Class Time is Game Time in January Mathematics Course

Tabletop Game Design is a unique January Interim Experience course where students learn math and strategy while creating their own game.
Posted on January 20th, 2020 by

Professor Jacob Siehler presents in the January Interim Experience Tabletop Game Design class.

Professor Jacob Siehler presents in the January Interim Experience Tabletop Game Design class.

The January Interim Experience at Gustavus Adolphus College gives students the opportunity to take a deep dive into a subject for the entire month. Meeting for several hours a day, the topics offered can afford students the chance to learn something new—or to immerse themselves in something they are already passionate about. For students in the Tabletop Game Design course taught by mathematics professor Jacob Siehler and instructor Jeff Ford ’02, it’s about pairing theory and practice as they create their own game over the course of the month-long class.

Even though the intensive, hands-on course is new to the game, the course demonstrates mathematical content and investigates the role of mathematics in the design and play of games. This is more than Siehler could say when he was taking mathematics in school. “I found mathematics terribly dull as a course. I want people to have a relaxed atmosphere where they can play games and see there are ideas that would be available to explore further if you enjoy going deeper.”

On a typical day, the students play a new game that introduces mechanics, rules, and techniques. These insights are used as ingredients or inspiration for the games made by the students. “I want to make a game that I’d be able to take back home and play with my friends and family,” Aidan Seyala ‘23 said, “Something that is fun for me and others to play.”

Students play mini games and use math to develop game strategy.

Students play mini games and use math to develop game strategy.

During this time, students are able to discuss as a class the success or failure and implications of the game. Occasionally, the professors will deliberately introduce a game that does not work in order to have a productive discussion about game mechanics and theory.

Currently, students are in the process of narrowing down game ideas in teams. A full day is given to each idea for hard development to obtain a prototype game. During the process of creating a game design, students have a rigorous schedule of brainstorming, meeting with professors, and testing. Students may not have thought about if the rules were readable or if the first player always has a winning advantage in a game. These are only a few of the issues considered with each new game.

With students from a variety of majors taking the course, Tabletop Game Design welcomes anyone who has a passion for board games. Julia Stathopoulos ‘22 is a communication studies major who has always enjoyed playing games such as Monopoly. “I love the class, love the new games, and it’s been fun learning them,” she said. Seyala, a computer science major, has aspirations of becoming a video game designer and a creative course such as this enables him to express his ideas visually.

Students also get a healthy dose of mathematics while exercising their creativity, and are working as a class to publish a book with the results of their work. “We focused on this idea of making a publication. We want students to compile a book and have their chapter in there and be able to say, ‘look what we did,’” Siehler said. The publication will include polished rules and materials needed for game play so that others can enjoy playing and reading about them.

The last destination in the creative process is a public showcase of board games the Gusties designed throughout the month. The showcase presents the opportunity for students to grab lunch and explore a variety of different games. “When you design and create something, whether it’s writing, whether it’s artistic, whether it’s designing a board game, there’s no better feeling than seeing other people interact with it,” Siehler said. “The more you can discover games like chess, the more you can make a lifelong career out of studying.”

The showcase, which is free and open to the public, will take place on January 31 from 11:30-1:30 p.m. in the Jackson Campus Center’s Heritage Room. According to Siehler, if you are a game lover, this an event for you.

To learn more about the Gustavus Department of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Statistics, visit the departmental website.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


One Comment

  1. Stephanie says:

    The instructor was a big reason Julia S. took this course. She loved her math teacher and wanted another opportunity to take a course with him.