Blog Archives

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.


  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.





The Secret To Becoming A Game Designer

The question I am asked most often is, “What to I need to do to become game designer?” That answer to that is both simple and obvious. It comes down to two words. Are you ready? Really? Okay, here is the big secret: design games.

Seriously, that’s all there is to it.

I began designing my own board games to play throughout my childhood — I also wrote short stories, drew comics and illustrations, made home movies, performed magic and puppet shows for the neighborhood kids, and built haunted house attractions in my garage. I was always creating, but the last two things I listed were especially important because game design is about creating experiences for others, not just entertaining yourself..

When I learned to program in college (which, at the time, the late 1970s, was the only way to learn), I created my first computer games. One of my professors was impressed with how I was using the university computer for creative purposes, hired me to work in a computer store he owned, and there I met a game publisher to hired me to design and program games for him to publish. Thus, I became a professional game designer.

So, again, you become a game designer by designing games. This will allow you to develop the needed skills and portfolio to get a job. There are also many resources today that I didn’t have access to when I started — books on game design; free, downloadable game engines; video tutorials; access to amateur and professional game designers for advice. If the best way for you to learn is in a classroom setting, many schools and colleges now offer game design, development, and programming degrees — but if you go that route, just be sure to pick one that has had success with its students actually getting jobs in the game industry.

If you are interested in being a board or card game designer, there aren’t many job openings for those positions. I did know a few professional board game designers when I worked for the Spinmaster toy company, and they all had degrees in industrial design, since they had to be able to professionally design the game components.

Most likely, if you want to be a professional board game designer, you are going to have to raise money to develop and possibly publish your game by yourself. So, you’ll also need to learn about running crowdfunding campaigns, attending board game conventions for networking and pitching, manufacturing, and possibly online sales and advertising too.

If you are interested in being a video game designer, be aware that it isn’t an entry level position, except perhaps on an indie team of other novice developers. More than likely, you will enter the industry at some other position — junior programmer, junior artist, level designer, assistant producer, or tester — and after a few years move over to a game designer position when you are presented with an opportunity to do so. So, that means you will also need to pick up skills in programming, art, level design (using a game engine) and/or project management to get that first job in the game industry (except, perhaps, a tester job, but it can be tough to get recognized for advancement when in the testing department of a large game company).

And always be designing games to add to your portfolio, if nothing else.  Just like a programmer is always programming and an artist is always creating art, a game designer should be always creating games.