Boardgaming in Education – 1


I’ve always been into playing boardgames. When at junior school the last day of term would mean students brought a boardgames to play and that is what we did for the day. I loved learning the rules and playing with other students in my class. I remember always wanting my own copy of the game of life.

I loved this game. When I was 8.

Each year at Christmas at least one of us (we were 5 sons!) would be given a board game. We would than spend the time after our Christmas supper playing the new game before bed.

As we got older the games became more complex. In the early 1980’s I discovered Games Workshop in London, back when it sold components for boardgames (Monopoly hotels, dice etc) as well as unusual games from the likes of Avalon Hill- Advanced Squad Leader, The Third Reich etc.

This was a proper war-game

I then left for University and played some interesting MB Games boardgames, such as Space Hulk and Advanced Hero Quest, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Magic the Gathering. At one point I remember in one of my degree courses being encouraged to play (and develop) a game based on the Krebs Cycle [More of that in a later post].

There was then a big gap before I got re-exposed to boardgames. My brother Triston became a computer games programmer (I’m probably one of a handful of teachers that can say they are characters actually in a computer game- Black and White 2 as well as The Movies). He played, in addition to the now Warhammer focussed Games Workshop offerings, an eclectic range of boardgames. Games such as Settlers of Catan, Carcassone and Agricola. He introduced me to the ‘new wave’ of boardgames which altered my view of what a boardgames could be.

Agricola is a type of ‘worker placement’ game

These new games relied more on strategy than luck, often with no dice to be found.

At JRCS I started a board gaming club to get students to experience this newer, more exciting gaming experience. I also went to some board gaming meets in London pubs where I saw even more boardgames – different mechanisms, themes, styles. Since then I have played (and collected) games with my family. I’ve kept up to date with’s list of top games and have had hugely entertaining gaming sessions with my family and friends. Now in a school in new Zealand, though, I have not continued to play boardgames at school.

At the end of August I went to the NZCER Gaming for Learning conference held at Te Papa in Wellington. This was a fascinating conference looking at gaming as a pursuit, and gamification. I attended a number of sessions, all of which were thought-provoking and stimulating. One of these, run by NZCER’s Rose Hipkins, focussed on the attendees present creating their own board game.

At the session it stood out that many of the groups present created boardgames which had the mechanic of rolling a dice and drawing cards (a traditional Monopoly or game of Life style game). I realised that, although there has been a huge amount of change in boardgames design, many (most?) teachers are not aware of this. Consequently when we look at creating a boardgame for students or even getting the students to create a boardgame, they are not creating an experience that could be as educationally useful as it could be.

This is a chart from the excellent showing some of the many different aspects of game mechanics.

I also recently observed a lesson where groups of students were rolling dice and moving around a board, purportedly to get them interested in different cultures. I realised that, although we are moving along in education with all kinds of different techniques and strategies, that we may be missing a trick by not knowing what games are out there. What if you’re introducing a basic roll a dice game to someone who plays sophisticated computer games on their phone or console. What if they have played games like Agricola? Are they really going to be enthused by rolling dice; is it going to be the best way to learn?

Playing a board game is much more than winning and losing, it’s about communication, negotiation and comprehension. Choosing an effective mechanism could mean that students learn more effectively about the subject content in addition to these additional skills.

So, I’ve decided that I’ll have a go at updating anyone that is interested in the various different board game mechanisms and try to show how these could be integrated into a curriculum. And then it’s up to you whether you try to introduce the mechanic to your class.




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