Theoretical Framework

Thesis Statement

“Modern table-top games are complex because of emergent gameplay design. Digital versions of table-top board games using three-dimensional models, gesture-based interactions, and turn-based tutorials enables the new player to quickly learn these games to experience the emergent gameplay with other players. "


Modern table-top board games are challenging for new players to learn because of the complexity of the rules, physical components, and implied player interactions. All of these components play a role in the complex systems that the player has to understand in order to learn how to play a game and experience the emergent gameplay that was designed. By using three-dimensional interfaces and gesture-based interactions, board games can be easier to learn in a digital form.

Steven Johnson states that "emergence arises out of complexity." This complexity can lead to accessibility issues for a new player and can discourage the player from breaking through this wall of systems to play the game. By using a digital environment, these complex game systems found in board games can be illustrated in a meaningful way and enable the gameplay to be more accessible for the new player learning how to play the game.

Thesis Work

This section of the website is where I am documenting the work on my thesis paper and visual component.

Theoretical Framework

In Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software, Steven Johnson says that "emergence rises out of complexity"(1). Modern table-top board and card games are designed to layer a series of simple rules when combined form complex systems that enable emergent gameplay.

Jesper Juul states that "emergence is the primordial game structure, where a game is specified as a small number of rules that combine and yield large numbers of game variations, which the players then design strategies for dealing with. This is found in card and board games and in most action and all strategy games."(2)

Table-top game designers design complexity into their game to provide the players with as many options as possible to enable emergent gameplay. Warren Spector says that we should "Embrace this idea that the most interesting games are those that let players devise personally-meaningful goals, formulate and execute plans to achieve their goals."(3)

These complex systems found in board games can be complicated for a new player to learn by themselves using analog documentation. If a player is not able to achieve a level of understanding of these complex systems, they will not be able to experience the emergent gameplay that the game designer intended.

Scott Nicholson sees that the "difficulties with modern games are complexity and cost. The rulebooks can be complex and overwhelming so that some games can’t be easily learned by a quick reading of the rules just before play. "(4) If a player does not have a fellow player to act as a guide to walk them through the game they are required to learn the game solely through the documentation for the game. Without a guide, the player could be more likely to become frustrated and give up on learning the game even before they have the chance to experience the emergent gameplay within the game.

Sophie Brown, speaking of Ticket to Ride, sees that the physicalness a weakness of modern board games. "The sheer size of the board is a disadvantage, because although it is beautiful to look at, it requires a lot of space. Finding cities and then working out the best route between them is hard to do, as is remembering all the cities you are currently trying to connect. The dozens of small, lightweight pieces are also very easy to knock over as you try and lay down your next bit of track, especially if it’s at the far end of the board."(5)

Digital versions of table-top games provide a way to illustrate the mechanics and systems of the game in a way that the player can learn to play own their own through the use of three-dimensional models, gesture-based interactions, and gameplay based tutorials. There is no need to set up the game space or read a rule book. The digital game can teach the player to learn the game through interacting with digital models and player-driven tutorials.

Soren Johnson states "the brevity and frequency of (digital) games lowers the pain of a loss, which means players can experiment."(6) This experimentation can enable the player to learn the game on their own through a digital interface. Then once the player learns the how to play these complicated games, they will be able to experience the emergent gameplay that was designed.

Digital board games can be a tool for game designers. They do not have to be a replacement for the physical game but rather an additional device that is used to educate the player on how to play the game. Learning the game through a digital application could lead the player to play the physical game with other players because they will have a level of understanding and will be able to experience the emergent gameplay with them.

  1. Salen, K. (2004). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Juul, Jesper. "The Open and the Closed: Games of Emergence and Games of Progression." The Open and the Closed - Games of Emergence and Games of Progression. Accessed April 18, 2018.
  3. Alexander, Leigh. "Spector: Go Emergent - Game Design Is Not All about You." Gamasutra Article. November 16, 2013. Accessed April 18, 2018. __game_design_is_not_all_about_you.php.
  4. Nicholson, S. (2008). Modern board games: It’s not a Monopoly any more. Library Technology Reports 44(3). 8-10, 38-39. Accessed April 27, 2018 from
  5. Brown, Sophie. "Late to the Game: Ticket to Ride -- IPad vs Board." Wired. January 15, 2018. Accessed April 28, 2018.
  6. Johnson, Soren. "When Digital Versions of Board Games Surpass the Originals." Gamasutra. October 25, 2012. Accessed April 27, 2018.

Ticket to Ride
by Alan R. Moon

About Me

My name is Mark Koberlein and I have been a professional web designer, app developer, and instructor for about 13 years. I live in a small town next to Allentown, PA with my wife 2 daughters. My wife and I are avid gamers and movie watchers. I am currently a tenure-track Instructor in the Communication Design department at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem PA, where I teach courses in general computer graphics, web design, mobile applications, interactive design, server-side programming, and animation. I started this journey as an undergrad at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. For the first 2 years, I studied Computer Science and then changed my major to Religious Studies to finish my under-grad studies with a Bachelor of Arts. After college, I decided to not pursue the reli... Read More