Studio One, Fall 2014

Perfect Play

project critics: Kyle Steinfeld

Studio One seeks to explore emerging technologies and methods that supplant traditional models of design, and that suggest a new deferred authorship found in complex systems and a distributed agency offered by co-authored works. The theme of work and play guide our investigations, both on methodological and programmatic levels - we study existing structures of gaming, precedent works of architecture that present idealized models of work and landscape, and we participate in the co-authorship of analytical maps utilizing crowdsourcing technologies. This project extends the instrumentality of gaming, and seeks to make the conceptual structures inherent in certain models of board game actionable to architectural design.

In this project, students develop a 'board game version' of a previously developed design. This original board game (deploying the tropes of gaming, but not beholden to any existing game) is set in a particular relationship to this architecture, and is designed such that an instance of gameplay is generative of an instance (or possible version) of the related architectural design. In this way, the design of the board game serves to clarify the the design of an architecture, and prepare us to situate our designs in the context of an optimization.

Simultaneous to the development of this game, we speculate on alternative incarnations of the realted studio design project through perspective collage drawing.


Game-like media may be seen as an allegory for our times, and the digital game will may be seen as the emblematic cultural form of of the 21st century. In his manifesto for a ludic century, self-described pundit on game culture and design, Eric Zimmerman writes:

While the 20th century was the century of information, in this new century - this Ludic Century - information has been put at play. While the moving image was the dominant cultural form of the 20th century, the Ludic Century is an era of games.

For Zimmerman, the twentieth century was the era of cinema and television, where audio-visual narratives functioned as allegories for industrial production in general. It was a spectacle in which, as Guy Debord famously put it, "that which is good, appears; that which appears, is good." He argues that engagement with interactive media can help foster 'systems thinking', an essential new literacy in the 21st century that complements, rather than displaces older forms of literacy including visual, textual, and oral literacies.

The Structure of Games


The general theater of action in which a game takes place may be thought of as the territory of the game. In many board games, the primary territory is defined by the board itself - a two-dimensional bounded field that is often ordered by some grid or set of tiles. The game board may be highly ornamented or abstract, and often contains clues that guide the structure of the game. There may be a primary territory of action and several sub-territories for the storage of pieces or the collection of points or captured elements. Furthermore, the definition of claimed sub territories (or qualifications of portions of a territory) may play a central role in the unfolding of certain types of games. For example, one of the basic wargame structures is the zone of control (ZOC), which defines an area under the influence of a particular game piece. Some important distinctions that will help us to understand how territories play a role in different types of games:

Static Territories

The traditional board game presents a relatively static territory - one that is consistent from game-to-game, and does not change over the course of the game. Examples include Chess, Go, and Chutes-and-Ladders. Successful static territories provide relatively mute backgrounds for other gaming structures to flourish.

Dynamic Territories

Two types of dynamic territories: ones that change from game-to-game, and ones that evolve over the course of gameplay. A notable example in the former category is Settlers of Catan, where the configuration of the game-board is established anew at the start of each game. An example in the latter category is Carcassonne, wherein the gameboard is actively 'built' by players as the game progresses. In this latter category, the territory may be constituted by or otherwise indistinguishable from other elements.

Multi-Dimensional Territories

The term 'board game' does not quite capture the nature of some games that employ elements or territories that move beyond a two-dimensional board. Some games are two-and-a-half dimensional, and progress through the stacking or layering of elements, such as the game Punct by Kris Burm. Others offer a fully three-dimensional territory, wherein elements are allowed to interlock to create three-dimensional forms, such as Jenga.

Boardless Games

Rarely, a 'board' game may offer no board or territory at all, and operate simply through the aggregation of elements. Examples include the games Che and Palago, both by Cameron Browne.


Anything that changes state over the course of gameplay may be considered an "element". Elements are typically organized into specific types and interact with territories, players, and other elements in ways defined by the rules.


Avatar elements constitute a representation of a player, often indicating ownership of a territory or the position of a player within a territory. Examples include chess pieces, the person-shaped pieces in Carcassonne, the marbles in Chinese Checkers, the various avatar-like pieces in Monopoly.


Examples include the representations of brick, lumber, wool, grain, and ore in Settlers of Catan, which have both a 'card' representation and an elemental piece-like representation.

Territorial Pieces

Gameboard elements that do not relate to an ownership claim of a player, but rather alter the territory in some way. Examples include the wall-like elements in Quoridor, and the territorial cards in Carcassonne.


Progress toward a goal may be tracked through the accumulation of points, an abstract common currency that may be acquired by players over the course of a game.


Games typically proceed through a series of moves, which involve the transformations of elements and changes in the field. Games may be directed and turn-based, involve the simultaneous moves of multiple players, or some through some combination thereof.


Rules govern gameplay through the definition of a set of legal and illegal moves, the structuring of player roles and sequence of turns, the identification of goals that may be adopted by players, and the setting of winning conditions. Game rules may be communicated to players through a variety of means, both graphic and textual, and rulesets for board games have taken on a specific aesthetic. The description of game rules take on a particular significance in the context of this assignment, as it implies a space of possible incarnations of gameplay, which, for us, may be seen as a design generator for a parametric architecture.

Players / Goals

Zimmerman reminds us that games are structures of desire . Most games offer players a goal or set of goals to achieve, either in cooperation or in competition, that marks a 'winning' or end-state of the game. Players are humans, with their own agency in participating in the game, and may not accept the goals as stated by the game rules. Indeed, there are many reasons to play. Some players may engage in gameplay only to prolong the game. My mother and I used to play Parcheesi after dinner while I was in middle school. It didn't take me too long to realize that she often avoided a winning move in order to keep the game going, thus spending more time with me before I ran off to other activities. Expert players may become bored playing with those less skillful, and begin to play in order to achieve a 'flourish', or to pull off a difficult move. For example, one may seek to arrange the elements of a Chinese Checkers game such that one piece is able to traverse the board in a single move. Players may also play subversively, making moves that are designed only to confound the other players, or to achieve some desired state of the game territory.

Project Guidelines

Design and fabricate an original board game based upon the architectural design presented at the end of the Fall term. This game should be suggestive of an architecture, such that one instance of game play is productive of a possible instance of your building. In this way, the game may be thought of an architecture generator, and suggests a design spaces of possible architectures that may be explored by multiples players, each with their own set of goals.

Every aspect of your game should be designed - from the territory (including appropriate graphics and aesthetics that communicate your design intent), to the gaming elements (consider the manufacture of these pieces), to a graphic depiction of the rules (a printed booklet or gaming cards), to the packaging (the game should be portable such that all the pieces pack together into a box).

At review time, critics should be able to play your game.

You will also produce graphic documentation of how the game is played, including photographs of the unfolding of a single instance of gameplay. Be prepared to discuss how the results of a given game might relate / inform the development of your architecture.

There's more!

Some other projects from this same class have been posted, as well as some interesting student work from this same year.