Teaching Game Design Virtually At The National Boy Scout Jamboree

If you follow my blog, you know that I was part of the team that created the Game Design Merit Badge for the Boy Scouts of America. It became the scouting organization’s 131st merit badge, each of which introduces scouts to such hobbies and occupations as archeology, chemistry, stamp collecting, and robotics, as well as such scouting skills as camping and orienteering. Several years ago, two scouters and game enthusiasts, Tom Miller and David Radue, proposed that the Boy Scouts introduce a merit badge for game design, and after a year of studies to gauge interest and two years of development from a team that included myself, the new merit badge was unveiled at the 2013 South by Southwest conference.

To earn the badge, a scout must analyze different types of games; describe play value, content, and theme; and understand the significance of intellectual property as it relates to the game industry. However, analyzing a game is only the first step. A scout must then propose three rule changes to an existing game and observe how the players’ action and emotional experiences are affected by the rule changes. After that,scouts then design, build, and blind test a game of their own design. The Game Design merit badge is not limited to video games; scouts can also choose to develop board, card, and pen-and-paper role-playing games too.

Since helping to create the requirements and instruction manual for this merit badge, I’ve stayed involved with it by serving as a merit badge counsellor to assist scouts with the requirements, and I also run game design workshops at local merit badge midways. However, right now I am counseling scouts at even bigger event that’s thousands of miles from my home. The National Boy Scout Jamboree is a gathering of over 40,000 Scouts held at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia to do activities like zip-lining, scuba diving, BMX biking, patch trading, whitewater rafting…. and game design.

Game Design Merit Badge Team leader Tom Miller is stationed at a tent for assisting scouts to earn the Game Design merit badge, and he asked me to assist him by allowing scouts to interview me about my work in game design to fulfill one of the merit badge requirements about careers in the game industry. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the trip to West Virginia this year, so I’ve been attending virtually via Google Hangouts.  While the acoustics in the tent weren’t the greatest due to all the scouts having fun making and playing games, we managed to communicate via a combination of gestures, texting, and shouting.

I did attend a Boy Scout National Jamboree in person many years ago. In 1985, my business partner, Pam Pollack, and I were there to demonstrate our company’s wilderness survival simulation, Wilderness: A Survival Adventure. We had been in discussions with the Boy Scouts of America’s National Office about allowing scouts to use our game to satisfy one of the requirements of the Wilderness Survival merit badge, and the BSA invited us up be in the Apple Computer booth. Although we were never successful to get the BSA’s endorsement of our game (they were rightly concerned that the technology would become obsolete too quickly), we had a great time at the Jamboree, meeting all the scouts.

Never would I have imagine that I’d return some three decades later, but do so through technology I would not have imagined possible back then. So this year, I’ve been talking to scouts in groups of three about careers in game development. I’ve often done virtual lectures to school classrooms located throughout the country, but I have to say, the scouts ask the best questions. Instead of “Did you work on Game X or Y?”, the scouts have asked me, “What hands-on education do you need to supplement your college courses to get into game development?”, “What is the process for balancing a game?”, and “How does your average workday change from prep-roduction to post-production?”

So far, the scouts haven’t stumped me. And as long as they don’t ask me to remember how to tie two half-hitches for a game involving knot tying, I should make it through the week just fine.

 

 

A Cool Student-Design Race Game: Snow Dog

Summer days can be terribly hot where I live in Los Angeles, so how about a race in the snow to cool off? This typically torrid July, I’m teaching a class in Game Mechanics at The Los Angeles Film School. To facilitate my students’ understanding of and experimentation with game mechanics, I have them create analog games instead of digital ones, as analog games are quicker to make and balance. Each class day, I give them the choice of two player goals to build a game design upon.

Last week, as follow up to a lecture about Progression Mechanics, I tasked my students with creating a game based on player goals of either Gaining Competence in a skill, or Racing against the other players.  Games with a Gain Competence goals must also have New or Improved Abilities, Tools, and Controllers as game elements; those based on Race must have Power-Ups and Chargers.  The students teams almost always choose Race, which tells me that I need to find a more attractive alternative.

Anyway, one of our best students, Jennifer Chamorro, was absent the day I had student teams work in class on this assignment, and so I asked her to do it alone as homework.  Well, what she brought into class impressed me more than what any of the teams of other students had done, and so for this week’s blog post, with Jenn’s permission, I wanted to share her game design with you.

 

Snow Dogs

 

Play Time: 15-25 minutes
Players: 2- 4
Ages: 8+

Set-Up:  Place the game board in the center for all players to have access to the race track. Each player chooses their snow dog (pawn) color and place all snow dogs on the START space. Players must also gather their same colored special ability cap and place it near them, facing upside-down. Have each player roll the dice for play order, taking turns in the clockwise direction from the player who won the roll. Begin the race after the order of play has be determined.

Objective: It is a race to be crowned the best snow dog of north! Be the first player to race your snow dog around the cold snowy board and reach the “WINNER” finish line on top of “Mount Chilly”. Players all begin the race on the “START” space, going in the clockwise direction as pointed out by the larger arrows around the game board. Movement of the snow dog pawns are directed by two six-sided dice.

Rules:

  1. Players must move in the clockwise direction and cannot move backwards except if they land on the Backtrack space.
  2. A snow dog can jump over any other snow dogs during its move. However, two snow dogs cannot occupy the same square; a snow dog that lands on a square occupied by another player’s snow dog “bumps” that snow dog back to START or the MEDIC A snow dog can either be bumped to START or MEDIC depending on which location is the closest from behind them and NOT in front of them.
  3. If a player lands on the START space, then the player can rest without being bumped by any snow dogs. This space is also used for bumped players to land on.
  4. If a player lands on the MEDIC space, then the player can rest without being bumped by any snow dogs. This space is also used for bumped players to land on and for players to charge “” their Special Ability Cap.
  5. If a player lands on the Speed space, then the player can rest without being bumped by any snow dogs and adds an extra space to their dice roll on their next turn.
  6. If a player lands on the REST space, then the player can rest without being bumped by any snow dogs. This space is also used for players to charge “” their Special Ability Cap.
  7. If a player lands on the dot of a Speed Arrow space “ “, then the player can ride the arrow onto the next space where the tip of the arrow ends. If there are any other players on top of the Speed Arrow, then the player who rides the Speed Arrow can plow through any player who is on the spaces of the Speed Arrow, bumping them back to a START or MEDIC
  8. If a player lands on the Icy Floor space “”, then the player will lose a turn for slipping and losing control.
  9. If a player lands on the Backtrack space “”, then the player must roll one red six-sided die to see how many spaces they must go backwards. If this player lands on the same space as another snow dog, then the player who rolled the Backtrack die will be bumped back to the START or the MEDIC Any player who backtracks for any reason, will be the player who gets bumped.
  10. If a player lands on the Speed Die space “”, then the player can roll one blue six-sided die and move an extra set of spaces for speed.
  11. If a player lands on a Speed Space (numbered space) “”, then the player can move the amount of spaces that was given by the space.
  12. If a player lands on a Pawprint space “” “”, then the player has found another route and must place their snow dog on the next Pawprint like its color, using this as a shortcut or a backtrack.
  13. If a player lands on a Switch space “”, then the player must switch places with any player on the map.
  14. If a player lands on a Jump Arrow space “”, then the player must move up to the next and final tier of the map or must drop back down to the first tier. If players pass these arrows, then they must continue to race around the track until they land on a Jump Arrow.
  15. When a player reaches the WINNER space, then the player has reached the finish line and has won the race (game).

Special Ability Cap

A player can use this cap ONLY when it is charged by either landing on a MEDIC or REST space. When the cap is charged, the player MUST flip their cap over to signify that their Special Ability Cap is charged. When the cap is charged, the player can ONLY use it once until it can get charged again. The cap must be flipped back over when the Special Ability Cap has been used. To use the Special Ability Cap, the player MUST announce that they will use their Special Ability Cap at the beginning of their turn and tell the other players the ability of their choice before rolling the dice. The player using their Special Ability Cap, has the option to choose between three different abilities that they can choose from. The player can use ONLY ONE ability from the following options:

  • Gain Speed: Add one blue die to the player’s dice roll and have a total of three dice. This helps the player’s snow dog, run faster.
  • Decrease Speed: Add one red die to the player’s dice roll, having a total of three dice. The red die will subtract from the player’s white dice, helping the player decrease their speed.
  • Attack: Announce which player will be attacked, then roll a red die to see how many spaces that player must move back. Afterwards, roll the two-white dice to move forward.

A Turn:

  1. Use the Special Ability Cap (if charged)
  2. Roll the two-white dice to identify how many spaces will the player’s snow dog move
  3. Move snow dog numbered of spaces rolled
  4. Perform any action given by the action spaces on the board

 

Everyone had great fun playing this game in class, and if you decide to recreate her board and played it too, we’d like to know what your play experience was like.

Until next week, stay cool.