What Board Game Design Can Tell Us about Business and Creativity

With Daryl Andrews, Board Game Designer

Daryl is a full-time board game designer based out of Waterloo. He has published over 30 strategy board games, plus numerous expansions, with an additional 10 games coming to market soon. His most popular board game, Sagrada, is available around the world in 18 languages—and there’s also a very successful app version available. 

For people new to modern board games, what games would you recommend? For people already familiar, what are some underrated games that you think should get more attention?

Some of my top recommendations for gateway games include: Ticket to Ride, Codenames, Wingspan and Carcassonne. For people familiar with those titles, and looking for an under the radar suggestion, sometimes older games get forgotten like El Grande, Ra, Modern Art and Saint Petersburg.

What are some ideas or techniques you’ve learned from designing board games that could be applicable to the general business world?

I’ve learned that it’s really important to get ideas out of my head and in front of my potential customers as quickly as possible. It’s so important to create a safe space for people to give brutally honest feedback. Friends and family will often find it hard to say what you need to hear because they want to be supportive. However, it’s crucial to build up an ability to kill your darlings and let go of the good ideas, so you can focus solely on your great ideas—good is not good enough.

How important is the role of playtesting in shaping your games?

It’s crucial to prioritize playtesting in the development process. Their suggestions will help me iterate and adjust what I think is a good idea into something much better. I will spend months, and sometimes even up to a year or two playtesting my games. I usually am working on 30+ games at a time, and so some games will sit simmering in the background, waiting for potential solutions. However, it’s part of my process to see what games my playtesters and even publishers are most interested in playing to gauge what is connecting with people. 

Where do you get your new ideas from? Roughly what percentage of the initial ideas make it to the final stage of being published?

My wife is very familiar hearing the phrase “Oh! I just got a game idea!” It really can come from anything but for me they usually are inspired by seeing something in nature, during travel, reading a book, or while consuming media. The start of an idea can come from a theme, or game play idea, or even a potential title. Ideas are cheap and can come to anyone. The real challenge is execution. It takes a ton of time and work to translate an initial spark to a fun game. I would say less than 5% of my initial ideas get to a final stage and maybe one in 200 become published. 

You’ve worked with a lot of different publishers—what has this taught you?

I’m really proud to have worked with so many different publishers. Each one teaches me a lot about how the games industry works. Thankfully, listening and learning from them has taught me how to discern what game is a right fit for a publisher. I think one aspect to game design I am strong in, is understanding the need for a game to be fun but also a good product to produce and sell. I’ve learned to think about profit margins, packaging, distribution—and all that has made me a better designer because I’m thinking about the various aspects a publisher is considering.  

You co-design many of your games—what has this taught you about collaboration?

I’m a big believer in collaboration. Ideas can get better when you have more people involved. One thing I have learned about co-designs is when the chemistry is right, the process feels very productive and ideas begin to ping pong and evolve. Unfortunately, you can’t force it. I’ve tried co-designing with some amazing designers and it just didn’t work. But I’ve found the games I make, the stories they tell, and the experiences I can be part of are more rich and unique because of collaboration.


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