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Academia: The Board Game

I’ve just spent the weekend at the Southampton Game Jam – an event where people interested in games come together and… well, make games.

While most teams set about making video games, my team decided to go slightly differently and make a board game. Being academics, we saw a great opportunity to combine this year’s game jam theme of ‘ritual’ with our daily lives within a University. The result? Academia: The Board Game!

We thought through various game mechanics, and set about the design of the game, based around a number of cogs that spin with each game turn and produce resources for each player. Resources are used to complete projects, which get the player victory points.

By the end of the Saturday, we had a game produced that we could play test. We found a couple of flaws and had to revise a rule or two to balance things, but actually found that a lot of the underlying mechanics worked pretty well.

The final day was spent refining things, and redesigning a lot of the game cards:

So, we ended the weekend with basically everything designed and ready for the game. Our board was still only made of paper, our cogs had to be manually spun by hand as turning one currently does not turn the others (paper cogs don’t really work…). We had to use drawing pins to represent player’s pieces, introducing a slight risk of harm while playing. These are all symptoms of the short space of time in which we had to make everything. But with the idea, gameplay and mechanics considered and balanced, taking it further and “polishing” it slightly is definitely a possibility.

What have I learnt from the weekend? Well, as someone wanting to get into video game narrative design, it may initially seem odd that I didn’t join a video game team. However I feel I got a huge amount out of focusing primarily on game design decisions, and less about the restrictions on story and design that would have been faced in a video game group where there would be such pressure just to get some code running in the time available. There are ideas about turn-based gameplay and general mechanics that I can take forward and apply elsewhere when designing video games. Most importantly, it was fun. It has been a long time since I’ve spent time stocking up on coffee and flapjacks and cutting out pieces of paper to make game cards, and scribbling (terrible) outlines of the game board on yet more paper. It was a nice change from the day job.

Now, I have completed this project at the cost of 3 coffee tokens, 1 sleep token and 1 student labour token. My reward? 30 victory points and a bundle of enthusiasm. I will put this imaginary currency towards more video game narrative design time, alongside my regular writing. The game is on.

Chris Phethean is a writer and blogger. He is working on a range of sci-fi, fantasy and adventure stories, and dreams of writing interactive narratives for video games. Find him on and Twitter.
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