In my journey through board game design, one of the things I’ve found super interesting is how people’s perception of a game can matter more to how they play the game than how the mechanics of the game say they should Be playing it. A small example of this was when I was first making the tiles for Umbra Via. The picture below shows the first set of tiles above their corresponding current versions.
I had originally started with the idea of placing down walls, as in my mind it was an area control game where you were sectioning off pieces of the board. I wasn’t really happy though with how the walls graphically fit together though, so I played around with the design until I settled on the paths. These tiles did fit together nicely while functioning the same way as my original tiles.
When we played with the path versions of the tiles, it felt like a very different game. Originally the board felt open and the walls were a way of closing off pieces of the board that you wanted. With the paths it felt like you were expanding out and trying to snake your way around the board. The wall version also felt more open with possibilities of what you could do. Maybe too open even, where you’re not sure what to do. On the other hand, the paths feel very directed. They’re almost asking for you to connect them together, which could feel a bit limiting in comparison to the walls but also easier to know what to do next.
Now that I’m thinking about it more, placing walls is like subtraction and placing roads is like addition. Kind of a glass half full/glass half empty situation and the graphic design directs you in which way you should be looking at it.
Ultimately, I’d imagine if two different groups played the walls and roads versions, they would eventually converge to playing it the same way, but for those initial few plays (the ones that are most important in my opinion) they’d be seeing, and probably playing, the game very differently.
It feels a bit similar to when people play Twilight Imperium and get carried away with having the best empire ever that they forget to score any points. The theme and encouragement to role play almost overrides what the mechanics want you to do.
I ended up settling on the roads simply because I preferred how they looked and the flow they gave to the game. But I would love to learn more about the different ways graphic design influences how players interact with the mechanics. There’s a lot to learn about graphic design, but I feel like its one of the parts of board game design that I’ve heard/read the least about. If anyone else has had situations like these or insights into this topic, I’d love to hear about them!