University life comes with many perks and a few disadvantages. Getting to graduation is a lengthy process — as I am sure many students, past and present, have come to find. According to the ABC “an alarming number of students still do not make it beyond their first year of university”. What better way to make fun of the sometimes stressful university life and the tumultuous journey to graduation than to make a game out of it?
Gradu-late explores the process of getting to graduation in what I hope is a fun and unique way. Inspired by the work of Marc Andrè and the team at Space Cowboys, Gradu-late takes much of its mechanics from the board game Splendor. When I reviewed Splendor, what stood out to me most was the fact that the game was so intricately designed and that every piece had a purpose. I particularly liked that unlike many games that require bidding or some form of currency, Splendor wasn’t overly confrontational. I kept this in mind when coming up with ideas for Gradu-late.The board game mimics the process of accruing credit points via the completion of subjects, — a common method used in Australian universities, and once the player has reached a total, they can graduate. I wanted to create an authentic experience of the turbulence of student life without having to go anywhere near a university campus. Players are presented with their options as students in the game, are required to deliberate on what is the best form of action for their own situation and are required to act on this, regardless of the consequences they may face later. And they have to do this while competing with up to four other people.
The game itself requires players to roll a dice — they can roll either a one, two, three or a chance. The youngest player gets the first roll and once they complete their roll, players take the number of skill points or a chance card as indicated by the dice. These skill points are the currency in which they can use to accumulate subject credits throughout the course of the game. The dice element acts as a randomiser and adds uncertainty to the outcome (Salen & Zimmerman, 2006), something that Splendor did not incorporate and was a mechanic I personally like.
Once players have banked skill points in the first round of dice rolls, they are able to begin buying or ‘completing’ subjects. The subjects in Gradu-late are given different values, and are tiered to reflect the different years a student completes at university. The first year subjects, which are the easiest ones to collect, have the least value, and the third year subjects, are more challenging to pick up. I decided prior to play-testing that I would require players to accumulate six first year points prior to being able to collect points from the other tiers in order to make the game more of a challenge, and after play testing for the first time, I have decided to implement this across all three tiers.To shake things up a little, I decided to include chance cards in Gradu-late as a way to implement a risk and reward mechanic. I felt that having a chance face on the dice would be the best way to allow players to use this game feature. The cards have the ability to increase a player’s standing in the game or can set them back. They encompass aspects of university life like that of failing a class, poor attendance or being praised for participation. After the first play test, feedback indicated that the chance deck in Gradu-late should also include reverse cards (gameplay is changed from clockwise to anti-clockwise), skip cards (players would miss a turn) and an ultimate penalty card (where players must return all cards and start from the beginning). Having simply created Gradu-late using my home printer, manufacturing was easy — but it required a lot of manual labour and patience when cutting out each card with scissors. The cards were designed using Canva, and features creative commons licensed images. The names of the subjects used in Gradu-late were influenced by the ones offered at UOW for 2017. The dice was actually a piece from Boggle which I decided to manipulate to suit my needs. Manufacturing on a much larger scale in order to cater to the needs of a mass audience would be much more time-consuming, and thus could be an obstacle ahead. Initially Gradu-late’s target audience was Australian university students as I felt that they would understand the game’s concept and its quirks. I was under the impression that this audience, indistinguishable in age, would appreciate it the most. After play testing the game with individuals who were not in this bracket, I found that they really liked the way Gradu-late worked. It is for this reason that I have since decided to disregard age and just intend to get as many people playing Gradu-late as possible in order to prevent limitations in access and consumption, marketing and advertisement.
Hopefully after implementing changes stemming from play test feedback, Gradu-late will be a great board game that many can enjoy, regardless of their status as a student or not.
Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E., 2006, ‘The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology’, MIT Press, p. 420-450.