The ‘Boggling’ Value of Materiality in Board Games

There are few sounds that come so close to the raucous rattle of the die inside the plastic lidded tray of a Boggle game. This week, my sister, Mum and I relived an absolute classic from our childhood, which served us hours upon hours of entertainment when we were younger.

The classic word game, made up of 16 lettered die inside a plastic cube, was originally designed by Allan Turoff and trademarked by Parker Brothers, a division of Hasbro. According to the actual rules, players take it in turns to make as many words as possible constructed from sequentially adjacent letter cubes. The round is timed by a 3 minute sand timer and at the conclusion of each round, the scores are added up, with scores allocated according to word lengths. If the same word has been written by two or more players, it is removed from the list. The scores are then added up according to word length – a rule which our parents had unknowingly omitted when we were children.

I sat down with my Mum and sister this week on zoom to play a round of Boggle. We chatted memories and nostalgia, with Mum reminiscing on playing with us as children. My sister, the youngest, was allowed 2 letter words and I was allowed 3 letter words, with Mum remembering: “It was hotly contested back then, I was probably the best out of everyone but… my brain’s not kind of working as well as it used to”.

We recorded the session but once again it was rather unentertaining to watch back as a video, and I also botched a few words that weren’t actually words (it was early in the morning) – so to save myself the embarrassment I decided to omit the podcast. Here’s a picture instead:

A tricky round if you ask me! (Mum won, I came last)

Playing virtually this week, the lack of the tangible thrill of shaking up the die inside the plastic cube was probably the most obvious difference when translated to the digital realm. This fact alone led me to research the importance of materiality when it comes to board games, and the significance that the tactile materials have in terms of designing a playing experience.

A 2016 study from the University of Melbourne gave much deeper insight into exactly why people are playing games, and what exactly it is that people find attractive about the experience. According to the study, the components and materials of a game not only add to the perceived quality of the game, but also the overall playing experience. Rogerson (2016) writes that “valuing components leads to a desire for completeness. Players do not wish to lose that which they consider valuable, particularly when the loss of a piece, card or tile can effectively prevent successful play of the game. Packing a game away is seen as an important part of the experience of play”.

“There’s a lovely dexterous, sensuous feeling you get from just interacting with the physicality of the game that I really love.” (2016)

Rogerson (2016) also recounted that “the environment where a board game is played is critical to the players enjoyment of the game- and even their ability to play the game at all”. Which is very much supported by our experience of playing board games virtually in the second week of iteration. Whilst it is definitely possible to play Boggle, (and Guess Who?) over Zoom it is by no means as enjoyable as sitting face to face or in a group of people, frantically scribbling down words, watching the timer with anticipation and trying desperately to cover your answers with your spare hand!

Our innate desire for materiality in board games can also account for the popularity of Unboxing videos online. Kelly (2014) describes unboxing videos – which are quite literally videos of people unboxing a brand new game – as “bizarre” and “lucrative” in their popularity. “The volume of unboxing videos has boomed in recent years. Easy to make and surprisingly hypnotic to watch, the videos have become a lucrative little corner of the Internet for the people who film them (Kelly, 2014).

Rogerson (2016) also supported this, writing that “unboxing videos, in which a game’s components are lovingly removed from the box, explored, counted and displayed, are familiar to consumers of tech products, and offer a ritualistic spectacle of unveiling, touch and physicality”

Materiality in board games is undoubtedly an essential factor when considering design and playing experience. This week has definitely made me consider how these ideas translate to our group project, as well as giving me some further scope and insight for giving feedback in the playtesting experience for other class members.

On that note, I’ll leave you with an adorable video of the unboxing of Boggle – enjoy!


Kelly, H., 2014. The Bizarre, Lucrative World Of ‘Unboxing’ Videos – CNN. [online] CNN. Available at: <; [Accessed 14 May 2020].

Rogerson, M 2016, ‘”I love all the bits”: The materiality of boardgames’, Designing New Player Experiences, Microsoft Research Centre for Social NUI, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia. Available at: <; [Accessed 14 May 2020].

Published by susiealdermann

Fifth Year Bachelor of Communications and Media/ Bachelor of International Studies (Dean's Scholar) student

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