Game Design Activity

This activity in introductory game development is intended to offer concrete initial tools for solving some of the course problems, and provide comfortably small groups in which all student voices might be shared.

Activity: Game Design Activity


  • To engage student creativity, critical thinking, and teamwork.


In this course students are expected to dive into new ideas and challenges every week, both in class and for homework, working with their teammates to solve creative, technical, and logistical problems in their games.

This activity follows an hour lecture and discussion covering principles of game development by analyzing common game mechanics and themes. Then, students are assigned a week-long homework that expands on the class activity which is informed by a reading from Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design (Chapters 4-6 p40-74) on Game Elements.


  1. Before class.
    1. The instructor designs or collects 8 unusual game boards and prepares large ziplock bags to contain a great variety of player and resource tokens.
    2. Next, the instructor prints enough boards for each team to get one of each, and prepares enough bags to have one for each team (number of students enrolled divided by 3).
    3. Instructor prepares handouts with instructions for the teams
  2. In class.

Here were the steps of the exercise for a 90-minute cycle. For a 60-minute lesson, steps 5 and 6 would be left purely for homework:

    1. INTRO (10 minutes): Everyone gets into teams of 3-4 people. Introduce yourselves. Where are you from? What are some of your favorite games? This can be board games, video games, sports--any kind of game.
    1. CHOOSE BOARD (5 minutes): As a team, choose one of the provided boards. Do not worry about the choice. Just choose one.
    1. MECHANIC DESIGN (40 minutes): Open your bag of pieces, and start thinking about how those pieces could be used on your board. Do you want player pieces? If so, how will they move on the board? What assets will you collect, and what do they do for the player when they are collected? How might the player interact with other players? What is the goal of the game, and what are different ways of achieving it?
    1. INITIAL RULES: As a team experiment with ideas until you have a starting system of player movement, asset collection, and goals. Practice "Yes, And" with your team: do not dismiss any ideas, write them down! Then discuss which set of ideas you want to try and test first.
    1. TESTING (20 minutes): PLAY THE GAME. Discuss what is fun and what could be more fun. Adjust the parameters (rules) of the game. PLAY AGAIN. Discuss and adjust again. PLAY AGAIN.
    1. THEME (15 minutes): Come up with a theme for the game: a story to immerse your players and encourage creative engagement.


  • The instructor encourages small group sharing to ensure that more students have the opportunity to share their opinions.
  • The instructor notes that while this activity is specific to game design, the overall structure may be replicated in another activity using the following format:
    • Identify an initial set of tools/procedures for solving problems in the course which can be communicated quickly. Offer a few examples in the initial lecture/discussion
    • Prepare manipulatives and a course-relevant problem which may be explored with these initial tools/procedures.
    • Have the class break into groups to attempt solutions using these manipulatives and initial tools/procedures.
    • Have the students further explore the problems for homework, in the same small teams, and produce a document demonstrating their results.



  • The deliverable is a game design that was playable
  • All games are tested by the instructor and teaching assistants, and evaluated based on 5 categories and on a scale of 1-5:
    • Categories:
      • CLARITY: Are the instructions and board concise and easy to understand?
      • INNOVATION: What new/exciting/challenging gameplay to stimulate interest?
      • IMMERSION: Is the story compelling (setting, action framing, art and music)?
      • FLOW: Does the player feel constantly productive, able to act and have those actions matter (advance their agenda) every turn? (productive)
      • FIERO: Multiple big victory moments for players? (rewarding)
    • Scale
      • 1 = Totally broken
      • 2 = Problematic
      • 3 = Decent
      • 4 = Very good
      • 5 = Awesome

A full description, pictures of participating students, and student team project examples may be found here:

Submitted by Jason Wiser, Humanities

game_design_01.pdf222 KB
game_design_03.pdf191 KB
game_design_02.pdf207 KB
game_design_04.pdf183 KB