Welcome to Ludology, an analytical discussion of the how’s and why’s of the world of board games. Rather than news and reviews, Ludology explores a variety of topics about games from a wider lens, as well as discuss game history, game design and game players.

Ludology is made possible by the support and donations of listeners like you.

Have your own thoughts about our topics? We encourage you to visit us at our guild on Boardgamegeek to get involved in a continuing discussion.

You can also email us at gil@ludology.net or geoff@ludology.net.

Ludology is part of The Dice Tower Network, the premier board game media network.

In this episode recorded at BGG.CON, Scott and Gil tell Emma all about Tabletop Network, a convention about the theory behind game design that happens right before BGG.CON. We gush about our favorite talks, and tell you what makes Tabletop Network so unique.

Direct download: Ludology_215_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott gives us a history of the classic social deduction game Mafia, from its origins in a Russian high school classroom to its transformation beneath a full moon into Werewolf. 

Direct download: Ludology_214.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Escape rooms have been providing a new form of play for much of this decade. At the same time, immersive theater has been providing a new form of storytelling. What happens when the two get mixed?

In this episode, Emma and Gil are joined by Haley E.R. Cooper and J. Cameron Cooper of Strange Bird Immersive, who run the hybrid escape room/immersive theater piece The Man From Beyond, and the Immersology blog.

How can escape rooms use immersive theater to tell a story? And how can we learn from that to better tell stories in our games?

(Note: starting this episode, we are going to feature more detailed show notes of things we bring up in our conversation. That's especially important in this episode, as we refer to theater works that may not be well-known to others!)

Games mentioned in this episode (all digital):
The Stanley Parable
Gone Home

Theater shows mentioned in this episode:
Sleep No More
Sweeney Todd (2017 off-Broadway semi-immersive)
Selfie museums (e.g. Color Factory)
Meow Wolf
Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812
Then She Fell
The Nest

Also mentioned this episode:
Improv for Gamers (book)
Bartle Taxonomy of Gamer Types
Ludology Episode 159 - Getting Out Scott Free (with Scott Nicholson)

Direct download: Ludology_214_Mixdown.mp3
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Back in Ludology 185, Geoff brought up a thought experiment. What if someone rethemed Incan Gold to a firefighting game? Would people play any differently? 

Dr. Stephen Blessing (@cognitive_gamer) of the University of Tampa took up the challenge, and with the help of research assistant Elena Sakosky, designed and ran the experiment that Geoff proposed.

In this GameTek, Dr. Blessing and Sakosky join Geoff to discuss their findings. Did players take more risks if they felt, thematically, that lives were on the line?

If you'd like to hear more of Dr. Blessing's work, listen to his podcast, Cognitive Gamer: http://cognitivegamer.com/

Direct download: Ludology_213.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Gil and Emma discuss narrative in games. How can narrative improve games? What is the difference between embedded and emergent narrative? And what the are common ways that prototypes of narrative games can fail?

Direct download: Ludology_213_Mixdown.mp3
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In this special episode of Ludology, recorded live at GrandCon 2019, Gil and Geoff go back in time to recount their earliest game designs. Were they as embarrassing? Were they any good? What is Gil's infamous action mechanism, and was Geoff able to capture the essence of the Battle of Cannae for a school assignment? We also take some live listener questions at the end.

Direct download: Ludology_212.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Emma and Gil welcome mass-market game and toy inventor Kim Vandenbrouke to the show. How is "inventing" a mass-market game different than "designing" a hobby game? Why is the toy/mass-market industry so much more secretive? And how does one deal with all the publisher rejection?

You can read Kim's writings on the toy and mass-market game industry here: https://www.thegameaisle.com/kim-vandenbroucke/

Direct download: Ludology_212_Mixdown.mp3
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Geoff welcomes digital archaeoludologist Cameron Browne, principal investigator of the Digital Ludeme Project, to find out how we can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to try to derive the rules to ancient games like Senet by breaking games down into what Browne calles "ludemes."

Find out more about the Digital Ludeme Project on Twitter (@archaeoludology) or the web: http://ludeme.eu/

You can play some games that Browne has constructed from ludemes here: https://ludii.games/

Direct download: Ludology_211.5_Mixdown.mp3
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In May 2012, Geoff and Ryan brought Michael Lee, owner of the relatively new company Panda Games Manufacturing, on the show to discuss the art and design of manufacturing games.

Over 5 and a half years later, Gil and Emma are delighted to welcome Michael back! Panda Games Manufacturing has grown along with the industry, and Michael hasn't stopped focusing on the intersection of components and game design.

What has changed in manufacturing since 2012? What kinds of components does Michael find most exciting? And how do components inform the experience of a game, especially in the current gaming boom?

You can find Panda Games Manufacturing on Twitter and Instagram at @pandagm.

Direct download: Ludology_211_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott covers the lineage of games that began in 2004 with Wings of War: Famous Aces. The "Flight Path" system that appeared in this game spawned follow-up titles Wings of Glory, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Card Game, Star Trek: Attack Wing, D&D: Attack Wing, and Battlestar Galactica: Starship Battles

Direct download: Ludology_210.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Gil and Emma are joined by game designer Jenn Sandercock to discuss her edible games. How do you design a game where the players eat the components? What design challenges does that bring up? And how do players react to being allowed to literally play with their food?

Find out more about Jenn here: http://jennsand.com/

Find out more about Jenn's edible games here: https://ediblegames.com/

Direct download: Ludology_210_Mixdown.mp3
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In this GameTek Classic, Geoff covers the history of dice, and the social stigma attached to them. Who were the first civilizations to play with dice, and how did they deal with the way their society frowned on them?

Direct download: Ludology_209.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Emma, Gil, and Scott discuss a theory Scott is working on that describes 6 distinct physical zones when playing a board game. How does the physical dimensionality of a board game affect its gameplay?

Read more about the 6 Zones of Play here:



Direct download: Ludology_209_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott takes a peek at the history of the frantic real-time co-op game Space Cadets, designed by our own Geoff Engelstein, his daughter Sydney Engelstein, and his son Brian Engelstein. 

Direct download: Ludology_208.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Emma and Gil welcome the multitalented Hawke Robinson, who discusses his experiences using role-playing games as therapy for at-risk youth and adults. How can games help people gain empathy and pull them into a positive mindset? And how has Hawke's 40+ years of RPG experience helped him form these programs?

You can learn more about Hawke and his work here: http://www.hawkerobinson.com/

CONTENT WARNING: This episode touches on sensitive topics like suicide, homicide, violence against children, and sexual assault.


Direct download: Ludology_208_Mixdown.mp3
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Geoff reviews the concept of "information" from a mathematical perspective, which might be different from the definition you're used to. What real-world implications did this concept lay the groundwork for?

Direct download: Ludology_207.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Emma and Gil welcome Justin Gary, designer of Ascension and Shards of Infinity, to discuss card-based strategy games. What makes them so different than other games? How does one handle things like balance, plans for expansions, and in-game marriage proposals?

Direct download: Ludology_207_Mixdown.mp3
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Gil, Emma, and Geoff field listeners' questions in an episode recorded live at Gen Con 2019 in Indianapolis.

Direct download: Ludology_206.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Emma and Gil welcome accomplished designer Tom Lehmann (Race for the Galaxy, Res Arcana, and many others) to discuss game arcs versus story arcs and how an inflection point can help the arc of a longer game. We also get into how the plot of Romeo & Juliet compares to a cooperative game, and how game design could possibly connect to contra dancing.

Direct download: Ludology_206_Mixdown.mp3
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In this GameTek from August 2017, Geoff goes through three interesting bits of of game design-related research. Is there such a thing as momentum in sports? How does the brain react to the prospect of punishing others for violating social norms? And how does the Prisoner's Dilemma change if we alter its framing?

Direct download: Ludology_205.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott did some research and came up with all the different ways a board game can end. In this super-sized episode, Scott, Emma, and Gil go through this list and share our thoughts on how a game experience concludes, and how we designers can affect our players based on the different ways we wrap up our games. 

Direct download: Ludology_205_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott covers the history of the seminal board game Dune, its legal tangles with its IP, and its retheming as Rex: Final Days of an Empire.

Direct download: Ludology_204.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Daniel Solis (@danielsolis) joins Gil and Emma to talk about graphic design from a nuts-and-bolts perspective. What are the elements of graphic design that game designers should be aware of? 

During the show, Daniel mentions the website https://blambot.com for fonts, and https://game-icons.net and http://thenounproject.com for icons. We also bring up his Bird Bucks (https://www.drivethrucards.com/product/128925/Bird-Bucks) project that replaces generic paper money in games.

Direct download: Ludology_204_Mixdown.mp3
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In this special GameTek, Geoff sits down with Micha Le Bourhis of Asmodee Research to discuss how Asmodee scientifically studies people's interactions with board games.

For more information, go to the Asmodee Research website here (French only, at the time of this episode release): https://www.game-in-lab.org/

Direct download: Ludology_203.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Elizabeth Hargrave (@elizhargrave) joins Gil and Emma to discuss the design of her hit strategy game Wingspan. We start by discussing engine-building games, but we'll also touch on the benefits of a rigorous playtest schedule, the best ways to prepare a prototype, scaling to a good player count, working with Stonemaier Games, and the range of things people can really say with flowers. 

Direct download: Ludology_203_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott tells us about Icehouse, the real-time game that's celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and whose distinctive plastic pyramids launched an entire game system.

Direct download: Ludology_202.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Jeroen Doumen, co-founder of Splotter and co-designer of games Food Chain Magnate, Antiquity, and Roads & Boats, joins Gil and Emma to discuss the design of unforgiving games. What choices do you have to make when making a game that can be harsh to mistakes? We also talk about testing, publishing, and of course, hamburgers.

You can reach Jeroen by emailing him at jeroen@splotter.nl.

Direct download: Ludology_202_Mixdown.mp3
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Geoff discusses an unusual and somewhat tragic condition in sports called "The Yips." Is it mental, or does it have a physiological basis?

Direct download: Ludology_201.5_Mixdown.mp3
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Gil, Emma, and Scott talk about fun and meaning in games. What is fun, and how can we achieve fun in our games? What are games that try to balance fun within a more serious topic? And how about games that are not meant to be fun at all; how do they provide meaning for their players?

During the episode, Scott discusses Marc LeBlanc's 8 Types of Fun, which you can read more about here: https://theangrygm.com/gaming-for-fun-part-1-eight-kinds-of-fun/

Note: In the last 20 minutes of the episode, be advised that we discuss games that deal with traumatic subjects, like the deaths of close family members. 

Direct download: Ludology_201_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott discusses the history of the legendary deduction game Cluedo. 

Direct download: Ludology_200.5_Mixdown.mp3
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After 200 episodes, Geoff has decided to step back from Ludology to focus on game design and book writing. So we've gathered previous co-hosts Ryan Sturm and Mike Fitzgerald, as well as future co-host Emma Larkins and future contributor Professor Scott Rogers, for a big slam-bang going away party! 

You'll continue to hear Geoff with his GameTek segment every 4 weeks. And if you'd like to stay in touch, follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/gengelstein

Direct download: Ludology_200_Mixdown.mp3
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Geoff discusses the art of x-ray diffraction, and how it relates to board games.

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_199_Crystallography.mp3
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Gil and Geoff discuss uncertainty in games, using Greg Costikyan's _Uncertainty in Games_ as a guide. What kinds of uncertainty are there in games? How do they affect the game experience? 

Direct download: Ludology_199_Mixdown.mp3
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Scott takes a deep dive into the twisted and fascinating history of the game Othello.

Direct download: Biography_of_a_Boardgame_198.mp3
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Gil and Geoff are delighted to be joined by Anthony Giovannetti, one of the designers of the popular video game Slay the Spire, a deck-building rogue-like dungeon crawl.

How did the board game concepts of deckbuilding translate into a computer game? What advantages did the solo roguelike format give the designers?

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_198.mp3
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Geoff takes a look at the long history of drinking games.

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_197_Drinking_Games.mp3
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Gil and Geoff welcome Mikael Jakobsson and Rick Eberhardt from the MIT Game Lab to discuss their research into colonial themes in board games, and the game design workshops they run in former colonial countries.

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_197.mp3
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Scott Rogers is back with a new Biography of a Board Game, this time looking at Apples to Apples and Cards Against Humanity.

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_196_Apples_Against_Humanity.mp3
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Gil and Geoff welcome guests Allison Parrish and Tim Szetela, designers of Rewordable, to discuss word games. What particular design techniques are required for this type of game?


Direct download: Ludology_Episode_196.mp3
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In this GameTek, Geoff explores the connection between Ritual and Play.

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_195_Ritual.mp3
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Gil and Geoff discuss valuation within games - what are the different ways of determining resource value? How does value flow and change over the course of play?


Direct download: Ludology_Episode_195.mp3
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In this new interview, Geoff talks with Nolan Bard from Google Deep Mind and Jakob Foerster from Oxford University about their proposal to use the card game Hanabi as the next frontier in Machine Learning and AI research.

The original paper can be found at https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.00506.


Direct download: GameTek_Classic_194_The_Hanabi_Challenge.mp3
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Gil and Geoff are live at ToyFair NY with the designer of Fog of Love, Jacob Jaskov. What was his development process like for this innovative design? What does that tell us about creating narrative inside games?

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_194.mp3
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Scott Rogers is back with the biography of Merchant of Venus!

Direct download: Gametek_Classic_193_Merchant_of_Venus.mp3
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Gil and Geoff welcome back Stephen Buonocore from Stronghold Games for their traditional annual State of the Industry discussion. What trends did we see in 2018? What do we see for the future of tabletop gaming?

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_193.mp3
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In this classic GameTek Geoff talks about ties and tie-breakers. What makes a good tiebreaker?

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_192_Ties.mp3
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Gil and Geoff talk about Game Loops and how they can be designed to accomplish a variety of goals.

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_192.mp3
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In this classic GameTek, Geoff talks about the work of Thomas Schelling.

Direct download: GameTek_Classic_191_Schelling.mp3
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Gil and Geoff welcome Scott Rogers to discuss party games. What features make for a good party game? What are the dos and don'ts for designers?

Direct download: Ludology_Episode_191.mp3
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