Tag Archives: board game

Earliest Board Games – New Evidence

A fascinating find in southeast Turkey from around 3000BC was revealed this week: a collection of board game pieces of different styles/functions found together (image below and original story from Discovery News).

Small carved game pieces found together at Başur Höyük

Small carved game pieces found together at Başur Höyük

This adds weight to the evidence of game playing using boards and counters in the region during the early bronze age – the earliest example being Senet from predynastic Egypt, with more elaborate boards and counters found in the royal cemetery of Ur in ancient Mesopotamia, also dating from around 3000BC; while the still-played Go (or Wei-qi) appears in Asia in around 2000BC. This is, though, the first evidence of a collection of different game pieces (possibly indicating variation of roles in a game, or a variety of different games) collected together purposefully.

Game design chest

As I’m finding myself creating more and more simple traditional games (involving boards, cards and dice) within my teaching, workshops and design projects, I decided to pull together a box of resources so that I had standard game components to hand for prototyping.

Board game components box

The final box: all that’s missing is the ideas

I did a bit of reading around, and found that most professional game designers build up similar resource boxes over time, usually by collecting components from old or second hand games. There are also, though, a number of suppliers who provide individual components in whatever colour or shape you like.

To keep things cheap, I mixed these approaches together – salvaging some components from old and otherwise tattered games we’d grown out of as a family, visiting Leicester’s excellent independent toy store (Dominoes) to get various coloured and multi-sided dice, cutting square and hexagonal tiles out of thick board with a stanley knife, and slotting everything into a cheap DIY parts box.

Cutting out hexagonal tiles

Cutting out hexagonal tiles

Altogether, it cost around £20 to assemble – but will provide enough materials for countless game prototypes over the coming years.

Resources I found useful:

For downloadable hexagon/grid templates (plus it contains links to other suppliers of game materials)

Who have almost every game part you might ever need.

For a huge list of resources, companies etc. useful in both the design and  production of a board game.

…and Ebay and Amazon for cheap dice, blank cards etc. (look around – I picked mine up for pence).

Of Course! course design board game

The Of Course! board game boxAn educational board game I’ve been working on for over a year has finally gone into ‘production’.

Of Course! was designed to solve a problem I have with new course teams designing a new programme (especially for online courses). Normally it would take 3-4 meetings to get all staff to forget their normal teaching/admin processes, and focus on the new market/student base/subject needs. I designed a simple board game which matches materials, pedagogic, assessment and administrative elements to the learner and market context, adding in competition, scoring and a small ‘vindictive’ element. The game, although the rules needed streamlining, worked wonders in that it generated huge levels of discussion within the course team, and helped focus the team together within an hour – rather than those 3-4 meetings.

After several prototypes and playtests with other course teams, instructional designers and games designers (thanks to my ALT-GLSIG colleagues) I looked for ways to produce the final version. I came across the rather wonderful gamecrafter.com – which allows you to create professional finished board games in single or small numbers as well as large. The downside proved to be the postage (both cost and time, as the package spent a long time in UK customs) but the finished product is rather wonderful and well worth the wait.

You can find out more about the game, and download or purchase it on the Of Course! page; you can also read more about the design process, contextual games, and playtesting of this game in the following paper:

Moseley, A. (2010) “Back two spaces, and roll again: the use of games-based activities to quickly set authentic contexts”. Proceedings of ECGBL 2010, the 4th European Conference on Games Based Learning, Copenhagen, Denmark, 20-21 October 2010, pp. 270-279. Available: http://hdl.handle.net/2381/9103 [Accessed 29/8/2012].

No Risk Strategy

Over the Christmas break I’ve been catching up with some of the games news from the latter end of 2011 – and Risk Legacy caught my eye, as it did when I first heard about the idea. Finally release just before Christmas in the US, this new version of Risk changes the nature of boardgames in a rather exciting way. Up until now, every time you open a boardgame the scene is set to zero: the board and pieces begin at the start just as they did in the previous game (unless you have small children who ‘modify’ the contents in their own unique way). But the designers of Risk Legacy played on the idea that – in reality – battles, feuds and alliances will be remembered by regular players each time a new game is played, and might therefore influence gameplay in a continuum, rather than a constant restart (there’s an interesting interview with the game’s designers in The Escapist).

Do not open envelopeThe new version of Risk therefore comes with stickers, special rules, secret pockets and other tricks which make permanent changes to the game. If you make  a choice between two cards, for example, the other card is destroyed. Literally (from the rulebook: “If a card is DESTROYED, it is removed from the game permanently. Rip it up. Throw it in the trash.”). Other changes affect the board or the rules permanently – and they come into play when certain conditions are met, such as ‘open the first time a faction is eliminated from the game’. Plus, deliciously intriguingly, one envelope secured to the box base labelled ‘Do not open. Ever’.

Winners in the game get to create special conditions in the following game (such as founding a new major city) whilst losers also carry certain conditions into their next game too. All of this means that the game becomes a campaign, rather than a  one-off scenario, where player actions affect not only the current game, but will have repercussions for future games too.

This innovative approach is not for everyone, of course – many players (particularly beginners) like boardgames precisely because they can write off a poor loss by starting a new game afresh, each game providing a fixed structure for developing a beginner’s gameplay: an essential time-honoured learning curve.  And some who like the aesthetics of board games will be appalled at the idea of destroying or defacing cards or boards – designer Lewis Pulsipher has attacked this aspect of Risk Legacy. It is also pretty obvious that you need regular players to get the most out of Risk Legacy – a game-loving family, or games group. But all this aside, the idea and possibilities are fascinating both for future boardgames, and for education.

The traditional method of learning a boardgame, outlined above, carries a number of similarities with the way we tend to teach courses in higher education: we tend to explain complex subject concepts in the same way each year to new students, and (particularly in practical subjects) rely on the students to practice those concepts with real-world examples or conditions: multiple case-studies or assignments giving students a new chance in each case to develop and consolidate their understanding. The problems with this approach tend to be at the start, when students with a range of background experience are taught key concepts in the same way and at the same level; differential understanding then leads through to poorer or greater application of the knowledge in later exercises or assignments.

Experiential education tries to solve this problem by designing the teaching and learning around students’ existing knowledge, so that each student is learning on their own trajectory: it is, however, difficult and time-consuming to achieve – particularly with large numbers of students. The approach used in Risk Legacy might, though, be of interest here: the idea that students carry knowledge and decisions between each learning module, case study or assignment – and the modules or assignments themselves actually change based on those ‘carried forward’ conditions. Educational methods such as ipsative assessment (see Hughes, Okumoto & Crawford 2010) already utilise this approach, but are not widespread and suffer from the same problems of scalability for large student numbers. Maybe more scalable approaches could be used which allow students to carry conditions and effects through a number of case studies or exercises though, leaving assessments largely unchanged but altering the conditions and learning paths each student takes to their goal. In effect, turning discrete learning scenarios into a longer-term learning campaign.

Board of blinkered course design

For around eight months, I’ve been working on a board game which will help staff in academic departments to understand the benefits of good course design. Not the most interesting of topics, I’m sure most will agree, but a necessary one if courses don’t become unweildy beasts which serve neither students or staff in the long term.

As Educational (Instructional, in US/corporate speak) Designers, we found that we were having to meet with departmental colleagues over a number of coffees/weeks in order to gradually introduce them to wider issues when creating a new course. Building on my ideas around the use of games to quickly set authentic contexts (Moseley 2010) I decided to create a short (1-2 hours) board game which would quickly bring the players up to speed with course design concepts, applied to their local setting.

The basic idea of the game is to set up a randomised context for the course (eg. a taught postgraduate course for working professionals in mainland Europe) and for the resources available for course creation (staff, budget etc.). Players then draw cards from decks which represent broad course design areas (such as assessment, pedagogy, and course administration) and try to form a simple course design which fits the context and resources. The designs are then tested by ‘events’ which affect things like intake, staff numbers or internet access; and players score higher the closer their course design is to the context and resources. Later in the game, the contexts and resources are set to the actual departmental context.

All very noble (and useful, from the rich discussion which the game encourages) but – as a game – where is the fun? The randomised elements, ability of players to influence outcomes, point scoring, and the vindictive element of playing ‘events’ on others, all add up to an entertaining, competitive and humour-filled couple of hours, in playtests to date.

Picture of board game in use

"We're over target!"

An earlier version of the board game was used with an academic department embarking on the design of a new DL course, to great effect (staff talked of having their “eyes opened” and “it generated some great ideas”); but today, in revised and streamlined form, two copies of the game were played by 16 distance learning staff (academic and administrative) at our regular DL Forum seminar. Over the course of an hour and a half, the two groups could be found in deep discussion with each other, gasping as a crippling ‘event’ hit, cheering as their points rose above the negative, and (most satisfyingly) comparing some of the game cards and situations to their own courses and experiences.

This was the big test – I feel confident now in both the gameplay and usefulness, and with a couple of minor tweaks to the events, the board game will be ready to commit to… well, board.