I'm Teaching Game Analysis Lab!

I proposed a new course at my university called "Game Analysis Laboratory." It fits in the middle of our game design curriculum for new media design and interactive media majors, presenting students with a foundation of experiences in tabletop games. This blog will about the course and my experience teaching it.

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Semester 2, Day Three: Luck and Dexterity

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Ran a class full of push-your-luck and dexterity games today, some for the first time. My lectures continue to feel clunky and shoehorned in to the class instead of integral to the material.

Our push-your-luck games included Zombie Dice donated by Steve Jackson Games, blackjack, and one of our new donations, Samurai Spirit from Passport Game Studios. Dexterity games featured crokinole (for the first time!), Pitchcar, and skittles. We didn't have time to get into Dungeon Fighter, a donation from Fantasy Flight.

Students seemed to get into the games more than last week, possibly because of the novelty over last week's poker and Skull.
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Fri Jan 23, 2015 8:17 pm
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Semester 2, Day 1: Uno!

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Here I am again, ready to teach Game Analysis Lab for a second time. I feel better prepared as a teacher and, with the generous donations from companies like Fantasy Flight (who sent me a ton of stuff but no X-Wing), Steve Jackson Games, and Cool Mini or Not, armed with a stronger library of games.

Day 1 was "tutorial mode:" we worked (fumbled?) through the syllabus and class expectations, then played Uno and Mao. Finally, we did a guided review of Uno to make sure (hopefully) they understand the concepts I'm trying to teach, primarily the four interrelated elements of game design: aesthetics, theme, mechanics, and technology (cards, dice, and apps are all game technologies).
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Mon Jan 12, 2015 3:10 pm
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Day End: Wrap Up

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Well, I got caught up in the end-of-semester rush and failed to keep up with this blog. Sorry!

The course... ran its course. We tried some games that worked well (the students liked Munchkin) and some that didn't (Rivet Wars). The class was deeply divided over whether X-Wing feels like Star Wars or makes no sense whatsoever. They of course loved Magic: The Gathering (and the free demo decks sent by Wizards of the Coast).

Grading was very difficult: many students failed to keep up with the required work and had to do extra credit in order to pass. Many students failed to grok the concepts I wanted them to, making the same mistakes in the last week that they did in the first.

Overall, I learned a lot about how to structure, guide, and teach a class. I learned about some things that need to change for next time (our bridge lesson was a debacle and Diplomacy was a struggle for some students) and I definitely need to adjust my expectations of the students.

Teaching is hard work.
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Wed May 28, 2014 3:39 pm
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Day 10: I Knew He Was A Cylon....

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Our latest class experience showcased one of my favorite games and its little sibling: Battlestar Galactica and BSG Express. Perhaps "showcased" is the wrong word- I'm not sure students were able to get a good experience of the game in the time allotted (two hours). BSG- even the Express version- has lots of rules, which lead to lots of questions, which lead to slower games and less progress and a lot more exercise for me dashing between tables. Of the three tables (two with the big FFG game and one BSGXP set), I believe only one had a revealed Cylon (on the Express game, which was able to finish before class ended) and one had an unrevealed Cylon; the third table must not have dealt the Cylon cards yet.

Sadly, I think the BSG experience (which I've taught before in a smaller classroom setting with success) suffered from my divided attention. My inability to walk tables through a sample turn or two forced students- who often don't read the supplementary instruction documents prior to class- to figure out the games themselves from scattered documents, helpsheets, and instruction booklets. By comparison, when I ran a two-table game for high school students a couple years ago, one of those tables was able to finish the game (albeit by running out of resources before a single Cylon loyalty card was dealt) in a couple hours.

The lesson for me is to be careful when selecting games and, when using a longer game like BSG, crafting a midgame starting scenario that would allow students to get the full flavor of the game without hacking through the jungle of the slower first turns.

Our next class meeting will be off-site at a workshop featuring the designer of Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Brian Mayer. I'm hoping for good participation from my students and looking forward to hearing from Mr. Mayer and seeing his game in person!
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Tue Mar 25, 2014 7:55 pm
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Deleted Accounts?!

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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It looks like all of my students' BGG accounts were deleted over the weekend! I e-mailed BGG and hope we can get them restored!
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Mon Mar 10, 2014 8:53 pm
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Days 8 and 9: War and Peace

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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I fell a week behind, but since it's now spring break I'll write a double post and everything will be fine.

A week and a half ago my class played Axis & Allies. To be more precise, some students played Axis & Allies 1940 Global with 1942 start scenario, some students played A&A 1941, and some played on my Milton Bradley set from the mid-1990s. It took me all morning to set up the three tables (after starting at 7:45, I finished just before class at 10), but the students learned, played, and formed opinions of the game.

It worked! And it worked much better than I expected. Some of the students didn't enjoy it, but that's part of the point: identify what makes a game fun (or not) for the player.

Last week my class played 7 Wonders, among others. Using some inspiration from my father's pedagogy (he's a professor at another institution), I sat seven players at the table and assigned the other eight students as "buddies," analyzing their active player's decisions, offering strategic insight, and helping answer questions. Active players and buddies swapped spots at the break between ages. Aside from the odd number of students, it worked really well, cutting down explanation time, and giving players a safety net.

After 7 Wonders, we had some extra time. Students played Oz Fluxx, Qwirkle, and Timeline; all were loaned by our FLGS, the Adventurer's Guild.

We have spring break this week (perhaps I'll get caught up on grading), then we'll be playing Battlestar Galactica. Of course, with 15 students, I'll have to figure out how to seat everyone. I can bring my Exodus and Daybreak expansions, but I'm not sure if either of those allow up to 8 players. I'm open to suggestions!
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Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:44 pm
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Day 7: Teamwork

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Last week featured cooperative games. This was one of the smoothest classes I've run, with two tables of Space Alert, one table of Pandemic, and one table of Dungeon Fighter. The Space Alert groups played twice; the Pandemic group played twice and then transitioned to Dungeon Fighter. I even had time to lecture on the game design tetrad (theme/story, mechanics, aesthetics, and technology)!

We needed a bit of a breather between Diplomacy and Axis & Allies. Next class I'll start setting up as soon as I arrive in the morning, since we have three groups playing A&A and class is at 10:05 AM....
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Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:25 pm
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Day 6: Diplomacy

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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This was a pretty bumpy session. Prior to class, I had assigned students to teams, one team per nation in Diplomacy. Wouldn't you know it, one team didn't show up, so I took a volunteer. With my slim experience with the game (one match 10 years ago), my teaching was poor and students often had questions and problems (although I take no responsibility for some students' failure to pay attention to my explanation). By the end of the class, one team (Austria) had really caught on, pulling away from the other countries in score; some other teams were gaining understanding; and two teams (France and Russia) either partly gave up or wrote "no orders" on their order sheets. One student was watching YouTube videos while another played games on his tablet (no participation points for those guys!).

All in all, it made me worry about the complex games coming up (next week is Pandemic and Space Alert, followed the week after by Axis & Allies), especially those that require long-term strategic thinking and have downtime between turns. Next time around, I think I'll use Cosmic Encounter (Fantasy Flight's donation came just a bit too late for us to play this time!) and other negotiation-heavy games like The Resistance.
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Tue Feb 18, 2014 4:34 pm
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Day 5: Role-Playing

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Today we played a large-party game of Dungeons & Dragons (3.5). We split the party, so several students didn't get to play and those who did were fighting desperately when the class period ended. Oops.

I think it went really well, though- several students have started their own game and started a session immediately after class. Pretty cool.

Now I just have to grade their work from the last couple of weeks- I've been behind due to weather cancellations.
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Fri Feb 7, 2014 6:32 pm
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Day Four: Party Games

David Runyon

Pennsylvania
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Friday's palette of charades, Pictionary, Taboo, Cards Against Humanity, and Wits & Wagers was a very full schedule. With a short presentation in preparation for this week's Dungeons & Dragons session, we didn't get more than one round of Wits & Wagers. Fortunately, that was one of the last "smorgasbord" days in the schedule- the next few weeks are long-format games that we can focus on (Diplomacy is going to blow them away).
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Tue Feb 4, 2014 5:53 pm
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