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Welcome to Ludology, an analytical discussion of the hows and whys of the world of board games. Rather than news and reviews, Ludology explores a variety of topics about games from a wider lens, as well as discuss game history, game design and game players.

We post a new Ludology episode every other week. In these episodes, hosts Erica Bouyouris, Gil Hova, Scott Rogers, and Sen-Foong Lim deep-dive into a single topic within game design, often with a well-regarded guest from the game industry. We generally focus on tabletop game design (mainly board games and RPGs), but we often pull in experts from all forms of games, from video games to escape rooms to slot machines.

On weeks where there is no flagship Ludology episode, we will alternate between two smaller mini-sodes.

GameTek is a long-running feature from the Dice Tower podcast by Ludology co-founder Geoff Engelstein that explores the math and science behind games.  GameTek Classic episodes were once broadcast on The Dice Tower podcast, while other GameTek episodes were recorded specially for Ludology.

Biography of a Board Game is a series hosted by Scott Rogers that explores the history behind classic and modern board games. It was once on The Dice Tower, but has since moved full-time to Ludology.

We aim for most Ludology episodes to be timeless, so you are welcome to explore our entire catalog. Most of it should age quite well. The podcast was started in 2011 by Geoff Engelstein and Ryan Sturm, with Mike Fitzgerald taking over for Ryan in 2015. Gil joined the show in 2017 when Mike stepped aside, and Emma joined in 2019 when Geoff ended his tenure as host. Emma left in 2021, and Erica and Sen joined us.

Have your own thoughts about our topics? We encourage you to visit us at our guild on Boardgamegeek to get involved in a continuing discussion.

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May 31, 2020

Emma and Gil welcome Dr. Mary Flanagan, designer of Monarch, Visitor in Blackwood Grove, Buffalo, Awkward Moment, and plethora of other games in a myriad of styles and platforms, from party to strategy on digital in tabletop. Dr. Flanagan is also an artist, having exhibited works (many game-related) all around the world, and teaches game design at Dartmouth, who also hosts her game design and research lab, Tiltfactor.

We discuss designing games from the perspectives of fun and meaningful change. How does one make a transformative game that players actually enjoy, but that is still effective at building empathy and fighting prejudice?

CONTENT WARNING: There is a brief mention of racial prejudice, and sexual assault in literary works towards the end of the episode.


0m21s: "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo" is a grammatically correct sentence. This video explains it, and other lexically ambiguous sentences.

1m21s: Tiltfactor, Dr. Flanagan's game design and research lab at Dartmouth 

1m57s: If you're reading this, congratulations, you're reading the show notes!

3m58s: Professor Scott Rogers covered The Game of The Goose in Biography of a Board Game 221.5.

4m27s: For more information on these French Revolution-themed versions of Game of the Goose (Jeu de la Revolution Francaise), check out page 17 of this PDF. It's also interesting to note that Robespierre attempted to install a new state religion for France during the Revolution, the Cult of the Supreme Being (Culte de l'Être suprême); it's entirely possible that its dogma was reinforced through things like board games. Perhaps it also helped with the bizarre decimal-time-based calendar that Robespierre couldn't get to stick, but that still frustrates historians to this day.

5m30s: More information about Dr. Flanagan's book, Critical Play.

6m39s: The Landlord's Game by Lizzie Magie is the game that Monopoly was based on.

7m51s: September 12: A Toy World is a game where a player is trying to kill terrorists by firing missiles at a village. But every terrorist you kill creates more terrorists, as the locals get angrier at your actions. Soon, the village is gone and you are surrounded by terrorists. There is no way to win the game through shooting.

7m56s: Paolo Pedercini also makes commentary games. (Note that this link contains adult content.) Jump to the McDonald's Videogame here

8m13s: More info on Profit Seed.

8m33s: More info on Layoff.

9m40s: More info on Pox: Save the Puppies.

10m32s: "Designing Games to Foster Empathy," the paper Dr. Flanagan wrote with Jonathan Belman.

15m04s: More info about psychological distance.

16m16s: Gil is referring to Ludology 213.5 - The Incan Gold Experiment, run by Dr. Stephen Blessing and research assistant Elena Sakosky. (Gil refers to the game from the original European release's name, Diamant, but it was released in English as Incan Gold.)

19m51s: For a longer discussion on what "fun" means in a game, and on a deeper level, how games create meaning, check out Ludology 201 - Are We Having Fun Yet?

21m20s: More info on the party game Buffalo.

24m14s: More info on social identity complexity

26m13s: More info on the party game Awkward Moment.

31m10s: For more discussion on board games and colonialism, check out Ludology Episode 197 - Empires Up in Arms. For more information about the effects of "terra nullius" in board games, check out this article from Nancy Foasberg.

32m26s: "Failed Games: Lessons Learned from Promising but Problematic Game Prototypes in Designing for Diversity," by Dr. Flanagan, Max Seidman, and Geoff Kaufman.

34m15s: Dr. Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard University, has suggested that biological differences could explain why there were fewer women in science. 

36m18s: More info about Blokus.

39m39s: More info on the strategy game Monarch.

40m04s: Dr. Flanagan's book (with co-author Helen Nissenbaum) Values at Play.

40m18s: Here are some articles on Will Wright and Chris Trottier.

45m12s: More info on This War of Mine: The Board Game and Freedom: The Underground Railroad.

49m05s: More info on Dr. Flanagan's art, including giantJoystick.

50m40s: Gabriel Orozco's Horses Running Endlessly.

51m48s: Dr. Flanagan's paper, with Sukdith Punjasthitkul and Geoff Kaufman, on "Social Loafing."

54m53s: The article in question is "The Mechanical Muse," published in The New Yorker on January 7, 2020.

56m28s: Here's an article in Wired on the paper in question, in which large collections of photos used to train image-recognition software - including one used by Google and Microsoft - were found to amplify exisiting biases. 

57m15s: In 2015, Google apologized for their facial recognition software mislabeling Black people as "gorillas." 

57m42s: More info about Reload: Rethinking Women and Cyberculture.

58m49s: The story here is "No Woman Born," by C.L. Moore.

1h03m31s: The show will be called "Gameplay: Video Game Culture," at the CCCB in Barcelona, Spain. 

1h04m07s: "Max" is Max Seidman, game designer at Resonym and frequent collaborator with Dr. Flanagan.

1h05m41s: We've covered the lightweight interactive fiction platform Twine before on the show, most notably on Ludology 217 - What IF?