6 School Subjects Supported by Games (part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of my last post about games that can help with school subjects, but are actually fun! Please read that first if you haven’t already, it covers the most common subjects of Maths, English/Language and History. In this post I will cover three more school subjects with perhaps slightly more tenuous links to board games, but I think they are valid nonetheless.  So without further ado, let’s get on with it!

4. Drama

Useful in the subject of drama are the ability to act outside your normal personality and also to observe how others behave in different situations. Social deduction games are perfect for this. This sub-genre includes the really fun Werewolves game, that I wrote about before and the inspiration for Werewolves: Mafia.

Another nice example of a social deduction game for a smaller player count is The Resistance. This is a 5-10 player game where you act as a group of rebels who go on missions to try to bring down the evil Empire. Some of the group are undercover empire spies however, who try to sabotage the missions without anyone working out who they are. Players take turns in going on missions, and use their deduction or bluffing skills to choose the right people to go with them. The ‘goodies’ are trying to pass the majority of the missions, while the spies are trying to sabotage them.  The situation can get quite tense, as you don’t know who is who, and it can make for a great different gaming experience.

Before moving on the to next subject, I do have to mention murder mystery games as another really good way to flex your acting muscles. There are several of this type of game available on the market, mostly designed to be played during dinner parties. Generally each person is given a specific character to portray and act through various rounds with clues to who the killer is being slowly revealed as the night goes on. These games are vastly improved by everyone staying in character throughout, and if anyone who hasn’t done a murder mystery game gets the opportunity to try it, I highly recommend it!

5. Geography

Geography is a wide ranging subject, covering all aspects relating to land and how it is formed. Board games have a particular field that they can help in best, and that is maps and map reading. There are games such as Forbidden Island, where the board is a map of a fictional place, and there are also a surprising number of games, mainly the wargames mentioned in the History section of part one of this post, where the board is an actual map of the real world location in question.

The best example I can think of where this is the case is actually the classic game Risk. Risk is a war game at heart, it has a tactical and luck of the dice side to it. There are a lot of spin-offs available, but the original game is played on a (simplified) world map, with each player trying to take over the world country by country. I remember as a child playing this a lot (my friend had to be red, or he wouldn’t play at all..). I mainly remember the fun I had playing, but actually, without that game, I would have no idea that there was a place called Kamchatka, let alone where it was on the map!

pandemic board
The board for Pandemic

 

A more modern game where the board is a world map is Pandemic. This is by the same designer as Forbidden Island and has similar cooperative gameplay, but with a couple more layers of complexity added. In it, you are trying to save the world from deadly disease outbreaks and you travel between major cities around the world to do so. This again has the side effect of increasing your general knowledge as to where major cities are located around the world.

6. Computing

Ok, time for the final subject that I am going to cover: computing.  Or more specifically, computer programming.  Surely you can’t learn programming skills with an unplugged, completely-in-no-way-electronic board game?  Well, there is a board game that covers almost every subject, so yes you can!

Potato Pirates is a very new game that just came out in late 2017.  It is actually so new that I can only find it for sale on the maker’s website at the moment.  As a lot of games do these days, it went through a Kickstarter crowd-funding process to be able to launch it.

potato_pirates

The game comes with a pack of cards and a bag of mini potatoes, which are your pirate crew.  You also get some ships for the potatoes to sail.  The idea of the game is to attack (boil, mash or fry!) the other players’ pirates by building up a series of attack cards, and also collect the pirate king cards before anyone else.  So how does this teach coding?  Well, there are a lot of programming concepts that are common to any programming language, such as loops, conditional statements (IF), and handling variables.  The attacks that you build up use these concepts, so you may have a card that says ‘Mash 2 Potatoes’.  This used on its own would be ok, but if you combine it with a For card, e.g. ‘For 3 times > Mash 2 Potatoes’, it can be devastating!  Learning a programming language with all of its intricate syntax requirements can be daunting, but knowing the fundamental concepts goes a very long way and this game teaches these concepts while also managing to be a really fun game about potatoes!

 

I hope this post has inspired you to think more about the educational benefits of board games, for children and adults alike, and I am always interested in learning about new examples, so if you have any ideas of your own, let me know!

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6 School Subjects Supported by Games (part 1 of 2)

Before writing this blog, let me get one thing straight – I play games primarily because they are fun to play. I enjoy the aspect of learning the rules to a game, and how to exploit those rules to perform in the best way. I also like seeing all those playing having a good time.

Aside from learning rules and tactics though, there are several games that as you play actually help with learning skills and concepts that are useful in the real world (if you ever want to venture out there..). A lot of these type of games may fall under the umbrella of ‘educational’ games and toys, the kind that are very obviously made for an educational purpose, and in that sense immediately lose any aspect of real fun that the designers may have desired them to have.

The games I want to highlight today are examples that I have played where the game aspect is given as high priority, if not higher, as the educational element. This means that anything learnt after playing is purely as a by product of having fun, which in my opinion is the absolute best way to learn! I have split them into easily recognisable school subjects for reference. I have only picked a few examples here, and there are obviously countless more. Let me know your favourites in the comments!

1. Maths

Maths is probably one of the most commonly used skills in games, as most have a scoring system. This is good way to practice addition, but there are a couple that go a bit further. The fantastic Kingdomino, which I wrote about previously, is a great example as it uses some multiplication. Another game that I came across recently is the lesser known Symbotica.

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Symbotica – shapes and sums

 

This is a card game where each card is a coloured shape. The idea is to place the cards so that they match the shape or colour of an existing card, a bit like another one I wrote about in this blog, Latice. The scoring for Symbotica is the number of sides of each shape multiplied together, so a blue pentagon could go next to a blue square and score 5 x 4 = 20. This is great for recognising shapes and times tables, and my primary age kids love playing it!

2. English/Language

A lot of learning a language (even your own, when you are younger) is practice and learning how to express what you want to say in different ways. A good way of getting this practice is inventing stories, and Rory’s Story Cubes are a perfect way to provide inspiration!

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Rory’s Story Cubes – prose prompters

 

This is a simple game with endless possibilities. The main game comes with 9 dice, each covered with various different pictures. To play, you roll the dice (as many as you want) and use the pictures that come out in any order to inspire a story. There is no score and no winning or losing, it is just about telling entertaining stories. While this works really well in your native language, it can also be used as a learning tool for intermediate language learners. There are several expansion sets of three dice available, and also quite a few copies of the same concept on the market. I particularly like these for long train journeys!

3. History

There is a whole subset of tabletop games known as wargames which focus on recreating various different historical battles and times of unrest. You can find ones about almost any historical period, from World War II to ancient Rome, feudal Japan to the cold war. These games tend to be fairly complicated, and are more about strategy however, and while they do give an idea of certain historical events, they are very focused on one aspect.

Timeline box
Timeline – play in the past

 

A more simple series of games that helps with learning historical facts is Timeline. Each game is a set of cards covering several historical events. The event is on one side of the card and the year the event happened is on the other. The idea of the game is to try to guess where on the timeline the event that you have happened, compared to other events already on the table. I played a British history version, but there are different versions for many different country’s histories, also for scientific discoveries, inventions and even Star Wars!

Laying out events like this in a time line really helps to visualise and understand the progress of history. After a few plays you really start to learn the historical story. There are over 100 cards, so it would take quite a few plays before you started to learn every single one off by heart.

 

Unfortunately I have realised that this post is getting fairly long now, as I could go on for a while about this topic.  I’d rather not bore people too much however, so this will be continued next week, with Drama, Geography and Computing!  Update: Part 2 is now available by clicking here!

Dixit Review – Wonderfully Whimsical Wordplay

One thing I like about modern board games is the sheer variety available. After getting more into the hobby a year or so ago, I started researching what kind of games were out there and I was amazed to see there are now literally thousands of new board games released each year. The last few years has seen a boom in board gaming, so this number is only increasing. This can be quite daunting when wondering what games to get, you are spoilt for choice! Also of course, of those thousands per year released, most aren’t amazing, and you couldn’t possibly have time to play them all anyway.

So, what do you do? Well, there are a couple of options: You could research on the net, there are a lot of great game sites with information and game reviews out there, my personal favourite being Board Game Geek. The main method I would choose though is to try and only buy games that you have played before, so you know you like. I found out about the game I will be writing about today in just this way. We played it at a relative’s and straight away it went on to our family game wish list. It is a unique, beautiful and fun game, and it is called Dixit.

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Some of the cards of Dixit

Dixit is, at it’s heart, a card game. It comes with 84 cards, and the first thing you notice when playing is that these are not your average cards. They are oversized, approximately double the size of your average playing cards, and each card has unique fantastical, whimsical, surrealistic, dream-like pictures printed on them. The images almost all have more than one element to them, and it is a pleasure just to look through the cards the first time you play! There is a board of sorts included with the game, but this is only to keep score.

 

The game itself is kind of a guessing game. Each player gets six cards. Each round, players take turns to be the ‘storyteller’. They pick one of their cards and say a word or phrase that the card reminds them of (without showing the card). The other players pick one of their cards that best matches this phrase. All of the picked cards are shuffled and laid out, and then the players guess which card belonged to the original storyteller. If the storyteller makes it too easy, and everyone votes for them, or too difficult, and no-one votes for them, they don’t get any points. In this way, the subtlety of the gameplay when you are the storyteller is to say a phrase that means some people, but not everyone, guesses your card. There is an element of luck to the game, as the other players may have cards which either fit the phrase very well, or none at all, but due to the clever way that the cards are designed featuring several similar themes, this is not an issue very often.

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This game was actually originally released about ten years ago. Since it has been very popular, and as is the case with a lot of board games, a lot of themed expansion packs have been released, and are still being made. Here are a few from Amazon, for example.  Each pack contains 84 cards with even more original and beautiful artwork, so can be shuffled in to the base game cards, or bought and played separately. The main base game of Dixit (pictured above) and Dixit: Odyssey contain pieces to keep scores. If you play other expansions separately, you would just need a paper and pen for this.

I have played Dixit with different groups of people, including young kids and adults, and it has been enjoyed by all. Younger players may find it a bit more challenging to think of words that are not too easy for others to guess, but they should still enjoy it.  The game actually changes depending on who you play with, as different vocabulary and shared life experiences may change the clues you give so this allows for good replayability. I would say that this fact, the unique concept and the beautiful art style, make Dixit a fine addition to anyone’s board game collection!

What Should I Bring to the Party? – The Werewolf Game!

Hi, it’s Tom, your friendly neighbourhood gamer here again.

So far in this blog I have mainly been talking about family friendly games that are suitable for adults to play too, but a lot may dismiss them as too childish. This is not true, but I understand what people may think.

So, you are in a situation like a party where maybe you want to play a game, but you don’t want to seem like a big kid? (like me!). Don’t worry! Plenty of games exist that are better played with adults, and even designed with adult players in mind.  To help you increase your game playing time, this is the subject of this week’s blog: Games for Grown up Parties!  Here are a couple of examples of this kind of game:

Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow

Cards from the game Werewolves of Miller's Hollow
A few cards from the Werewolves game

This is a great game for a party of at least 8-10 people, and will work best with between 10 and 18 people.  It is a social game that encourage interaction, so good as an ice breaker, but even better with people that know each other well.  There are a couple of variations of this game, such as Werewolf and Ultimate Werewolf, but the version I have tried is Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow, so that is the one I am describing here.

The game works as kind of an advanced version of winking murder, where everyone is given a secret identity and has a different job to carry out without revealing who they really are.  The story goes that a small village has been ravaged by werewolves and the remaining villagers have gathered together to work out who the werewolves really are and lynch them before they kill everybody!  In each game, each player is given a card with a role that they should keep secret – there are 3-4 werewolves, some normal villagers, and a few special characters such as a witch with powers to kill or revive other players and a psychic that can see other player’s cards.  A separate person (ideally someone who has played before) is assigned to be the Narrator, who keeps the game going but is not assigned any role.

Each game runs in night/day cycles. Without explaining the special characters’ actions, the overall game flows like this: During the night, everyone closes their eyes (it works very much on trust that nobody is peeking), then the wolves wake up and decide between them one person to kill.  After this the whole village wakes up, discovers who has died that night, then they have to decide on someone to lynch who they suspect is a werewolf.  of course, the werewolves are also posing as villagers at this point, so they have to deflect attention away from themselves without revealing who they are!  The game continues like this for usually about 3-5 nights until either all of the werewolves are killed – in which case the villagers win – or there are more werewolves than villagers, so the werewolves win.  There are a number of special characters as I mentioned which all add a twist to the main game, so these add great replayability value as they can be slowly added in each round.

I personally love this game, even though I’ve only played a couple of times.  The first time I played was with family at Christmas, and I immediately went to buy it online, it was that good.  The game itself is very cheap and portable, being only a small box of a few cards. It’s quite rare to only play one game in a session as it is a different game each time you play due to the different characters, plus the discussion and accusations flying around as you play are just great fun!

If you are planning a gathering of friends or family and are unsure of what to do, this game is a must!

Jungle Speed

The game Jungle Speed, with cards and totem
Jungle speed game setup


Fast, frantic, fist-smashing fun for four players!
This is an ingenious twist on the classic card game snap. It can be played by 2 to 8 players, but the best number is 4 or 5.  It consists of a pack of cards with similar, but not the same, patterns coloured in 4 colours, and a ‘totem’ – a small wooden tower that goes in the middle of the table. All the cards are dealt out, and play goes round the table, each player turning a card over on their go. When two upturned cards have the same pattern, i.e. there is a snap, the players have to try and grab the totem as quick as possible. The loser has to take all of the upturned cards from the winner and themselves and add them to the bottom of the pack. There are also special cards that make everyone turn a card at once, or switch to colour matching rather than patterns.

Playing this game is a really good fun but tense experience, as players are constantly on edge in case their pattern comes up. It can get pretty competitive too when going for the totem, there has been more than one hand injury in the times I’ve played. We also strictly keep a ‘no drinks on the table’ rule, as things can get (and have got) messy! Ideal time to play for us is a smaller party, when we only have another couple of people round.

Others

I hope that’s given you some inspiration and made you decide to play a game at your next party or family gathering!

There are of course plenty other party games out there, like the ‘South American liar dice’ game Perudo, where you can use a mixture of probabilities and bluffing to win, or the highly offensive (and hilarious if in the right crowd) cards against humanity, where the idea is to make the funniest and ideally rudest phrases.

So there you have it! At any party there is no excuse for not Playing Games Together!

Tabletop Games – Think you’ve seen them all?

The games Sushi Go!, Latice and Ghost Blitz
A few recently released tabletop games

Before starting my foray into non-computer gaming, I have to admit that I thought the same as most may about board/card games (collectively known as tabletop games); that they are out dated, a dying pastime and any recently made games are either cheap rubbish or overly complicated affairs, only played by super nerds*. (*I have to point out here that I consider myself a super nerd too, just with video games, so in no way I intend this term to be insulting)  Sure, I had fun with them when I was younger, but all of the good games have already been made, there can’t be any original ideas left.

But I was wrong! Over the last year or so, I have discovered that there are still great new games being made that are original and really good fun to play. To illustrate, here are three examples of great new accessible games that I have tried and can be played and enjoyed by people of any age:

Ghost Blitz

Pieces of the Ghost Blitz game: a pack of special cards and five wooden objects
The answer on the left is the ghost, and on the right is the bottle..

Released in 2010, this is a deceptively simple card game needing quick brain power and quick reactions.  It really is for any age, my four year old often beats my mother at this one!

The game comes with five wooden objects: a white ghost, a red chair, a grey mouse, etc. and a pack of cards with pictures of these objects.  For each card, one of the objects is the answer, and the player to work out the answer and grab the correct object wins the card.  if the card has a picture of an object with the same colour as the real wooden version, then that object is the answer. The tricky part comes when the card does not have the correct colour for anything.  In this case, the answer is the object that is NOT on the card and does NOT have any colour of any object on the card.

It takes a short time of playing to get your brain used to the game, but when you do it is seriously addictive!  It can cause so many moments of unsure hesitation, followed by ‘Aha!’ and then a frantic grab for the correct item. Or, if you manage to guess the correct answer before others, you can start to doubt yourself as you casually pick up the object while everyone is still thinking, then get such a feeling of relief when everyone else agrees that you were right.

I’d recommend this to anyone as a simple but addictive quick-fire game that can engage a mixture of age groups. The compact size makes it good for playing on the go, or taking along to e.g. family gatherings.

Latice

The board game Latice being played

Yes, I did spell that right.  This game was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but it already feels like a classic.  The name was chosen to be spelt differently on purpose to try and make it sound unique (although it is actually the Italian spelling for lattice).

The game comes with a board with a grid marked on it, several tile cards with different tropical themed pictures in different colours, and counters (called ‘sun stones’).  The idea of this one is to get rid of all of your cards, by placing them next to a card on the board that has the same shape or colour.  So far, so dominoes.. With this one though, if you manage to match the colour or shape of two or more sides of the square, you can win an extra turn, which can be used straight away, or kept till later. There are also special wind cards that can be used to ‘blow’ a piece already on the board by one square in order for you to play a better move.

A game of Latice starts slowly, but after there are a few pieces on the board it gets more interesting, as there are more options available and you have to plan your moves.  The best part of the game is using the extra turns to string together a long chain of moves, finishing half of your remaining cards in one turn!  The colour/shape matching is easy enough for young kids to pick up quickly, but there is a lot more strategy needed if playing with only adults, either offensively to rack up chains of moves, or defensively to block other players.  an even higher level of strategy can be used by checking the tiles already played, and therefore working out what is left.

So, this is on the surface a simple game, but it has a lot of hidden depths if you want them!

Sushi Go!

The cute cards of Sushi Go (Spanish version)

 

Have you ever wanted to play a game that simulates a sushi restaurant? Even if not, this is a great fun card game, released in 2013.

The game consists of over 100 specially printed cards, each with super cute pictures of various types of sushi.  The pictures are really very nicely drawn, and the art style and quality of the actual cards is one of the main draws of this game for me. Cards are dealt out to the 2-5 players.  There are three rounds, and the idea of the game is to collect the best scoring meal of sushi in each round.  You do this by selecting one card from your hand to keep, then passing all the other cards round to the next player, as if they are on a Yo Sushi style conveyor belt. Play continues like this until all of the cards are finished and everyone has made their ‘meal’, then points are counted. The different cards score differently, for example, you only score points for sashimi if you have three of those cards, and for maki, only the people with the most and second most in their meal score points.  This brings an element of strategy to the game, as you need to be aware of what cards are available in the round as they pass by you and also keep an eye on which cards other players are keeping in their meals.

Although the game may sound slightly complicated, after one round it is easily picked up and each card is printed with reminders of the scoring.  This really is another fun game that is accessible for children, but also holds enough complexities to keep adults interested too.

 

So, there were just a few examples of great, new, easy to pick up and fun games that are out there now.  I really am only scratching the surface though, and there are countless games like these for all skill and age levels released every year.  Off the top of my head, aside from the above three, I can also strongly recommend checking out Dixit, Forbidden Island, Super Rhino or Spooky Stairs (more for a younger audience).  If your excuse for not playing tabletop games is that they are old and boring, get out there and try one of these new titles now, you won’t regret it!

UNO! – Let’s Start With a Classic

UNO cards set out as in a standard game
UNO – An all time classic card game

Who hasn’t played UNO at some point in their lives? The fast moving colour/number matching card game that is almost as widely known as regular playing cards. This has to be near the top of the list of great games to play together with other people!

According to Wikipedia, UNO was invented in 1971 in Ohio as a slight variation of a similar normal playing card game called Crazy Eights (or Switch, Black Jack, Mau Mau, or whatever you called it..).  What makes it so great and fun to play compared to those though is the brightly coloured deck with easily recognisable symbols and numbers.  It is very easy to learn and understand the rules, making it an ideal first ‘proper’ game to teach children.  By adding complexities such as scoring and rule variations, it has enough tactical depth to keep adults entertained too.

I have many fond memories of playing this with my siblings and friends when I was younger. I still remember that great feeling of excitement when I got dealt the prized black ‘pick up four’ card (let’s be honest, I still get that feeling). Even better to get a chain of pick up fours, so some poor soul would have to have so many cards he or she couldn’t hold them!

Variations

UNO Power cards and 'Totems'
UNO Power Grab – One of the better variations

Over the years, the makers of UNO have tried to sell more by releasing their own variations on the classic. A lot of them can be found on this site, including robot UNO, a version that involves a set of weighing scales, and even one that can be played underwater!  Most of these are fairly rubbish gimmicks though, involving annoying big plastic mechanisms that do not add anything of value to the core game.  In saying that, we did get one of them for Christmas: UNO Power Grab (or Totem Power! in the rest of Europe). This adds ‘power totems’ to the game, which if you hold make you immune to certain attacks such as +2, +4, etc. This is not too bad to play and does give an interesting little twist to the tactics, worth a try if you see a set around. It still doesn’t beat the original though, that has been going strong for over 40 years.

I have, of course, taught the original game to my own children, and it has come with us on almost every family holiday. It is a perfect game for holidays, compact enough to fit in any bag.  I have also seen the educational benefits, it helps the kids learn colours, numbers, taking turns, etc., and (more importantly to me) it is a fantastic ‘gateway’ game that opens the door to so many more games and so much gaming enjoyment in the future!  In fact, all this writing about it has put me in the mood for a game right now! How about you?

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