Model syllabus for paper-based game design


  • To explore the creation of games through experimentation.
  • To protoype 10 paper-based games in 10 weeks. Players will make a new paper-based game each week. Each new game will be made in response to formal and conceptual parameters or challenges detailed below. [This objective has been modified. Week 6 and week 7 were used to iterate, revise, refine and improve the gameplay and production values of a game produced during the first five weeks. Players expressed the desire for a completed, polished project at the end of the experiment. Enforced rapid innovation and prototyping has left them fatigued and seeking recognizable rewards. The challenges have evolved in response to the Players request]
  • To document and disseminate our observations and games through a wiki. Each player will document their games by uploading their rule sets and material parameters to pages that link off of their respective Players pages. Each Player is charged with becoming a reflective player. Players should record their observations and comments on games they have played inside and outside of the lab and then share these observations verbally and online through the comments capability of the wiki.

Methods and Assessment

  • Games are experiential in nature and can only be assessed by and through play.
  • Players will gather in the lab for collaborative assessment twice a week.
  • Designers are not allowed to play their own game for purposes of assessment.


  • a bound sketchbook dedicated to this class
  • paper of various sizes
  • game tokens of sundry shapes


  1. Formal Parameters: Create a turn-based, two-player game. The game will be complete-able in 15 minutes. The gameplay will occur within an 11" x 17" surface. Turns or moves may be signalled by either a six sided dice (D6) or a coin.
  2. Formal Parameters: Create a two-player game. The gameplay will occur on a surface made up of hexagonal tiles with a diameter between one and one-and-a-half inches. Gameplay can proceed as either turn-based or simultaneous movement. Turns of moves may be signalled by either a spinner or cards. An 8.5 x 11 inch hexagonal field is available for download (HexagonalField.pdf 627kb) and at
  3. Formal Parameters: Create a one-player game with a knowable outcome (i.e. not a toy). You shall use only one of the following sets of materials.
    • A rubber band and a tooth brush
    • Thirteen tokens of any size/shape
    • A bowling ball (or facsimile thereof)
  4. Conceptual Constraint: Make a game about Red.
  5. Conceptual and Formal Constraint: Make a three-player game that cannot be played as a two-player game.
  6. Revise a previous game or revisit a previous week's constraint by constructing a new game.
  7. Make a further revision of a previous game, and refine your production values paying particular attention to the material, visual and haptic qualities. It's not advisable to create a highly polished version of a game with unrefined gameplay.
  8. Make a game whose rules are expressed in a maximum of three haikus. No verbal prefatory remarks are allowed.
  9. Make a game that expresses its ideology (point-of-view, belief system, etc.) through gameplay.



Suggested Reading

  • Salen + Zimmerman. Rules of Play. MIT Press.
  • Carse. Finite and Infinite Games. Ballantine.
  • Zimmerman. Iterative Design. Design Research: Methods and Perspectives. MIT Press.
  • Bang. Picture This: How pictures work. SeaStar Books.


Suggested Games

  • Mancala
  • Croquet
  • Fluxx

Suggested Software

  • Greenfoot
  • Stagecast Creator
  • Scratch
  • Inkscape
  • Gimp