For many, board games were a constant feature of childhood. I remember many of the early board games that I played as a child, from Candyland to Chutes and Ladders. As I got older, however, I outgrew those childish games and moved on to new challenges – Monopoly, Clue, Risk, and many others. When you compare a game like Candyland to a game like Risk, it’s obvious that they were designed with completely different audiences in mind. But how is this done? That’s what we will be talking about this week- how to design games for different audiences based on their different preferences and abilities.
Designing games for infants can be quite the challenge, as there are a number of restrictions that you don’t have to think about when designing for other age brackets. Children in this age range are not really capable of understanding game rules, even very simple ones, and in general the most that you can hope for is to keep them distracted and entertained. When designing games or toys for children of this age it is best to engage the senses, primarily touch, sight, and hearing. Lights and sounds can be good tools for keeping their attention, especially when they react to something that the child does, and it also nice to have a variety of different textures for the child or toddler to interact with. This can help in teaching basic cause and effect – I press this button, and it lights up! In addition make sure that the pieces do not represent a chocking hazard (they WILL end up putting them in their mouths) and make sure that the components are relatively durable, as they may take a beating!
Examples: Bouncers and Jumpers, Sing-Along Toys, Corn-popper, Stacking Toys.
At this age range children are able to understand very simple games, and they start caring about “winning”. However, there are still a number of limitations that designing for these ages present. Children in this age range generally cannot read, so it is necessary for all components to have visuals that explain what they do, in addition to or instead of text. Toddlers also can only remember a very simple rule set, so make sure that any game designed for them has at most 1 or 2 very simple mechanics to keep track of.
They are also very competitive, but not capable of making strategic decisions, so make sure that your game still gives them a reasonable chance of winning. Often this is done by adding a random factor to the game, such as dice or a spinner, that drives the game forward instead of their own decisions. By making the outcome of the game purely random, this gives the child an equal chance of winning, and the satisfaction of “beating” their parents, but also gives them the opportunity to learn how take turns and how to lose a game, which are equally important skills.
Children at this age are also learning extremely quickly, so games that can help teach them things such as colors, shapes and numbers are very effective during this stage. Another side-effect of this rapid learning is that children of these ages excel at memory games – don’t be surprised if they beat you fair and square!
Examples: Memory Games, Chutes and Ladders, Candyland
At the ages of four or five, children may be beginning to start school and learn basic skills. Even so, it is unlikely that they will be able to read much, and will need parental assistance. At this age children can start handling simple decisions and somewhat more complicated rules, but the rules should still be relatively simple to understand. It may also be beneficial for children of these ages to play games that allow teams, so that a parent can help them through some of the more complicated parts.
Examples: Chinese Checkers, Mancala, Go Fish, Bingo Games
Children at this age range are learning to read, and can be expected to read simple cues and instructions. In addition, they are beginning to learn somewhat more complicated rules and starting to understand the concept of strategy. This age group is much simpler to design for than previous ages, as there are much fewer limitations.
While children of this age range are much more able to learn and play games, there are still some things to be avoided. Games that rely heavily on spelling and vocabulary, such as Scrabble, can be played with this group, but they will probably not enjoy them as much as they are still developing these skills. In addition, games that rely on other skills such as drawing ability, trivia, and especially math (beyond basic addition and subtraction) can be difficult for kids in this range. Because of this, games with a high amount of resource or money management should probably be avoided.
Examples: Connect 4, Checkers, UNO, Mouse-Trap, Sorry!, Clue
By the time a child reaches the ages of 9-12, they are able to understand games with more complicated rules and strategies. While they will not be masters, they are able to move beyond simply learning the rules of a game and begin to learn from their mistakes in order to improve at the game. Kids of this age can generally handle most casual and party games, although they are still probably not ready for incredibly complicated legacy or “euro” games. At this age children are also able to handle smaller game pieces without the risk of swallowing them, which opens up possibilities of what components you can include in your game.
During this time children tend to become much more independent, and are more likely to want to play as individuals rather than than as part of a team with their parents. They are also more likely to want to play games that allow them to express themselves in some way, whether that be through a choice of character, or building their own decks in a trading card game.
Examples: Risk, Chess, Monopoly, Pokemon TCG
This age range is a very important target for board games in the United States because of an act of Congress known as the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). According to this act, in order to market a product to children below the age of 13 you must pass expensive third-party testing and regulations. These tests can cost several thousands of dollars, which is cost prohibitive for many small board-game manufacturers.
When designing games for this age-range, there are very few limitations. At this point you can reasonably expect your player to be able to play and understand quite complicated rule-sets, and there are almost no restrictions on art or components. The only major rule for designing for this age-range is to avoid “adult” content, such as extreme violence or nudity.
Another thing to keep in mind when designing games for teens and adults is that they no longer represent a single, well defined group. Instead, you are really designing for several different types of board gamers, each of which have their own needs and preferences. One of the most important distinctions to make when designing games for an older audience is the difference between casual and core gamers:
- Casual Gamers
Casual gamers represent a large portion of the population that only play board games occasionally. For more casual gamers, party style games tend to be very popular. These games tend to have very simple rules, and often revolve around having to communicate some kind of information while being bound by specific restrictions. These games can generally be played by younger gamers, but tend to require a certain level of empathy and intuition that make them more difficult (although no less enjoyable) for younger players. The fun of these games often comes more from the social interaction that comes from them rather than the games themselves. These games also tend to be quite short, and very quick to learn.
Examples: Apples-To-Apples, Pictionary, Scattergories, Spyfall
- Core Gamers
Core gamers are a group that use games as their primary hobby. These gamers tend to want large, deep games that they can really sink their teeth into. Trading card games and Living Card Games tend to be popular among this group, as do table-top RPGs and huge, sprawling board games with tons of components. These gamers represent a much smaller audience, but they tend to be incredibly dedicated to the hobby.
Examples: Magic: The Gathering, Pandemic Legacy, Scythe, Dungeons and Dragons
If a game is marketted as 18+ it tends to contain very “mature” content that is likely to be unsuitable for younger age groups. At the time of writing there is currently a large influx of casual NSFW party games, most of which are similar to more traditional party games but with the addition of more adult themes and humor. When designing games for this group, there is very little that you cannot do, and the line keeps getting harder to cross.
Examples: Cards against Humanity, Dirty Minds, Joking Hazard
That’s all I have for you this week! If you liked the article, please let me know in the comments below (and if not, let me know what I can do better in the future)! If you want to see more articles like this in the future, please sign up for the mailing list for notifications every time I post a new article. Join me next week, when I’ll be talking about rarity in collectible games!