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  • The Rapid Prototyping Game

    - Matt Smith

  • The first rendition of the RPG game consisted of dice, index cards, and tool box stocked with gaming pieces, markers, pens, and other tools of a game designer.

    Loaded down with my prototype, I unleashed my creation on the students in five phases. I described that they were going to build a game, but many of the elements would be decided for them. There job as game designers was to "make it work".  There were many open variables that they could include in the game design, but I did warn them not to fall in love with their initial design because it was assuredly going to change.

    The first phase was to divide the students into teams and then have them roll a dice to determine the first of what I called the "core elements" of their game. 

    Dice Categories

    • Game Medium (board game, card game, etc.)
    • Game Format (competitive, cooperative, etc.)
    • Game Objective (exploration, building, etc.)

    After a short period of group discussion, I then had them begin to pull from the card decks I had created. 

    Element Decks

    • Mechanics Deck (nine categories)
    • Theme Deck
    • Victory Condition Deck
    • Turn Order Deck

    The students took this information and ran with it. They absolutely loved the challenge of designing a game under these parameters and I watched as teams sketched, discussed, referenced the Tabletop book and used their phones and whatever resources they could to craft their game.  Numbers were exchanged and I had found in our meeting the next week that many teams met on their own and spent many hours working on their first game. They had went down the rabbit hole on their own. 


    Good teaching comes from reflection and effective educators value the time they can allow their students to engage in what I call "directed reflection". This is where a moderator, usually the teacher, can help the students transform into self-directed critical thinkers through group talk.  Reflection is a key component in improvement, which is why I knew I had to include this element in the Rapid Prototyping Game. So the students came back to class with another deck waiting for them, the Reflection deck. It asked them pointed questions about the game design process. Questions like: Do players care when other players are taking their turn?  A simple question that started a conversation about player agency and player choices.  


    After the reflection, it was time to remind the students that there were more challenges ahead. This was a bit of a game, right? They made their way to the front and pulled from the Iteration deck. This was where their best laid plans were thwarted by the other teams.  They drew cards from the deck that forced them to make changes to their game--getting a new mechanic, an additional victory condition, or changing the way they took their turns.  While initially this was incredibly frustrating, it changed the atmosphere of the room. Students were talking about how a new theme completely changed the way a mechanic worked.  

    It was the best time to be a teacher.  You see, we revel in light bulb moments and you could see the fog of uncertainty lifting as students began to "get it".  The students began to understand that board games do have something to them that creates a feeling.  How you introduce these elements does matter. They found out that game design wasn't an intimidating experience and most importantly they began to see themselves as game designers.   

    Well, as luck would have it, when I reached out to Geoffrey Engelstein and the folks at Taylor and Francis publishing company, they loved the idea as much as we did and they agreed to publish the game.  What that meant was Andrew and I had to put some polish on my tattered prototype and put together something educators, game designers, and hobbyists could use.  Along with our graphic artist friend, Mel Danes, we created and agreed to terms with the publishing company for our official Rapid Prototyping Game.  I hope to update any of you with the release date information which we anticipate happening in the Fall. 

    I am ridiculously excited by the prospect that this game might inspire a reader in some way or help a student.  If any of you would be interested in another excerpt concerning the curriculum I use, or strategies for implementing the game, I would be more than happy to create another post. In fact, if you have specific questions I can be reached at [email protected]


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