The Boardgame Design Project, Part 1: Design Goals

Like pretty much every diehard boardgamer, I have dreams of one day designing a game and seeing it actually get published.  I’ve had a number of ideas over the last few years and done varying degrees of work on them, but none have ever really gone past the conceptual stage of writing down a few points or mechanics in a notebook. 

But over the last couple of months, I think that I may have actually come across “the” idea that I can actually follow through to some level of completion.  And in hopes that it will help keep me motivated and working towards making this a reality, I thought it might be a good idea to make this project public by tying it to a series of articles here on my blog.  I don’t really have a set timetable for the project at this point, but hopefully I’ll be able to set some goals from post to post as I go along.  And then we’ll all just have to wait and see where this process takes me!

And obviously, I also hope that opening this whole shebang to all of you will be at least somewhat interesting to read about.  I really don’t know anything more than most of you about designing a game or getting it published, so maybe we can all learn together.  And of course, I will certainly be open to contributions or playtest offers from some of my fine readers if you might be so inclined.

Game Design Goals

Now that I’ve gone over some of the ideas and goals for this article series, let’s get into the idea and goals for my actual game.  The theme I’ve come up with is for the players to all be nurses working together to survive one terrible 12-hour shift on an active medical/surgical unit in an acute care hospital.  I’m a registered nurse, and healthcare in general seems to be a very underrepresented theme in modern boardgames.  Plus, the general public has a rather woeful understanding of what exactly nurses actually do, so I thought it would be pretty much virgin territory to cover.

Also, I’m one of the coordinators of our New Graduate Nurse program at my hospital, and I was wondering if a game like this might be beneficial for my New Grads, nursing students, and maybe even experienced nurses to play a game like this to explore the need for teamwork and cooperation. 

So, specific design goals that I’ve identified for this game are:

1) Cooperative – the game must require players to work together and share their resources/actions (if a nurse could get through the day just managing their own patients and not giving or receiving help, it would be teaching the wrong lessons)

2) Educational – I want the game to demonstrate the sorts of things a nurse does in an acute-care setting well enough that non-clinical players will gain some understanding of that role, that actual nurses will relate to it and the experience it creates, and that might just help new nurses and students simulate a nearly realistic clinical situation.

3) FUN! – I still want this to be a game that I, my friends, and hopefully others would want to play just for fun as well!  

4) Relatively light-weight – I want there to be lots of real choices for players to make, but I don’t want it to become too heavy or involved that casual or maybe even interested non-gamers (nurses, mostly) wouldn’t be able to understand and play.  I’m aiming at something along the same weight as Pandemic or even a little lighter.

Since I’ve already decided on it (and think it’s pretty cool), I’ll even give away the name of the game, which is Acute Care

I’ve already done a little more work on it past this point, so hopefully I’ll be able to get another article written catching y’all up to where I am pretty soon.  But until then, please feel free to give me some feedback about your interest in this series, the game itself, or anything else I’ve mentioned here. 


  1. I think that sounds like a great idea for a game!
    Our family really likes cooperative games and have friends in the nursing profession.
    We wish you the best of luck and look forward to your series.

  2. This sounds interesting. Count me in for playtesting.

  3. Keith

    I would like to get in on the playtesting.

    I have some questions and comments based on your game design goals.

    “healthcare in general seems to be a very unrepresented theme in modern boardgames” So what does this represent, an overlooked opportunity in the theme hungry boardgame community that will help launch the game, a critical lack of interest in this theme area that will make it harder for the game to get traction, or mostly a non-issue when it comes to impacting design goals?

    “the general public has a rather woeful understanding of what exactly nurses actually do” Is this an opportunity for education through entertainment that the gaming public will welcome or is it a potential market turnoff when the gaming experience clashes with player misconception of how things should be (and if so can it be overcome with good design)?

    I don’t know the answers. I think it is worth considering and getting input on before getting deep into the design process. I do believe that having the game also provide value to new grads, nursing students, and even experienced nurses is a worthy additional design goal.

    What kind of medical condition detail is involved in acute care?

    Cooperative: I like this. You have strong cooperative game expertise and it is a team effort theme.

    Educational for novices to experts: A laudable goal. I think it will make a successful design substantially more difficult to achieve since the final design must cover a larger range of audience. It has been my experience that experts favor a lot more detail while the additional detail can unstreamline the game flow for the novice in the field. It will take clever design and a lot of extra playtesting to achieve.

    Fun: Absolutely.

    Relatively light-weight and in the Pandemic range: that would work for me. Will it work for your entire hoped for audience range?

  4. Keith

    How did I end up as anonymous?


  5. Chris Norwood

    Oh Keith… the things you’ll say given the anonymity of the internet. 


    1) About healthcare being underrepresented – this is more an observation than a strategy or anything.  If there is any real benefit to it, it’s probably just because it would be different and fresh rather than because the audience would be particularly drawn to it.  However, if you look at TV and movies, medical themes are pretty strong, so maybe it will be more of a boon than I’m thinking.

    2) About public cluelessness of Nursing – I’m hoping that it will be more of a “Wow, nurses do that?” kind of thing rather than a turnoff, and clearly, my real work for the rest of the design process is to make a game that’s good enough to hold attention regardless of what they think about the theme.

    3) Medical details – I’ll get into that in the next article, but basically I’l going to give all patients an “Acuity” value from 1 (ready to go home) to 5 (having a medical emergency).  I’ll have some keywords on the patient cards like “Surgical” or “Medical”, but I’m not going to go into specific diagnoses or other complicated and ultimately unnecessary details.

    4) Educational thing – I’m hoping that while more gamerly people would get the gaming mechanics quickly and learn from the theme, the medical/nursing people would immediately get the theme/setting, which would hopefully help them in actually playing through the mechanics of the game.  And then since the main point of the educational part is emphasizing cooperation, I think that everyone would be able to intuitively get that because of the nature of the game.

    5) Weight – this is the thing that I really know least about right now.  I have a lot of ideas about how it’ll play, but until I actually get into playtesting, I don’t think that I’ll be able to accurately measure how heavy it will be.  I can certainly tweak it a little one way or the other, but I’m a little afraid of over-simplifying it and losing the meat of the setting.  But that’s a little way off, so I’m not going to worry about it now.

    Thanks for the comments!   

  6. Hi Chris-

    Neat to see that you’re working on a game. The theme you’ve chosen is one I thought about at one time; I agree it’s under-represented. One question I have is how you’re handling the possibility of patients dying while under the care of the players. While I was having thoughts about designing a game such as this, I was concerned about that a little, since the topic of death is a little taboo (in our culture, at least).

    I am designing a game, too, and am in the final play testing stage. I have engaged an established artist to begin doing the artwork/graphic design soon. I hope to have my design available to demo at MACE and then begin the process of getting it published (myself) after that.

    Perhaps we could help each other through the process, if that sounds good to you. Are you planning on self-publishing, or selling to an established publisher?


  7. There is some quote by someone, somewhere that goes something like this…

    If you make a game educational it probably won’t be fun but if you make a game fun it is probably going to be educational (not necessarily on subject matter but on planning, strategy, thought processes etc…)

  8. Chris Norwood

    That’s sounds really cool, Doug.  I’d love to try out your game at MACE, and I’d appreciate any input you could give (assuming I’m able to put together a decent prototype by then).  I have no clue what I’ll do as far as publishing goes; right now I just want to get a decent game together.

    As for death, it’s going to have to be part of this game.  I haven’t completely decided how it will be handled, but I know that one of the “big events” possible each turn will be a “Code Blue”…

  9. Chris Norwood

    That’s a really great quote, and while I’m “planning” on the game being educational, I certainly hope that it comes off more being fun than educational when you play it. 

  10. “The theme I’ve come up with is for the players to all be nurses working together to survive one terrible 12-hour shift on an active medical/surgical unit in an acute care hospital.”

    As I started reading your blog and saw the stethoscope, I thought it was strictly concerning the heath of your new game concept. I certainly did not expect a game about nursing. This should be a very interesting cooperative game if you can get the pacing/game play right. I figured I’d start reading your “Boardgame Design Project” posts in order, I don’t know how it has come out yet… :: continues reading ::

    That Cowboy Guy

  11. Chris Norwood

    Cool!  I need to write another article after my playtesting recently, but haven’t had time either to work out my next round of changes or to actually get it written.  I welcome your input on any stage of my process so far…

  12. Seth Jaffee

    My friend had a game idea and I made a first run prototype of it for a coop nursing game he called Code Blue, with a similar theme. I think it’s a great theme along the lines of Flash Point Fire Rescue, and I think it will resonate with people… a lot of people know that nurses exist and that they help people, but not many know really what they do.

    With the popularity of shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, ER (at one time anyway), House, etc – I think this theme would go over well.

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