Instant Board Game: A New Game in 2 h

[ENG / PL] The original version was published in Polish on board game site Przystanek Planszówka (< kliknij po polską wersję)

At Gamedec.UKW, since 2013/14 we’ve been training students in game design. We start with unplugged (analog) platforms: in their first year, the students take on tabletop RPGs, LARPs, and of course board games. Step by step, from the basics, as freshman undergraduates rarely have any experience in creating games. Elementary "Board Games Design" in the second semester (Feb - June) has 45 h in the design lab plus 30 h lecture. But this time is divided between three different board / card games, 5 weeks each, with the last 3 weeks spent on playtesting and refinement. A testable prototype is produced at the end of the 2nd week.

Two weeks is more than enough. We do not hurry, as there are other classes to take and other games to create simultaneously. But this time could be shortened - massively. At Global Game Jam, we create games on a given topic within 48 hours, and we can even spare some time to take a nap. Sometimes we hold smaller game jams, including board jams, where the game is created in one sitting. If you know what you're doing, you just need a few hours. Yes, make no mistake: if you know what you're doing ... For beginners, we must also include some time to acquire the necessary knowledge. So - how long ? How much time do you need to get a team from their first baby steps to a working prototype?

Two hours.

Tested with freshman gamedecs before they even started the board games lab, as practice before a Demo Game Jame, which in turn was held as practice for Global Game Jam 2015. Half-tested, as the lecture had only 90 minutes which we used to develop concepts and mechanics. If we had 120 min., we’d also have created prototypes.

Tested with 10 students and graduates of Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, most of them with no experience in game design. This time, I had 5 hours, including a lunch break. After the lunch, we did a lot of playtests, including "external” testers, i.e. exchange of players between the teams. At the end, I also had time to comment on each game. Yes, 5 h is the ideal time span for the workshop, allowing for repeated playtests and individual feedback. But even then the critical path from the start to the first testable prototype takes 2 h. The rest is testing, evaluation and modification.

Tested with a self-enrolled workshop group at game convention Pyrkon 2016. About 40 people, mixed age. All strangers to me, so I don’t know a thing about their prior design experience. They came to a 2-h workshop and came out with prototypes playtested at least once.

Tested with ca. 20 high school students. Again: just 2 hours > working prototypes. Except for an ambitious team that completely redesigned the basic "engine" of movement across the board. For that 2 hours is not enough.

And the biggest challenge: tested last week with 30+ elementary school students. 7 teams, 7 completed prototypes. They didn’t work all by themselves, as each team was supported by a  consulting gamedec (thanks again, team!). But it were the children who came up with ideas and made decisions all along the way. It was the first time I had ever ran the workshop for such a young group, and I hadn’t been so sure they would all make it in time. They did! All 7 games were playtested at the end - some more than once. Total time: 2 hours 5 minutes. 

 (photo: Bogna Dominiak > see the full photo album)

The key to success is the structure of the workshop and strict time management. Let’s not pretend: 2 h is very little time. It’s less than 1 h for concept generation and development, with novices guided step by step through the design stages. They start with a ready-made basic engine - just a few rules of movement across the board - so they will not build from scratch. In brainstorms and discussions, switched every 10-15 minutes, they generate ideas, narrative motifs and mechanics. Then, there’s less than 1 h to handcraft the board and components, write down the manual etc. The team shares tasks: one would write, another draw, cut, glue... At the end, there’s 15-20 minutes for the first playtest. 2 hours in total is the absolute minimum, one that requires constant time pressure - but also one that works. I have run this workshop for more than 20 teams, the total of ~100 people of varied age and experience. It never fails.

Sometimes, the impact reaches even beyond the workshop group. At the Academy of Fine Arts, I ran it for adults but they were designing games for children. One of the teams created a cooperative game in which pawns-ants gather resources on a meadow. They have to transport as much as possible to the ant hill before the rain falls down. Along the way, they face traps and obstacles, some of which require help from another player. The mechanics works, interactions are fun, and the game looks promising. On the next day, one of the authors e-mails me this:

"When I returned home and had a narrative-flavoured talk about the Ant Hill with my personal children (8 and 10 y.o.), my daughters got very inspired by the topic. The older one  started online research about the lives of ants, the younger is playing the ‘ant greeting’ (with ‘antennae’ fingers) with everyone at home. All by themselves, they were discussing ant rescue actions late into the night.”

Finally, some fresh feedback from the primary school workshop: Bogna Dominiak, the organiser of their trip to UKW, tells me yesterday that the children have been enchanted. To the amazement of their parents and teachers, they are now totally into game design, excited by the potentials for creation and experimentation which they suddenly found within their reach. They have discovered that they can invent and craft games that work. Of course, a 2-hour training will not magically turn a novice into a seasoned designer. But it’s enough to make first steps and get enough know-how - and confidence! - to go further by yourself. Even if you are 10 years old. Here’s what the kids say about it.

During the game design workshop, carried out by Humanities 2.0 students under the direction of Dr. Michał Mochocki, we had the possibility to make our own board game. Because we have a School Savings Fund, we decided to make a savings game "Kasobranie z SKO". The main objective in the game is to accumulate the largest sum of money and put it in the Cooperative Bank. On the way to the bank, you come across a variety of surprises such as obstacles, tasks, bonuses and events. The player who places the largest sum in the bank is the winner. We were able to develop the game thanks to the professional guidance of Dr. Michał Mochocki and active support of the students. We learned a lot about board games on that day. Plus, we could practice creativity and team work. Thank you for the knowledge and super fun!

Team: Grabowska Amelia, Amelia Górzyńska, Karolina Dyoniziak (class Vb), Zuzanna Włodarczyk, Anita Budzisławska (Class VI)

In our opinion, the workshop was fascinating! We loved crafting the game and game manuals. Together with the student, who helped and advised us, we created a REAL board game called "LOL 2.0". The aim of the game is to get your team to the enemy base, while avoiding numerous obstacles and traps. We had a great time!
Team: Julia Kledzik, Patrycja Kowalska, Filip Talar (class VI), Kajetan Najda (class Va), Damian Kopiński (class IV)

I really liked the workshops and the fact that we collaborated with university students as equals. I was surprised that it may take even a year to develop a real board game! I wish I could create such board games every day, ones that would bring me fame and tons of money! The game which I created with the team is "Wyścigi", which is a car race with various obstacles. The first player who gets to the finish line wins.
Mikołaj Cieślik, class VI, the "Racing" team

The workshop on game design with the students was cool. We could use our imagination, see how to make board games, and finally play the game we developed ourselves.
Wiktoria Górska, class. Vb, the "School" team

I liked it. The students told us how they study at university. They provided us with a lot of ideas that we can use in the future. I already know how to make a board game - even at home - all by myself.
Julia Pasierbek, class IV, the "School" team

I already know how to make my own games. Because we were shown the flaws in our design, we could refine our ideas and make a cool board game. We made our own pawns from rubber erasers. Our game "School" had a lot of bonuses and obstacles and questions about the school.
Zuzanna Drejerska, class IV, the "School" team

At the game design class I learned that it's not that simple - you need to do a lot of thinking and brain-racking to make sure your game is fun. I learned how to design a board with shortcuts and create complex rules. Now I also know how to describe such a game and write the rules manual. I liked it that we could do everything all by ourselves - the board, the pawns, all the rules and pieces such as chips, cards, ornaments ... Everything depends on the idea! Although my team did not win, I still think our car game "Racing" was the best.
Malwina Chmiel, class Vb, the "Racing" team
P.S. It’s been the first time ever I used Google Translate to speed up the translation process. It seems to have done the job. :)