How to design a business board game for employee engagement

Board games for business? Johnson Wong gives us some insight. 

Employee engagement directly impacts every organisation’s competitiveness and growth. Today, companies are progressively spending more resources to level up their employees’ connection and commitment towards higher levels of productive outcomes.

Many organisations are adopting gamification in driving various initiatives such as staff development and engagement activities. The term gamification is the application of ‘game mechanics’ in a simulated non-game context to promote the desired behaviour and drive learning outcomes.

Games are relevant and meaningful because the inherent social interaction factors motivate employees to work harder in the regulated and friendly competition. One relatively inexpensive approach that is gaining popularity in corporations is the use of customised board games. These games simulate engagement challenges and connections to desired organisational outcomes.

Games are relevant and meaningful because the inherent social interaction factors motivate employees to work harder in the regulated and friendly competition. 

The big question is: How to design a customised board game that is effective for achieving employee engagement?

Before taking the deep dive into developing any corporate objective-based board game, here’s an overview of board games:

Board game genres

Selecting the right board game genres puts you ahead of unnecessary time and effort spent on the ‘wrong’ purposing of the game. 

Classic or Family – These games require players to race around a designated path to reach their goal. They have a weighty reliance on luck and have less strategy than more contemporary board games. Examples: Sorry, Snakes and Ladders

Euro-Style – These games are about gaining victory points. The gameplay usually lasts a certain number of turns or continue until one player reached a certain number of victory points. These games have strong themes and some ‘political’ play between the players as they negotiate and trade resources. Examples: Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Carcassone

Strategy – They are grander compared with Euro-Style games. These games integrate a strong narrative which drives the game’s progress. Often, they involve a heavy collaborative or competitive play, making players to form or break alliances over the course of the game. Examples: Chess, Risk, Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica

Card-based – They are strategy games where cards are the primary game element. These games usually have a substantial element of randomness. The game objectives can be based on victory points, achieving a specific set of cards, or eliminating target players. Examples: Munchkin, Bang, 7 Wonders, and Chrononauts

Basic anatomy of board games

The Goal – What is the final winning objective of the game? What does a player or team have to do to win? For example, cross the finish line first, collect the most number of ABC items, be the last player standing, etc.

The Challenge – What obstacles do you put in the game that makes the player’s way to reaching the goal fun and exciting? How is the player being kept from achieving a goal? What are the constraints designed to instil that challenge?

Game Play (Core Process) – Identify what are core actions or moves a player does to power the play of the game. Jumping, wiggling, searching, solving clues, bobbing, weaving, dodging, etc.

Game Elements – What parts or components make up the materials of play? Cards? Spinning wheel? Chess pieces? Bandanas? Game canvas? Other physical elements?

Rules – What are the relationships that define what a player can and cannot do in the game? Which player to go first in a turn-based sequence? Example, highest in dice rolls takes the lead. What are the gameplay actions not allowed within specific parameters of the game board? These rules need to be concise and clear for the participants to play the game smoothly.

Space – Where does the game take place and how does that physical space affect the game? How long is the game? Indoors or outdoors? Classroom? Conference hall? A park?

Building the board game process

Establishing the purpose, the target players and identifying the key desired outcomes takes centre stage during the game creation process. I recommend an iterative three steps approach to design the board game for a business goal such as employee engagement.

Adopt the design thinking model for creating the board game

  • Distill Insights

Scope and gather requirements for the customised board game to define the challenge. Uncover critical factors and context that drives staff engagement with the use of modern diagnostic methods to obtain those needed information. Examples include and not limited to the following:

  •  Employees’ perception of how the organisation’s business and operations
  • The workplace and dynamics between co-workers, the clarity of goals and performance measures
  • The quality of communication and relationships with superiors and customers

Distill and formulate the intentional engagement challenge. Once the engagement insights are reviewed, the next step is to ideate suitable board game structures (refer to the anatomy of the board game) that aligns with the goal of fostering employee engagement.

  • Explore Designs

Explore possibilities of gameplay scenarios and contexts. Brainstorm with stakeholders on the ideas for the board game designs. Take reference considerations from the anatomy of board game and ask those questions during the exploration and designing process:

  • What are essential elements that create conditions for employees to participate and internalise the desired engagement takeaways?
  • What interactions of the game mechanics encourage employees to connect and commit?
  • Is game challenge able to align with the intended objectives?

After all the feasible ideas are captured, prototype the board game. Playtest and iterate the board game design. Involve key stakeholders such as front-line managers and team leaders to play and review the board game. Refine the board game intentionally to improve after the playtest.

  • Implement

The rollout plan for any board design has to be carefully devised as it affects the confidence of employees and organisation adopting gamification process. Involve stakeholders to drive communication channels in the organisation that can support the smooth implementation journey. Gather feedback during the implementation and practise continuous improvement.

Designing and developing the board game for a corporate purpose will take time and effort. It probably won’t be a perfect game on the first try, but it can provide a valuable experience for both the designer and players to learn something from every attempt made.

It is a learning journey to integrate play into work and will take every effort from all stakeholders to be committed that will ultimately lead to success.

Design, implement and game on.


About the author

Johnson Wong is a Learning Strategist for CET Global Pte Ltd. He is also an academic advisor at a private education institute, where he facilitates courses in topics such as research design and HR- and management-related soft skills.


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