Novice game designers who have not played many tabletop games have a tendency to create “roll-and-move games” along the lines of LIFE and Snakes & Ladders; games in which players spend most of their time moving pieces as dictated by dice rolls. Creating these sorts of games usually involves little creativity; they use what is essentially a prefabricated game mechanic.
Setting aside concerns of originality, roll & move games are a bad starting place for game design because they offer players little choice in regard to what actions can be taken. Giving players multiple pieces to move (along the lines of Pachisi and Sorry!) or grafting on other mechanics that offer some form of choice can help to a degree, but almost invariably the resulting game is one of monotonous rolling and moving that is only occasionally punctuated with interesting choices.
Designing roll-and-move games is prohibited in the classes I teach. Even so, roll-and-move mechanics often sneak their way into my students’ designs because this sort of game structure looms so large for people whose tabletop playing experience has been largely limited to childhood board games.
Making It Interesting
For any readers of Tabletop Game Design for Video Game Designers who find themselves designing a roll-and-move game, here is an approach for reworking the game into something more interesting.
Start by asking yourself what there is to do in the game besides moving pieces. Is the game entirely about rolling dice (or flicking a spinner) and moving pieces? Or does all that piece movement culminate in the players getting to do something more interesting? For example, perhaps there is a combat mechanic that occurs whenever a player lands on a space occupied by a monster.
If the game is entirely about rolling dice and moving pieces, then it should probably be considered a false start and scrapped. However, if there is something more to the game than just that, see what happens if movement is eliminated entirely from the game. In the case of the monster combat example, maybe the game shifts to become one in which players fight a monster every turn. Or perhaps some new, more compelling mechanic becomes the central experience of the game (e.g., striving to have the best monster zoo) and the monster fighting remains a secondary mechanic. In any case, a roll-and-move-ectomy will probably require a major overhaul of the mechanics that remain, but the potential payoff in terms of a more fun and more original game makes the effort worth it.