I wrote about my interest in board games in a recent blog post last month. Little did I imagine that this article would be the catalyst for deciding the next step in the ideation process of one of our projects. Recently, we have begun working on kulTura, a modern mobile application for exploring time-honoured towns along the SLO-CRO border. In our study of the state of the art, presented in the previous entry in the ‘Making kulTura’ series of posts, we analysed 17 similar application concepts and recognized good practices from several different fields. Amongst them was gamification, the use of game design elements within non-game contexts. As it turned out, this is a domain about which one can learn a lot by playing board games.

Some of the many games from Dobra Poteza

Inspired by the article How to gamify? A method for designing gamification’ by Benedikt Morschheuser et al. and the design model proposed therein, we decided to lay some groundwork for kulTura as a gamification project. Namely, we decided that our best approach towards gamifying (that is, enhancing the presented cultural heritage-related information with features borrowed from games) would be a more methodical, structured one. Among some other important steps that we’re working on currently (like identifying our user base and envisioning them with the help of creating Design Personas), the article also describes experts in the field of gamification stating that the playing of games and the discussion of mechanics in board and video games can stimulate the mindset and support ideation. The ideation phase is exactly where we currently are in the process of developing kulTura – and with the phenomenon of board game cafés described in the aforementioned blog post recently coming to Slovenia, we decided to pay one of them – Dobra poteza – a visit.

Dobra poteza is located on Železna cesta 14 in Ljubljana. Upon entering, we immediately noticed several shelves, laden with over 300 boardgame boxes of various shapes and sizes. We picked out a table and went to work.

Dobble showed us, that even frustration can be an emotion, that games can harness for success.

Based on our previous findings, we had already decided that we wanted the gamified aspects of our application to be as simple and user-friendly as possible. Thus we opted to review games that online message boards described as gateway games. These titles are usually used to welcome new people into the world of modern board gaming: they’re simple and fun to the point that new players would want to explore further. The online portal Boardgamegeek’s game weight classification also helped us determine the complexity of games, while we also took their overall game ratings into consideration. After all: the top-rated game on their portal must be doing something right. With the addition of the list of the most popular games in Dobra poteza, we composed a list of over 40 game titles we want to try before finalizing our application. On the day, however, we only had time for four.

Kingdomino was the game that sparked the most new ideas

In Kingdomino, a tile placement and territory building game, we were lords seeking new lands in which to expand our kingdoms. We tested our pattern recognition skills in the fast party game Dobble. We also evaluated the viability of real-time cooperative play on Magic Maze’s modular board and finally threw some dice and pressed our luck in the science fiction-inspired King of Tokyo.

We pushed our luck while playing King of Tokyo

To help us qualitatively assess the values, mechanics, and interesting facts about the reviewed games, we created a questionnaire. When playing each of the titles, we asked ourselves a series of 18 questions – derived from various sources, from online message boards, to Jesse Schell’s The Art of Game Design – A Book of Lenses and Sharon Boller’s article on evaluating games. We discussed our feelings upon winning and losing, and those that were invoked throughout gameplay – for example frustration –, and how it can correlate with motivation. Each of the players tried to describe the goal of the game and its clarity on their own – with descriptions surprisingly varying from player to player. The game’s aesthetics and design were also big talking points as we discussed what kind of emotional response each colour and art choice was able to conjure, and which of these we want to use in our game. Some other topics included action economy, time between the action and the reward, the value of specific game resources, surprises, and in the end – the big question – what makes this game fun?

A lengthy discussion followed each gaming session. And coffee too.

All in all, our visit to Dobra poteza was a big step in our ideation process. We learned to look at the game (or rather, gamified application) we’re developing in a completely different way and examined some interesting mechanics we haven’t had contact with before. Before leaving the café, we also had a chance to chat with Jure Gantar, Dobra poteza’s manager, about types of players and characteristics games can bring out in people. Our interview can be found here. Next – after hopefully trying to analyse more games in this way – we’re looking to quantify our findings and decide which ones we’ll be able to integrate into our application. Picking and choosing the correct ones will be no simple task, given our current ambitions of combining game mechanics with augmented reality and storytelling. Should we decide on a specific mechanic, inspired by what we examined in Dobra poteza, we’ll be sure to note that in one of the following entries of making kulTura.

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