Season 7’s Symposium event earlier this month was one of our most successful yet, with four speakers on a diverse range of topics, as well as an expert Q&A panel to finish out the afternoon. Here’s a summary for those who were unable to attend.
Timely or Timeless? Games that Last
Dave Dubin – University of Illinois, School of Information Sciences
Dr. Dubin discussed two very different games and how they came to be played for centuries.
First was Rithmomachy, which is chess-like but with a lot more math involved. Sounds fun right? Rithmomachy was popular among educated people during the 11th through the 16th centuries, particularly those who were expected to learn Boethian arithmetic as part of their high class education. The game is seen mostly as a curiosity today, and likely would not have been popular then except for its use in teaching math and morality. You can play Rithmomachy online here if you dare. And learn more about Boethian math over here.
Dr. Dubin also discussed the “Royal Game of Ur,” a very old game dating back to 2,500 BCE, and one of the progenitors of modern Backgammon. You can see the most famous example of the game in the British Museum. Assyriologist Irving Finkel, deciphered a cuneiform tablet with the rules himself, and you can watch him play the game in this video.
Ultimately, though the popularity of the Backgammon family of games waxes and wanes over time, the fundamental gambling element is what keeps people coming back century after century.
Bending the Rules: Tabletop Rule Modifications and What We can Learn from Them
Alexis Upshaw – Doctoral candidate in informatics, and part of the Playful by Design research cluster
Alexis discussed the importance of rules (they literally make a game a game!) and highlighted how changing rules is an important part of designing and experiencing tabletop games. Specifically she talked about expansions for existing published games, variants of well known games, and “house rules” that are made on the fly at your own game table. All of these types of rules modification, separates tabletop experiences from digital games which have strict “rules management” and the rules can only be changed or broken if you have access and knowledge of the underlying code. Being able to change the rules easily is part of what makes tabletop gaming special and accessible to everyone.
Both designers and players have responsibilities when it comes to considering and making rules changes:
Space for Making: Games and Landscape
Chris Marlow – Ball State University, Department of Landscape Architecture
Professor Marlow has used game design as a teaching tool in his landscape architecture classes. He began with an overview of what landscape architecture is: a blend of engineering, art, horticulture, ecology, architecture, urban planning, and urban design. The discipline covers a lot of ground! However, the task of the landscape architect is very similar to that of the game designer. Both are trying to craft experiences for other people that allow room for personal choice, but also have a set of constraints and incentives to shape the experience.
Marlow’s classes had students creating not only tabletop games but video games as well to illustrate key concepts in Landscape Architecture. The professor showed a number of examples of the games students had made, including this “tower defense” style game about placing the right number of trees, benches and water features in a park.
Game design proved to be an excellent tool for fostering learning and innovative thinking about complex problems.
Is This Interesting? Is This Fun?
Chris and Anne Lukeman – CU Adventures in Time and Space
Chris and Anne talked about the challenges of designing and running escape rooms and compared these to the challenges of designing and running your own board game. Here’s just a few of their talking points.
- Whether you’re designing an escape room or a tabletop game, always be asking yourself, “is this interesting?” and “is this fun?” In both design cases you’re trying to provide a feeling to the player; an enjoyable experience
- Escape rooms, and tabletop games should both be a narrative journey with some kind of coherent arc. Even if your game is small, it should have a rising action and exciting climax.
- While players might play the same board game many times, they’ll only play the same escape room once! Escape room designers have to get the experience right the first time.
- When running an escape room, just as with teaching your own board game, it’s vital to be able to read people. Be aware and empathetic for when people are confused, disengaged, or when they’re having a great time!
- Escape rooms are a very new industry and nobody knows what they’ll be like in five years. More like interactive theater perhaps? Stronger narrative with less puzzle-solving?
To wrap up the day we had our panel of expert game retailers:
Red – Gopher Mafia Games
John Dimit – Dr. G’s Brainworks
Brent Dickman – Elf Creek Games
Here’s the answers to a couple of the many questions they fielded.
Q: In your stores, or at your convention booth, how do you ensure that your space is inviting and inclusive?
- Make an investment in nice chairs!
- Dedicate yourself to having a clean store always
- Choose bright/inviting colors and light when possible
- Stock games for all ages, from the very young to the very old
- Provide excellent customer service by making sure your staff knows the majority of the games you stock so they can help customers find the right game for them
- For convention booths, it’s important to have separate spaces for talking to people about the games vs a space for people taking that next step to sit down and play a demo
- Value people’s convention time! If you see they’re not having a good time don’t pressure them to stick around
Q: What are the trends in the board game industry right now? What’s hot?
A: This discussion went around the panel a few times. Fantasy games are always popular. Sci-fi games tend not to be unless they’re connected to a big brand like Star Wars. Superhero games are having a moment right now, but who knows when it will end. Across the industry though there is an increase in games that are simple to teach and also deeply thematic. Ultimately, the panelists all agreed that competitors in CUDO Plays shouldn’t try to chase the current trends since nobody has any idea what the next trend might be. Instead, focus on creating a game that you’re passionate about.
Hopefully Symposium invigorated competitors and sparked some design ideas for Season 7! Board Game Bootcamp and Pitch Night are just around the corner!