Master Heebs (@MrHebertPE) has this really interesting tool in his classroom called a battleboard. It is a table in his classroom with a 3d battlefield where students can have a D&D style board game battle. To learn more check out his site mrhebert.org and buy his books Press Play to Begin and Insert Coin to Continue to learn about his gamification style. I really liked the idea of a board game style mechanic and (up until now) had tried to use digital tricks to add these elements but my students have told me that they think they have too much screen time in school. Therefore, I am seeking a way to add a physical board to my game. So far I have developed a rough draft I am calling Echoes of the Past.
If you have read the rough draft outline you may notice inspiration from several of the more popular “Euro-style” board games. This genre of board game typically involves more strategy than randomness and players often play against the game rather than each other. One of my favorite games in this category is Pandemic. I think will make a great model for a semester long game!
Rather than right out all of the rules here is a video overview of the Gameplay. It’s 5 minutes so ahead and watch and come on back.
Ok. Pandemic is awesome board game right!?
I have been inspired by several of the game’s mechanics to change my overall classroom games.
Collaborative Win Stakes
Pandemic is a game that requires players collaborate rather than trying to defeat each other. The players are competing against the game to achieve the win stakes. Each player has to make their moves individually but the group can strategize together and the groups win or lose together.
This is part of the ever present Competition versus Collaboration debate. I don’t think competition is always a classroom negative. Competition can allow team building and heightens creativity. That said, sometimes competition does lead to “breaking” the system (skirting or breaking rules) and can create negative feelings between the competing groups. A Collaborative effort can encourage a positive class culture based on empathy and interdependence. If this is not being used for a game setting a collaborative victory can be found in other classroom activities. A socratic seminar or student academic conference that is based on a conversation and discussion rather than a debate is an example. Debates imply winners and losers but a discussion and reflection does not place more value on one point of view or another.
My half-baked game idea
In my Echoes of the Past Game I have developed 3 different win stakes so far. Each of the “wins” will require some level of collaboration between the guilds. These do need to be fleshed out a bit.
- Survival – Students need to ensure that a Time Zombie outbreak (like the virus outbreak in Pandemic) does not occur in each National Region (6 Nations on the map with 4 regions in each) before the end of the semester.
- The Zombie Control Accord – One Guild from each Nation will travel to every other capital and convince the other nation to sign the Zombie Control Accord. There are some conditions once there.
- The Oracle Fix – There are 6 Oracles (locations on the map) that will require a class effort to solve a History based riddle which will unlock an important source. The Guild that traveled to the Oracle will need to travel back to their capital without losing the source in a battle.
Differentiated Player Skillsets
At the beginning of each game every player receives a randomized a special skill set. These unique skills are used individually during the game these but the acts are best used in conjunction to maximize each player’s special abilities. Pandemic is basically the opposite of Monopoly where each player is out for themselves. Each player contributes to the whole victory but will be playing the game in a unique way.
Each of our students comes to school with unique skills and background knowledge. Allowing choices in the classrooms helps students to demonstrate their learning in engaging ways. The amount of choice might vary and should fit into the overall design of the course but choices are important.
Another way to use this in a classroom is to give students different parts of an assignment. A technique called the Student Academic Conference uses this concept very well. Small groups are divided into two subgroups. Both teams within the group are given the same documents but are asked to find evidence that support opposite sides. Rather than debate each side will explain their argument and the other team will have to repeat it back until they show understanding. Then the group needs to come to a consensus on the issue. It can be either side of the question or some third option after discussion. Taking this a step further each student can form their own opinion as well. It removes the competition of the debate while deeply exploring different perspectives.
My half-baked game idea
In my game I plan on having 6 Nations. Each nation will have a particular special skill. For example, the member guilds of the Orhzov Syndicate will have the ability to sail on ocean at the beginning of the game whereas other nations will need to collect some items to build a boat. Another example is that the member guilds of the Rakdos Confederation will be able to travel twice as fast when in their own territory. After initial onboarding, each guild will be able to join a Nation and weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each Nation will factor into their decisions and ultimately impact the way the play the class game.
Randomly Generated Obstacles
In Pandemic, after each players’ turn a cards are flipped that shows the cities in which a virus outbreak has occurred. The challenge of the game is to achieve the win stakes (finding a cure for each virus) while also ensuring that there is not an explosive pandemic. There is a constant pressure to balance these different objectives.
There is often a goal in education to remove obstacles. This is an important mission when it comes to providing equity within the classroom. Games show us that in other circumstances obstacles are the source of creativity. Basketball would be no fun if the players could just pick up the ball and knock over opponents. It is the challenge that comes with overcoming the obstacle that leads to creativity. Activities like asking a student to argue a new perspective, limiting the number of words in a piece of writing, requiring illustrations within a traditional essay, or eliminating the letter E are all ways to add some obstacles that require creative thinking.
My half-baked game idea
Some students are really engaged by “battles”. The mechanics are not really important at this point but the engagement for the student comes from the “Killer” mechanic type. They want to have some control over the actions on the board or on the other players. The random virus outbreaks mechanic will be very useful for this in my “board game”. Rather than a virus though I will have Time Zombie Outbreaks. The board is broken into 6 nations with each nation divided into Quadrants. Each Monday and Tuesday I will pull 2 “Zombie Outbreak” cards out of a deck of 96 cards (each quadrant with 4 cards) and a Zombie Outbreak will occur in that region. Student guilds will need to travel to that region to engage with the Outbreak. If an outbreak occurs in the same region while an outbreak is already present a second zombie pin will be added to that region and a zombie outbreak will be added to two additional regions connected to the double infected zone. For example, if it is the Southwest section of the Rakdos Confederation an outbreak would be added to the Northeast of Azorius and the SouthEast of Izzet League. This will require at least one guild to travel to the Zombie Outbreak and “clean” the zone. I am still trying to decide if each Zombie type will have a different battle requirement. For example, multiple choice questions, timed analysis, organize images into chronological order, etc…
If each region has a zombie outbreak at any one time the Zombies will win.
A Relevant (or Passionate) Theme
The Pandemic centers around the threat of a biohazard outbreak. This threat is a fear that we can all relate to and allows the player to feel some emotional stakes. Without the theme in place the players are simply trying to stop small plastic pieces from covering a piece of cardboard. With the theme in place though the “Essential Why?” is answered. The player can imagine themselves as a Medic or Strategic Planner entering a city and can picture the wave of sick men women and children lying in hospital beds. They can feel the impact of cleaning a city of the disease and can abstractly think about the impact of finding a cure. The theme plays a role in engaging the players in doing the hard work of creative, critical, and collaborative thinking.
When discussing theme and narrative with other teachers I am sure many have walked away with eye-rolls and headshakes. Since you have read this far I am sure this is not you dear reader; however, this is something to consider. My answer is that the theme may not be necessary but helps give students an immediate objective while learning long-term skills. As an American History teacher I believe that it is vitally important that students learn Historic Thinking so that they can become active and informed members of the society – but this is a long term impact that students may not see for years. If I tell them that they are learning this content so that the can also destroy time zombies and learn life long historic thinking skills it is far easier for them to engage.
My half-baked game idea
Time Zombies. The basic concept is that something happened in the past that has caused a rift in the timestream. The rift is sucking up historical figures and turning them to Zombies and depositing them in this mythical fantasy scape. The students need to develop their historical thinking skills which will help them battle the Zombies, move around the board, and repair the rift in the Time Stream. I am still torn on whether or not have a “Big Bad” that caused the rift that will need to be defeated. I am leaning towards not doing so as it would mess with the 3 “win conditions”.
Inspiration can be found in many locations. Video games had always been my first source of inspiration but over the last year or two board games have become more of a staple in my family. As I am moving away from digital elements to more physical designs I am sure this will be a new source of inspiration.