Game-elements and hacking board games

We were testing a prototype Android application, developed by our interns, Rufael and Mosa from Malmo, to help facilitate future City Game sessions. The application allows the facilitator to track game progress and visualise the session for the participants. The application is designed to be used with large groups and in game sessions where parameters such as natural resources are in play.


We had a session of the City Game to test the application, where the discussion revolved around facilitator and player interaction through game artefacts. During our post-game analysis, we discussed the importance of the intended ‘game-play‘ and how it is necessary to test each game-element. The Android application was introduced as a new game-element. We observed that due to the addition of this new game-element, the flow of the game was altered.


A ‘game-element‘ can be a physical item or a rule that helps us construct and propagate the game without disturbing the element of play. For example, in a board game pawns, tokens, game money, etc are game-elements. Similarly, in a virtual game, health indicators, waypoint markers, etc are game-elements. A game can make use of any number of game-elements in a given session but, it is critical to ensure that the given set of game-elements create meaningful ‘play‘. Too many elements and the game becomes too complex to follow while too little elements may result in loss of player interest. Therefore, each modification (addition/deletion) to game-elements has to be rigorously tested for consistency of game-play.


The Android application presents players of City Game with additional information. We have modified the City Game rules which incorporates this information to create a different style of play than the plain vanilla version.


We wanted to demonstrate this effect in a more practical manner. We created an impromptu game design session. We divided ourselves into teams of 2 and gave ourselves the following task:
Each team will choose a well known game and modify its elements. The modifications have to create a change in the game-play and the team needs to convince the others that the modified game would still be fun to play.


We came up with 4 modified games. I present my team’s entry below:

I worked with Mosa to create “Board Game Mutation – 0x1”. The basic idea was to make use of standard board games that is found in most households and modify the game rules to create a new game. The following items are required to play our mutated game:

No of players: 3 – 4 players

Game Elements

  1. A ‘Snakes (or chutes) and ladders’ board
  2. A deck of UNO card game
  3. Pawns from any of the above games, 4 pawns per player.

The Game

The snakes and ladder board is the main game board. Each player places 4 of their pawns on the board at start point. Each player must move all their pawns to the final goal. The first player to move all the pawns wins. Each player throws a standard six-sided die and picks a card from a shuffled UNO deck and places it on its face for all players to see. The player moves a pawn of his choice (one that has not reached its destination) on the board corresponding to the number indicated by the die.

The board is said to have two states. The default state in which all the snakes causes a pawn to demote to lower levels and all the ladders promote a pawn to higher levels, nearer to the goal. A second state called the compliment state can be triggered by a player who places a wild-card from the UNO deck. In a compliment state the snakes promote pawns and the ladders demote them. This state exists till another player finds a wild card from the deck.


Snakes and Ladders is a pure dice game and winning completely depends on chance. Our objective of the modification of the game-elements was to introduce a sense of strategy into the standard game-play of snakes and ladders. We added a new game-element, the chance for other players to sabotage the lead player by reversing the roles of how snakes and ladder behave. We also wanted to increase the time for which the new game would be played and hence we introduced four pawns per player.


During our discussions we argued that the introduction of sabotage changes the standard game of snakes and ladders from a chance based self-serving game to a more interactive one. However, there were concerns raised on the number of pawns, as it could possibly increase the game time by a large amount. There was also more practical concerns that two game kits were required to play this version of the game. A more rigorously rule system needs to be developed such as when can you display the card, immediately or latter, should the cards be resolved first or the board? In the end we decided that the changes required player testing for at least the game-length.

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