Sunday, December 20, 2015

Classroom Game Design Exploration - Part 2

Recent Update:  There's now a link at the end of the post to some sample student games and tips I learned from playing with them.

This is the second part of a series for a classroom game design project that can be used in many classes and subjects. The whole project is based on a very simple game I created. Students will modify that game so it's about the topic they are studying in class.

Here's the flow of the overall project. Each of these stages has its own post, which you can access by clicking the link.
  • Learn and play Roll-n-Flip - Students need to learn to play the basic game of Roll-n-Flip first. It should take one class period or less to learn the game and to play it a couple times. 
  • Redesign Roll-n-Flip - Next, students will modify the game by adding a theme (based on your lesson) and possibly other rules. This can take more or less than one class period, depending on how much you want them to develop their version of the game.
  • Play and improve their game - In this step students test the game their group made and then at least one game created by another group. You could also give them time to improve their game based on feedback. This process can be a class period or more, depending how much you want to focus on game design.
  • Reflection - For the last part of the activity, students will reflect on what they learned about your course content and about game design. This reflection "seals the deal" for the learning, making this possibly the most important of step of the project.

Photo by Mark Strozler
Considering Theme in Game Design

For students to understand this part of the game design exploration, they need to think about the concept of theme. If working with an entire class, you could lead a discussion using these ideas here. Students could provide other examples from game they are familiar with. 

The basic game of Roll-n-Flip (which you should have played in part 1 of this series) has no theme. It's not about anything other than getting chips.

Many other very popular games do not have a theme. Think of Checkers or many card games like Bridge or Hearts. Players are just playing with the components within the game's rules, hoping to win. We sometimes call these abstract games.

Photo by Jon Ross
But in other games like Monopoly or Risk have a theme. It's like a story, in a way. More or less, players are pretending to be doing something other than playing with cards and plastic. The themes are selling property and fighting battles to take over the world. In games with strong themes, the card text and the artwork all serve to remind players of that theme.

It's also important to notice that the rules also should support the theme. The rules of Monopoly are not exactly like buying and selling property in real life, but there are obvious similarities. For example, when you put some new buildings on a property it increases in value. In Risk, a bigger army has a better chance of taking over a smaller army. We expect the rules to support the theme.

For this stage of the game design project, students will design the cards of Roll-n-Flip so it has a theme.

Examples of Themes for the Roll-n-Flip Game

I have already created two other games based on the Roll-n-Flip game. Those games have themes and they are: 
The themes of those games are apparent from their titles, their boxes and the text on all of the cards. As you might guess, the first one is about Christmas. The second is based on a popular tourist spot in my home state of Michigan.

To make sure players remember the theme on every roll of the die, we don't refer to the chips as "chips". In the Christmas game, they are called "cheer" and we call them "fun" in our Mackinac game. 

Likewise, the cards don't have generic names like the ones I used in Roll-n-Flip. Instead, the Christmas game has "Stressed Out" in place of the Mix-Up card. The graphic on that one shows a person who obviously is overwhelmed with the holidays.

In the Mackinac game, I made that card "Tourist Rush", since a busy day on the island can be a hectic experience.

Really good things also are found in the cards' names. One card is "The True Meaning of Christmas", for example, and it can bring in a lot of chips (cheer) for a player. And in my other game, the best card is Fudge. That's because everyone who visits Mackinac Island knows about the popular fudge shops.


Adding a Theme to Roll-n-Flip

After discussing themes in games and looking at the examples above, it's time for students to add a theme to Roll-n-Flip. The theme will be based on the lesson topic they've studied in class. 

The special Game Design Planning Sheet linked below will guide them through the process. Here are some things to keep in mind before assigning the planning sheet:
  • The students will choose a theme that's related to your topic. The lesson might be about a book they just read, like The Outsiders, or maybe it will be about a historical event like the U.S. Civil War. While they could use those entire topics as the theme, they also could choose a specific part of those topics. For example, they might focus on a climatic scene of the book or a particularly interesting battle of the war.
  • The planning sheet will require them to name each card as something from their theme and to rename the chips
  • The document has a link to the components for Roll-n-Flip in a Google Drawing. If students click it, they will get a copy of that Drawing. They can type their changes onto the cards and print a copy of the game.
  • There are optional ideas listed on the second page of the planning sheet for a more advanced re-design of the Roll-n-Flip game. Use them as appropriate for the age of your students and the needs of this project.

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