Gil Hova and Emma Larkins
Welcome to Ludology, an analytical discussion of the how’s and why’s of the world of board games. Rather than news and reviews, Ludology explores a variety of topics about games from a wider lens, and discusses game history, game design and game players. Ludology is part of The Dice Tower Network, the premier board game media network.
Ludology 239 - Words at Play
Emma and Gil welcome Kathryn Hymes and Hakan Seyalıoğlu to the show to discuss the impact of language on play, and how to design games that revolve around the building, modification, and demise of a language. SHOW NOTES 2m52s: Here's the Kickstarter for Thorny's new game Xenolanguage. 6m45s: Among Us is a social deduction digital game that, after a quiet two years on the market, suddenly blew up on Twitch and is now extremely popular. US congressional representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines when she played the game live on Twitch with several popular streamers (and fellow representative Ilhan Omar, who turned out to be very good at the game).  9m09s: Myst 9m36s: Here's our episode on the Incan Gold experiment, run by Dr. Stephen Blessing of the University of Tampa. 15m43s: Dialect (Watch a playthrough with Hakan here) 20m33s: The earliest instance that the OED has found of the singular "they" is from 1375. 38m47s: Gil, Geoff, and Scott dug deep into party game design in Ludology 190 - The Life of the Party. 45m15s: Sign 49m47s: More info about the fascinating instrument known as the theremin. 52m54s: The instrument called the ondes Martenot (Gil apologies profusely to all French listeners for his poor pronunciation skills!). You can see its inner workings discussed here (video in French with English subtitles). You can hear it as one of the instruments in this absolutely wild Edgard Varése composition. 55m18s: More info on Code Talkers and how they helped transmit encoded messages in wartime. 56m01s: Here's a thread with Magic fans playing the translation game on Jace. 56m35s: Kathryn's GDC talk on artifacts of play. 58m07s: A Fake Artist Goes to New York 58m48s: Fall of Magic 59m15s: Qwixx 1h08m18s: A Buzzfeed article (forgive me) on how red Solo cups are viewed outside the US as a uniquely American symbol.  1h08m38s: Thorny Games on the web and Instagram. Also, you can find Kathryn and Hakan on Twitter.
Nov 29
1 hr 10 min
GameTek Classic 238.5 - Induction
Geoff discusses the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning, and its impact in board games and beyond. In this episode, Geoff discusses the games Clue/Cluedo, Mastermind, and Zendo. He also discusses dark matter, WIMPs, and Einstein's theory of relativity.
Nov 22
7 min
Ludology 238 - Unraveling Complexity
Emma, Gil, and Scott discuss the idea of complexity in a board game. We explore 6 types of complexity, and discuss their effects on the games we play and design. SHOW NOTES 0m51s: Pete Seeger was an American folk singer, known for songs like "If I Had a Hammer," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" 2m04s: Our list of complexities: Spatial complexity Arithmetical complexity Zone complexity Planning complexity Rules/mechanism complexity Component complexity 2m45s: Barenpark, New York Zoo 3m44s: The SAT is a standardized test in the United States that is a major factor in a college's admission of a prospective student. 4m16s: Number 9 4m32s: Bosk 5m31s: Photosynthesis 6m30s: Treasure Island, Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, Specter Ops, Tigris & Euphrates 7m14s: Checking the rules, an Internal Conflict in Tigris & Euphrates happens when a Leader is moved to a Kingdom where there is already a Leader of the same color belonging to another player. 8m00s: Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game. Check out Scott's Biography of a Board Game on the Flight Path family of games, including X-Wing and Wings of War. 8m25s: The Warhammer family of games is absolutely massive. The flagship game, Warhammer 40,000, is in its 9th edition.  10m18s: The Funkoverse Strategy Game. We chatted with Chris Rowlands, one of its designers, in Ludology 224: Putting the Fun in Funko. 11m01s: Heroclix, Heroscape 13m23s: Set 15m17s: Power Grid, Russian Railroads, and Gil's own The Networks 16m26s: The term "Goumbaud's Law" was coined by Jesse Schell in his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. 21m12s: Sticheln (the pronunciation of which Gil has completely butchered) was recently re-released by Capstone Games as Stick 'Em. Smartphone Inc. 22m46s: Sushi Go, Disney: The Haunted Mansion – Call of the Spirits Game 25m38s: Search for Planet X, Zendo (Kory Heath's design diary for Zendo remains a fantastic look at how hard it is to design a seemingly simple game.) 26m40s: Mastermind 28m12s: Here's a description of the XYZ Wing solve technique for Sudoku. 28m33s: (explicit language warning) 28m59s: Hey, That's My Fish, graph theory, and the Traveling Salesman problem. 29m33s: Scott first proposed the 6 Zones of Play in Ludology 209 - The 6 Zones of Play. 32m28s: Formula D 33m27s: Seafall, the Betrayal family of games. 41m21s: Ra 43m53s: A Feast for Odin 44m22s: A Few Acres of Snow 46m45s: Nielsen Media Research is best known for its Nielsen TV ratings, that offer the TV industry in the United States metrics into the number of viewers a TV show enjoys. 48m06s: Advanced Squad Leader, The Campaign for North Africa 50m13s: We discussed the futility of 1:1 models with Volko Ruhnke in Ludology 178 - COIN Operated. Gil also brings up the "Map-territory relation" problem. 50m29s: Food Chain Magnate, Feudum, Cloudspire, Kanban 54m48s: Two designers who work in complex games: Vital Lacerda and Dávid Turczi. You can hear our chat with Dávid about complex games in Ludology 234 - Playing with Time. 55m34s: Brass: Lancashire 57m27s: Fresco 1h00m20s: Gil discussed his doomed auction mechanism most recently in Ludology 235 - Rise to the Challenge. 1h01m45s: Samurai, Steel Driver, For Sale. Here's Samurai's scoring system: If one player has the most figures of 2 or 3 of the types of figures, they win. If no one has won in the previous step, only players who have the most of a single type of figure can win. All other players are eliminated. The remaining players set aside the figures they have of which they have the most of a certain type. The player with the most remaining figures wins. In case of a tie, the tied players re-collect all their figures and count their total number of figures. Highest total wins, all remaining ties are shared. 1h02m30s: Nomic, Fluxx 1h09m23s: Descent: Journeys in the Dark 1h10m45s: Geoff and Gil discussed "tight coupling" in Ludology 172 - Odd Coupling. 1h12m04s: Carcassonne (the type Gil was thinking of is Monk) 1h13m25s: The Betrayal family of games (again) 1h14m46s: GameTrayz 1h16m20s: Mike Selinker uttered this now-legendary quote in Ludology 189 - The Missing Selinker. 1h17m47s: Gil's announcements: BGG@Home, Weird Stories pregen settings, High Rise pre-orders opening soon, Rival Networks 1h20m02s: Battling Tops, and the legendary BGG Battling Tops tournament. 1h20m22s: Tabletopia 1h20m44s: Emma, Gil, and Scott recorded Ludology 215 - Table Topics live at BGG.CON 2019. 1h21m06s: Scott's announcements: Treats, Xeno Command, Comic Book Crisis, The Pitch Project. 1h24m06s: Emma's announcements: Game Maker's Guild panel, Dutch and Hungarian versions of Abandon All Artichokes. 1h25m26s: Our contact info: Emma (Twitter, Instagram, Web), Gil (Twitter, Facebook, Web), Scott (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook)
Nov 15
1 hr 26 min
Biography of a Board Game 237.5 - Which Witch
Scott goes over the history of Which Witch, a game that's been adapted into many other games, including The Real Ghostbusters Game and the Scooby-doo! Haunted House 3D Board Game. If you're interested in learning more about Marvin Glass and Associates, Scott recommends that you read A World Without Reality: Inside Marvin Glass's Toy Vault. We also discussed him in Ludology 212 - Inventing Play with Kim Vandenbrouke.  
Nov 8
8 min
Ludology 237 - Improv-ing Games
Emma and Gil welcome Karen Twelves, whose straddling of the worlds of gaming and improv led her to write the book Improv for Gamers. What can gaming and improv learn from each other? Content warning: this episode contains brief references to non-consensual touching and racism. SHOW NOTES 01m16s: AD&D is Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the form of D&D most prominent in the 80s and 90s. 02m43s: A kinesthetic learner is one who learns through physical activity. We discussed kinesthetic learning and games (among other things) with Chidi Paige in Ludology 231 - STEAM Engine. 03m35s: Whose Line Is It Anyway? was a British radio show that became a British television show that became an American television show. In the show, four improvisers run through several short-form improv games. 08m25s: The Harold is a structure used in long-form improv.  09m31s: Del Close was a fundamental figure in the world of improv, creating many techniques and co-writing the book Truth in Comedy. Note that Gil misattributed the name of the Harold to Close. While Close helped develop and publicize the technique, improv actor and musician Bill Mathleu is credited with naming it. 12m33s: Kingmaker is an Adventure Path for the RPG Pathfinder. 12m48s: Most recently, we discussed failure in games with Sen-Foong Lim in our previous episode, Ludology 236 - Roll With It. 15m32s: LEEROY JENKINS (note explicit language in link) 31m00s: The story RPG Fiasco. We had designer Jason Morningstar on Ludology 161 - What's the Story, Morning Glory? 40m55s: The board games Karen mentions are Splendor, Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, and Pandemic. 50m58s: Alex Roberts, designer of Star Crossed and For the Queen. 52m50s: The TV show Taskmaster. Wouldn’t Alex Horne be a great Ludology guest? 58m30s: “No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful/Everyone dies twisted inside and that is beautiful” 1h01m03s: Burning Wheel, Pathfinder, Fiasco, Monsterhearts 1h02m22s: Archipelago 1h12m03s: Then She Fell, Sleep No More 1h12m57s: Gil is referring to Ludology 214 - Escape From Reality, with Hayley E.R. Cooper and Cameron Cooper. 1h13m32s: Palace Games in San Francisco. Their in-person experience is temporarily closed for the pandemic, but like many escape rooms, they are currently running virtual games. 1h15m11s: Here's Karen's current ongoing Thing & Thing Twitter thread. 1h18m18s: Karen’s Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok. Here are her websites:,, and
Nov 1
1 hr 21 min
GameTek Classic 236.5 - Calculus
Geoff compares the design process of the video game Diabolo to… the invention of calculus? Yes, there are surprising similarities, and seeing how the two dovetail leads to a stronger appreciation of both game design and mathematics.
Oct 25
7 min
Ludology 236 - Role With It
Emma and Gil welcome Sen-Foong Lim back to the show to discuss the differences—and similarities—between board games and roleplaying games. We go through the perspectives of playing them, designing them, and examining the culture of play between both. Sen originally appeared on Ludology 134: There's No "I" in Team with frequent co-designer Jay Cormier. SHOW NOTES 0m41s: Board games Sen has designed or co-designed: Junk Art, Belfort, D&D: Rock Paper Wizard. RPGs Sen has designed, co-designed, or written for: Jiang-Shi: Blood in the Banquet Hall, Kids on Bikes, The Curse of the House of Rookwood, North Sea Epilogues 3m39s: If the comparison between RPG and improv intrigues you, wait till you hear Ludology 237... 4m47s: An example of a crunchy old-school RPG: Traveller 5m10s: Chainmail was the game that D&D evolved from. 5m20s: While Gil agrees with Sen that encumbrance as implemented by a game like D&D tends to bog down gameplay, a nice counter-example is Torchbearer, a dungeon-crawling TTRPG in which encumbrance is a central mechanism. 7m44s: You can see one Emma's chats with Peter Adkison (who founded Wizards of the Coast and owns Gen Con) here. 11m34s: Sen is currently watching Black Sails. 12m31s: RPGs where your character is likely to die: Fiasco, Paranoia 17m55s: The RPG Masks: A New Generation. 19m14s: Gil and Sen's friend and beloved loudmouth Errol Elumir. 19m40s: This is literally Errol's first rule of escape room puzzle design. 20m36s: Critical Role (with GM Matt Mercer) is the most popular of the vibrant active play scene. 21m46s: The party game Cranium. 22m25s: Save Against Fear, a convention about gaming in therapy. 23m01s: Roll20 is an online platform for playing RPGs, as is Role. Tabletop Simulator can handle crunchy RPGs like D&D as well. 28m21s: Formula D (née Formula Dé) 30m00s: We had Mike Selinker on the show for Ludology 189: Missing Selinker. 31m13s: Sen's favorite D&D module, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks 31m30s: Star Frontiers 33m05s: You can hear more from Jiang-Shi co-designer Banana Chan on Ludology 228: The Roles We Play. 35m51s: Emma's storytelling games ...And Then We Died (...And Then We Held Hands is a different game) 45m02s: "Jay" is Jay Cormier, Sen's frequent collaborator. "Jesse" is game designer Jesse Wright. 45m30s: Jay and Sen's tabletop escape game Scooby Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion. 47m20s: The TV show Bob's Burgers. 48m50s: Itch is an online platform for digital games, but has a lot of downloadable PDFs for tabletop games. DriveThruRPG offers PDFs and PODs of many RPGs. 50m12s: RPGs that Emma mentions: Burning Wheel, Paranoia, FATE Core System, Ryuutama, Over the Edge. 51m58s: For more about safety tools in RPGs, check out Ludology 227: Respect the X. 53m04s: You can access all these tools via the TTRPG Safety Kit. 56m05s: Gil's board game safety tool Check-In Cards. 1h07m06s: Board games that allow for relaxed conversation: Sagrada, Lotus. 1h08m27s: More about the semiotic function. 1h09m57s: Sen mentions psychologist Lev Vygotsky. 1h10m30s: Emma is a Mythic-tier Magic player! 1h11m55s: More info about the D&D Adventurers League. 1h14m13s: Jay and Graeme's game In the Hall of the Mountain King. Jay also created the Fail Faster playtesting notebook. 1h19m31s: Sen's web series, the Meeple Syrup Show, with Jessey Wright and Erica Hayes-Bouyouris.  1h20m59s: Sen's licensed games: Batman: The Animated Series - Rogues Gallery, Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, and the Scooby Doo and D&D games mentioned above. 1h22m01s: The manga and anime My Hero Academia. 1h23m08s: Follow Sen on Twitter!
Oct 18
1 hr 24 min
Biography of a Board Game 235.5 - Ouija
In the spirit of Halloween, Scott takes us through the spooky history of the Ouija board: its origins, the legal battles behind the curtain, and how a scientific phenomenon makes it all work.  Bibliography of a Board Game
Oct 11
13 min
Ludology 235 - Rise to the Challenge
Today, we are continuing our series of exploring the design decisions behind our own games! Emma and Scott sit down with Gil to talk about his game High Rise; about how it started life as an auction game, and the twisty route it took to publication. SHOW NOTES 1m23s - Gil discussed the Wag auction in his Networks design diary on BGG. 2m45s - Gil's game Battle Merchants. 3m31s - A "MacGuffin" is an object in a film that the characters all want, but the actual nature of the object is irrelevant (like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction). All that matters from the perspective of the film is that the characters want it. Looney Labs has since published an actual game with this term, Get the MacGuffin. 4m03s - Gil's game The Networks. 6m24s - Games with auctions as an element in the game: Princes of Florence, Goa 6m54s - Knizia games that are built entirely around their auctions: Ra, Modern Art, Medici, High Society 8m18s - The digital board game Sumer (Gil credited Josh Raab with the game design, but neglected to mention co-designers Geoffrey Suthers, Misha Favorov, and Sig Gunnarsson). 8m51s - The legendary video game M.U.L.E. - not a commercial success, but since regarded as seminal and influential. For a while, "M.U.L.E. as a board game" was a game designer's grail, but that's since been handled by board games Wealth of Nations, Planet Steam, and of course, M.U.L.E. The Board Game. 14m41s - Gil is talking about Roger Caillois, and his book Man, Play, and Games. Play is usually associated with having no real-world implications, but Caillois knew to draw in gambling as a counter-example. 19m04s - High Rise's look would not have nearly been so amazing without the graphic design of Heiko Günther and the illustrations of Kwanchai Moriya. 20m36s - Rocco is also designer of the game Ninja Dice. 23m04s - You can follow the High Rise Kickstarter here; it goes live on October 6. 24m54s - Bryn Smith runs Doomsday Robots, a board game publishing company. 27m02s - Expancity, Manhattan. The Manhattan kaiju "expansion" Gil was thinking of turned out to be a variant designed by Brian Bankler and Eric Moore. 27m56s - The amazing Daniel Newman, who is quite an excellent game designer himself (he made Dead Man's Cabal), and who is designing the High Rise plastic buildings. 28m11s - Not to mention, Elastoplast is a brand of bandages. 28m59s - The High Rise design diary. 30m28s - Gil's online playtest group, Remote Playtesting. 32m24s - Two rondel games, both by Mac Gerdts: Navegador, and Imperial. 33m57s - Time track games similar to High Rise: Tokaido, Glen More, Francis Drake, and Kraftwagen. 34m28s - Ryan Courtney, designer of Pipeline 36m29s - Eric Lang's tweet about turn angst. You can hear more directly from Eric in Ludology 175 - Auld Lang Design. 38m33s - Food Chain Magnate. 45m33s - Geoff and Gil discussed ludonarrative dissonance in Ludology 190 - Diabolus in Ludica. A positive example of ludonarrative dissonance: Unspeakable Words. 46m55s - Cloudspire. 50m28s - Emma is referring to Ludology 209 - The 6 Zones of Play. 51m51s - Bohnanza 51m58s - Here's an example of Magic Card flicking. It's even worse when the cards are sleeved. 55m36s - Uno, The Mystery Rummy series of games. 59m33s - The Sears Tower in Chicago is now called the Willis Tower. 1h02m57s - The preview page for the High Rise Kickstarter campaign.
Oct 4
1 hr 4 min
GameTek Classic 234.5 - The Limits of AI
Having previously discussed relatively new advances in AI that allows computers to beat humans at games like Chess and Go, Geoff moves on to games in which AI will have a much harder time being competitive. What is it about these games that makes it so difficult to make a good automated opponent? 1m00s: Geoff introduced AlphaZero and AlphaGo in GameTek Classic 218.5. 1m34s: Codenames 3m18s: IBM's Watson 4m09s: Mysterium
Sep 27
6 min
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