This exercise was so successful, I’ve used it two years in a row. Because a blank page, and the instructions, “make up a game” can be daunting, I print out the ring below (unmarked) and the students create blank dice and game pieces out of polymer clay.
The question is, “what should you put on each side of the dice?” We create a “key” for the icons – skip a turn, go back a space, go forward spaces, lose automatically, etc.”, then draw them on the dice with a Sharpie. Then we draw some of the icons on the game board. Within a few minutes, you have a simple, working board game to test.
Oftentimes the game doesn’t work well, and the revision is when the game design class is really teaching what its designed to teach.
I always say “game design is like making a cup” – you have fun making it out of clay, but ultimately, you have to be able to drink out of it. Often people (of all ages and abilities) make games that simply cannot be won or lost. It’s through playtesting that these issues can be quickly discovered.
Game design has a wonderful pragmatic quality, students will essentially tell me stories, or set up situations. Then I ask, “how does the game begin? Do you roll the dice?”. No one ever thinks about the mechanics of the first move.
Realizing these principles and learning game design theory on paper is key — you don’t have to get bogged down with details. And it’s easier to change things on paper than things you’ve spent hours coding – that would be incredibly frustrating.