is a necessity.

Copies of data sheets that must be filled in are a little trickier. How many is too much? How many too few? Certainly enough to play several games would be a minimum. An idea for publishers - provide electronic copies of any such sheets on your webpage. Yes, a photocopy is usually cheaper but one can't always run down to the local office supply store before every game.

Please note that this article is in no way a derogatory thesis against games that boldly proclaim that the buyer must assemble/buy components for their game (such as the wonderful offerings at Cheapass). But if a game is touted to be complete, please make it totally functional and not a struggle to enjoy.

- Ray Smith

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