Monday, January 16, 2012

The Games Canon

Regular readers will know that a few students have posted critical game analyses in the last few days. The format for these essays comes from Ian Schreiber's Game Design Concepts Level 3. For most (if not all) of the students, these are their first critical analyses of games. I am a strong advocate of writing to learn, and so the main point of the exercise is for the students to develop deeper knowledge about the formal elements of games. Posting these on the blog provides an opportunity for discussion within our group while also opening it to anyone else who might be interested.

The games that the students are analyzing are part of our VBC Games Canon. I was inspired by the extensive lists in the appendix of McGuire's and Jenkins' Creating Games, in which the authors present games that should be familiar to anyone claiming expertise in game design and development. For the seminar, I developed a canon of games to expose the students to formal and dramatic elements that they may not have considered previously.
The Games Canon
These are all physical games despite our target platform being digital. In interviewing the students for the semester, each has a reasonable background in video games, though generally as consumers rather than designers. Board games provide a convenient format for exploring game design while also helping build community, and they're very simple to lend out and repurpose for physical prototyping.

Here's a summary of each of the games and why I chose it for the canon.
  • Matt Leacock's Pandemic is a cooperative board game in which the players work together to stop the spread of disease. This is a great example of players-vs-board, and it elegantly supports varying levels of challenge. Leacock's presentation at Google is definitely worth the time for those who are interested in the relationship between game design and human-computer interaction.
  • Go is an ancient two-player game of spatial relationships. It is notable for the robust dynamics that emerge from a very limited set of rules and, of course, for its historic and cultural impact.
  • Donald Vaccarino's Dominion was the first deck-building game to rise to prominence in the games community, initiating the deck-building phenomenon as other publishers and designers picked up on the mechanic.
  • Klaus Teuber's The Settlers of Catan was critical to the German-style designer board game revolution. It is notable for its place in modern game culture, in part because it has broken out of the hobbyist and collector circles.
  • Bruno Fiadutti's Citadels is a classic example of a modern card-drafting game.
  • Klaus-Jurgen Wrede's Carcasonne is a brilliant tile-laying game. It is easy to learn but permits considerable strategy, and most outside the designer games community are shocked at the notion of a board game where one builds the board.
  • Mancala (Oware) is an ancient seed-sowing game. Like Go, it is worth playing for its non-Western historical and cultural impact.
  • Monopoly is the world's best-selling board game. A student and I were engaged in research on Monopoly a few years ago, specifically with respect to artificial intelligence. In our informal surveys, we found that no one played by the printed rules. Sadly, the house rules—such as the common "Free Parking Windfall" rule—break the economic simulation.

No comments:

Post a Comment