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9:29pm on Friday, 6th November, 2009:

Games Course


One of the great things about running a games course is that you get to play games.

OK, well strictly speaking mine is a computer games course, but when it comes to game design gameplay is gameplay. So it was that yesterday I took in a bunch of board games, chosen on the basis that they fitted in a box, and let my second-year students loose on them in a two-hour class. These are the games I used:

The idea was for them to play the games, figure out the mechanics, then suggest how they could be reskinned. Once I had dismissed the obvious ideas as not really stretching the idea of reskinning very far ("instead of connecting cities with railways, it's oil pipes", that sort of thing), they got into the spirit of things quite well. My favourite was restyling San Juan, which is all about building a city in the Caribbean during the 17th Century, as building a character in an RPG. I also liked a suggestion to make Trans Europe into a journey through life (connecting events such as birth, marriage, children, grandchildren, deathold age) and one for Munchkin that I remember thinking was good but now discover wasn't good enough that it immediately comes to mind...

In terms of enjoyment, the ones that came out best were Lost Cities (which is utterly and transparently an abstract game invented using a normal deck), San Juan (much better with 4 players than 2), Trans Europe (a nice, Boxing Day kind of family game) and Hera and Zeus (nothing to do with either but better than expected). Munchkin was a mixed bag, trying too hard to be funny but with an interesting gameplay founded on changing an uninteresting gameplay. Caesar and Cleopatra (all style, no substance) got the thumbs down. No-one played Hellas, Dungeoneer (just as well given its impenetrable rules) or Kahuna (because we used its tokens as counters in Munchkin).

The best thing, though, was discovering that all my games course students are actually gamers, and that some of them had played some of the games before (in particular, Munchkin).

It's always good when students are actually into what they're being taught. I almost feel guilty about having to tell them in a few lectures' time about the reality of the computer games industry as compared to the theory...

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).