Board Game Development

So I just wrapped up spring quarter at the Art Institute of Portland. A week before the quarter started, I was suddenly assigned to teach “Game Design and Play”, the board game design class. I had never taught the class before, and although there were some existing syllabuses, there really wasn’t anything to go on. And not enough time to get anything going.

Now I’m not the most structured of teachers — I prefer leaving the class open to go where it needs to go, as the students explore the material. But this class was well beyond that. I was upfront with the students, and together we explored the material. It was fun. Hopefully it was enlightening.

Part of my approach was to bring the idea of a game to all parts of the class. For their final, I challenged them to come up with a complete game in the two hours allotted. The main requirement was to have, as the central game mechanic, something involving the following (which I provided):

  • 3 standard four-sided dice; red, green, and blue
  • 1 blank white four-sided die

They were also allowed to use the small plastic case the dice came in.

Beyond that, the students could include anything they could come up with. I had some construction paper, colored and white cards, and the like.

Now, I hope the students were sufficiently challenged, and had fun with it. But the things that really struck me about their process were:

  • how much the students wanted to team up. There were two teams of five (five!) people, and some individuals. I couldn’t tell if it was safety in numbers or a genuine desire for collaboration. It was just surprising. If that were me, if I were to team up, it would be with one other person. Maybe. Not that I dislike teams, but that in those initial brainstorming minutes, I would want direction and focus, not consensus.
  • how much video games influenced their designs. It’s a video game world out there now, and the majority of the games they came up with were video games on paper. Again, I’m not making a judgement call here. But I do think that video games and board games are different, and each design process should be different.

I’ll be teaching the class again in the fall, which I am looking forward to. I’ll hopefully have time to develop more lectures about game theory, combinatorics, emergent behaviour, metaphors and mechanics.

And I’ll have to come up with a new final exam challenge.

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