DAY 1: Theme Informs Rules


Welcome to board game design! If you are here, it is because you love playing tabletop games, modifying those games, and possibly making up your own games. I’m very curious to learn about your experience level when it comes to games. Please take this survey to tell me about your favorite games and your level of experience when it comes to design.

There are essentially two ways to start designing a game: mechanics and theme. Starting with your games mechanics means you already have a set of rules in mind. “I like Yahtzee, but I think we can make it better!” Starting with the theme means that you have dreamed up a cool game concept, but you don’t have the rules. “I’m going to create a game about mutant-cyborg guinea pigs that live under an army base!”

Let’s try a rules based approach:

You’ve probably played Dot-and-Boxes at some point in school. Especially if your teacher is teaching an impressively boring lesson. Let’s play really quickly.

Activity: Now that you know the rules, what changes could we make to the rules to make it more interesting? Take five minutes to come up with a new rule that you would add to the game.
Now, let’s try them out!

  • Brain Engage #1: What are the benefits of a rules-based approach to design?
  • Brain Engage #2: What are some potential drawbacks of a rules-based design approach?

Watch this video explanation of King of Tokyo. Can anyone tell what existing game King of Tokyo is based on?

Now let’s try a theme based approach.

Watch this video about starting your design with a theme.

Brain Engage #3: What Are The Benefits Of Designing From A Theme?

Brain Engage #4: What Should You Watch Out For When Designing From A Theme?

Let’s look at an example.

We’ll use K2 on Tabletopia. Watch the review below to get an idea of what you’re in for.

Brain Engage #5: What are things that Persephone likes about the game? What are her dislikes? What does this tell you about designing your own game?

Now lets go to Tabletopia where we’ll make a free account and try playing K2 for ourselves.

  1. In the game, what are the players?
    1. (Ex. Dragon riders, sentient food, giant robots, competing musicians, etc.)
  2. What are the players trying to accomplish?
    1. (Win the dragon race, control the dining table, be the best robot dancer, beat a demon in a violin contest, etc.)
  3. What will the players use to accomplish this goal?
    1. (Fast and ferocious dragons, food armies, dance upgrades, violins which are constantly losing strings)

Let’s Try It!

  • We are…
  • Who are…
  • And we’ll do this by…

And just like that, we’ve got the start of a game!

Now, go to the Day 1 Lesson and complete this for your own game.


  • Go to
  • Play a game that you have never played before
  • Come up with a review: What did you like, what did you not like
  • Film your review and upload it to Youtube
  • Share the link with me so that I can embed it in our next lesson