The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Master's Degree 2.0

Will M. Baker

March, 2003

Part 2 - Course Descriptions

GAM 201 - History of Board & Card Games

In this course we will consider games from their earliest inception to the modern day, following the evolution of some classical games, studying changes in attitudes toward games, and comparing/contrasting games across various world cultures, both past and present. This course will serve as an overview of the gaming movement, providing a departure point for all future study of this field.

Required Texts: Oxford History of Board Games (Parlett 1999), A History of Card Games (Parlett 1991), Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations (Bell 1980), Victorian Board Games (Bristol)

Suggested Texts: Ancient Board Games: Everything You Need to Play the Games: Book and Game Pieces (Finkel 1999), It's All in the Game (Shea 1960), Card Games Around the World (Sackson 1994), The Greatest Games of All Time (Costello 1991)

GAM 202 - History of Athletic Games

In this course we'll consider the following questions: How have sports changed as they've developed over thousands of years? How has one game given rise to another? What cultural influences affect the development of any given sport? From the earliest Olympic games to modern day professional sporting teams, we'll look at it all. We will study athletic games as cultural phenomena, investigating the factors that have, in the eyes of most people, set sports apart from other types of games.

Book List: The Original Olympics (Ross 1999), Games and Empires (Guttmann 1996). Much of our course material will be in the format of a reader, comprising various articles, essays, and book chapters.

GAM 205 Introduction to Chess

The Chess track is a rigorous, classical curriculum not to be entered upon lightly. This course serves as an introduction to the game, its history, and some of its greatest players. Students will live and breathe Chess by semester's end, having played hundreds of games, including historical reenactments, and read thousands of thought-provoking pages, including detailed accounts of some of the most famous and brilliant games to ever grace our world.

Required Texts: Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess (Fischer 1992), The Genealogy of Chess (Li 1998), Capablanca: A Compendium of Games, Notes, Articles, Correspondence, Illustrations and Other Rare Archival Materials on the Cuban Chess Genius Jose Raul Capablanca, 1888-1942 (Winter 1989), Master Pieces: The Architecture of Chess (Williams), Women in Chess: Players of the Modern Age (Graham), Kings of Chess (Hartston). In addition, students must furnish their own Chess sets, preferably ones as elegant as they are portable and sensible.

GAM 207 - Introduction to Go

Go is the world's oldest board game, and possibly the most complex. It is a physical representation of battling minds. And it is a martial art. This course will begin to guide even the most inexperienced novice toward Go proficiency. Janice Kim (1 dan) and Jeong Soo-hyun's (9 dan) Learn to Play Go series will serve as a departure point for this journey into greatness. Fundamental concepts will find us, and the history of the game will seep into us. It is encouraged that students continue on with Intermediate Go after completion of this course.

Required Texts: Learn to Play Go: A Master's Guide to the Ultimate Game (Vol. I) (Kim 1997), The Way of the Moving Horse (Learn to Play Go, vol. II) (Kim 1996)

GAM 208 - Introduction to Game Programming

These are exciting times, folksówe're in the middle of a revolution! If you are a young student, computerized games have arisen entirely within your own lifetime. From Pong and Pac-Man to the sophisticated games now produced for personal computers or home game consoles, game programming has evolved tremendously in the last quarter-century, and shows no signs of slowing down. This class will be a crash-course in computer programming, emphasizing (of course) programming for games. Beginning with one of the simplest games, Tic-Tac-Toe, students will develop game programs from scratch. They will pit their Othello and Connect-4 AIs against those of other students, develop their own Solitaire variants, and begin to modify some existing code. This course will appeal even to those with no programming experience. Our department's 24-hour computer labs ensure that students will have the most up-to-date programming software at their fingertips, without having to purchase it themselves, and without having to own their own computer (People think board games are expensive? Having to have a computer on which to play one's computer games is like having to purchase a $2000.00 table on which to play one's board games!).

Required Texts: Game Design: Theory and Practice (Rouse 2001), Handbook of Game Design, A (Ellington 1982), Case Studies in Game Design (Ellington 1984), The Ultimate History of Video Games: From Pong to Pokemon--The Story Behind the Craze that Touched Our Lives and Changed the World (Kent 2001)

GAM 209 - Bridge

More strategic than Poker and more complex than Pinochle, Bridge is a relatively recent development in the world of standard card gaming. No other card game has received such intense literary examination, and none other employs such a sophisticated interweaving of simple bidding, trick-taking, and cooperation mechanics. Come learn why this card game took the States by storm, and is still enjoyed by thousands of avid players today!

Required Texts: Beginning Bridge Quizzes (Penick 1989), To Bid or Not to Bid: The Law of Total Tricks (Cohen 1992), Card Play Technique: Or the Art of Being Lucky (July 2002), Step by Step: Discarding (Roth 2000), Eddie Kantar Teaches Modern Bridge Defense (Kantar 2002), Bridge Squeezes Complete or Winning End Play Strategy (Love 1968), Competitive Bidding in the 21st Century (Miles 2000), Complete Book on Hand Evaluation in Contract Bridge (Lawrence 1983)

GAM 210 - Theory of Rule Systems

What is a rule system? Restrictive principles that interact with each other to produce a logical outcome from some set of criteria. Take a simple (and boring) game like flipping a coin: 'heads' I win, 'tails' you win. That one simple rule has provided winning conditions for the 'game,' if one could call it that. But it says nothing of who gets to flip the coin, and what governs the flip. To clarify, further rules must be developed, rules that compliment and accent each other, synergizing into a complex system of behavior so that a coin input at one end of the rules results in a winner output from the other end.

This course will examine how different rule systems can be applied to the same game system, creating different games. Ron Hale-Evans describes a game system as "a set of components that function together in multiple games." It is the various rule systems that allow "multiple games" to exist, using a constant input, such as dice, dominoes, piecepack, Icehouse, or a common deck of 52 cards. Throughout the semester we will look at how players have used "house rules" to customize (mutate? perfect?) games to their liking, how tournaments for some games employ rules that differ from the published versions of those games, and how game 'variants' challenge the primacy of published rules.

In addition to game systems, we will consider the following games, all of which, like Watterson's Calvin Ball, utilize shifting rule systems within the bounds of one playing: Fluxx (Looney 1998), Democrazy (Faidutti 2000), Outta Control, and the GIPF Project (Burm 1996-present).

Required Texts: Axis & Allies Enhanced Realism Rules Part One (Baker 1999), New Rules for Classic Games (Schmittberger 1992), Play According to Hoyle: Hoyle's Rules of Games (Morehead & Mott-Smith 1983), Playing with Pyramids (Looney et al. 2002), "Game Systems" (Hale-Evans 2001)

GAM 211 - Gambling & Probability Theory

Take Poker, for instance, or Blackjack. In consequence of these games, more money changes hands each year than has been brought in by Monopoly, Scrabble, and Trivial Pursuit combined, over the entire course of their publication. That doesn't make gambling (or 'casino') games better, but they do command a great deal of attention. As such, this course will examine casino games, strategies, laws of probability, concepts such as 'beating the odds,' and how gambling as a financial risk communicates with games to enhance their excitement.

Required Texts: American Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling: Winning Ways (Brisman 1999), Gambling, Game, and Psyche (Knapp 2000), Gambling Theory and Other Topics (Malmuth 1999), The Casino Answer Book: How to Overcome the House Advantage When You Play Blackjack, Video Poker and Roulette (Grochowski 1998)

GAM 212 - Theory of Athletic Games

Here we'll take a look at the human body as game piece. We'll study sports (games that require intense physical exertion, where one player's actions may directly affect the actions/performance of an opposing player) and the ways that human biology and natural physics have influenced the development of these games. In examining the body as game piece we will consider the psychological ramifications of having one's actions controlled by an outside 'player' (i.e. coach). We will look at sports for the individual, such as cycling, 'hand-off' team sports, such as relay races, and team sports such as basketball, soccer, American football, hurling, baseball, and volleyball. This course will include in-depth analysis of game 'plays,' and how play is affected when pawns become intelligent, autonomous agents capable of split-second tactical decisions, translating strategy into action.

Required Texts: Feminism and Sporting Bodies: Essays on Theory and Practice (Hall 1995), Experiencing Sport: Reversal Theory (Kerr 1999), Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect (Rotella, Cullen, & Kite 1995), Sports Economics (Fort 2002), Blackboard Strategies: Over 200 Favorite Plays (Sacyharski 1999), Soccer Rules Explained: The Game and New Rules (Lover & Blatter 1998)

GAM 213 - Theory of Role-playing Games

Few games come along that distinguish themselves as a wholly new form of playing. Role-playing is such a type of game. Dungeons & Dragons incited a gaming craze that has gripped millions, whether in the form of the game itself, one of its role-playing descendents, miniatures & war games, CCGs, or even the cartoons and movies that followed. The role-playing system has been embraced by some, attacked by others. This course will track the development of role-playing games, both within the gaming communities and within popular culture. Students will have opportunity to experience a variety of role-playing systems, and consider the depth and complexity of play that each allows. Students will also be poised to consider how 'beginner' and 'advanced' rules can create an enormous, perhaps useful gap between players.

Required Texts: Introduction to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Game (Nesmith & Baker), The Truth About Dungeons and Dragons (Robie 1992), Dicing with Dragons: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games (Livingstone 1989)

GAM 214 - Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is the Monopoly of this generation (and that's a good thing!), a strategic acquisition game utilizing fierce negotiation and lucky rolls of the dice to weave an exciting, complex web of relations between player holdings (i.e. settlements, cities, and roads).

In this course we will examine every aspect of the game, from its inception to its numerous expansions (including computer versions), from its psychological negotiation tactics to its nuts-and-bolts statistics. Sub-topics will include the life of a road, number and resource distribution, compatible-resource strategies, hard vs. soft points, and effective use of Development and Progress cards. As independent projects, students will be encouraged to develop their own Catan scenarios.<

Required Texts: Settlers of Catan (Teuber 1995), Die Siedler von Catan: Das Buch zum Spielen (Teuber 2000), "Settlers of Catan Strategy and Tactics Guide" (MacPherson 1999), The Settlers of Catan Card Game (Teuber 1996), The Seafarers of Catan (Teuber 1998), The Cities & Knights of Catan (Teuber 2000), Starship Catan (Teuber 2001), The Starfarers of Catan (Teuber 2001), expansions for these, and various scenarios as assigned.

GAM 215 - Chess Openings

One's opening will determine if the game is that of attack, or recovery. Continuing in the Chess track, students will now focus on the early development of a game, in which players are, in effect, negotiating the terms by which the rest of the game will be decided. As always, we will look to the great players of history for instruction.

Required Texts: The Evolution of Chess Opening Theory: From Philidor to Kasparov (Keene), The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings (Fine 1990), Beating the Anti-King's Indian (Gallagher 1996), Hypermodern Opening Repertoire for White (Schiller 1999), The Closed Spanish: Karpov/Zaitsev Systems (Bikhovsky 1993)

GAM 218 - From Bits to Bytes: Translating Games into Programming

Students in the game programming series will find this class of particular interest, as we examine the process of game translation, re-creating (and often enhancing) in virtual space what is already published in actual space. The great advantages to computerized gaming (e.g. solitaire and internet play, fast computation, information tracking, low production cost) will be studied along side the great challenges (e.g. loss of tactile feel of bits and cards, lack of face-to-face interaction, unsophisticated opponent AIs). Neglecting the programming language aspect of computerizing games, we will instead focus on matters of form and style, how information should be represented to the player, how the theme and mechanics can best be preserved.<

Required Texts: Catan das Kartenspiel CD-ROM (Teuber 2001), Behind Deep Blue: Building the Computer that Defeated the World Chess Champion (Hsu 2002), Blondie 24: Playing at the Edge of AI (Fogel 2001), One Jump Ahead: Challenging Human Supremacy in Checkers (Schaeffer 1997), "Joining Bits and Pieces - How to make Entirely New Board Games using Embedded Computer Technology" (Lundgren 2002), Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame (2002) [a special case, in which the boardgame was translated from the computer game]. All game texts will be available on reserve in the library.

GAM 219 - Poker

This is the Everything Poker course, looking at the game family in all its incarnations, from the simplest Five-card stud, to more complicated drawing varieties. We will look closely at betting and bluff as essential mechanics in game play, and gain great insight into the world of professional play, and its history.

Required Texts: The Theory of Poker (Sklansky 1999), The Psychology of Poker (Schoonmaker 2000), Hold'Em Poker for Advanded Poker (Sklansky & Malmuth 1999), High-Low-Split Poker, Seven-Card Stud and Omaha Eight-or-Better for Advanced Players (Zee 1994), Winning Concepts in Draw & Lowball (Malmuth 1993), Poker Essays (Malmuth 1996), Inside the Poker Mind: Essays on Hold 'em and General Poker (Feeney & Sklansky 2000), Poker: Bets, Bluff, and Bad Beats (Alvarez & Duane 2001), The Basics of Winning Caribbean Stud Poker and Let It Ride (Allen 1996), Big Deal: A Year As a Professional Poker Player (Holden 1990), Poker Essays: volume II (Malmuth 1996), Poker, Gaming, and Life (Sklansky 1997), Poker Strategy: Winning with Game Theory (Ankeny 1981)

- Will M. Baker

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