By: J.D. Ross
(315) 443-3094

Students in associate professor Scott Nicholson’s Game Design class have spent the semester studying and crafting games of their own. Earlier this week, however, they tried their hands at inventing and testing a new type of diversion – games of chance or casino style offerings. The class tried out their games on each other and visitors, in an open class period.

“It's a tricky challenge,” notes Nicholson, “as the students have to make something simple and alluring that appears fair, but isn't, so that they can make money from the players.”

Students took turns, both by playing house or dealer for the games they created, as well as gambling away chips on their fellow classmates games. The game with the largest house take would be considered the champion of the exhibition.

Hal Woodin, a senior art and design major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts worked with his team to create a Tetris-like game of chance.

“We were inspired by trying to create a game where the players change the play depending on who is playing, and what decisions are made during the game,” explained Woodin, who gestured to a game board and a set of multi-colored tile pieces.  “They put down tiles one by one, so each player has to react to the last player’s move.”

For the students, shifting their efforts to creating casino-style games was a bit of a departure from their other assignments.

“The focus in this class has been on serious games, and the process of that has been to start with a concept, and then work out the mechanics,” said Woodin. “For this game, however, we started instead with the mechanics to try and create a fun odds-type casino game.”

For iSchool graduate student Rebecca Wessell, creating her game was both an insightful and a challenging experience. 

“There’s a lot of math and probability that goes on behind the scenes in casino and gambling games,” noted Wessell.  “As a game designer, you must calculate and account for it. and it certainly tested my limited knowledge from my college probability and statistics course!”

For games of chance, it’s very easy to add unnecessary complexity to the game that results in very strange probability distributions and confusion for the player. Since we had to calculate the probabilities for our game to ensure the odds were in the house’s favor, we found that simplicity was the best route for such a game. And finally, there’s definitely an element of psychology involved to essentially trick the player into thinking he has better odds than he does.