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Designing for the Player’s Experience feat. Alex Lu – 138

Episode Overview

In this week’s episode of Board Gaming with Education, Dustin is joined by Alex Lu to talk about what the player’s experience is all about. We talk about this from both the perspective of the player and the perspective of the designer. We discuss topics such as inclusion and representation in games, what to look out for as a parent or educator on what games to pick up, and what designers should consider when designing for the player’s experience. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get more content from Board Gaming with Education!

  • Episode Topics (timestamps are for podcast episode | video time stamps are available on YouTube)
    • Board Gaming with Education Introduction: Board Games for Learning at BGE – 00:00
    • Who is Alex Lu? – 1:42
    • Framing the Discussion: The Player’s Experience – 3:19
    • A Game for Kids and Adults – 8:52
    • Playtesting and Inclusion – 11:37
    • Dustin Challenges Alex to a Game of 5-Second Rule – 20:23

Website: https://www.dogsbondgame.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dogsbondgame/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DogsBONDgame/

Thank you to Purple Planet Music for the wonderful contribution of their songs “Soul Train” and “Retro Gamer” for our Sponsorship and Interview Segments. These songs can be found in full on this music archive. Also, thank you to Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) for his creative commons 4.0 contribution of “Getting it Done” for our Game Segment.

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Board Gaming with Education – Tabletop Games for Learning – 00:00

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Who is Alex Lu? – 1:42

lex is originally from San Francisco, CA and has worked as a Management Consultant and Program Manager for Silicon Valley tech companies for the past 15+ years.

He became a dog-person in college when his roommate went out for groceries and came back with a labrador-mix puppy. He trained Kona as a puppy and she grew up, but even after they graduated from college, they stayed connected. Kona lived in Southern California and lived to be 14 years old learning to love the beach, caring for her family, and always playing tug with a rope.

Dogs BOND was started a project to bring his friends and family closer together without the use of computer and phone screens. The game was designed to be casual and be played with the whole family participating. It really kicked into high gear when the game design was finalized and he sought out artists.

With this project, Alex wants to bring dog-people to boardgames and boardgamers to dog rescues. Infusing the story of a rescue journey into a joyful, whimsical, and hopeful message, Alex hopes that this game will bring both people and dogs together in the real world.

Framing the Discussion: The Player’s Experience – 3:19

Alex shares his understanding of what it means to design for the player’s experience and some of the considerations he made when designing the game Dogs Bond. With Dogs Bond they used the player experience as their “guiding star” for creating a strong player experience that matched the core philosophy of their game design.

A Game for Kids and Adults – 8:52

Alex continues on to share some more design decisions to create a game that brings both kids and adults to the table.

Playtesting and Inclusion – 11:37

Alex talks about why it is important to playtest a game with several different and diverse players. He shares a story about his playtesting experience with new parents and what that says about the experiences and lives a player brings to the table. Alex share experiences about how he feels about Asian characters in movies and in games. And why it was important for him to include a wide range of cast of characters because every person can be the best person for dog adoption.

Alex goes on to talk about what you can consider as a parent or teacher when thinking about what game to pick up and to consider things like inclusion, diversity, access, and driving motivations of the player in games.

Dustin Challenges Alex to a Game of 5-Second Rule – 20:23

Dustin challenges Alex to a game of 5-Second Rule. Check out our YouTube Video for a visual representation of the game.


Designing for the Player’s Experience feat. Alex Lu – 138

Transcript automated and provided by otter.ai. [Using this link helps us continue to use this transcription service for future episodes.] Disclaimer: This is an automated transcript and may have errors in grammar, wording, and/or word choice.

Dustin Staats 0:00
Welcome to another video cast episode of Board Gaming with Education. Today, we’re going to talk about what it means to design a game from the player’s perspective. So if you are a parent or a teacher, we’re going to talk about different topics related to what to think about when you’re picking up a game for your classroom or picking up a game to play with your family. And then as a designer, we’re going to look at that perspective of the players experience, because as a player, we bring a lot of experiences to the board game table. And as a designer, we need to consider those things. So join us for today’s episode, let’s get into the conversation.

Board Gaming with Education 0:38
Board Gaming with Education, a podcast for anyone curious about how games and education mix, we explore various topics like game based learning, gamification, and board games, and the impacts they have on learning. here’s your host, Dustin Staats.

Dustin Staats 0:56
Board Gaming with Education is an online community in webstore, where you can find board games for your learning environment, whether that’s at home or in the classroom. We also have awesome games for families. So check out Board Gaming with Education comm I am here to help you find the game for your learning environment. So if you have any questions, there’s a tab on our website called Ask an edgy gamer expert. We’re there to help you find the right game. And also if you need help learning how to play the game. We’re happy to walk you through how to play the game as well. So go to Board Gaming with Education comm check out our games in our store, find the right game for your learning environment today.

So welcome, Alex, I’m super excited to be joined by you for a video cast episode. This is new for Board Gaming with Education. So you’re one of our first on the video cast format. We’re here to talk about dog bonds. And we’re going to chat about designing games. And why a player’s experience playing a game is important and some considerations you might make. So this is going to be a really good topic for parents or for teachers thinking about games they might pick up for their families or maybe for in their classroom. Before we get into the topic. Would you mind just introducing yourself a little bit?

Alex Lu 2:14
Yep. So I’m Alex Lu. I am the designer developer behind dogs bond. We are a Let me see if I can do that with the video backwards. So yeah, it’s a game about rescue animals rescue dogs finding their way to their forever home. It’s for two to six players, they just tend it up. And it’s about 15 minutes per player once you get to get into it get into the groove of things. And yeah, I’m really excited to share it with you guys. Awesome. So

Dustin Staats 2:41
I usually prep guests give us some questions before they come on the show. Our conversations usually are casual, and we go from one point to another, but I’m gonna ask you a question I did not prep you for Oh, great. Ready? What are your favorite dog like type or breed? Do you have a favorite

Alex Lu 2:57
right now? So my wife has a jack Russell Terrier. And he’s a 14 year old puppy. So he’s like kind of getting into that like old man phase where he just crotchety and sleeps all the time. So yeah, and and smudge has actually inspired the special power that the jack Russell in our game has.

Dustin Staats 3:15
Okay, cool. So your dog’s name is much

Unknown Speaker 3:17
better. Yeah. Oh, that’s

Dustin Staats 3:19
a that’s a cool name. Awesome. So let’s get into the topic, we’re going to talk about designing games for the players experience. So if I were to ask you to define, like, quote, unquote, players experience, what would that mean? And why is that important?

Alex Lu 3:36
Yeah, so I think that the players experience obviously, right is number one, you know, the enjoy ability, the the mechanics and the predictability. You know, I know that there’s a lot of times when you’re designing the opportunity is of course there for you to add another layer and add another layer, but you know, very quickly, it becomes over complicated or over engineered. So if you’re thinking about a story beat, or a message or a thematic element that you really want to shine through those mechanics, that’s how you can keep those experiences really simple, without, you know, forcing 1625 micro decisions between each turn. And particularly when you’re designing for a, you know, younger audience, you know, our game is for 10 and up or, you know, specifically designing for non heavy gamers, right light, casual, maybe a gateway game, where you can invite the older generation back to the game table. Those are also very important to write. So you just want to keep it nice, clear, simple kind of turn order. What are your options, you know, maybe no more than five and, and making those types of experiences really simple and repeatable.

Dustin Staats 4:56
Awesome. So I know I’ve seen this kind of expression You know, this idea of pop up in different game design communities and they say when you design a game, you’re either a painter and you start with an empty canvas and you work towards mechanics, or you’re a sculptor, and you have all of these mechanics, and you kind of dwindle, dwindle down to the you know, the statue you’re trying to make. So I have a question for you as far as, as a designer, what do you prefer? And then what did dog’s bond? What was that a painting or a sculpture? sculpture?

Alex Lu 5:27
Yeah, I, that’s a beautiful way to put it. I am definitely among the to a painter, and dogs bond definitely evolved that way as well. I started with my theme, and my story beats and kind of wanting to know and share a beginning, middle and end of a journey. And that’s how I aligned my game design aligned the game mechanics to allow that story to really come through and shine through. Maybe that’s unpopular amongst, you know, game designers and developers, right? They’re like, no, it’s about the core mechanic. And how do you, you know, encourage the player to do this one thing during a particular phase, and then evolve to the next phase. And for me, it was it was quite the opposite. So yeah, I definitely kind of went almost a, you know, painter, Pixar story is also to kind of the way I’ve seen it done. Or I’ve likened it to where you start with this kind of grand story, these key moments, right? And for our game, those are stand up moments in the game, right? It all comes down to this next card, play this next dice roll. And that builds that excitement into the game. And, and that’s what we really enjoy. Yeah.

Dustin Staats 6:42
That’s super awesome. Yeah. There’s Jane McGonigal, she talks about the term firo, which is that moment when you kind of love your head, you really did that? Yeah, that’s really cool. Um, so when designing dogs bond, why was it important to keep that player experience in mind? Maybe, maybe as a general idea for someone designing the game? Why is that important than way? Maybe you can give some specific examples for dogs spawn?

Alex Lu 7:09
Yeah, um, you know, starting place yourself in the in the players chair, we always do, right. And our project definitely focused on what is the customer and the player experience going to be. And that was our guiding star. Right? If it was too complicated, or, you know, there were complexities in the card text, for the sake of, you know, variability, but it didn’t really drive a new experience we went through and we just simplified for dogs bond, you know, one of those examples, were some of the expansion cards that we had, that we were able to develop during the Kickstarter, where, you know, the dog, the rescue dogs go and have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and you kind of never know, as a dog, certainly, you don’t know what you’re going to get. And so you know, it could be dry food or wet food, and what do you want, you know, maybe you get a little bit less or more because of the timing. So we had a dice roll, right, and it’s, you know, easy one through six. And initially, I had actually scheduled you know, scheduled it to be, you know, different dice rolls would be different outcomes. So sometimes you wanted a six, sometimes you wanted a four, sometimes you wanted the three. And we found that there was enjoyment in that. But having that single card or or kind of having that theme of the card across three cards, right breakfast, lunch dinner, we were introducing additional complexity that didn’t really shine through for any particular reason, right? Because the probabilities were the same. So made it simple. You know, ones are what you want. sixes are what you don’t want. Those are the cards.

Dustin Staats 8:52
That’s awesome. So it’s good example of taking something complex and kind of making it down, bringing it down to its core experience for the players. And going with that you you mentioned the games, something made for kids and adults. And what were some considerations you had to make when designing that game? And then Could you talk to maybe a parent or teacher, or maybe, in this case, a parent that’s looking for a game that would be fun for them to play as well as with their kids? Absolutely.

Alex Lu 9:25
So that was why I designed the game. My family and I were, you know, lots of folks and lots of different ages. And the age gap that I was trying to bridge was, you know, the youngest was about eight. And the eldest is about 16, you know, kind of my nephews and my niece, and how can I create an experience that will bring everyone to the table that doesn’t require a screen? And for me, that’s board games, right? And so, if thinking about that, thinking about my family, what are going to be some of the things that keep us interested, I had to balance it. You know, between, I would say about 60% strategy and 40% random chance, right? Because there’s dice rolls, you know, the, you know, the RNG of what cards you draw and things like that. But then you play with strategy. So for me, that was very, very important. And then even amongst my wonderful play testers, thanks again, team. I had some new parents play tested. And the goal there was, if you have to step away from the game to take care of baby, and you come back to the table, can you pick up right where you left off? Do you know what happened without everyone having to recap the story or recap, every single move somebody made? And that was really key for me as well. Because the game by designed by purpose is, you know, for us to play together with varying age groups, you know, friends, groups, family, and being that kind of activity that you can enjoy together in a time bound amount of time, right? When you’re waiting for cake, or holiday dinner or whatever the you know, whatever the thing that brought you together is Right, right.

Dustin Staats 11:09
And I kind of want to dig into that, that playtesting experience a little bit more and talk about something we had chatted through emails, talking about representation in gaming. You mentioned having parents with babies play tasting, that’s important, because then you have a game that also accommodates those types of people that have those experiences. So slowly, why is it important to maybe broaden your horizon as far as who play test your game?

Alex Lu 11:37
Yeah, definitely. Well, you know, for me, we, I knew that when I designed this game, I really wanted to have a diverse cast and an inclusive cast of characters, right? Because our game has the players take on the role of a dog, right, all the special abilities and special powers kind of align with those breed specific traits and things like that. What I found in many games is, you know, those, those superpowers in order to kind of play to the archetypes, if you will, of those characters. Like, you know, the Asian character is usually small and fast, right? Think short round, who helps Indiana Jones? And I’m like, well, that’s great. But can we be something else? Can we be Captain America, can we be the one with you know, superheat vision or something else. And so building that into it and and knowing that that was going to be part of the conversation was very intentional in the design. Since we do have video, I’ll take advantage again. So we do have a cast of characters, right, as far as like the humans go for who the adopters are. And I really wanted to make sure that we didn’t state in any way that there was one best kind of person who would adopt a dog, because that’s really not what we’re saying. We’re saying that, you know, the bonds of friendship and the bonds of love that you can find, really do not have anything to do with kind of, you know, who you are, or, or anything like that. But also to, you know, since my family is, is mixed and blended, I really wanted my, my players to be able to say, wow, I know that person, or that character reminds me of me or someone that I know. And that for me was just really important. And, you know, because at the end of the day, all of these humans are looking to adopt a dog and give them a forever home. It was really, really easy for us to put it there. And and, you know, kind of just tell a story about people.

Dustin Staats 13:45
Yeah, that’s super awesome. And I think I think you’re right, it’s really important to be able to at least I know, for me, I think everyone wants to find themselves as a character in that movie or that game or whatever, whatever. You use the term forever home, and I am familiar with that term, but maybe some isn’t, maybe you can share what that means and the message behind the game. Absolutely. So

Alex Lu 14:05
again, the game is about dogs in the rescue shelter system, collecting the attributes. So we are a set manager, you know, set collection, hand management, power management, because dogs don’t have hands type of game. And then you find your way to your forever home, meaning the animal is adopted by a human and take into their forever home. And so that is you know, that’s the ultimate objective that each of the players have. There are you know, there are eight dogs to choose from and eight potential adopters. When you play you play with up to six players. And there is a potential for every dog to go home with one of the adopters in some time and in certain cases, right? Maybe an adopter takes home two dogs. There is a winner in our game, of course based on points, but one of the things that we are very proud about is Yes, there is a way that every dog, every player can go find a forever home. With that with that potential adopter. Cool.

Dustin Staats 15:08
Yeah, that’s a really great message. I know, I love dogs. So pick up the game when it’s available. And maybe we can go back just really quickly to that idea of inclusion representation in games as someone that’s buying games, whether it’s a teacher because as a teacher, I’m, I have to be very conscious about that ask access, diversity, inclusion, all of that, in my classroom, or in my programs that I run? What are some things maybe I should pay attention to when I’m trying to pick up a game and use it in my class?

Alex Lu 15:41
Yeah, I think that from the player experience, right, you also to have to be on message not only with, you know, the theme of it, but really, what’s the core mechanic and kind of what’s, what’s moving folks forward? You know, just speaking about my game a lot, you know, there are, there’s no money as a resource in my game, because dogs don’t deal with money. Right. And that’s oftentimes a really pressure building type of, you know, mechanic, where it’s like, oh, that scarcity of funds doesn’t allow you to advance, right? So, you know, if you think about, especially teaching children, right, what is it mean to be successful, right, and you only focus on, you know, financials, you know, maybe there’s a, you know, popular game where, you know, you’re collecting real estate, and the goal is to bankrupt the other player, like, that’s a very competitive, you know, antagonistic relationship that you have, through the board game, even if you’re best friends, right? Your mission is to financially harmed that person, or, you know, otherwise. Other games where like, violence is the, you know, dominant theme, right, where your goal is to wipe off wipe off the face of the planet, your other, you know, your other player. So for us, you know, we did take that on, and being that we’re developing and designing and really selecting the attributes that you play on to your dog in order to bond with the potential adopter. That was really important to us. And then also, from your to your other question about the message and kind of, how do we, how do we present that to the player, we infuse the rescue story with play wimzie compassion and hope, and putting the player into the perspective of a dog that’s just trying to be the best dog it can be to meet, you know, the different human needs, allows us to have those conversations and open up about, you know, well, what does it mean to be a responsible dog owner? What does it mean to you to have an animal friendship? And I think for for younger students, all the way through, you know, college age, I think it’s a really important, important tool. An important, you know, byproduct of board games, if we can include empathy, compassion, right and, and build that into our experience.

Dustin Staats 18:14
That’s super awesome. And I think that’s a super solid point that maybe is not so obvious is looking at the driving force of what motivates players in the game. And that’s a thing to maybe consider when picking up games. So before we head into our game, is there anything that we didn’t chat about? Or maybe last words of advice you might give to someone that’s thinking about picking up dogs bond and why they might want to pick it up?

Alex Lu 18:40
Yeah, certainly, we have a we have a theme, we have a message right about rescue dogs, finding their forever homes. We love you know, the education component and teaching, especially young children, right, and giving that opportunity to have the conversation right about responsible dog ownership at the table, because, and I definitely targeted ages around 10 because that’s usually when families start thinking about getting a pet, right and saying, Oh, well, this is the this is your pet. And then it’s the family pet. Right. And so thinking or, or that’s when the children start asking, right, every Saturday morning, you know, why don’t we have a dog? Why don’t have Why don’t we have a pet children? You know, and of course, we are, you know, this game, we went to over 100 different animal rescues throughout the United States pitch them our concept pitched them their story. And they all said yes, this looks good. It is a way that we’re talking about making positive change with the conversation about rescue and adoption. So it’s not just you know, only GoFundMe is in the Sarah McLaughlin. You know, music and things like that. It’s a really different way of approaching the topic. And for those of you who are you know, interested if you work with rescue or You know, somebody who’s very passionate about rescue, you know, have them contact us because we are working very closely with rescues to make this a fundraising tool for them. So we’ll put it into their virtual store, and they’ll get a percentage of any proceeds that come from any of those sales.

Dustin Staats 20:15
Really awesome. Really awesome. Cool. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna hop into our game.

Be sure to check out our YouTube video for the full game experience. I mentioned the game is five second rule, I’m going to give you a category the category might be something like animals, you have five seconds to name the category, we’re gonna do a little practice, okay? This would be your timer and I would go 5421 and then you would, okay. Carry the bell and go on to the next slide. Okay, see that one? Oops. Alright, so I’m not going to say it. So I’m just gonna show you the screen because if I say it, I kind of take up your time and I don’t want to wait a second. So I’m just going to show it to you and you have the game. Cool. Ready? Ready. All right. I’m gonna wait till the one and then we’re gonna go over things in the classroom.

Alex Lu 21:14
Okay. Chalk, Blackboard teacher.

Dustin Staats 21:19
Movies,

Alex Lu 21:20
a Godzilla vs. King Kong Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Avatar Last Airbender.

Dustin Staats 21:27
Yeah, one you chose too many with too many

Unknown Speaker 21:30
words. Any words?

Unknown Speaker 21:32
The next one? author’s Lawrence? Yep.

Alex Lu 21:35
And oh, man. Fail. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Lawrence. Yep. Margo Weiss, Tracy Hickman.

Unknown Speaker 21:51
And

Alex Lu 21:53
superhero, Superman Batman Wonder Woman.

Dustin Staats 21:57
You have plenty of seconds to spare think? Oh, no, we got one more. This is the most important one. board games,

Alex Lu 22:04
dogs bond dominion and streetfighter, the managers. Oh, it’s

Dustin Staats 22:08
just barely. So that was that was it? Yeah. So that’s good.

Alex Lu 22:16
Yeah, that was That’s tough. Yeah, it’s harder than it looks.

Dustin Staats 22:20
It’s like stumped your brain for some reason. Yeah. Awesome. Alex, thank you for coming on. I know we have dogs bond here on the screen. So dogs bond calm. But if anyone wanted to maybe reach out to you on social media or follow other projects, where might they do that?

Alex Lu 22:34
Yep. So we’ve kept it I’ve kept it very intentionally very simple. So dogs bond game calm. It’s spelled just as it sounds in English. And so that’s really simple. And then we are add to dogs bond game on all of your favorite social media.

Dustin Staats 22:48
Super awesome. So Alex, thank you again, and I’m really excited to see the game hit the stores and or maybe the rescue near me.

Alex Lu 22:57
Yes, absolutely. So we should be. We are printing right now and crossing fingers and toes. We should be delivering to folks in time for late summer. So you know when you’re getting back together with your friends and family, potentially meeting somebody or meeting a new furry family member? You know, we would love it if you would adopt us and give us a place and a forever home at your game table. Dogs bond game.com

Dustin Staats 23:21
Awesome. Thank you.

Board Gaming with Education 23:25
Thank you for listening in this week. If you like what you heard, be sure to let us know you can find us on social media as Board Gaming with Education or BG EA games or email us at podcast at Board Gaming with education.com. If you want to support our podcast, be sure to check out our support page on our website. As always teach better learn more and most importantly, play more. Thank you for listening and until next time,

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