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Material Games


Disciplines > Game Design > Types of Game > Material Games

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Material games make particular use of physical items as a part of the play.

Types of materials include:

  • Dice: Rolling dice to determine move steps or game points.
  • Cards: Drawing or dealing cards to provide a base or extension of play.
  • Boards: Designed playing spaces.
  • Markers: Items that represent players or other objects and are used to mark physical position.
  • Valuables: Items that represent value, such as money and sale-able artefacts.
  • Objects: Things that may be used in various rule-bound ways, such as balls, sticks and so on.
  • Construction: Using materials to build things.

Materials are used in other games, such as the ball in assorted sports, but these may be more physical than material games.


Dice games: Craps uses two dice and a marked table.

Card games: In Bridge, players start with a random deal and then play with skill.

Board games: Cluedo is played by moving around a crime scene based on a board.

Object games: In Monopoly, players are represented by metal pieces, there are also little houses, money and property cards.

Collection games: In Trivial Pursuit, players collect a set of objects that represent correct answers.

Construction games: Lego uses click-together bricks to build all kinds of things.


Material games are different to physical games, which use the human body, and where body shape, strength, speed and so can give a person advantage.

The physical movement and manipulation of items in a material game will appeal to the need for physical arousal. This will also appeal, along with all other material items such as boards, to people who like concrete things rather than ideas and concepts.

When we see and touch material items we form an association or bond with them, which impacts our need for a sense of identity. It may hence be easier for some people to feel greater ownership within material games, which in turn can lead to greater pleasure and longer game-play.

Players can interact in all kinds of physical ways with material items, and all kinds of verbs may be used to describe this interaction, such as holding, consuming, breaking, drawing, showing, shaping, throwing, spinning, giving and so on.

Games of chance often use material items that the players manipulate, such as dice or cards. The physical movement of these often gives players a false sense of control that makes the game more enjoyable than if the random event was determined in an unknown way (such as random number generation on a computer). 'One-armed bandit' gambling machines are run by microprocessors, yet keep physical reels and buttons to sustain the material interface with players and allows for illusory control.

Computer games are often pseudo-material, in that they simulate material games but are played in virtual environments, where the only truly material items are the computer and interfaces to it.

Design of material games should give opportunity to touch and move different shapes. Texture, flexibility and other physical properties may also be considered as potential design parameters. As with design of any game or changing-minds activity, the way that fundamental human needs are met should constantly be kept in mind.

See also

Physical Games, Need for a Sense of Control, Need for Arousal


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