Penn College creates board game, Seekers of the Sacred, for senior project
Penn College student creates board game for senior project
An industrial design student at Pennsylvania College of Technology has “rolled the dice” with his senior project. And his move looks like a winning one.
Cullen Berfield, of Jersey Shore, has designed a board game for his capstone. Complete with innovative rules, dice, player pieces, boards and cards, the unique endeavor marries his affinity for strategy games with his artistic instincts.
“I’ve always loved board games because they bring people together,” Berfield said. “Bringing people together for a chunk of time, whether it be for a half hour or a few hours, is something that I find special.”
Since the start of the semester, Berfield has spent countless hours giving life to his idea for a game, from brainstorming to design and testing to production.
“I’ve enjoyed every aspect,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not make a board game that kind of breaks the rules? Why not make it three-dimensional?’ “
Seekers of the Sacred was born.
The game’s objective is to accumulate the most points while exploring a 3D temple. Players have to scale the temple’s exterior before gaining entry to various layers. Points are earned by discovering treasures on each level and by “stealing” from other players. The game is for two to four people who are at least 12 years old.
“As for strategy, it’s a big mix between luck and skill,” Berfield said.
The desire to employ his mix of skills led Berfield to industrial design, the practice of transforming ideas into designs of marketable projects and systems. He came to Penn College as a building construction technology student, but switched majors after touring the industrial design lab and interacting with Thomas Ask, the professor who created and oversees the program.
“It’s one of the best programs I could have chosen for myself,” Berfield said. “Like many other students, seeing a professor so enthusiastic and passionate about the major helped me realize it was for me. Also, the mix between art and engineering was the perfect fit.”
His artistic ability encompasses more than the creative use of computer-aided design and engineering software required by the major. Berfield plays guitar for the 28th Infantry Division Band of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, the state’s oldest professional music performance group.
Berfield joined the National Guard after graduating from high school and focused on aviation operations before offering his musical talent to the band. He’s played guitar since the age of 7. The National Guard experience has provided the opportunity to savor another interest cultivated during childhood: Board games.
During downtime on Guard weekends, Berfield and a fellow reservist and board game enthusiast immerse themselves in their joint collection of games. The activity reminds him of treasured moments playing chess and other games with his grandfather. It also reflects his future goal. Berfield wants to be a professional designer of board games.
His senior project could be the gateway to fulfilling that dream.
“Showing my creativity and the ability to take one small idea or theme and make it into one solid and creative game will hopefully at least give me a little leverage to work at a game company,” Berfield said.
Ask sees such potential.
“Cullen is passionate and talented,” the professor said. “He has a clear vision for his designs. He is very creative and willing to work hard.
“No one has ever designed a game in our program. Cullen’s project shows the interdisciplinary nature of design, where allure, fun and challenge are all intertwined.”
Seekers of the Sacred includes five types of cards; four dice, player pieces, player storage areas and boards; and three structural pieces. Berfield designed all the elements with the exception of illustrations on player cards, which were created by classmate Matthew Sauer, of Fleetwood.
“Making a piece for a board game is easy, but making many pieces that work well together is the challenging part,” Berfield said.
Testing the game with a variety of people has been the other major challenge. The social distancing requirements resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have limited Berfield’s test group.
“Overall, it seemed like everyone enjoyed playing the game, but the only real point of view I have is from friends, family and myself, which can be completely skewing my results,” he said.
When restrictions are lifted, Berfield hopes to test the game with people representing a wide range of ages and backgrounds. That feedback could lead to some tweaking before he’s ready to market Seekers of the Sacred to a game company or sell it on his own.
Just like the game itself, experiencing that reality depends on skill and some luck, which suits Berfield just fine.
“Even if only a couple people end up playing the game, if they enjoy it, it would be all worth it,” he said. “If the reaction isn’t what I was hoping for then it will be back to designing more games, and that really is a win for me.”