I remember the fond memories of meeting my friends, arranging a game board and playing the game for hours. Whether it was the simplicity of Ludo, the thrill of snakes and ladders, or the Indian spin on Monopoly, those moments were always a delightful way to pass the time.
So when there was an opportunity to design a game, I said to myself, “Designing board games? That must be fun!” But is it as fun as it sounds?
Never having designed a game before, I needed to understand what a game is, what makes it & why do we even find it so enjoyable? I ventured into the world of board games with enthusiasm and curiosity and this exploration opened up a Pandora's box of information. So many definitions, so many terms, but something remained constant- Fun and learning. After all that is what playing is - a naturally fun way of learning!
In nature, young animals simulate risky situations within the safety of their environment to learn and practice activities like running, fighting, attacking, flying, jumping and fleeing away which are essential survival skills.
Similarly, games can be designed to simulate situations, time period or sequence of events in a short time span. Understanding the importance of "learning through play" was crucial, as it emphasized the motivation behind designing these games. During the field research it was observed that people from rural Assam & Odisha are used to playing games like cards, ludo, carom with their friends. These games serve as a source of leisure, fostering conversations and interactions among friends. This sparked the concept of utilizing board games as a means to convey the sustainable aquaculture practices & benefits.
Creating a board game starts with some fundamental questions, one being the objective of the game. What does the player need to do during the gameplay? This question was answered by the practice of sustainable aquaculture involving 4 main stages namely Pre-stocking, Stocking, Post-stocking, & Hatchery. These phases formed a thematic foundation to base the games on. The initial phase of board game design is indeed exhilarating with ideas flowing all around. Whether it was a unique theme based on aquafarming, an innovative mechanic, or a twist on a classic game, this part was truly exciting as I was experimenting and exploring uncharted territories of game mechanics and narratives. Taking these ideas further to create a cohesive gameplay involved a delicate balance of player choices, strategy, luck, rewards, and challenges.
In a game, a player performs a task determined by luck and strategy, so they can move ahead in the game to achieve the objective. To facilitate this, a game includes components like game board, random number generator (RNG) like dice, playing pieces, cards, currency, and more. During the development, the games went through numourous iterations of game components, rules, and visual style.
Playtesting across multiple stages played a pivotal role in enhancing the games. This involved fine-tuning rules, perfecting mechanics, and enhancing the visual portrayal of elements. Even though the games were designed to communicate information about a technical subject, it was essential to follow one of the most vital rules of making games i.e. the rule of fun! The games must be fun to play. The graphics, the plot, theme and information have its value but one simply won't play a game if it is not fun. To ensure this, a variety of external rewards were incorporated and tested.
Finally after the play-tests, it was time to refine the graphics and get the games ready with all the artifacts. The games were designed to be played in rural Assam & Odisha by fish-farming communities. We decided to deliver the games in print & play version so people can print it on a regular A4 paper, cut-fold-paste; and start playing. Along with providing a higher penetration and ease of distribution, print & play model stays true to the sustainability approach of the project by saving resources in packaging, storage & transportation.
The fusion of gaming with sustainable aquaculture has not only brought a new dimension to the way information is communicated but has also underscored the universal appeal of play as a means of learning. Reflecting on my journey, designing the board games has been an adventure brimming with creativity, challenges & meaningful insights. And to answer the question raised earlier, yes it can be as fun as it sounds!