51 Mechanics: Modular Board

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BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?

Depending on how the board is built (at the beginning of the game, or during the game), the modular board mechanic offers an intriguing take on the question of replayability. In essence, when the board is set up, for each and every game the board is different. For a player who has a lot of experience playing a particular game, that means that there's no benefit for being a regular player in mastering the board itself. It remains a place of strategic contention. Modular board games are exciting in part because of their modularity. They're great examples of game mechanics for gamifying teachers because what they allow a teacher to do is construct an otherwise abstract space (a house, an island, a continent) in a way that maximizes the importance of random factors. The random factors might then be integrated by the students in some way during game-based learning. Indeed, the mere building of the modular board might serve a valuable game-based learning lesson.

Betrayal at House on the Hill (BGG Rank: 412)

One of the most fun games of the last fifteen years, Betrayal features a team of not-especially clever haunted house enthusiasts who decided to visit the titular House on the Hill for an evening of wackiness. As players move their characters in the house, they draw floor tiles that correspond to the floor they're on (attic, basement, etc.). In this way, the floorplan of the house is revealed. Players can generally only reveal one new tile at a time and as certain kinds of floor tiles are placed in the house, it triggers a "haunt check" to see if the cooperative game that they players are playing converts into a "traitor vs. team" game at that point. It always converts...when and in what way makes the game especially exciting.

Catan (BGG Rank: 278)

The game that in many ways got the modern board gaming movement off the ground, Catan (or Settlers of Catan for us old timers) has a board that you construct from a series of hex tiles every game. There is a pattern one might follow from the rules, but experienced players just put the tiles on the table and go for it. A very strategic resource game melded to a luck mechanic that determines what kinds of resources will be produced on a particular turn. If you haven't played Catan, you really should.

Dominant Species (BGG Rank: 49)

The heaviest game on this list, Dominant Species is a simulation of the rise of life on Earth. Players take on an abstract kind of life form (amphibians, insects) with very specific advantages and disadvantages. The players object is to become the Dominant Species. A good example of a game one could play out of the box (in a high level Biology class or Ecology), This game will strongly challenge even the most sophisticated players. And it's got a highly strategic action point system that adds to the challenge.

Dungeon Twister (BGG Rank: 759)

In Dungeon Twister, two players face off against each other with two goals in mind - escape from the dungeon...and/or prevent the other team from accomplishing this goal. Every game is different as the tiles that form the map are set up randomly. What Dungeon Twister uniquely brings to the modular board mechanic is a fiendish square on every board that when activated allows the player on the square to rotate the board she's standing on...and the other board in the game that shares the same number. Fantastic, maddening game play.

Escape: The Curse of the Temple (BGG Rank: 414)

The Escape games are great because they play in real time and the modular maps make it impossible to remember how best to escape. Because this game plays in real time, it might be a good fit for a short review exercise or an equivalent task.

51 Mechanics: Dice Rolling

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BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?

Is there any more ubiquitous mechanic in game design than dice rolling? If there is, I'm not sure what it is. Dice rolling is one of the ancient aspects of game playing. In my book on gamified instruction and game-based learning, I discuss dice rolling as a way of expressing a fundamental aspect of games - alea or luck. There is no tool better able to simulate the fates and fortunes of players being at the mercy of the gods than dice. I would need at least a handful of additional hands to count the number of times I have lost a game that I was all-but winning because of the roll of the dice. Let's face it, dice are fun to throw, they're fun to play with and they're fun to hold. They're a lot less fun when they betray you, but alea can often lead to the other great game mechanic that I cite in the book, ilinx, or disorientation. The advice I give to gamifying teachers is to beware overuse of luck mechanics in gamified instruction, as players will feel that their grade being dependent on a die roll is capricious at best. Still, if you're interested in how dice play a role in different kinds of games, give these five a try.

Near and Far (BGG Rank: 166)

Near and Far, part of a series of games designed by Ryan Laukat, is a campaign-based fantasy game where you develop characters, level them and compete with each other to ultimately conquer a world boss at the end of the game. Near and Far is a game you should play in any case because of how well designed it is and how easy it is to learn as a storytelling game. Its use of dice helps the players understand probability and making effective choices.

Roll for the Galaxy (BGG Rank: 55)

What I love best about Roll for the Galaxy is that it serves as the Platonic Ideal for dice-based civilization building and exploration games. I find Race for the Galaxy, Roll's parent game, totally bewildering, but for whatever reason, Roll is much more accessible. In Roll, you are given the opportunity to acquire a host of different kinds of dice that each do different things based on their fundamental identity and on how they're rolled. Use this game to give you a sense of how to create a gamified learning experience based on dice doing a host of different things based on defined factors.

Roll Player (BGG Rank: 390)

Roll Player takes what many consider the best part of roleplaying games, character creation, and makes that process the whole of the game. In Roll Player, you are trying to maximize the statistics and background factors of a specific character you've chosen to design (a female Orc cleric from a noble family? Sure!). Over the course of the game, you roll dice and select dice from a common supply and as you place them in your display, they trigger special powers associated with each of the six statistics. Great fun, and again, a very different way to use dice from what you've come to expect.

Sagrada (BGG Rank: 208)

Sagrada, published in late 2017, is a game where each player takes on the role of a stained-glass window creator. Each player is given a pattern to work from and a set of special abilities and special rules that apply only to him/her. The luminous dice themselves, over time, form the stained-glass window. One of the most beautiful games of recent memory, this one will give you a whole new appreciation for what dice can do in a game and how they can be used in very different ways.

Xia: Legends of a Drift System (BGG Rank: 155)

Xia is another game where you are exploring the galaxy and building. It's not a civilization building game. Rather, you are a ship's captain and over the course of the game you are attempting to improve your reputation in the "drift system" by means of dozens and dozens of different actions. The dice here are used in ways that are pretty conventional, but given all of the different ways you might win this game, they factor big time.

51 Mechanics: Deck/Pool Building

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BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?

When the deck building mechanic arrived on the scene about ten years ago (essentially with the publication of Dominion), it was widely regarded as one of the most innovative and intriguing mechanics to appear on the scene for a long time. In some respects, it is to this particular mechanic that we can look as the agent of the huge rise in the contemporary board game hobby. In deck building games, you start the game with a basic deck of cards that do very basic things (like allow you to buy other cards or attack monsters or build some kind of resource). But the key here is that these basic cards are exceptionally basic. The goal here is to build an "engine" of specialized cards that, when triggered off of or triggering each other, cause the player to gain dramatic benefits. In the early days of the mechanic, the cards were all there was. Increasingly this mechanic is featuring game boards alongside the cards. Indeed, some games that are primarily board games are using the deck building mechanic as an add-on or parallel. Because this mechanic asks the player to assess the relationships between different cards with regard to their synergy, the deck building mechanic is unusually aligned to those who want to do game-based learning or gamified instruction.

Dominion (BGG Rank: 65)

Dominion belongs on this list because it is the spiritual father of all of the other games that use this mechanic. Some might complain that its too Euro for their tastes (in other words, that the theme is a bit arid and the game is really about its mechanics), and I would acknowledge there's a bit of that that's true, particularly with the first few expansions. But Dominion has now been expanded nearly a dozen times, adding literally thousands of cards to the game and making the engines one might build essentially impossible to foretell or anticipate. It's this that makes Dominion so fresh even though it's more than a decade old. The basic mechanics of the game are unchanged, but by adding an assortment of different cards with supplemental mechanics or new implementations of old mechanics, the game which might have seemed so straightforward, becomes compelling again.

Above and Below (BGG Rank: 146)

Above and Below is the only game on this list that I've included that isn't purely about the cards. It's a deck builder, but its even more a card drafting and storytelling game. There's so much going on in this game. Totally worth your time as a playing experience, but not strict as a deck builder.

Paperback (BGG Rank: 300)

Paperback is a letter-based deck builder in which the players are buying letters in the hopes of being able to construct better and better (in terms of point value) words. Certainly one of the most innovative implementations of the deck building genre, and a great tool for helping students develop their vocabulary.

Mystic Vale (BGG Rank: 407)

Mystic Vale is a deck building game of the "card crafting" variety. The cards are all plastic and sleeved and as large as proper tarot cards. At the start of the game, some cards are entirely blank (they have no features or powers) while others have only a negative effect. Very few cards have a positive effect. Over the course of the game, your job is not only to buy the correct upgrades for your cards, but to sleeve them effectively so that their powers resonate rather than fail to trigger. One of the more fascinating developments in the deck building genre that sticks to the cards and doesn't introduce other elements.

Eminent Domain (BGG Rank: 419)

The fun thing about Eminent Domain is that it successfully captures what makes a civilization-building (exploration, discovery, technology trees, social development) great and melds it nearly perfectly with a deck building game. A pretty good example of a game you could play out of the box if you wanted to get your students some experience with playing around with civilization construction. The Eminent Domain engine is not super difficult to learn, either.

Cover image: [https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1928335/paperback]

51 Mechanics: Card Drafting

BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. Next up?

The next mechanic on the hit parade is one of my all time favorites - card drafting. And judging from the ranking of card drafting games in the Top 100 on Board Game Geek, it is a huge favorite for millions of players. Card drafting games are all over the BGG Top 100, and they're there for a reason. These games, even when they are complex, have an accessibility that belies that complexity. Moreover, the ways in which the mechanic expresses itself can take forms of subtle difference, keeping the mechanic fresh even when it has been redeployed. In a card drafting game, players use some form of in-game currency (resources, cash) to shape their decisions about cards to buy from an assortment of cards or tiles that are presented to them. In some of these games (like 7 Wonders), players have a deck of cards from which they draft (acquire) the card amongst the deck that they believe will give them the greatest advantage. In other card drafting games, players might have to buy cards with resources from a tableau of cards (like Splendor). The upshot of this is that cards in combination give the player more power to buy, draft and acquire other cards that are more expensive and give greater victory points. There are very few games in my experience that feature this mechanic that aren't great fun. Here are five worth looking at:

Castles of Mad King Ludwig (BGG Rank: 66)

In "Castles" you're trying to build your own version of Schloss Neuschwanstein, the notorious 19th century castle ordered built by Ludwig of Bavaria. In this game you aren't drafting cards. Rather, you are drafting rooms in the castle, all of which are looking for different kinds of rooms to be next to, rooms to not be next to and so forth. A wickedly interesting valuation mechanic rounds this game's experience out.

Mage Knight (BGG Rank: 15)

On the heavier side of the board gaming hobby, Mage Knight is nevertheless worth the time required to get its unique opportunities under your belt. The card drafting mechanic is just one of many mechanics in use in this game, but it is an essential one if you're going to come out ahead in this game of combat and exploration.

Paperback (BGG Rank: 268)

In this game, you take on the role of a pulp fiction writer trying to write the best and most valuable book you can to make the most money before the end of the game. You do this by acquiring letter cards to augment your deck of "basic letters." The better letters you have in your deck the more likely it will be that you can make more sophisticated words, allowing you to advance further than your opponents. Written by the always engaging Tim Fowers. Don't miss it!

Sushi Go! (BGG Rank: 302)

Sushi Go! is one of the most accessible games on the market that actually features a set of strategies for success. In this game, you are trying to assemble combinations of sushi from a deck of cards that gets passed player to player. Getting the combinations right usually makes the difference between lots of points and not so many points. Fast and playable with anyone at nearly any age group.

Terraforming Mars (BGG Rank: 8)

In Terraforming Mars, you play global corporations collaborating to, you guessed it, terraform Mars. You want to make sure, however, that your corporation does the best possible job in terraforming Mars, which leads to the competitive nature in the game. You draft objectives and capacities from a huge deck of cards and use these to shape the destiny of your corporation and your perspective. One of the most popular games of the last year for a reason!

Photo from: [https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2459587/castles-mad-king-ludwig]

51 Mechanics: Acting

BoardGameGeek (BGG) is a singular repository of gaming information, knowledge and wisdom that has been serving the modern board game hobby since 2000. I consult it regularly and have used its database to manage my own game collection. I also used it when I was writing my 2016 book on gamified instruction, particularly with regard to the game mechanics that BGG identified and organized content into. While there are more than 85,000 games, even now, there are just 51 mechanics. Since every mechanic offers something to the teacher who wants to use games in the classroom, I'm going to use this section of Game Level Learn and my own contributions to it to assess games from each of these 51 mechanics. First up? ACTING.

Described by BGG as "a mechanic [that] requires players to use some form of mime or mimicry to communicate with the other player," the Acting mechanic is great for developing or assessing interpersonal skills, non-cognitive relational skills and social dynamism. When combined with a role-playing framework, it can be used to study social frameworks that otherwise might not be easily understood. There are some dynamite games that feature the Acting mechanic. The five you should consider playing straightaway are:

Cranium (BGG Rank 5616)

Cranium is a classic party/family game which is really closer to four distinct party games in one. In one segment of the game, players have to act out characters. Straightforward charades in some respects, but its the structure of the game that lends itself to the gamifying teacher. While you can certainly play this out of the box and get some learning benefit from it, what happens when you use its charades mechanic for a concept this isn't human, but more abstract (like "complementary colors" or "acute angle"). Asking students to do charades for "electron valences" or what have you could be an intriguing learning mode...at least for some.

The Last Banquet (BGG Rank 8497)

Being able to accommodate 25 players is not normally in the wheelhouse of the typical board game, but it works for Last Banquet. It's a rather nifty "intrigue at the royal court" scenario in which each player is trying to accomplish his/her goals by misdirection, manipulation and skullduggery. "But Dr. Cassie, I don't understand why anyone in Game of Thrones" would act that way?" Take out Last Banquet and, without the lurid sex, you've got an answer.

Mysterium (BGG Rank 121)

One of the great games of the last five years. In Mysterium, one player plays a ghost and the others play psychic investigators trying to discern the answers to "who/where and with what" that makes the game Clue work. The hitch? The ghost communicates only by means of abstract (and quite beautiful) image cards that are meant to suggest truths without actually pointing to them. Playable in an hour, this is a great game to develop the social skills of younger people.

Quelf (BGG Rank 13083)

Sort of like Cranium, but rather than playing yourself, you're playing a particular character. Fun...and a bit chaotic.

Spyfall (BGG Rank 255)

Ridiculously good fun and perhaps the epitome of the Acting mechanic. In a round of Spyfall, each player is dealt a card from a common deck. Every player but one gets a card showing a location. One player gets a card that says "spy." The spy is trying to figure out where everyone else is. Everyone else is trying to figure out who the spy is. Each player gets to ask another one question. Go. Fantastic fun. Easily reskinned for purposes of helping students understand literature or history.

[Thumbnail photo from: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2955983/spyfall]

Around the Classroom In 80 Games: Campaign Trail

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It’s election year here in the US and for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to detail an assortment of board games with election themes that one might use in classroom settings. Nearly all of these games are going to work just fine in a high school setting. I don’t know of any election-themed board games that are appropriate as published for elementary school students.

 

What’s good about this week’s game - Campaign Trail, published in 1983 by GDW and long out of print - is that it would be totally accessible to a middle school audience. In fact, it’s probably better for middle school students than for high schoolers. To its credit, it is just about the right length for what it is. It shouldn’t require much more than an hour to play this all the way through.

Campaign Trail, as a roll-and-move game, simulates the grinding quality of campaigns very effectively. It also does a good job of representing the value of successful planning. Its gameplay is very straightforward. I played the heck out of this game in the 1980s and enjoyed it because it did reward planning.

The game features a number of random event cards that captures pretty well the vicissitudes of a national campaign. Unlike Candidate, it isn’t very good with representing money in American politics and it doesn’t care at all about issues, identity or ideology.

If you can find a copy of Campaign Trail, you might use it in your classroom to:

  • help your students understand the sheer size and scope of the United States and how easy it would be for a candidate to struggle to get his/her message to be understood across the full breadth of the country. It doesn’t hurt that the game makes air travel somewhat exotic and can serve to help the student understand the nature of retail politics before the air age was fully emerged.
  • investigate how candidates had to position themselves near larger cities in order to maximize their votes.
  • help students understand rudimentary polling. As candidates win states based largely on their visits to those states, a candidate needs to be able to discern how close they are to their opponents in a variety of states and determine whether that state could be won.
  • provide a framework in which to jury rig part of the game. One could have students create candidates that would give the game greater subtlety and personality, for instance.

Around the Classroom In 80 Games: Candidate

Candidate. From: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/266101/candidate

Candidate. From: https://boardgamegeek.com/image/266101/candidate

It’s election year here in the US and for the next couple of weeks, I’m going to detail an assortment of board games with election themes that one might use in classroom settings. Nearly all of these games are going to work just fine in a high school setting. I don’t know of any election-themed board games that are appropriate as published for elementary school students.

The problem with election games lies in the complexity of what they’re trying to represent. Elections in the United States are vexingly complicated and long. There are intersections of questions about money, policy, character and history in play as well as sometimes significant differences region-to-region and state-to-state. These differences are quite difficult to model. As a result, games generally ignore them. This leads, unfortunately, to a situation where the game is really only modeling one aspect of the broader election experience. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s worth noting.

Candidate, published in 1991 by Avalon Hill, does a good job of modeling two aspects of the campaign: the importance of money and the transitory power of scandal to temporarily derail a campaign. The object of this and nearly all election games in the United States is to get to 270 electoral votes. This one is no different. It plays quickly and is pretty engaging, even though it is not a particularly thorough representation of federal election politics. It’s closer in some respects to a simulation of the primary process if the primaries were held according to the same rules that elections are held under.

I would use Candidate in the classroom:

  • to give students a feel for how the money race in American politics works. Sometimes it really is a matter of simply having enough cash to hold on through rough patches and to wait for the news cycle to break against your opponents.
  • to give students a very general feel of the rough-and-tumble of a campaign season. Each player has 5 cards normally to play in a particular context (there are rules by which a player gets more cards, but most players have only 5). How to manage those cards, this resources? If you blanket the campaign with scandals in the first pass, will you inadvertently create an opening for an otherwise weak opponent?
  • to help students understand the relationship between lower electoral vote states and higher ones. Because this game pays no attention to issues or ideology, it’s useful to understanding electoral politics as a purely numbers game. It’s more like a primary simulator in this regard as well, as it comes closer to capturing the flavor of Barack Obama’s 2008 primary win (by cobbling together delegates from lots of smaller states).

Around the Classroom in 80 Games: 10 Days In Africa

For a time in the mid-2000s, there was hardly a game day that didn’t feature one of the “10 Days In X” hitting the table. Whether the game was “10 Days in Africa” (my personal favorite because the map is pretty strategic to manage, making the game a little more engaging for adults and strategy-minded players), “10 Days in the Americas” or one of the other variants, these games consistently got played because they were fun (naturally), harder than they seemed and were really engaging to the puzzle-solving, pattern-making brain. Engaging to the adult, equally engaging to the child it seems to me.

All the games in this series could be used by teachers without modification to help students develop a sense of spatial relationships within the continent in question. In an American setting, many students don’t know that Egypt is in northern Africa, Guinea is in the west, Tanzania the east and Namibia is in the south. Simply knowing this could be the spur to curiosity that we need to see more of in American education. Students would, of course, benefit from having exposure to all of the different continents on offer in this game series.

But more than straightforward geographic awareness, what might a teacher of students between grades 3 and 7 do with a game like this?

War and Chaos: the teacher could introduce the study of war by showing how it disrupts lives. Every four or five turns, for example, students playing a regular game of “10 Days” might be told by the teacher that all routes that went through a certain country or region were no longer eligible to win because they were too dangerous to cross. The teacher could then assign students to study these areas of war and chaos as part of a more comprehensive learning objective.

Travel and Cost: Travel isn’t cheap! Students could build a route in the game and then do a project afterwards to understand what would actually be required to travel on that route in real life. This might include pictures of airports, airplanes, ground transportation and a budget worksheet. They could then act as travel agents selling their route and why its the best.

Personal Narrative: Students could play a game of “10 Days” and then use the journey they create as the skeleton for a story they would write about a character who might have travelled as they did in the game.

Interest in regional studies, economics, social justice, literature and history could all be enhanced by a round or two of this game right out of the box. It’s a great model for gamifying instruction as well, but that’s for another day.

Around the Classroom In 80 Games: 1960: The Making Of The President

John F. Kennedy token positioned on Massachusetts; from https://flic.kr/p/4jWYU4

John F. Kennedy token positioned on Massachusetts; from https://flic.kr/p/4jWYU4

Happy Monday, gamer teachers? Or should that be teacher gamers…something to think about.

This week’s game of the week is a fiendishly tricky 2-player game published a few years back called “1960: The Making of the President.” Despite the fact that “1960” is a 2-player game, it is surprisingly suitable for use right out of the box in a classroom context where learning about the election process is the order of the day. It might also serve the purpose of helping students learn to accomplish a goal in a large, complex team. My sense is that it would be a great fit for any high school grade and potentially a solid fit for grades 7 and 8 with high interest / high ability students. The complexity of the game mechanics would not align with students below grade 7.

Published by Z-Man Games in 2007, “1960” quickly rose in the estimation of gamers due to the sophisticated manner in which the game depicts the shifting landscape of an American presidential campaign. Moreover, because the nature of American politics means that campaigns last months or years, the game engine has to keep shifting that terrain over the course of the game. The skill with which the game pulls this off is one of the reasons why the game is so effective (and so effective in a classroom context).

The biggest challenge facing you in using “1960” in your classroom centers on the fact that it’s a 2-player game. You are going to have to create teams of players to represent each candidate’s campaign. I believe this is actually a better representation of the complexity of managing a “media age” political campaign. The fact that different forces might be at work in a campaign pulling it in one direction or another or pushing it towards consensus is actually the way things work. Diminishing the omniscience that is embedded in a 2-player game actually helps. But you will have to do it yourself. Perhaps you divide your class into teams of 4 or 5 and assign them to represent the Kennedy campaign or the Nixon campaign. Teams of 4 or 5 are ideally suited to the game as the game is played over 9 turns. This would allow each player to have at least one and sometimes two turns where they could be placed in the position of "campaign manager” - breaking ties on the team, having responsibility for allocating resources or however you saw fit to sort out the responsibilities.

While the game is an excellent representation/simulation of how the political process works (or doesn’t) and how the ebb and flow of daily change can swing a state back and forth between candidates, it is even better as a source for understanding highly time-bound events in American history. The game’s authors have given very careful thought to the salient events in the campaign. One could almost read the card deck  used to power the game as a rich historical source in-and-of itself. Students could be encouraged to keep a running journal of events they choose to play and at the end of the simulation they could be asked to reflect on their particular series of events and how that series helped/hurt their candidate. Individuals might be asked (as an assessment) to more deeply research one of the cards their candidate played. Maybe the final assessment (in addition to the reflective essay that I think is a natural for this learning experience) is to design a new card that might fit in the context of the game?

 

Around the Classroom in 80 Games: Machi Koro

Machi Koro...player 1 nearing victory. From: https://instagram.com/p/zJD6uBDDhY/

Machi Koro...player 1 nearing victory. From: https://instagram.com/p/zJD6uBDDhY/

For the past six months or so I’ve been playing Machi Koro as many times as I can get it to the table. The charming art goes a long way towards making it a game I’d like to bring to the table again and again, but in reality, the simple yet complex game play is probably what brings me (and I bet many others) back to the game over and over again.

Machi Koro is a game of city construction. Players are trying to gather wealth (from an assortment of city buildings they choose to buy over the course of the game) by rolling a six-sided die (or two, if the player’s city is sufficiently advanced) and having the die match wealth generating buildings in their city. The object of the game is to build four particular buildings called “landmarks,” namely the Station, the Shopping Mall, the Amusement Park and the Radio Tower. Once a player has built all of these landmarks, that player wins. Simple, strategic and with a healthy dose of luck.

Teachers, particularly teachers of elementary school age children, could use Machi Koro in their lessons in a number of different ways.

Consumption and Production: Buildings in Machi Koro represent different kinds of resources. Students studying the game as an artifact would be able to use its abstractions as a springboard to a deeper understanding of resources for consumption and those for production.

Wealth and Wealth Creation: a simple social studies unit on capitalist economics could be enhanced by playing just a couple of rounds of Machi Koro and having students then discuss how the different buildings worked, the effect of luck on their success and what buildings they might have purchased to have greater success.

Local Models: Students are often asked to think about what makes their particular part of the country special. Students could play a few games of Machi Koro and then redesign/reskin the game based on their interpretation of their own city and what makes it special. For example, I live in Pittsburgh. The four landmarks for Pittsburgh might be: Union Station (trains), CONSOL Center (hockey venue), PNC Park (baseball stadium) and Heinz Field (football stadium). Students could then share their different versions of their cities with parents who could be taught how to play the game. Machi Koro is so straightforward, it can be taught in two minutes.

Teachers interested in very straightforward urban studies could use this game as a model for thinking about cities. What makes them function? What’s missing in this game-utopia version of city life? Where are the people? The workers? Where are those things that make living in a city problematic? 

Machi Koro is an example of a game that gives great game play and immediate in-classroom application at all levels K-12.

Around the Classroom In 80 Games: ZENDO

Looney Pyramids , the tool of critical thinking and scientific reasoning in Zendo.

Looney Pyramids, the tool of critical thinking and scientific reasoning in Zendo.

"Around the Classroom in 80 Games" is an ongoing series about directly using games of all sorts in the classroom.

Zendo, designed by Kory Heath and published in 2001, is a game of thought, critical thinking and reasoning. In the game, a "Master" selects a card from a deck that describes an assortment of different states into which Looney Pyramids might be arranged. These cards could describe a huge number of patterns into which these game pieces could be arranged. The Master starts the game by constructing two such patterns. One conforms to the card's rule; the other doesn't [these rules are expressed as mystical koans..."the koan has the Buddha nature if and only if..."] The players then build patterns from the supply of pyramids attempting to discern the actual pattern or koan shown on the Master's card.

Looking at the photo above, one can note that there are red pyramids stacked on top of other pyramids (as well as one on its side in the background...I'm going to leave that out for this argument). how might this match the card? The card might say: "The koan has the Buddha nature if and only if it has two red pyramids stacked atop at least one other pyramid." Or it could say "The koan has the Buddha nature if and only if it has two stacks, one with a small blue pyramid and one with a medium green pyramid." And so forth. If a player uses his turn to guess the pattern, the Master either acknowledges that the answer is true (and the player wins), or must build a pattern from the pyramids that matches the card but not the player's guess.

Zendo is a masterpiece of design for a teacher who wants to use games in the classroom because of the purity of its rules. What's the game about? Reasoning and critical thinking. Any teacher with an interest in having students work on developing their critical thinking skills directly and purely could use this game successfully. Winning the game depends on the same kinds of skills that scientists use every day to study whatever concerns them. Consider past evidence...build a working hypothesis...test that hypothesis...lather, rinse, repeat.

Your Assignment: Set up your classroom in stations with one station being Zendo. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Have students play as many rounds of the game as they can in 10 minutes (it's very likely they won't even complete one round) and then reflect on their thought process while they were playing for 5 minutes. In the next classroom, use the Zendo method to demonstrate a principle that they can apply going forward in your discipline.

"Game On"

Zendo - a great game for learning about the scientific method and critical thinking.

Zendo - a great game for learning about the scientific method and critical thinking.

This site is a community for gamers, teachers and students to learn from each other and to make games and game-based methods a bigger part of their learning and their work. This section of the site is devoted to the games themselves. The games I'll discuss in this section will usually have three properties:

  • They are fun to play.
  • There is something about the way the game works that could be applied to a learning context.
  • The game isn't necessarily a game one would play in class (without modification).

The argument I'm making is pretty straightforward (and there are plenty of folks who disagree)...the game mechanics that make games fun is more important to teaching and learning than any individual game.

Perhaps this is your first go-around with games and education. If so, what follows is for you. This is a version of a blog post I made a number of years for those new to games. I hope it helps if you, like them would say "I understand how play might motivate students and I know my students play games, but I don't play games. Where do I start!" 

The best place to start is by doing a little mental inventory. Surely nearly everyone has played tic-tac-toe, checkers, chess or backgammon. I bet you've played Candy Land or Chutes and Ladders or Uncle Wiggly. You've probably also played other great games of the American golden age of games like Monopoly, Sorry, Clue, Careers. If you've played them, you've got a good start on the basics of game mechanics and game-based motivation.

From there, let me make some suggestions (and if you haven't played these games, find a 5-year old and break out Chutes and Ladders...a far better game than Candy Land, if you ask me…).

Got a smartphone? Try Words With Friends (which I play and would be happy to play with any of you - my WWF id is joncassie) and Angry Birds (which I don't play, because I know I'll get sucked in and never get back out). They are pretty good examples of mobile play. WWF is asynchronous, which is a feature of a lot of games these days.

If you've graduated beyond Monopoly and Risk, I would start with one or two games, generally considered "gateway" games to the more complex German-designed boardgames. The first is called "Settlers of Catan," in which you harvest and combine resources to build a settlement on the island. Simple rules; complex strategy. The other is called "Ticket to Ride," in which you are building a railroad network across the country trying to link up certain cities (which you have in a hand of cards) while your opponents are trying to build their own network. I like "Ticket" a lot more, but "Catan" is a classic. Or visit your friendly, local game store (just about every city and town has one) and get their suggestions. They may have better ones. If you're interested in 2-player games like checkers and chess (abstract strategy), see if you can find a copy of Dvonn or Zertz. Both are 2-player abstract strategy games, highly accessible and very, very fun.

If you've got a gaming console (a PS3, Wii or Xbox), I would heartily recommend games like Super Mario Galaxy (for the Wii) as a definitive example of what Wii is about or the Wii sports games that make such great use of Wii's special motion controllers. I have heard outstanding things about games like Assassin's Creed and L.A. Noire has received enthusiastic and well-deserved praise.

If you've got a desktop or laptop computer, you can't go wrong with Portal 2, an insanely fun puzzle game with a deep story element. I have long been a fan of The Sims franchise as well and Sims 3 doesn't disappoint. Directing the lives of your avatars (sims) as they grow up and live their lives is totally addictive.

The final frontier in gaming commitment might be the MMO. I play World of Warcraft and, now that the first twenty levels are free, you could get a sense of how the game works without taking the big plunge. Other MMOs are much smaller and I don't have any experience with them, but I'd love to hear from players of these other games.

So - go play and report back!!