Game Design Like a Boy Scout: Week 1 - What’s a Game?
  • Game Design Like a Boy Scout: Week 1 - What’s a Game?


    When my son joined Boy Scouts, I decided to teach the Game Design Merit Badge to his Troop. When I picked up the guide to teaching the badge, I was pleasantly surprised to see tabletop role-playing games prominently represented. Over the seven weeks that I ran the Badge Workshop, I learned a lot that’s of interest to any aspiring game designer.



    The Game Design was launched in 2013. The badge requires participants to play four different types of games and critique them. Then the Scouts play three different existing games and tweak one rule. And finally, they create a prototype of their own games and blind test them with their peers. If you’d like to follow along, you can download the workbook.

    To determine which games we should play, I had the Scouts vote on topics from my game library. The top four were Dungeons & Dragons, 1-2-Switch, Star Wars Family Feud, and Jenga. Each of these games features a very different aesthetic and play style, so I was pleased to see such a good mix of games – and that D&D tied with the Nintendo Switch video game, 1-2-Switch, for most popular!

    Our Troop consists of 20 boys ranging from ages 11 through 17, so their proficiency in games varies greatly. Additionally, their interests range from sports to geek-themed hobbies, so different games appealed to different Scouts. Despite their varied interests, we run the workshop for all of them and Scouts can choose not to participate if they so choose.

    Before we got started though, it was important to explain what a game is. Here’s what the Merit Badge Pamphlet (which can be purchased here) defines as a game:

    1. Games are a form of play. Most games are played for recreation, others are played by amateurs and professionals alike, and some are even used as tools for training and education.
    2. Games have objectives or goals that players work to achieve.
    3. Games have rules. Rules govern the components of the game and the ways that players interact with those components and each other.
    4. Games have feedback. As players work toward their goals, the game provides information about how they are doing. Scores are a form of feedback.
    5. Games have challenges. In the vast majority of games, the rules, other players, or other elements impede player progress toward the objectives.
    6. Games employ a variety of skills. These include physical abilities, communication, strategic thinking, patience, observation, and problem solving.
    7. Games present choices. Players make meaningful decisions in order to affect game outcomes.
    8. Games are participatory. Unlike many other forms of entertainment, games are not just about observing. They are about taking action.

    I thought this outline did a great job of explaining what’s a game from a designer’s perspective. There's good reason that the booklet sums up tabletop role-playing so well: Pete Fenlon and Alex Yeager of Mayfair Games were contributing writers.

    For each game, we reviewed the medium, player format, objectives, rules, resources, and theme. I gave out notebooks to every Scout as well, which would serve as their idea journal to jot down concepts, sketches, maps, and prototypes of their game. In addition to the basics of each game and reviewing four games, the Scouts needed to play three other games and tweak the rules. They play floor games frequently (dodgeball, floor hockey, handball) so we set aside sessions to modify those and discuss how it changed the game. And then finally we discussed a few other aspects of game design, like intellectual property. The badge wraps up with a Q&A about game design which I'll be hosting.

    The Game Design Workshop has been taught at many other Boy Scout Troops, so if you’re interested in seeing how it’s run check out this Slideshare. With the introduction out of the way, we sorted the games in order of their complexity of their rules, building from the simplest (Jenga) up through a variety of mini-games (1-2-Switch) to a party game (Family Feud) and finally to a free-form role-playing game (Dungeons & Dragons). We used Jenga as a test run to get comfortable with the format and the boys -- and it was a learning experience for sure. I'll explain how it went next week.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      We have been doing the same with our troop for about three years now. Always interesting to see what the boys come up with.

      Gaming and boy scouts go way back. My friends and I used to play D&D in our tents during campouts in the late 70's/early 80's.
    1. Dragonhelm's Avatar
      Dragonhelm -
      I know of a Venturing crew that also does a lot with RPGs.
    1. Voadam -
      I played a lot of AD&D in scout camp in the 80s. Looking back I'm pretty shocked I took my books out on a canoeing camping trip. I'm really glad we didn't tip!
    1. VengerSatanis -
      That's pretty cool.
    1. DMMike's Avatar
      DMMike -
      Quote Originally Posted by talien View Post
      1. Games are a form of play. Most games are played for recreation, others are played by amateurs and professionals alike, and some are even used as tools for training and education.
      2. Games have objectives or goals that players work to achieve.
      3. Games have rules. Rules govern the components of the game and the ways that players interact with those components and each other.
      4. Games have feedback. As players work toward their goals, the game provides information about how they are doing. Scores are a form of feedback.
      5. Games have challenges. In the vast majority of games, the rules, other players, or other elements impede player progress toward the objectives.
      6. Games employ a variety of skills. These include physical abilities, communication, strategic thinking, patience, observation, and problem solving.
      7. Games present choices. Players make meaningful decisions in order to affect game outcomes.
      8. Games are participatory. Unlike many other forms of entertainment, games are not just about observing. They are about taking action.

      I thought this outline did a great job of explaining what’s a game from a designer’s perspective. There's good reason that the booklet sums up tabletop role-playing so well: Pete Fenlon and Alex Yeager of Mayfair Games were contributing writers.
      Hmm. This could be an interesting exercise...

      1. RPGs are a form of play. True.
      2. RPGs have objectives or goals that players work to achieve.Depends on the GM and the PCs.
      3. RPGs have rules. True.
      4. RPGs have feedback. XP, levels, advancement, sure. I haven't often seen non-numeric checklists though. Like, to defeat the evil king, you must: befriend the golem, kidnap the prince, destroy the bridge, and raise an army.
      5. RPGs have challenges. True.
      6. RPGs employ a variety of skills. Sometimes. Some just require die-rolling.
      7. RPGs present choices. True.
      8. RPGs are participatory. Remove: redundant.


      Close enough. The Boy Scouts have officially resolved the question (posted elsewhere): are RPGs actually games?
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