IAT 312: Foundations of Game Design

Current offering: Spring 2023, taught by Bernhard Riecke

IAT 312 showcase poster - 2023 Spring

Join us for our Game Design Showcase on Tuesday 4th April 2023

On Tuesday 4th April 2023, stu­dents from my Foundations of Game Design course (IAT 312) will show­case their final game design projects where they were tasked to design a (dig­i­tal) boardgame that is not only fun to play (addresss­ing what  Lazzaro  calls “People Fun”), but also “trans­for­ma­tive” or “pur­pose­ful” (aka “Transformative Fun”, what Lazzaro refers to as fos­ter­ing altered states): That is, apart from being fun to play, the game should also be meaningful/purposeful or add value by some­how chang­ing the player’s out-of-game behav­iours or per­spec­tives.  During the course, stu­dents reflected on topics that they care deeply about that could help create a better world, and designed a game to tackle that topic.

How to participate?

To par­tic­i­pate in our show­case, you have 2 options:

Join us on Zoom for a live-streamed (online) showcase, from 10:40am - 12:20pm, using this Zoom link

Schedule: [draft]

10:40 — 10:45am: Introductions from Instructor (Bernhard Riecke) and TA (Kenneth Karthik), overview of the course and the projects in the showcase.

10:45 — 12:20pm: Game Showcase & team inter­view: Each team will be show­cased for about 10min, start­ing with the short project video pitch/trailer of their game (using zoom screen shar­ing), fol­lowed by Bernhard inter­view­ing team mem­bers and TA screen­shar­ing their game in Tabletop Simulator, while other class stu­dents will play the game in the back­ground so we can see life game­play footage.

12:20pm: Closing:  Final Q&A, audi­ence ques­tions, closing

Join us for in-person game demo/playtesting at SFU’s Surrey Campus in the Mezzanine, from 2:30 - 6pm

If you’d like to try out any of the games and/or chat with the game design­ers or instruc­tional team, join us from 2:30-6pm on the SFU Surrey campus, in the Mezzanine (up the escalator/stairs one flight), see direc­tions.

Documentation of prior course offerings and showcases from

Project posters

Details about the Game Projects

Road to Refuge

Follow and experience the journey of a family as they try to survive and escape their war-torn country.

Website of Team 1–1

Razor: A game that tells a story of a family that’s escaping from their country where they need to collect, and manage their resources while trying to survive through events that will challenge their teamwork.team11_172782_21269421_team1-1-poster

Road to Refuge is a nar­ra­tive game that lets play­ers assume the role of a family escap­ing war. Players must coop­er­ate together to manage their resources and sur­vive through random events that will chal­lenge their team­work. The road to safety is not an easy path, play­ers must tra­verse their war-torn coun­try. Work together as a team on your road to refuge and a better life.

1 minute game trailer:


Full game video:

Mystery Zoo

Protect or trade? Every choice matters. Can you handle it?

Website of Team 1–2

Razor: You decide the life or death of animals. Will you protect or trade them? Brace yourself for tough moral choices. Every decision you make matters. Can you handle the consequences?team12_166836_21257450_IAT312 Final Poster

Welcome to our game “Mystery Zoo” where your moral deci­sions are cru­cial. You’ll enter a map with three dif­fi­culty levels and choose between being a pro­tec­tor of ani­mals or living a life of crime for money. Choosing to be good can be lonely and risky, while a life of crime brings wealth but also the threat of arrest or impris­on­ment. The jour­ney won’t be easy as you’ll face tough choices that test your moral­ity and courage. Each deci­sion you make will lead you down a unique path, shap­ing your char­ac­ter and world­view. But your expe­ri­ences and rev­e­la­tions will be invalu­able, and you’ll real­ize the pro­found impor­tance of animal con­ser­va­tion and we also pro­vide detailed animal infor­ma­tion to edu­cate you along the way.


1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Rainforest Rivals

Journey through the jungle, cooperate or fight!

Website of Team 1–3

Razor: The game promotes cooperation between players and highlights the interconnectedness between humans and nature, featuring gameplay elements that challenge players to make strategic choices about how they interact with the environment and its inhabitants.team13_179197_21260937_Orangutan Game1

In our board game, play­ers take on the roles of either human or orang­utan, ini­tially com­pet­ing for resources in the jungle. However, as they nav­i­gate the dan­gers and chal­lenges of the ecosys­tem, play­ers soon dis­cover that coop­er­a­tion is the key to sur­vival. With game­play that empha­sizes strate­gic choices and the inter­con­nect­ed­ness of humans and nature, our game offers a thrilling strate­gic chal­lenge that will leave play­ers with a new appre­ci­a­tion for the impor­tance of pro­tect­ing endan­gered ani­mals and their habitats.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Blue Planet

Surviving the sea of plastic

Website of Team 1–4

Razor: An event based board game where the stakes continue to rise as an increasing amount of plastic enters the oceanteam14_214102_21264855_Team4_poster Small

Blue Planet is a sur­vival game where marine life fights against the ocean’s plas­tic pol­lu­tion. Each player rep­re­sents dif­fer­ent species of marine life where they get to draw events that con­nect to the sto­ries of their lives which can work in their favor or not. Each player needs to keep track of their own plas­tic inges­tion due to having a poten­tial in dying or receiv­ing aid from marine doc­tors. One large source of plas­tic inges­tion is the garbage patch, whereas play­ers encounter early in the game and more gets accu­mu­lated as the game progresses.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Likes and Lies

Are you ready to go viral?

Website of Team 1–5

Razor: A board game that simulates the fight to gain attention on social media, and the impact of the consequent posting of misinformation on societyteam15_206372_21272979_Likes and Lies poster

Likes and Lies is a social media sim­u­la­tor game for play­ers to hang out and share memes. Each player aims to earn the high­est points by shar­ing memes and infor­ma­tion on social media. The player who gets the high­est likes from other play­ers will become the influ­encer and reveal other play­ers’ infor­ma­tion. Random events will gen­er­ate accord­ing to the play­ers’ decisions.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Together we Stand

Win together, or lose trying

Website of Team 2–1

Razor: Subterra-like card game where players collaborate to combat life struggles until they reach the endteam21_176203_21272595_IAT312 Board Game Poster

Together We Stand is a sur­vival and co-op game that chal­lenges play­ers to work together to reach the end goal of cre­at­ing Utopia. The idea is for people to col­lab­o­rate with each other to face the tribu­la­tions, chal­lenges, and ran­dom­ness lifes throws at you such as health or finan­cial issues. To win the game, ALL the play­ers must reach Utopia. Players have their own indi­vid­ual perks and weak­nesses, and jug­gling their own indi­vid­ual issues while simul­ta­ne­ously help­ing others could be dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary to win.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Perilous Voyage

Forced out of your home, you and your family travel the vast ocean in a flooded world to find a new place to call home. Will you triumph together over the challenges in this journey or perish alone?

Website of Team 2–3

Razor: A cooperative resource management game, players need to work together in order to survive traveling until they reach their end goal.team23_197242_21271496_TEAM 2-3 Assignment 2_Poster_small

Perilous Voyage is a co-operative sur­vival game where you travel together on a boat and gather resources in order to sur­vive the jour­ney to find a new home. Each player takes con­trol of a spe­cific char­ac­ter each with their own unique abil­i­ties to help the jour­ney in their own way. When trav­el­ing play­ers can encounter var­i­ous events in both the ocean and small islands they encounter along the way, which can either help or hinder the play­ers. On islands play­ers may find NPCs that are will­ing to join them on their jour­ney, they can be turned away but some will be harder to ignore than others.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Dust and Gems

Gemstone Journey: The Struggle and Sacrifice of African Gemstone Miners.

Website of Team 2–4

Razor: Keep the player in mindteam24_229759_21273751_Team2-4 poster

Carve your own exclu­sive path through the dimly lit under­ground, the road is full of sur­prises that you dig for your­self. Your suc­cess in mining for pre­cious gems depends on your abil­ity to nav­i­gate through the unknown ter­rain and uncover hidden trea­sures. Until the end, har­vest a vari­ety of gems in your mining adven­ture path. Who will be the rich man in the end? Different colors will tell you the answer.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:


Cash or Card?

Build your tech empire, no matter the cost.

Website of Team 2–5

Razor: Integrating two types of games, board and card as one.team25_161592_21274298_Graphics_Design_is_not_my_Passion

Cash or Card? is a roll and move / card game hybrid that can be played between 2 to 4 play­ers. The objec­tive of the game is to reduce your oppo­nents cash stocks down to zero and the last remain­ing person alive stand­ing is pro­nounced the winner. In the roll and move phase of the game, the play­ers progress through the board using a simple 6 sided die and land­ing on spe­cific tiles can gen­er­ate var­i­ous effects, from draw­ing cards, random events, and neg­a­tive effects that can impact game­play. Then the play­ers enter the card game phase, where they’re able to place down cards in their hands, and acti­vate var­i­ous effects of dif­fer­ent cards they have on board.

1 minute game trailer:

Full game video:



Want to try out Games from prior classes?

type “IAT312” into the search field on the Tabletop Simulator site on Steam or through this direct link.

Course outline

Brief course intro video (spring 2021)

Course description

In a nut­shell: you’ll learn how to design, build, ana­lyze, and iter­a­tively refine a number of (non-digital) board games.

Course goals

This is an intro­duc­tory course in game design and we will exam­ine the dis­ci­pline and prac­tices of game design. Games are stud­ied across three ana­lyt­i­cal frame­works: games as rules (formal system), games as play (expe­ri­en­tial system), and games as cul­ture (social system). This course will include ana­lyt­i­cal and prac­ti­cal exer­cises in game design includ­ing small non-digital game design projects. Game design is a cre­ative endeav­our requir­ing prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence through design, cri­tique and iter­a­tion. We will explore some of the more uni­ver­sal game mech­a­nisms, such as ran­dom­ness, eco­nomic sys­tems, player moti­va­tion and psy­chol­ogy, and a few spe­cific topics in more detail. This course will pre­pare stu­dents to under­take the fun­da­men­tals of game design includ­ing design­ing, build­ing, ana­lyz­ing, and iter­a­tively refin­ing a number of non-digital games.

During the 2021 Spring semes­ter, this course will be taught online and will apply a flipped approach to learn­ing. Each week stu­dents will work inde­pen­dently and with peers learn­ing about game design through videos, read­ings, dis­cus­sions and small indi­vid­ual and team activ­i­ties. In the live lec­ture part of this class, we will read and dis­cuss some of the work that ana­lyzes play­ers, games and the game design process to estab­lish common ground and pre­pare you for prac­ti­cal work in the labs where stu­dents will play(test), cri­tique, improve and design games as well as report on the course’s longer game design projects.

No pro­gram­ming or Unity knowl­edge is required. All games cre­ated in this course will be or mimick analog games.

Intended learning outcomes

The course is intended to sup­port you to gain both prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence with and a crit­i­cal under­stand­ing of the foun­da­tions of game design in spe­cific con­texts. Specifically, by ful­fill­ing the require­ments of the course you will be pre­pared to accom­plish key tasks in 4 main game design areas:

  1. Game Design Basics:
    1. Explain and crit­i­cally reflect on games, and the char­ac­ter­is­tics and fea­tures of dif­fer­ent types of games includ­ing their com­po­nents, mechan­ics & rules, dynam­ics, and aesthetics/UX/fun, the “Magic Circle”, and what makes for a com­pelling game
    2. Analyze and argue what makes for a com­pelling game (or not) and why people like to play games
  2. Game Design Frameworks & Psychology
    1. Compare and con­trast dif­fer­ent frame­works and under­ly­ing assump­tions, and deter­mine how and when to use which frameworks
    2. Explain dif­fer­ent player types and psy­cholo­gies, how they affect their game­play, assump­tions, and pref­er­ences, and use this knowl­edge to improve game designs
  3. Game Design Process:
    1. Explain and effec­tively uti­lize game design best practices/processes/frameworks/mechanics, and explain how you did this when design­ing sev­eral games in teams. This includes typ­i­cal game design phases such as ideation, pro­to­typ­ing and play test­ing as the base for an iter­a­tive game design cycle
    2. Analyze, dis­cuss, and cri­tique games using appro­pri­ate ter­mi­nol­ogy, and pro­vide well-structured, con­struc­tive, and useful feed­back (e.g., after playtest­ing or game pitches).
    3. Discuss the dif­fer­ence between game cri­tiques vs. playtest­ing, and demon­strate why, when, and how to use either of them effec­tively to improve your game and design process
    4. Effectively demon­strate and reflect on how to effec­tively com­mu­ni­cate your game across dif­fer­ent stages (from early pro­to­type to final game), to dif­fer­ent audi­ences (both inter­nal and exter­nal), and using dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion for­mats (incl. writ­ten instructions/rule sheets, pitches, game design doc­u­ments (GDDs), and game videos)
  4. Game Design Teams:
    1. Reflect on and apply suit­able processes and team-based, col­lab­o­ra­tive prac­tices used in game design includ­ing ideation, pro­to­typ­ing, iter­a­tive revi­sions, and playtest­ing as the base for an iter­a­tive design cycle to a game design project.
      1. Specific processes cov­ered in this class may include struc­tured team brain­storm­ing (affin­ity dia­gram­ming), mood­boards, inspi­ra­tion analy­sis, Razor & Slogan, Play Matrix, playtest­ing scripts, struc­tured game critique/analysis, and Agile project management)
    2. Explain what makes a good game designer, and why and how they often work in teams
    3. Reflect on your own and others’ assump­tions, lenses, beliefs, what people really care about, and pref­er­ences about games/playing, and how do they affect game design and teamwork
    4. Explain and uti­lize a tool­box of how to  foster a col­lab­o­ra­tive, con­struc­tive, and sup­port­ive team cul­ture and process, includ­ing pat­terns of think­ing and behav­iour that sup­port effec­tive teams, as well as spe­cific  tools, tips, processes and frame­works (incl. Agile) that might be useful
    5. Find ways to effec­tively address chal­lenges that can occur in team-based envi­ron­ments while being respect­ful and con­struc­tive. (This could include col­lab­o­ra­tively resolve chal­lenges that com­monly occur in team-based projects, such as bal­anc­ing between leading/following, com­mu­ni­ca­tion chal­lenges, con­flicts that arise, ensur­ing all team mem­bers con­tribute mean­ing­fully, engag­ing all team mem­bers, ensur­ing all care for the project and each other, get­ting people on the same page, and fig­ur­ing out a shared vision/purpose that all can care about).

Delivery Method

This course will include a weekly live lec­ture (110 min­utes) and a workshop-tutorial (110 min­utes) com­po­nent. The course will be deliv­ered in-person using a par­tially “flipped” class­room approach. Students are expected to par­tic­i­pate in:

  • syn­chro­nous activ­i­ties during the sched­uled course times. This includes a live, inter­ac­tive lec­ture with demon­stra­tions, dis­cus­sions, and some indi­vid­ual and peer/group work, as well as a live workshop-tutorial where stu­dents will prac­tice and apply the con­cepts of the lec­ture in design­ing sev­eral games
  • asyn­chro­nous activ­i­ties (e.g., inde­pen­dent prepa­ra­tion before the lec­ture, team work, peer work etc. to pre­pare each week and to pace your­self care­fully in order to stay on top of the activities/assignments and to get the most from the class).

The learn­ing envi­ron­ment will be active, sup­port­ing, and will afford oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to strengthen knowl­edge, skills, and feel a part of a community.

Teaching/Learning Activities

these include:

  • Interactive lec­tur­ing and demonstrations
  • Flipped-classroom activ­i­ties: e.g., stu­dents are asked to watch online tuto­ri­als & do read­ings at home so they can come to class pre­pared to do a short quiz, dis­cuss and apply the mate­r­ial, and fill out the weekly JiTT online assignments
  • Tutorial ses­sions
  • A team project made up of sev­eral team assignments/presentations that cul­mi­nate in a final group project report/presentation and project video
  • Group dis­cus­sions (in-class and online chat– and dis­cussing forums)
  • Short in-class writ­ing and other activities
  • Weekly read­ing and short writ­ing assignments
  • Several short stu­dent team presentations
  • Peer feed­back and evaluations

Main textbook

  • Fullerton, T. (2019). Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games, Fourth Edition (4th Edition.). Boca Raton, FL: A K Peters/CRC Press. ISBN: 9781315104300. This is our main text­book, so make sure you have access and get your own copy by the first week of the semes­ter. You should be able to access it online through the SFU library.
  • Schell, J. (2019). The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses, Third Edition. A K Peters/CRC Press. doi:10.1201/b22101. You should be able to access this online through the SFU library.

Additional read­ings will be pro­vided through Canvas.

Software used for game design & playtesting: Tabletop Simulator

Based on prior stu­dent feed­back and rec­om­men­da­tions, and there being chance we might need to switch to online teach­ing: you won’t need to pur­chase phys­i­cal pro­to­typ­ing mate­ri­als for design­ing your own games. Instead we will use an online board game sim­u­la­tor, the “Tabletop Simulatorhttps://www.tabletopsimulator.com/about. Course assign­ments will be taught and demon­strated with this soft­ware, and other soft­ware will not be sup­ported by the course. You can also use this soft­ware for rapid pro­to­typ­ing and design­ing your games in your teams, and it also works really well for online and dis­trib­uted playtest­ing (and of course gaming just for fun), and shar­ing your final games online. Thus we strongly rec­om­mend that you pur­chase, down­load, and install your own copy of it before class starts, see link above of directly from Steam https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator/. it runs on both Windows and MacOS and cur­rently costs CDN$ 21.99. The soft­ware has a lot of excel­lent online resources and tuto­ri­als avail­able at https://www.tabletopsimulator.com/about. Note that to min­i­mize your extra costs for this class, we are remov­ing the need to pur­chase phys­i­cal pro­to­typ­ing and game design mate­ri­als, and I chose a text­book where our library pro­vides free online access.

To see and try out prior games from my IAT 312 course you can enter “IAT312” into the search field on the Tabletop Simulator site on Steam or through this direct link.

Weekly Structure

The course will apply a “flipped” approach to learn­ing. This requires you to pre­pare each week and to pace your­self care­fully in order to stay on top of the activities/assignments and to get the most from the class. Each week it will go some­thing like this:

Preparing Before Lecture

You will begin the week by check­ing the weekly plan and your tasks on Canvas, and then watch­ing short, online tuto­ri­als, lec­tures, or other videos related to this week’s topics; then you will be invited to do the weekly read­ings that will cover topics of the week. You will use a read­ing guide/JiTT ques­tions to help you focus on key aspects of the read­ings, to answer key ques­tions that will help you to under­stand the ideas in the read­ings, and start apply­ing them in the JiTT (“Just in Time Teaching”) online short weekly assign­ments. We will also ask you about any “muddy points” or ques­tions you might still have after going through the videos, read­ings, and JiTTs. This will be done before the live lec­ture and will help us decide what aspects to focus on specif­i­cally in the “lec­ture”.  Occasionally you may be asked to do a short quiz to indi­cate how well you have under­stood the con­cepts in the read­ings and videos.

We will assist you in form­ing small study groups for those inter­ested to help you digest and reflect on the mate­ri­als before class, and have people to dis­cuss the topics with (as that can some­times be a chal­lenge in online teach­ing). We will also have a course slack chan­nel for online dis­cus­sions and Q&A.

Engaging in the Live Lecture where we discuss and apply the material

The lec­tures will be inter­ac­tive and include small group dis­cus­sions,  demon­stra­tions, stu­dent pre­sen­ta­tions and feed­back ses­sions, and instruc­tion on key ideas. Parts of the lec­tures may be recorded for review. It is impor­tant to real­ize that the lec­tures will focus on key ideas and appli­ca­tions and will not be a re-teaching of con­tent found in the read­ings and videos. You are required to read and pre­pare for the live lecture.

Participating in the Tutorials (aka Workshops or WKS)

Following the live lec­ture each week there is a tuto­r­ial aimed to pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties for prac­tic­ing and apply­ing the knowl­edge and skills of game design. The tuto­ri­als will include small group learn­ing, team activ­i­ties, game playtest­ing, and peer feed­back in par­tic­u­lar on the game design projects. Teams may be called upon to do short pre­sen­ta­tions or pitches of their game ideas and receive feed­back from peers and the instruc­tor on their designs. The tuto­ri­als will be highly engag­ing and prac­ti­cal and require your full con­tri­bu­tion. They also require active par­tic­i­pa­tion in the prior lecture.

Documentation of prior (and ongoing) games that students created

Spring 2022,

Fall 2021

Summer 2021

Spring 2021

Examples and details from the Fall 2017 course offering

For their final game project, stu­dents were asked to design a non-digital game that includes “Transformative Fun” aspects, also known as “seri­ous fun” (e.g., Lazzaro): That is, the game should be meaningful/purposeful or add value by some­how trans­form­ing the user, e.g., by pro­vid­ing a novel/meaningful user expe­ri­ence, dif­fer­ent perspectives/viewpoints, altered states etc.

Pictures from the final showcase on Dec 13, 2017

Sample Project Videos

Shelter    YouTube Preview Image


StranDead    YouTube Preview Image

Left Behind Bars    YouTube Preview Image

False Illusion    YouTube Preview Image

Rescue    YouTube Preview Image

One Week to Refuge   

Questionnaire   YouTube Preview Image

Some examples from the 2019 offering:

Obsessed with success YouTube Preview Image

Student debt YouTube Preview Image