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To begin the assignment, the whole class suggested board games they'd played. We got the classic examples that I'd had in mind when conceiving the project, like risk, monopoly, and candyland, but I wanted students to expand their ideas of what constitutes a board game.
So we went further.
Students are coming into classrooms with a wealth of gaming experience, but in my opinion, it's unlikely that the majority of it is board games. Card games (like poker or Magic the Gathering), games like Jenga that use no cards or boards, and especially video games are all valid examples of how a game can be designed.
So we discussed examples. I wrote down things like "Angry Birds," "The Sims," "Poker," and "Jenga" on the board. At first, students were confused as to why I had written those examples when we were clearly talking about board games. But I wanted them to look at how games were designed: is there a set path that players must follow (like in Monopoly or Angry Birds), or is the game more free-form (like Risk or The Sims)?
We concluded the discussion by talking about how increasing the number of variables - both in game pieces (such as cards to draw from) or by giving players more liberty to make choices - results in a more complex game. That's good for keeping it interesting for multiple plays, but I hope they can strike a balance.
In a few weeks, we will be having a "Game Day" where students will play the games they've created. I'm hoping the rules will be simple enough for each game that students will be able to quickly discover the purpose of the game, and get right into playing it.
I will update when we've gotten further with the project!