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What's in a game?

This semester, I'm taking a class called User Participation Platforms. In this class, we're focusing on designing experiences that invite the user in. The most literal application of this involves AR/VR platforms, which we're just starting now. In order to get ready for this stage, though, we started by building a solid foundation of tools and skills that would help us. We've discussed storytelling, designing around just one person, and then designing for play.

That brings us to Tessellate. We talked about the principles behind good game design, and then were set loose to apply them on our own. I wanted to create a new tabletop game that would pull in a lot of my preferred game elements - simple as possible, adaptable for multiple games and multiple skill levels, and incorporating strategic elements, preferably in a collaborative or spatial manner.


Above, you can see my sketchbook from the early stages of the project. I started with inspiration, and then moved forward with determining suits and numbers for a set of wooden tiles that would be played like cards or dominoes onto a communal playing surface.


The earliest prototype of the game was made of slips of paper. My thought was having the ends cut according to the tile's suit so that the tiles could be arranged in interesting ways, like the triangle on the left. The rules as they stood at the test play left things a little too ambiguous, with the line between collaboration and competition being too fuzzy, and the spatial nature of the intended tile play unclear.

My wonderful test players shared their concerns, and suggested some improvements, like a clear winner, or actual shapes instead of sticks. The geometric tile idea played perfectly into my love of geometry and intricate tile work, and so, Tessellate was born.


I made my new prototype out of polymer clay, using repurposed kitchen tools and my now super-strong hands. I changed the circle suit to octagons so that the tiles could connect to each other, but kept the two colors and having six of each the same. I baked the pieces, and then sewed a foldable "game board" to put them on. 

The game is played almost like a combination between Rummy and Scrabble, with getting rid of the pieces in your hand by playing them onto a common board arrangement in different shape and number combinations. It's designed to be relatively simple, and then have lots of different variations that could possibly be played from there. I'm still getting people to test play, and I think I'll need to tweak some rules to make it more difficult. I'd also like to make an "automatic" tile dispenser, as the current method of getting new tiles requires pulling from the box, where shape/size can be told.

I definitely want to keep playing with this (ha), because this has been a very interesting look into how to set up a game. Setting clear boundaries, defining the rules of the interaction, making sure there is a clear flow from beginning to end - these are all principles that will strongly inform my upcoming work with AR/VR.

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