The One Day Board Game Workshop

I had so much fun creating the game that I couldn’t put down the marker eventually politely took it off me 🙂 The facilitation of the workshop was excellent. Thank you & and all others for this inspiring day! ()

After our workshop on making a Sociological Research Board Game had been so well received at last year’s Undisciplining conference, The Sociological Review asked Katy and myself to do another one – but this time we had the luxury of a full day!

detail from the handout

The venue was another art gallery, this time The Lowry at Salford Quays, and based on feedback from the conference at The Baltic, we had also set some time aside to go on a short tour of the permanent exhibition about Lowry himself during the lunch break.

The bag of board games I brought in

As we had so much more time (the first workshop was 90 minutes long, now we had almost seven hours to play with), we decided to start the day by getting our participants to play some board games. The Games and Visual Effects department at Staffordshire University that I work in has a board game library, so I had easy access to a whole (quite overwhelming) array of different games, of which I selected four more or less at random. Plus I brought in one of my own, the Boardgame Blueprint, as I wanted to then use that as an example when talking about the game design later on.

After playing for about 45 minutes, we had a chat about all the games in turn, with the people who had played the individual games (or were familiar with them) describing the game play a little. We were particularly interested in the way the path was organised, the game mechanics used, and the way the visuals of the game represented (or not) the content of the game. (Pirate’s Cove turned out to be a really interesting example as it was so complicated that everybody basically gave up attempting to play it within the first 10 minutes. Although it is visually stunning, there are so many different aspects that players need to prepare and take into consideration that trying to learn it just for a practice play was not worth the time. A great example of how it is possible to overcomplicate a game – a pitfall we didn’t want to fall into with our prototypes!)

The selection of board games we actually did play worked really well, because we ended up with ones ranging from a very strict path (Boardgame Blueprintsee some of the game action here), one with some options (The Game of Life), one where you are quite flexible (The Master Detective Game) and one where the object of the game is to ‘construct’ the path while playing (Tsuro). A number of basic game mechanics were in play, particularly different ways of triggering chance events (dice, spinner, game cards). There was also an interesting range of how the content was visually represented: The Game of Life, for example, uses visuals of an affluent Western Society and three-dimensional elements that seem a bit gimmicky. The Master Detective Game seems located in Victorian London, but presents a bright watercolour version of this and doesn’t include any grime or shady areas that one could associate with Sherlock Holmes. Tsuro is quite abstract but with an Eastern twist. And the Boardgame Blueprint’s large visual is of an iceberg, which seems not really connected with the subject of researching and writing an essay, although the little images on the individual steps feature related pictures.

We then had about an hour before lunch, and I had thought we would be able to go through the different steps at a fairly fast pace. But this is not how it happened… and I’m not sure why, maybe because we had more time people didn’t want to be rushed? Thinking on our feet, we decided to turn the initial idea of going through the steps – to turn the diagram into a flowchart, consider game mechanics and finally design a visual – together, into me walking participants through this and then letting them work at their own pace. As they had a hand-out that detailed all the steps this wasn’t a problem, and allowed people to be more flexible. And it allowed Katy and myself to spend more time chatting to people and helping in case anybody felt they got stuck.

Participants also were flexible in how long they wanted to take for lunch, so that the lunch break organically flowed over to the afternoon when we had scheduled independent development work on the games. The last half an hour or so a number of people shared what they had been working on – and just like after our first workshop. we were really impressed by how many fascinating game prototypes were created!

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Unfortunately we (again) didn’t really have time to do any playtesting. Maybe this is always unrealistic on the same day – so let’s keep this in our backpocket for a week long workshop 😉

Thank you and for facilitating and and for organising such a brilliant day. Will definitely be using what I learnt in the future. ()

 

So after this I think…

…starting with playing games is a great idea, because it not only gets people in a playful mood, but also because we then can talk about the different aspects of them (i.e. how is the path organised, what game mechanics are used, what is the visual impact – and is this connected to the content of the game). If there is not time enough to play, maybe it would be useful to talk about some at the beginning, or while going through the three steps? Playing (or thinking about) games could also be set as preparatory ‘homework’.

…as Jon suggested it would be great to have elastic bands to hand so that participants can take home their prototypes more easily after the session. (Actually I already bought an assortment of elastic bands based on this feedback and now just must remember to pack them for the next workshop!)

…the empty playing cards were a great addition to the resource table, particularly for the people who came with the idea of a card game in mind.

…I wonder whether the paper we are currently using is too big. Even when compared to board games that are commercially available the prototype we are producing is on the large side – however, this allows for us to capture small details (easy to do on a small scale if you have a computer for the writing, not so easy if you are working with markers – and I like encouraging people to use markers, because you have to commit to what you are drawing) – and it makes them easier to share in the session.

…it may be too ambitious to try to include play testing in a workshop, especially if people are working on their own individual games – I mean how would you choose which ones get tested and which don’t? (maybe we need to organise a workshop reunion to play test?) However, if working on collaborative games playtesting would be a useful addition.

If you have been to one of these workshops, let me know what you think via a comment!

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