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Exploring complex systems through board game redesign

Principal Investigator: Reyhaneh Bastani

This study was a design-based research project conducted in the Fall of 2018 and early 2019. It aimed to use a board game redesign approach to support students' engagement with emergent systems and to imagine and model new possible structures using mathematics and science topics in an art immersion school in Western Canada. The grade 7 students were asked to redeisgn the cooperative board game Pandemic (Z-MAN Games), which models disease spread across the world, using grade 7 science and mathematics topics. 

The study drew on a complexity perspective of knowledge and learning that addressed the emergent nature of learning and its nestedness. The study used the notion of enabling constraints to indicate how design for learning should attend to a balance between enabling learners' idiosyncratic responses and setting structures that would limit the vast possibilities of approaching learning topics to support learners' shared goals and language.


The study analyzed how the co-design spaces evolved through the redesign process and how the project structure and learners' decisions framed their design directions and use of math and science topics in creating their game system.


Read more about this project here: Bastani & Kim, 2022; Bastani, 2022

Examples of students' redesigned games 
(read more in Bastani & Kim-2022)

Reverse Pandemic

The group's design project involved creating a cooperative game called "Reverse Pandemic" where players act as viral diseases spreading across cities. They explored the idea of reversing the original game's narrative and incorporated scientific concepts such as disease spread, mutation, and vaccination. They used numbers and probabilities to compare disease spread and city defence and differentiated it by having six players and categorizing cities as hotbeds. They created their own map and event cards to address game balance. The project helped them understand the original game's elements and apply their understanding in a meaningful way to their own design.

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Pandemic-Canada Edition

The design project undertaken by the group involved creating a game focused on disease spread within Canada. They decided on this theme because the original game only featured one Canadian city. Using digital maps, they located cities in Canada and conducted research on different contagious diseases specific to those cities. The group made limited changes to the original game's mechanics, designing role cards based on Canadian symbolic roles using software called Component Studio.Their early playtestings with other students led to modifications in the number of cities and their connections.


Pandemic Theatre Edition

The design project created a game that aimed to imagine a world balanced through science and art. Initially inspired by the game Pandemic, the group decided to develop a new backstory focusing on creating balance in the world in terms of people's happiness, with a connection to climate conditions. They introduced research stations and theatres as game components to help achieve this balance. Players calculated percentages and used negative numbers to move populations and maintain balance. Players had different roles to contribute to balancing the world. The group also engaged in discussions about gender roles and politics related to the game theme.

Publications on this project

Bastani, R., & Kim, B. (2022). Pandemic Board Game Redesigned: How Learners’ Decisions Enable Emergent Learning Possibilities. In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference of the Learning Sciences-ICLS 2022, pp. 775-782. International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Bastani, R. (2022). Design for learning through a complexity perspective: a board game redesign approach to enabling learning possibilities (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from

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