[bliff] making and testing the olfactory board game

Bliff is an olfactory board game in which players’ olfaction (sense of smell) is the only sense required for them to advance through the game. Players are given various challenges regarding their sense of smell, and their ability to answer these challenges will be rewarded with certain number of moves.

The design of the board game was inspired by existing traditional board games such as Chinese Checkers and Ludo, based on the facts that these games are already familiar to people in general and its simplicity enables players to play the game without learning many rules. This consideration was also taken because olfactory games are practically new and unfamiliar (thus it requires player’s adaptation), so other game elements should be simple and easy to play.

Bliff was developed as a part of my graduation project/research entitled: “Bliff: Exploring Olfaction Autonomy in Olfactory Board Games” for the MSc Media Technology programme at Leiden University. The project was supervised by Edwin van der Heide and Maki Ueda.


To make a game, there are several elements I had to make. However, since neither my paper nor the physical product of the game is copyrighted, I limit the description of game elements on the making of the scents only.

The scents in this game are used as pawns, and they are contained in small bottles I bought at a drogist (drug store) in Den Haag. In total, I needed at least 18 different scents to be contained in 39 bottles. Since extracting ingredients to get all those different scents could take really a lot of time (which I didn’t have, unfortunately), I bought some of the ready-made scents essentials oils (most of these I bought at Dille and Kamille) and food essences (available at most supermarkets). Those which were not yet available in liquid forms (or too expensive to buy one) I extracted the scents of the ingredients using alcohol.

I went to media tech classmate Ali’s place to extract these ingredients because he has an electric stove at his apartment (as alcohol would be a terrible combination with gas stove), and helped by Maarten, we made several “perfumes”.

Some of the ingredients were successfully extracted, yet some of them not. But at least I had enough scents for my game.

making the scents

some sniffing teasers before the game sessions


Since game development is an iterative process, I needed to test my game to see whether it worked or not. Basically the game should be engaging yet does not create olfactory fatigue. I held 11 game sessions with a total of 22 players in the span of 2 weeks. I asked them to play and I observed the game play. I also asked them to fill in questionnaires to know what the players think towards the game.

the finish product

game sessions

Bliff: Exploring Olfaction Autonomy in Olfactory Board Games” was presented on Friday, 18 February 2011 at Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden alongside Hanna Schraffenberger’s work “On The Liking of Modern Art”.

Thanks Yous!
Edwin van der Heide (for his supervision).

Maki Ueda (for her support and inspiration/reason why I wanted to make a project on olfaction).

Maarten Wesselius (for his support, helping me in smell extraction, and be the first test subject).

Marijke van Gorp (for her support and preventing me from malnutrition 😛 ).

Hanna Schraffenberger (for arranging the graduation presentation).

Ali Elgin (for lending his electrical stove)

Peers: Maki Ueda, Stelios Giannoulis, and Polly Oskam.
The Players (Maarten W., Marijke, Linda, Carl, Cindy, Daniel, Maarten vd Mark, Alwin, Vincent, Polly, Heike, Nisaar, Stelios, Maarten M., Jan Jaap, Joris vd Bos, Avi, Ainil, Lucine, Anouk, Rianne, Lieven).


3 responses to “[bliff] making and testing the olfactory board game

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