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The four 'S': Small, Simple, Short, Social

Page: DesignArticle.Article-ruleOf4s - Last Modified : Wed, 21 Dec 16 - 482 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

These are based on personal rules that I set to myself for my future board game design, but you should still consider those elements when starting a new game project, because it will have some impact. I don't say that they are all mandatory, but you should consider some of them to your design. Many of those rules has been adopted by euro games. They are probably good reasons for that, but still even if you are not going for euro, you should still consider those rules.

Those rules will not only make your game better, but also your life as a designer will be more enjoyable. Game design can be long, painful and frustrating, following those rules will reduce the negative effect and make your experience as a designer more enjoyable. If you are wondering if a game idea should be implemented as a board game or a video game, check if those 4 rules applies and you will have your answer.

I know some of you would like to design long and complex games, I was part of that group. But at some point, we need to get back to reality and ask ourself if this is really mandatory. Could we better have something simple that focus on the experience we want rather than being flooded in tons of mechanics and components.

Many of you would like to design strong themed board games, but in my point of view it's impossible. Board games are made to be abstract in nature, you will need to search for mechanics and abstract your thematic concept to those mechanics. So you should better design your game around mechanics than around theme. To have a thematic game, you need to give the player a huge amount of actions and possibilities to simulate reality and immersion which increase the amount of data and rules that needs to be used. Which makes it very hard to implement as a board game since the components are limited and the playtesting is painful.

So the key is to stick with something more abstract and simple. Here are the four S that you should follow:


Having small games which either takes little space or has fewer components is a key to making a good game. First there is transportability, much more easier to carry around and store. If you have less components, it means that the production of prototype will be easier. Making modifications will be quick and demand little time. If you send you prototype as electronic files on the net for playtesting, you are more likely to find playtesters if there is little components to build and if generic components (pawns, dices) could be used. When searching for playtesters, it might be less intimidating to convince players to play a small prototype. It's a good indication that the game is simple and short. Finally, if you ever want to produce the game yourself, the production cost will remain low and the game will take little space to store. So the possibility of holding your whole print run in your closet is a valid option.


Simple games should take around 10 minutes to teach. The maximum should be around 15 minutes. Simple game will attract more players increasing your chance to find playtesters. It also enlarge your audience allow non-gamers to try your game, again increasing the amount of people willing to test your game. It's really hard to find playtesters because your prototype is competing with all the games publish out there. If your game is simple, it more likely to get played as a filler. Simple games are easier to debug when you have problems and there is less possible permutation you can do with the components making any modification more elegant. Finally, non-gamers don't like learning new rules anyway, so if they are short to explain, they are more likely to accept playing.


Your game should stand under 30 minutes or up to 60 minutes. If your game is short, you will be capable of doing more play test per hour of work. For my game fallen kingdoms, the game too 3 hours and the setup/storage 1 hours. If my game could get played under an hour with the same setup time, I could have player 3 games in that same time period. If your game is short, it is more likely to get played as a filler, increasing the amount of possibility to playtest your game. Most people play a game only once, but if your game last under 30 minute, they are more likely to try it again increasing the amount of playtest you can do.


When talking about social, I am not talking about those shitty face book games. Board games are designed to be played with people, so not only it must be a game fair for everybody, there must also be a social aspect to the game that will make it impossible to be played on another medium than a board game. For example, it's very hard to have negotiation and bluffing mechanics in a video game, because they require social contact. Some games have social relations non-mandatory for the game to work like for example St0ck T!ck3r. The trash talk makes the game more enjoyable but is not part of the mechanics. If there is no social aspect, then it can probably be implement better as a video game for example. So make sure there is at least 1 social element to your game.

Note that, sometimes I replace social with solitaire. I am a bit new to solitaire gaming, normally, if you can play only solitaire make it a video game instead. But for many reasons, it could be convenient to make a solitaire board game if for example, there is a lot of text abilities, or you do not have access to electronic devices. Of course, solitaire games has no social aspects, this is why I chose one or the other, or both if multiplayer and solitaire is possible.

So this is it, like I said, those rules are not mandatory, but are strongly recommended. If you disagree, I recommend you make video games or any other medium, they will be more suitable for you. But if one of your idea follow those 4 rules, then go for it. Some people comment that it could lead to make only filler games. Yes filler games seems to follow the rule of fours S, but it is possible to do slightly longer games. I don't say that all games should be fillers, it's just that it you want to have a realistic trade off for the amount of work to invest and the reward to receive, you should stick to something modest.

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