I'm a new 6th grade math and science teacher at an urban public school in California, USA. I've just been given a tentative okay to teach a board game design elective that would meet for 50 minutes daily (:D). The catch is that there's only 2 weeks of summer vacation left to start planning this beast, but passion and long time lurker aside, I'm relatively new to board game design myself.
If you've got ideas about how to structure a class like this for around 30 11-12 year old kids with limited prior experience playing games, I'd be super excited to hear them.
Also, if you've got games of your own design or in your collection that you don't want anymore for any reason, I'd love to add them to my class library so my kids can research the wide and wonderful world of board games. Send me a PM if you have a game or games you'd be willing to send me.
Here's what I've been thinking so far:
I want to start the class with a bang so I want them to just jump right in to designing a game the first class. It should be a simple, quick, accessible game jam. I'll have all the prototyping materials out and just let them have it. They can talk to each other about their ideas, but I want every single student to walk out 50 minutes later with a playable game. Their homework will be to play it at least once and write about what they and any other players thought about the game. I'll need much more explicit prompts for this.
On the second class, we'll start by talking about their experience the previous day. Then we'll get into games they've played, their favorite games and why they like them. Their homework that night is to change their game somehow to make it better. They should write a brief explanation of why they think the change will improve the game and then they should play it at least once and write a quick note about how it went.
Third class, we'll talk about strategy, skill, social interaction, and luck and how those show up in different combinations in different games. We'll look at games that are overwhelmingly one type or another and also what games could lie in the intersections. We also might distinguish strategy versus tactics.
The next couple of classes we'll be playing games and talking about them. I welcome suggestions be they PnP games I could reasonably make copies for for 30 kids, or published games I might be able to buy cheaply or get donated.
Maybe starting each week off with a game jam would be cool. At any rate, the second week should focus on the concept of mechanics so they can start recognizing and thinking more concretely about their game as a "thing".
The third week we can talk about theme and how to use themes to guide mechanics.
The fourth week can be about tension and how mechanics create tension.
The fifth week can be about experience.
Then the last three weeks are all game design projects.
Questions, comments, ideas?
When you complete your course design, please share it here.
I haven't thought this through, but here are some random ideas.
You may want to describe the different categories of games (Euro/Ameritrash/CCG/...) or maybe have a glossary of terms used in board game design.
How about a list of available prototyping tools (Gimp/nanDeck/...)? Or online resources (BGDF/TheGameCrafter/BGG/...)?
Depending on timing, why not a class assignment to enter the GDS?
Like I said, random thoughts. However, I really would like to see the final course design!
Just some random ideas here...no particular train of thought yet...
Is there opportunity to tie this back to material from other classes? I haven't been a 6th grader for a looooong time, but somewhere around that time I recall learning about fractions, statistics, multiplication/division? Nearly every game has some mathematical foundation.
If the students have limited game play experience, would they be better off working in teams with assigned themes or mechanics?
What is the one thing you are hoping the students will take away from your class at the end of the year?
chance, randomness, what makes a good game? what breaks a game? why does everyone hate monopoly? why is monopoly one of the best selling games of all time? what is each student's favorite game and why?
It looks like you have a good framework so far!
Maybe design a simple game yourself and have the class design an event deck for it? I think that isn't too difficult, and that would give them the feeling that they've done something on their own. This causes one problem with the rest of your plan, but that's easily fixed:
The rest of your plan looks very good and solid to me.
Feel free to decline, I can definitely understand why you wouldn't want to use a game that's in playtest state. However, I can also see why it would be good to have your class play a game that's not complete yet.
Check out Scott Nicholson's work about gaming in libraries, a lot should be applicable (http://www.gamesinlibraries.org/course/)
I'm going to go ahead and tell you that you probably want to seriously re-evaluate your teaching method. Even in an elective class, you're not going to get 100% buy-in or participation on the first day. Also (and those of us who are so deep into the culture as to be on boards like bgdf.com often forget this) your students likely don't have the mental models to design a game on the first day nor are likely to have the home support to be able to playtest that same night.
I'd recommend that the first week be based on Fluxx (no wait, don't leave!). It's a cheap game so you can have multiple classroom copies and it's very easy to teach in its default setup. The kids play the game the first day, you categorize the cards the second day, do some math modeling on the third day. The fourth day the kids (in groups) must pick a desirable set of rule cards --- i.e. instead of "draw one, play one" place these rule cards face-up at the beginning of the game. On Friday, groups present and you discuss how each group's choices would make the game work differently.
I think the best big opening bang would be to let the students simply play games. Throwing them in at the deep end and asking them to design something might be a big ask, which could de-motivate them.
Simply showing them an open door to wonder will captivate them instead. I mean, who doesn’t love playing games? You can’t ask for a better icebreaker.
In relation to the course structure I might suggest splitting it up into bite sized chunks - sectioned by game type or inherent game mechanic.
Auction Mechanic – For Sale or Homesteaders
Hidden Person Mechanic – Citadels or Werewolf
Route Building – Settler of Catan or Ticket to Ride
Worker Placement - Zooloretto
Set Collection / hand management – Bohnanza
I’ve tried to pick games that are reasonably cheap, readily available and encompass a short playing time – so you can fit them into 1 class. I should also point out that many games feature multiple mechanics working together.
Giving the students the opportunity to learn about all the different mechanics will give them the foundations to design games – I tend to think of the mechanics as a tool box.
Start the week by playing a game with a specific mechanic. Explore the mechanic in the next class and set a home task of logging into board game geek where the students can look at variations of the mechanic – in video form (which is easier). Then ask them to choose one variation and explain why they liked it and chose it in class.
You could split the course up this way, covering two days. The reaming days could focus on the physical aspects of game design, production, artwork, game pieces, board layout, and all sorts.
Another day could explore the social implications and history of game development. The final day could focus on their own game designs, bringing them in for play testing, discussing ideas and so on.
You could also split up the curriculum in terms of components, cards, dice, moving pieces and so.
It might be an idea to give small groups of students different games at each session and different tasks, providing reading literature for each mechanic and so on. That way the knowledge of the different mechanics could be distributed to the class more quickly. The class as a whole would gain knowledge of the mechanics and they could work together – sharing their knowledge amongst each other to build up their individual awareness.
You could start their game designing off slowly. Perhaps give them a broken game and ask them to identify what is wrong with it through playing and then submit their correction. Alternatively, give them an existing game and ask them to improve it or design a new game using the game pieces.
In relation to a game that could serve as a broken mechanic I would offer up Ratuki, which plays like a sack of crap. However, the card images and content are simple which would make it a perfect candidate for a re-design into something else.
Ratuki is also available in my local pound shop for, err £1 – at least it was the other day I was in. I will gladly buy and post some copies over if you want – for free. I’m happy to contribute to a good cause that promotes game design and game playing in general.
I can probably round out the package with a couple of other small games from my collection as well. However, these wont be great games, because I like playing my good games :) If you look on Tanga you can pick up some cheap games at the moment that could suit your needs as well.
Burrows, Wicked Witches Way, Magical Athlete, and Hornet are currently available for a knockdown price. Not the best games in the world, but hey, they’re cheap :)
There was a competition on the geek awhile back where artists submitted artwork and designers then had to create a game using this artwork. You could download the stuff and let them loose on it.
I understand the desire to start with a bang, but if this is going to be a long-term class it is far more important to start with ground rules and expectations and "Get-to-know-you" stuff. Then, SCAFFOLDING!! Assume they know nothing about board games and teach them what you know! I would actually start the first few weeks by PLAYING games and then analyzing them. Then...well, lots of places you can go....
I like the idea of starting with a known "broken" game, particularly one where it's easy to identify the brokenness. Why not start with a quick game of a roll-to-move with no choice points, like Snakes and Ladders? Or something like Strip Jack, which also contains zero choices*? Then ask them to identify why having no choice is undesirable, and what they could do to introduce choice to the game. Maybe then, pull out a game that actually incorporates such a change - for example, Slamwich uses the Strip Jack mechanic, but also includes two other mechanics that require actual thought (or one, if you want to argue that seeing a slamwich and seeing a stealer both count as the same mechanic). Or for RTM, find a game that has selectable paths.
Of course then, you spend the remaining time teaching them why RTM is such a terrible mechanic in itself ;)
* Except, of course, the choice to switch to a better game.
Thanks everyone for the feedback, it's been a huge help.
I don't know that the design will ever be "complete" but I'll certainly post course outlines and eventually lesson plans as they evolve. I'm a big believer in the power of free information.
Absolutely. I plan on suggesting they use the stories they're reading in English, or the period they're learning about in Social Studies, or geology (from their science classes), or math concepts in their game design. Since I'm a math and science teacher, I'll definitely be pointing out the connection to math frequently.
It's actually a 9 week class that I'll teach 4 times (or an 18 week class I'll teach 2 times, I'm not sure yet), but I know this is just an introduction to the concept of modern board games and game design as a hobby. I want them to leave the class with the basic concepts of mechanics, systems, and themes, and I want them to feel comfortable making crude prototypes of their ideas and then refining them.
Awaclus, if you translate your game into English, I'll take a look at it for my class. I would love to show my students in progress, "unfinished" games. I plan on showing them a few of my own designs which range from Prototyped to play test ready but not prototyped, to just a vague idea. I really want to demystify the process for them, peel back the curtain so to speak.
Constant re-evaluation is essential to good teaching. A few people have mentioned it here and elsewhere, and I agree. I think starting them off playing games is a more than sufficient "bang".
It looks great, unfortunately he's removed all of the videos so there's not much actual content on the site. It looks like I'll have to buy the book to get any of his thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, I've already spent about $70 on books for this class alone (and another $60 for my science class) and there are still games and bulk components to acquire!
I think you're probably right. The biggest problem then is getting the games. I'm fine with using lots of PnP games, but this means I'll be making dozens of them over the coming weeks in addition to all my other prep work, that's a little concerning, but I'll do what I've got to do.
More later, thanks everyone.
I didnt make it into town as planned :(
However, I did have a rummage through my own collection. I'll need to look into postage costs to ship them over - hopefully it wont cost the earth.
I've tried to stick to small sized games to make posting more viable. So far I've come up with -
2 copies of Ratuki (bought to use as backing card stock)
2 copies of By Golly (unused christmas presents from the Works sale)
2 copies of Gloria Pictoria (Works sale again)
Genji (cheap postage filler from Ludibay)
Einfach Genial (to dry for my taste - Knizia)
Pizza Box Baseball (should be ideal, again not my cup of tea)
An old version of Fluxx
Family Business (no idea where from, but I have 2 copies so it must have been cheap or part of a deal)
I can also send a spare copy of Hare and Tortoise - if you dont mind it being without its bulky box. This is the game that brought me back to gaming many years ago - so it would make a very fitting inclusion. I was gonna slice the board up and re-back it to make a travel version (but I've never found the time, chuckles)
I've listed the reasons why these games can go so you can be sure I'm not putting myself out by donating them. And you will be helping me out by taking them off my hands - freeing up space to buy something new :)
Have a look and if they meet your requirements drop me a PM with a postal address and I will begin the hunt for a box to ship them in.
(1) Three simple ways to start them all out playing games cheaply:
(a) "Everyone bring a game"--kids can show games they have to others in small groups. Kids can write analyses of their experiences after playing as HW/classwork.
(b) Go to goodwill and other similar stores and buy cheap games (but watch out for missing crucial pieces).
(c) Card games--you can buy a dozen packs of cards and teach them a few simple games right away...
(2) Thanks for the inspiration! I stopped by my new school today (I'll be teaching 7th gr Soc Stud) and asked if I could teach a game design class (potential mixed with chess club) for the 30min club period. They said that would probably work...I'm excited about it!
This is such a great idea! i really hope its an awesome class.
My very first thought was one I've seen mentioned a lot already, so I wont harp on it too much, but I think your day one plan is possibly a little much. however, the idea behind it is solid, and kids will be excited to MAKE something of their own, so my suggestions would be to try it, but consider a few points/alternatives:
1. If they are not avid game players with a wide range of mechanics and themes in mind, it will be difficult for them to design AND prototype a game in a 50 minute class. Some suggestions to get this ball rolling is to challenge them to think of a board game (or card game) they like and re-imagine it. If they enjoy monopoly, what could they do to make an EVEN BETTER monopoly game? What could they add to Battleship to make it even more fun? how would they change the rules of Risk to fit into a fantasy battle theme? How would they make Yu-gi-oh playable by more than 2 at a time, or combine movement with the card battling for a different expereince? Even if they are only doing minor tweaks to what is already there, it will start them thinking about the process of designing games and help build investment. Also starting from an existing framework means it will be easier to complete (less base decisions to be made) and also quicker to get to a playtestable version (especially if you have copies in the classroom- maybe from a thrift store?- that they can get to work modifying).
2. Another consideration is to have them work in groups. More ideas, more hands to cut/paste/write cards. Better for playtesting (it will be hard to get each of them to play each others games... they wont know how to make quick and easy games out the gate and you may have designs that take "hours" to set up and learn/play.). Working in a gorup means they already have built-in invested playtesters, and groups can swap prototypes for feedback.
3. Another take on a gentler approach to designing your own game is to have the students think of their favorite video game, and try to figure out how they could turn that into a board or card game. You could give a quick example with something like Frogger or Mario Kart, showing how the jump over stuff or race around the track gameplay could be simulated in a board game (this doesnt have to be a fully designed game ,you could draw/mock it up on the board or show overheads to demonstrate the process of turning those ideas into a game concept), then have the students take a stab at it. This approach has the benefit of direction while still allowing absolute freedom, and the boost of relating to video games, which is a plus. Especially since I bet you'll have a least a few students who want to be video game designers or think the class with be about video game design, and it gives you a chance to relate how board game design is a process that leads to any other sort of game design. you can mock up a prototype of almost any video game in analog form and test mechanics or ideas pretty easily... much easier than coding a digital prototype! A riff of this idea would be to have them make a game to simulate a specific task or event they are familiar with. Either way, providing something to base gameplay off of will be important to getting some students even started on the idea.
I'd highly recommend "Challenges for Game Designers". That book is the course you're teaching. At the very least, go to Amazon and look at the table of contents. http://www.amazon.com/Challenges-Game-Designers-Brenda-Brathwaite/dp/158...
I'm a teacher too -- mostly with 5th graders -- and I want to say that your idea of starting them off with actually designing a game is both ambitious and brilliant. Probably the game they design will be "bad" from an objective standpoint (I'm betting you'll get a lot of Monopoly and Yugiyoh clones), but making a Good Game with a solid mechanic and/or theme is not the point of the exercise. Rather, you are showing them that they have the power to create a game. Presumably, you can also have them look back at their first game at the end of the semester to reflect on how far they've come (kids are generally bad at realizing that since they constantly live in the "now").
If you instead started with an instruction to modify an existing game I think you'll just shut down their creativity. In particular I think many of them will simply say "[my favorite game] is great, I can't possibly improve it." With respect to the opinions of the others on this thread, children are ENDLESSLY creative, and are CONSTANTLY making up games. Any trip into the playground will confirm this. They don't need a rigorous background or notable examples or an understanding of mechanics and math to get started. If you put the materials in front of them, they will make things.
However, I do think you need to temper it a little and give them some boundaries. Some kids especially will freak out if you give them a completely open space for creativity -- the blank page is pretty terrifying, even for seasoned creators. Also, whoever suggested working in groups was quite wise. Probably you don't want more than 3 or 4 to a group, to make sure everyone's voice can be heard.
One way to do this: give each group a rich theme (off the top of my head: pirates, space, politics, land warfare, making a movie) and an easy-to-understand mechanic that directly lends itself to physical pieces and a board (roll and move, area control, MAYBE worker placement, but definitely NOT deckbuilding, co-op, or action-point allowance, each of which deserve their own unit later in the semester). Obviously on the assignment sheet you'd want examples of mass market games for each of these mechanics (though worker placement might be hard). Think of it like a mini-GDS.
You can give different theme and mechanic combinations to each group, or you can give everyone the same set and see what they come up with. Make sure you give them a chance to present to each other.
Make sure each table has some basic supplies like pawns, dice, pre-cut cards, material for a board, plus more basic construction materials if they come up with other components. Have the assignment sheet start with some simple guiding questions like "what is the goal of the game (how do you decide who wins)?" and "who are the players pretending to be? (possible suggestions for the pirate theme: pirate captains, honest merchants, crewmembers on a single crew, royal navy admirals)" and "what is the single-most important verb (action) that players take during the game? (attacking/defending, buying and selling goods, searching for treasure, eliminating secret pirate hideouts)". Once they answer those questions they should already be well on the way to designing a game. Even if it's not "finished" they should be able to get SOMETHING in 50 minutes that they can then take home and finish over a weekend, or else finish on day 2. Filling out the sheet will still feel like an exciting accomplishment because they'll have designed the game in their heads, they just need to execute it.
I think ilta makes a good point here...although designing something on day 1 is ambitious, it might be interesting to see what they did on day one and how they would fix their day 1 game at the end of the course.
* Giving your students a framework or criteria to meet for their first game is wise. It is easier to be creative in a restricted environment. You could make a mini-game of it by having them draw a "theme" card and a "component" card, both of which they have to incorporate into their game.
* Exposing your students to existing games that are "different" will help them break out of the mainstream styles.
* I have a slew of print-and-play games at my website: http://www.invisible-city.com/play/521 - Feel free to use what you wish to.
Best of luck! I hope it turns out as well as (or better than) you want it to.
Thanks for your thoughts:
* I've actually already started building a "THEME" deck and a "MECHANIC" deck. I'll introduce the former to them on the first day, where they'll get to draw 2, pick 1. As the class goes on, I plan on turning it into a mini-trading game based on the original Civilization's trading mechanic. You draw 5 mechanics and then you have the option to trade exactly 3 of them with another person. You have to tell the other person what 2 of the cards you'll be giving them are. After they make one trade, they have their assignment!
* Since I have no budget to buy games, the exposure issue has been a little tricky. I'm willing to bring in some of my collection for this, but am leery of using too much of my own stuff. I've been asking for donations from a lot of people (unwanted games, clearing out collections, etc.), and sending tons of emails to publishers. Rio Grande is sending me a very generous package.
* I plan on introducing them to the world of PnP at some point in the class, but want to wait until they've begun developing an appreciation for their own homemade games. I think starting them off on PnP will feel "fake" or "cheap" to them because they won't yet understand all the work and love that goes into them (the good ones anyway). I'll keep your games in mind for sure.
Here's the game in English: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/16948609/TheDarknessEnters_en.zip
I taught two years of computer in Gardena High School, later taugh two years of board game design in middle school and high school in Taipei, Taiwan. Last year, I held six board game design workshops in China and Hong Kong.
I never taugh 6th grade before, but maybe I can give you some suggestions from past experiences for teaching 6th graders.
1) Play first. Something as easy as snake and ladder http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/5432/snakes-and-ladders
While playing the game, explain different mechanics within the game, how the number of space can affect playing time.
2) Apply. Show them how to create a different snake and ladder providing variation in dice, number of space. Then put them in group of 2-3 to design a varient game.
3) Playtest. Have them playtest each other's design.
Don't make the whole thing complicated. You want them to enjoy the design process and have fun. If they can pass that, they can crash Monopoly.
Congrats on your new class. Anything I say here would just echo what others have said. So instead, I'd like to point out that my company (The Game Crafter - www.thegamecrafter.com) offers free prototyping materials to educators. We can get you blank cards, mats, and even tuck boxes for your students to design using markers or crayons. No catch or qualifications. If you're interested, drop me an email: jt at thegamecrafter dot com