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Subject: Course in Game Design rss

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George Phillies
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My university (Worcester Polytechnic Institute http://www.wpi.edu ) offers an undergraduate major in Interactive Media and Game Development, which requires students to have both some level of software background and some level of artistic background. It thus differs from many of the fine programs which are specialty commercial art programs or specialty software games. I have proposed, and we appear to be getting support, that I will teach a term course in game design, with a terminal project that students must actually design and playtest a game. Our terms run 7 weeks (4 in an academic year) so I will have 28 lectures (I expect two will be tests) and 7 two-hour lab sessions to help students along. A search of other game design degree programs finds many rpograms lacka similar course.

We will run at least one resource limited game (Puerto Rico comes to mind) and one gridded-area war game (I am undecided as to which one). There are several other sorts of EuroGames, e.g., tile-laying games or trick taking games that might be covered.

The lab sessions will be 'development' not play, so we will try such things as 'play Puerto Rico. Now replay with the draft rule in which you chose a role and the last of people who carried it out was different. Measure the dead time. Measure the options for each player.'

I am also looking at covering
features of hex game, e.g., various grid patterns
game features, e.g., stacking zones of control, combat results tables, not always propagated to computer games
types of game, e.g., miniatures, role games, classical games, et many cetera
small and large unit military tactics and considerations. Morale. Command and control.
opinions of great minds, as seen e.g. in Tom Vasel's interviews or the articles at costik.org
The objective is to widen the student minds and provide them with a toolkit of ideas.

Readings from an undecided list of books on small unit, large unit, and fleet tactics. Legitimate historical data, and why you should not always believe it, e.g. Liddell-Hart and the Weight of History.

Efforts will be made to tie to computer games. I am not much of a computer game player, but my students are.

I will be relying in part on my board wargame collection (modestly under 3500 titles) for examples.

Opinions as to reading, topics, etc will be most welcome.

George Phillies
phillies@wpi.edu

Yes, I am planning on doing textbook(s) as there is little out there to help the students. Your opinions would be welcome.
 
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Something not mentioned above that I think is essential is some grounding in formal game theory. See if you can find someone from the maths department (an operations research / management science lecturer would do, or a statistician) to talk about expected value, probability distributions of dice, Monte Carlo simulation, prisoner's dilemma, travelling salesman problem (and approximate solutions), network optimisation etc. Students with a software background should be able to cope with the very basic maths involved.
 
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Ken Shogren
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Your best bet for a textbook on game design is likely "Rules of Play" by Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen, published by MIT Press. It covers game design, including board and computer games. It includes custom games by Richard Garfield, Frank Lantz, Kira Snyder, and James Ernest. It is intended as a textbook.

If you are looking for some additional insight on providing game design courses, I recommend you also look at the International Game Developers' Association (IGDA) website at www.igda.org . They have curriculum guidelines here -> www.igda.org/academia/curriculum_framework.php.

Best of luck in developing the course.
 
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Russell Jones
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There's surprisingly little on the subject of pure game design theory.

Bjork & Holopainen: Patterns in Games Design - 2004
Koster: A theory of fun in Games Design – 2004
Salen & Zimmermann: Rules of Play – 2003
Knizia: Dice games explained properly – 1999

Rules of play is the most thorough, and has plenty of references for further reading in each of the specialist area's that may or may not interest you. Definitely an option as a core text.

Theory of fun, whilst not really containing practical advice, is a nice little book for clarifying the subject, and for getting a feel for the task.

'Patterns' is the other extreme, attempting to break down any and all elements of games, and relate them in a logical structure. Another possible text book.

I haven't got the Knizia book, but I included it as it's one of the few other books I could find that is actually about the subject of games design, and not programming, art, development etc.

Some books on systems theory & complexity might be useful depending on your approach, and possibly game theory basics. Don't presume a book on game theory will be any use though, as many won't be. Stick with Salen & Zimmermann's advice for books in these areas.

Hope it goes well. Let us know.
 
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Jason Sample
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Quote:
Something not mentioned above that I think is essential is some grounding in formal game theory. See if you can find someone from the maths department...


Phil,

That sounds like a good idea, but it may be difficult given the length of the term and the need for actual game design, etc. What if a course in Game Theory were a prerequisite? That may not be a bad idea as it might discourage the person who believes that the course is either just about playing games or about making computer shoot-em-ups etc.

It sounds like a very groovy idea. Good Luck.

Cheers,
Jason
 
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Jonathan Degann
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1) Take a look at:
http://www.sloperama.com/advice/

Honestly, I haven't read most of it - but there may be a few nuggets and references there. Some of it is commercially or practically driven (liek the value of playtesters), but some of it is about the game itself

2) Ditto checking out the Board Game Designers Forum.

3) Wolfgang Kramer wrote an article which appeared in The Games Journal. I don't have a link. He offers pretty high level principles, not all of which can be readily "applied" to a design, but they are good starting points for discussion.

4) Similarly check out my own pieces in The Games Journal.
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory1.shtml
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory2.shtml
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory3.shtml
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/GameTheory4.shtml

These are by their nature high level, not practical, but are intended as a framework for thinking about games.

Consider also doing what I'm starting to attempt on my blog, jbdgames.blogspot.com (Journal of Boardgame Design), in which I pull apart a game or game mechanism in some detail. Alas, I'm still working on my first article (on Ticket to Ride) so you won't find anything there of great interest quite yet. But my specific encouragement is to pull apart a game and see what seems to make it work.

 
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