Some Games I Wish I'd Invented

When I play some cool game, I often end up thinking, "I wish I had invented that," but with some games that thought runs way deeper, and a game exudes some sort of perfection, where the designer has absolutely nailed something and I end up dreaming of being a good enough designer to come up with something as wonderful.

I've been thinking about the games that have this effect on me, so here is a list of a few of the games that I wish I had invented, or even was capable of inventing. Maybe one day I'll get there...

No Thanks!

Image credit: mikehulsebus @ boardgamegeek
So this one is the big one for me. It's a game that consists of 33 cards with numbers on and a stack of counters, and that's it. Each turn you have one decision to make: do I take the card from the middle of the table, or do I put one of my limited supply of counters on it? Collect the lowest total score and you win. The genius here is the simplicity of that decision, while it still carries so much weight, the fact that runs of numbers only score the value of the lowest card in the run, and that nine of the cards are removed for each game, giving just the right amount of uncertainty for a satisfying game. Why nine cards? I can only imaging vast amounts of playtesting resulting in the perfect number. When I teach the game to people, there is invariably a general, "OK, is that it?" when I explain, and then a few turns in an unmistakable expression on their faces as the emergent subtleties start to dawn on them.

I have, on more than one occasion, said that if I had a time machine, I would use it to go back in time and "invent" No Thanks! before Thorsten Gimmler does. I am totally serious about this, it is my ultimate aim in life. Failing that, I want to make sure that as many people as possible buy the game, in the hope that Thorsten can afford to buy a yacht with the royalties.


Image credit: aldoojeda @ boardgamegeek
You place a tile, you move your "dragon" along the line on the tile, you try not to get forced off the edge of the board.  I can teach this game to pretty much anyone in seconds, thanks to its rules being pretty much intuitive from the components, and it always results in laughter and a great time had by all. There is player elimination in this game, which is usually a bad thing in modern game design, but games usually last only about ten minutes and my experience is that defeated players generally want to come back and get their revenge.  With two or three players, Tsuro is a mellow, relaxing game, but with the maximum eight players, there is chaos and carnage from the start.

The real genius of this game is that most people pretty much intuitively know how to play as soon as they are shown the components, and while it won't satisfy someone wanting a deep strategic challenge, it is a box full of beautifully presented fun.


Image credit: kalchio @ boardgamegeek
Quite a lot deeper than the previous games, Coloretto is about collecting sets of colours.  When it is your turn, you either take a row of cards from the middle of the table and end your involvement in that round (there'll be another in a minute, until the deck runs out...) or you draw a card from the deck and add it to one of the rows.  It's a really simple concept, but I think it has two little bits of genius: the way you draw and fill the rows of cards and have to do so in a way that, ideally, isn't too advantageous to the other players, and the fact that at the end of the game, three of your sets count in your favour, while any others count against you.  The implications of the simple rules are beautiful, and make this a really challenging game, despite its basic appearance.

Coloretto has spawned other, bigger, games with the same basic mechanisms, like the very enjoyable Zooloretto, but for my money, this little card game beats almost everything else for me and is another perfect game that I wish I could have thought of.

Deep Sea Adventure

Image credit: Skombie @ boardgamegeek
At first glance, this is a great big nope. You roll dice, move your diver, then decide if you want to pick up a piece of treasure or not. What is there to like in a roll-and-move game like this? Well, quite a lot, as it turns out.  The genius of turning the roll-and-move diving game into a tense, press-your-luck game by having a shared air supply which is depleted more quickly as players pick up more treasure makes this into a really compelling game. And that there is a once-and-done decision to turn back just makes the whole thing sweeter.  You get to take part in three dives, and only make a few meaningful decisions during each, but the sweet pain of having to live with your bravado or cowardice makes Deep Sea Adventure so much more than the sum of its parts.  This is a game where a lot of the enjoyment comes from egging your opponents on to take greater risks, from the schadenfreude you feel when they fail, and from the buzz you get that one time you manage to get back to the submarine, heavily laden with treasure.

I totally wish I had thought of this one. Who would have thought it could work so well?

Flamme Rouge

Image credit: aldoojeda @ boardgamegeek
Racing games are an old staple of boardgaming, but they are not something that usually gets a lot of attention among "hobby" gamers, but cycling race game Flamme Rouge quickly captured my heart. At a basic level it is straightforward: you have two cyclists in your team, and for each of them you draw a hand of cards with movement values on them and select one to use; selected cards are gone forever, and the rest will be recycled in a future round.  The genius here, though, is in two simple rules that somehow manage to represent and distill the essence of competitive cycle racing. First, after all bikes have moved, a group of cyclists that is exactly one space behind the group ahead gets a free move to catch up (slipstreaming).  Secondly, any rider at the front of a group adds a low value card to their deck (exhaustion), meaning that later on they will have options reduced and may have to ride slower at some time in the future in order to recover. There are some neat rules about hills too, but these two are enough to leave me in awe. Capturing the theme so neatly in just a couple of easily understood rules is something I can currently only aspire to.

Final Thoughts

I find that, while I wish I could design an intricate and complex ludological artifact like Anachrony or Terra Mystica, or some smooth and satisfying middleweight Euro like Concordia or Calimala, I find that the games I am most in awe of are those small, lightweight games that just do one or two things but do them so well that I can't imagine a better way to do it. I am so often amazed by the creativity and resourcefulness of other game designers that I wonder if I will ever be able to create something that can come close to matching them, but right now I can't stop making my own games, so I just have to hope that one day I will be worthy enough to join these greats.


  1. Great post!

    I fully agree that the simplest games have to most to teach: they have to pack a lot of punch in just a few components.

    And I'm going to think about what games I wished I'd invented...

    1. Thanks! I'm reminded of the quote, which I think was by Pascal, to the effect of: apologies for my long letter, but I didn't have the time to make it shorter. :)

      (I don't think Pascal used the smiley, come to think of it.)