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How to Create a Simple Online Digital Board Game

If this is your first time dabbling in game development, you might want to get a feel of the process by learning how to create a digital board game first.

Knowing how to create an online board game — or a video game in general — gives you a competitive edge during a time when digital games across platforms are in high demand. From learning the basics of development languages to creating effective frameworks and unique designs, online board game creation can work as a steppingstone to bigger and more complex game projects in the future. This is true whether you’re an aspiring independent developer or the head of a gaming company.

Having a good grasp of the techniques and features of making a digital board game allows you to lead your team more effectively. So, with that, let’s get you acquainted with the basics of creating your own digital board game.

What is a Digital Board Game?

Digital board games have been part of every personal computer’s arsenal even before online games became the norm. But what is a digital board game? It’s basically a board game that’s created for a digital platform – whether online or offline, or on desktop or mobile. Some examples of the most popular digital board games today include digital chess, checkers, Scrabble, and even Monopoly. Basically, any board game that’s translated into a digital form that’s playable on-screen can be considered a digital board game.

In a way, a digital board game is the simplest and most basic game that can be developed. Since most board games are made with simpler elements, a lot of board game developers choose to forego more complex processes, including designing video game characters or rendering high-definition environments. This makes digital board games a great first step to understanding how game creation works.

Game Over spelled using wooden block letters on top of tablet screen
Image credits to Canva

What Makes a Board Game a Board Game?

But while determining what digital board games is rather easy, narrowing down the definition of board games is another story. What exactly constitutes a board game? Do card games belong to this category? And if they don’t, how do they differ? To get to the bottom of this, we must look into the features of a traditional board game, including:

  1. Board-Based Platform – One of the primary requirements for a board game to be considered as one is that it needs to be played on a board, which is typically made with a patterned design to properly monitor player movement.
  2. Movable Pieces or Miniatures – In traditional board games, players are given a set of pieces or miniatures that they can move across the board to perform their strategic play. These can be as simple as small pucks, like what’s used in checkers, or more detailed figurines.
  3. Dice Use – Some board games also make use of different types of die to randomize the gameplay. Each player is given a chance to throw some dice to determine how many steps or spaces they can move around the board.

Now, can card games be considered as board games? By the dictionary definition, many pedantic players will not consider card games as board games, mainly because most of them aren’t done on a board. However, since there’s really no clear-cut way to differentiate, a lot of gamers still consider card games as board games – especially since more and more board games are now starting to incorporate cards into their gameplay.

Features of a Digital Board Game

The features of a digital board game are quite simple. First, it has to be playable online, and the second is it has to be a board game. However, other elements branch out from these digital board game features, which make the list a lot longer. So, what exactly are they?

Factors that Enable Online Playability

  • Design compatibility with chosen platform (i.e., desktop, mobile, or tablet)
  • A web hosting platform
  • A game engine that supports high-level networking (for multiplayer online board games)

These elements can branch out further depending on the project. If the digital board game you want to create retains traditional rules and mechanics, there’s often no need for more complex elements.

However, if the game you intend to develop is entirely original — i.e., has never been done before — the elements will depend on the rules and mechanics you’ve devised. You might even want to look into 3D modeling for games to give your players a more realistic gaming experience.

But before you advance to that level, we need to start from the beginning.

How to Create an Online Board Game

While creating an original online board game may be the aim of budding developers such as yourself, it certainly helps to start with a much simpler project. 

NarraSoft’s seasoned game developers recommend simple online board game development for neophyte developers (while advising against chess as a first project). Checkers and Snakes and Ladders are good examples.

On the topic of timeframe, our game developers said six days for “development [that’s] going perfectly well.” Realistically, however, a simple online board game can take around a month or so when you add debugging and polishing into the equation.

Let’s make things a little easier for you. For those who aspire to create a digital board game, here’s an outline of what to do and where to start.

Step 1: Plan out your game design

Game design is the stage in game development where a video game’s mechanics, gameplay, and intended player experience are determined. Even if your project simply involves moving buttons or pawns diagonally on a board, noting these game design elements helps a ton.

Step 2: Create and import your graphics

The next step in the online board game creation process is making the graphics for your board and your pieces. Because this step-by-step guide is for a simple board game, a checkered or tiled spread should be enough. 

As for the pieces, you can go for something a bit more decorative than black and white stones. Try colored cones or human-shaped pawns. Let your imagination run wild. After creating the graphics on your design software, import it into your game engine.

Step 3: Create blocks or the platform in your game engine of choice

Now that you have graphics for your digital board game, it’s time to create its building blocks — literally. 

Since a simple digital board game is tile-based, you’ll need to make squares or cubes in the game engine. This board or platform is a huge part of the level design of a game. It’s where gameplay occurs and where pieces (or players) interact. Make sure the tiles are of the same size and organized in the correct pattern.

Because of the board’s repeating patterns, you’ll have to do a lot of copying and pasting. A good tip would be to make use of the prefab tool to minimize your workload.

five kids watching on a tablets
Image credits to Canva

Step 4: Make your movable pieces

Once you’re done with the board, it’s time to create the pieces for your digital board game. Depending on your design, the pieces can be as simple as stones or as complex as you want them to be. You could even animate the pieces if you want to. Turn pawns into characters that can walk from one tile to the next.

Step 5: Code your game

In this step, you’re going to make your movable pieces, well, movable. But apart from that, you’re also going to have to ensure every move brings the game forward. Knowing how to code with the top game development languages is an essential skill here. Code is what will bring game mechanics to life.

A helpful tip to determine what language to use is to know the language your chosen game engine prefers. For example, Unity developers code with C#, whereas Unreal developers code with C++ or Blueprint. It all comes down to your preference or expertise. 

If you want players to go up against AI, one of our developers said it’s a tricky thing to build. However, he also notes there are packages for this purpose. Just make sure to keep the difficulty setting in mind.

Step 6: Deploy 

When you’re finished testing and polishing your game, it’s time to share your work with the world. Our game developers said if your board game has only local multiplayer and AI modes, deploying your game should be easy. Firebase and Amazon Web Services are great options. On the other hand, online multiplayer needs more work as this requires more complex systems, our developer said.

Start Your Game Development Journey With a Simple Digital Board Game

Game developers are some of the most meticulous people when it comes to building and creating worlds. However, the process of game development isn’t as simple as they make it out to be – especially since it takes a whole lot of skill and knowledge in not only coding but also design. If you’re planning on pursuing a career in game development or you’re planning on following a passion, starting small is always a great move. By creating a digital board game, you can slowly stack your skills and figure out the ins and outs of game development. Good luck! And if you need any help or have any questions about gaming development or even just gaming design, reach out to us at Narrasoft!