Board Game Design Limitations – Why Do We Have Them?

So, I was on Reddit the other day (ok, every day) and I saw a thread talking about artificial limitations on board game design purely as an exercise. It got me thinking about how many thematic and physical limitations we impose on ourselves as game designers and whether those limitations are out of necessity, a personal challenge, or just straight up arbitrary.

I wanted to mention a few of the suggested limitations from that thread as examples of the kind of physical limitations I’m talking about here:

• Limit the game to a certain number of rules (for example: 5)
• Limited number of cards or other components
• No dice
• Only dice
• No cards
• Only cards
• No central board
• Time limit
• Asymmetric player powers
• Must have hidden information
• Must play solo
• Must play with a certain number of players
• Only Icons, no words or numbers
• Space limits (not like Star Wars space, more like table space)

As you can see, I could probably go on and on…

So, this leads me to the question: Why do we design games with artificial limitations like the above in mind? Well, personally I can think of a few reasons for limiting a design:

• Cost. I usually have a budget in mind when I start a game design.
• Constraints of a design contest or publisher request.
• Time. The less time I have to design, the fewer working parts I can incorporate.
• My comfort zone. If I’m used to designing micro card games, I will typically not open up my design space to a complex euro game. Obviously, this is not always the case as many designers dip their toes into designs of different complexity and size.
• Lack of imagination. “Everybody knows this type of game doesn’t do THAT!” Who says?
• The market or segment I’m designing for. Am I designing specifically to fill a void in a certain market space?
• Feasibility of manufacturing. Is there a cost-effective or technically feasible way to produce a certain custom component?
• Personal challenge. Sometimes I just want to see if I can do it.

If you can think of any other reasons that you impose limitations like this on your own game designs, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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