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02. Board Game Rapid Prototyping

02. Board Game Rapid Prototyping

Every semester, I have my students make board games. Normally this is where I instinctively defend that decision against traditionalists, but I'll assume if you're reading this here your mind is open to the idea. I adapted this assignment from a seminar I attended at GenCon's Trade Dat a few years ago, and I use it as part of a longer process of visual and multimodal rhetoric/analysis.

This assignment happens late in the semester. My usual structure is to have a Peer Review day of drafts for their final papers, the revisions of which aren't due until finals week. In the interim, this in-class group assignment serves to break up the monotony of end-of-term workloads. Bu now we've done visual analysis (propoaganda, advertisements, etc), and touched at least a little on multimedia. We also do a class (or half a class depending on length of each session) on game analysis - looking at the visuals first, then moving to things such as the components, the rules, luck vs skill, etc. There isn't a solid guide I use for this, relying instead on my many years of playing, running, and developing games for personal and convention purposes, but it's pretty intuitive. Monopoly is a good start - think about how the game casts the player as a real estate mogul: street names, money, taxes, rent, buildings, etc. Clue is another good one.

Once we've done the legwork, I put the students in groups based loosly on their paper topics; usually I try to put their research in conversation with each other somehow, but YMMV. I give them time in class to plan their games in broad terms, and usually have an online assignment to semi-publicly talk to each other about their topics, the connections, and what they think their game will look like. I advise them that I will be providing materials, but they are welcome to bring in things ahead of time that they want to use, contingent that they should be items they are willing to leave with me for grading purposes.

Now, the fun part: Rapid Prototyping! They come to class, and I quickly run through the materials I have (construction paper, markers, crayons, tape, scissors, colored pencils, Lego figures, pipecleaners, tokens, fake money, stuff previous classes left behind, stickers, index cards, things I grab around campus), and then the rules and goals. They are pretty simple; the groups have 50 minutes (give or take and dependent on class schedule) to make a game that is playable by X people for Y rounds - there must be enough cards, tokens, pieces, whatever to go around. The games have to have a specific rhetorical goal, they must cast the player in a role, and they must use visuals and text to reinforce that role and the argument/position being made. There must also be a combination of luck and skill (not totally dependent on one or the other), and straight trivia games are not permitted (though incorporating trivia elements is fine).

Grading is done based on strict fulfillment of criteria; students are NOT graded on the quality of art or pieces to churn out, since we're on a limited deadline and limited resources. When I've done this as a full-on, outside of class assignment, then I have some room to grade these elements, but in general I try to let it be an assignment for the artistic types to shine, but not automatically get As for being able to draw. As you can see from the photos below, many of the games are fairly crude, but this tends to add a dash of humor to the assignment - it's hard to take something deadly seriously when you're drawing stick figures and playing with Legos! (Fun fact- I got a literal sack full of Legos from a friend a few years ago as part of a different project; they had been her ex-husbands, and when he defaulted on their shared storage space she was happy to give his childhood away).

This is definitely my favorite assignment to do; it incorporates a great deal of multimodal thinking, forces students to look critically at a cultural artifact most take for granted, and it results in a physical object that students can point to in a way that they can't with yet another paper. I gave a presentation/workshop on this topic to some of our First Year Writing faculty here not long ago, if you're interested! Photos below are from my personal collection, please be respectful.



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