Board and Table Games: Their history, culture, and evolution

Professor Dinkins, Interim 2012


Course description: Games have historically served as a means of education and socialization. The games a society develops and plays can therefore teach us about that society's beliefs and ways of thinking. What does a game reveal about the culture and era out of which it grew? What makes for a successful game within a particular culture? With these questions in mind, we will study board games and table games from different eras and cultures, from Mancala games in ancient Africa, Mahjong and Xiangqi in China, Shogi in Japan, to the Viking game Hnefatafl, ending with classic and award-winning games of modern day Europe and the U.S. In addition, we will study theories on game design, considering factors such as cultural context, aesthetics, and player interaction. Students will research games from other cultures and then write about and teach each other these games. In the last week of class, students will work in groups to design their own games and present and teach them to the class.

Meeting times: M, T, W, Th 1-4 pm, plus 6 hrs/week flexible lab time

Cost: $125 for games, game design elements, and books

Requirements: Two short essays (3-5 pages): One an explanation and analysis of a historical game, one a rationale of the game design of the student's original game. Regular attendance and active participation. Daily readings and quizzes. Two presentations (in groups). One original game (in groups).

Readings: Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals - including chapters on Core Concepts, defining narrative and social play, games as cultural rhetoric, games as cultural resistance. Also Raph Koster, A Theory of Fun for Game Design.

4-week plan:

· Week 1:Read essays on the connection between cultures and their games, learn representative sampling of historical games (together as a class), including Mancala, Go or Xianqi, and Mahjong.

· Week 2: Students individually research other historical and/or non-Western games, teach them to each other, and write short essays on the chosen game.

· Week 3: Read essays on modern game design. Study Settlers of Catan and other international award-winning modern games (together as a class). Begin design of original game (in groups).

· Week 4:Complete design of original game; present and teach to the class. Write short essay explaining rationale for design of own group’s original game.


Grading (P/F): Grade will include all requirements listed above, plus frequent quizzes on daily readings. Pass = C or better on each essay and each presentation and on the original game, an average of C or better on quizzes, on-time completion of lab activities, and miss no more than one class without excused absence. Fail = Miss more than one class without excused absence, or score below C on any of the requirements, or fail to complete lab activities as required. Honors = An average of A and exemplary completion of the final project (original game design).


See below for pictures from similar interims in past years:

A game of Go


Magic the Gathering

Playing Go in Acorn Café