Interactive Board Game: Humans vs. Zombies

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Maker-in-residence report

Author MacKayla van Binsbergen, Katy Barnard, Pamela Nelson
Date 31.10.2019


During the recess week, we worked together to build a board game with sound effects using electric paint and a Bare Conductive Touch Board.

This idea developed from a collaboration of learning goals. MacKayla wanted to experiment with capacitive sensing and creating interactive images using conductive paint to trigger sound. Katy wanted to explore the world of physical tech. She was interested in making something tangible with an element of electronics. Pam wanted to learn how to use and build interactive technology and explore its capabilities.

To begin, MacKayla gave a mini introduction to Arduino and circuit building since Katy and Pam were newer to electronics. She explained the basics of connecting circuits together, and we started experimenting with electric paint using capacitive sensing as a trigger for light and sound.

After that, we had a short brainstorm session about what kind of interactive thing we could make using the conductive paint. Katy thought of the idea to make a game. Since Halloween was coming up and the class was planning on celebrating together, we decided on a haunted house concept and then worked out the details of gameplay. We thought of games like Frustration where you can role a die to move around the board and by landing on someone else's spot, it sends them back to the beginning. We liked this idea of being chased by something.

Prototyping & Iteration

We eventually came up with the concept that the game would be for four players, three humans and one zombie, that roll a die to move around the board. The objective of the humans would be to collect three animals, a cat, rat, and bat, that are trapped in cages in the house and bring them to the designated safe zone. When all three animals are in the safe zone, the door "opens" for them to escape and the humans win the game. The zombie’s objective is to, of course, bite the humans and turn them into zombies. After coming up with a specific set of gameplay rules, we laid out the board shape, made some prototype play pieces and tested the game with classmates. Even though the sound was not yet incorporated into the game yet, we wanted to make sure the general concept of gameplay worked and that it was not too easy or too hard for the humans or zombie to win the game. We used a phone dice rolling app to play.

Our first test results showed that most of the game was being played in the top half of the board. We decided to tackle that by changing the placement of the animal cages to the bottom so that the players had to move down before they could come to the door at the top to escape. We found that the game takes approximately 15 minutes to play. And, it was equally difficult and engaging for the humans and the zombies. We used our findings to decide where the different sounds should go. For example, we put more zombie sounds on the middle ladder because during our testing the zombie spent a lot of time there. We put more subtle spooky house noises around the outside because it was a lower stress area.

Next, we redeveloped and improved the board, game pieces and cards. On the board, MacKayla painted selective squares with conductive paint. We chose the squares based on our findings from the first test. She was careful not to accidentally connect the conductive squares, as this would create a short circuit. She then painted the static squares red to add to the spooky theme. Pam and Katy made the players, cards and animals out of more resilient cardboard and paperboard, compared to the testing packing peanuts. This way they could stand up and last longer. Pam also created hats for the human players to hold the animals they collect. We added legs to the board so it could stand sturdily and support the soon addition of electronics.

After this, we began to incorporate the sound effects into the game. To test it first, we connected a single wire to one of the conductive squares on the game board to one of the electrodes on the Touch Board, but we unfortunately found that nothing happened when we touched the paint. By playing around with touching the electrodes with only our fingers and attaching the wire to other conductive surfaces, we concluded that the paint on the game board was not conducting properly - there wasn’t enough. We solved this by adding another three coats of paint and then tested again with the single wire. This time, the sounds worked as they should.

Once there was enough conductive paint, we took the next step of connecting all of the conductive squares on the board to the appropriate electrode on the Touch Board. We marked each conductive square in pencil with the corresponding electrode number (E0-E12) and assigned each electrode a specific wire color. We started by using toothpicks to poke holes in the corner of every conductive square. After that, we striped the ends of wires and poked them through the holes. We connected the wires to the conductive squares using clear tape. Then, underneath the board we grouped together all of the same colored wires and made a parallel circuit using alligator clips to connect them to their corresponding electrode which trigged its particular sound effect.

Here, we ran into the issue that while the game board was conductive, our cardboard play pieces were not, and without some conductive material between the player's fingers and the conductive squares on the game board the sound would not be triggered. We solved this by stripping wires and running them down the sides and across the bottom of the play pieces so that when the player gripped the sides of the piece the wire would bridge the gap between their fingers and the conductive square. This does work as long as the player takes care to hold the piece where the wire is, but it is something that could be improved upon in later iterations, perhaps by decorating the play pieces with paths of conductive paint so that it looks nicer and covers the entire surface of the piece.

Once the game board and play pieces were finished, we attached the Touch Board to a battery pack instead of a laptop, and neatly hid the Touch Board and battery pack under the game board. We then connected our speaker and tested the game again.

Demo time


This was a really enjoyable project to work on. We all learned a lot about how to design and develop interactive physical technology through experimentation. We now have more of an understanding about how physical interactions and technologies work and can play into our future projects. It was a fun mix of making and learning. We liked working in the lab without an assigned project or deadline. We felt more free to experiment with the materials that are available there without worrying too much if the outcome would be a success. We were surprised by how engaging the game was to play. After this project, the materials in the lab feel much more approachable. We feel proud about what we made all together.

Going forward

We also learned a lot through error, for example the conductive paint was not as reliable as we had hoped. Our figures were not always able to stand upright on the board because of the wires wrapped around them and the wires coming from the Touch Board. Going forward, we would look into resolving these issues by using different materials or methods to create our characters and the board. We have discussed making a higher fidelity prototype with more durable and stable materials. We thought about maybe remaking the board out of wood and laser cutting the design. We also would like to make the players out of conductive materials themselves and use the proper Bare Conductive ink to paint the squares because it is stronger. The one thing we have done to move towards our future goals is making a 3D printed die, so we no long have to use an app. We made it funky and uneven to add to the spooky and fun atmosphere of the game.

Rules of the Game


  • 3 humans
  • 1 zombie

Human objective:

  • Collect the rat, bat & cat and return to the safe zone to escape
  • Once you have your animal(s) you can wait in the safe zone for the other(s)
  • Humans without an animal can stay in the safe zone for one turn to escape from zombie(s)
  • Humans may pass zombie
  • To win: one or more humans must end up in the safe zone with all animals

Zombie objective:

  • Turn the humans into zombies by landing on their square or passing them
  • To win: turn all humans into zombies before they escape


  • Choose card (human or zombie)
  • Zombie begins the game then the humans procede clockwise
  • Each player rolls a die & can move that number of squares in any direction
  • If a human gets turned into a zombie while they have an animal, they must leave the animal there and another human friend must come and get it