Games part 2: BYOB (Build Your Own Board games)

2011-06-16_0000015.JPGIn 7th grade I created my most memorable school assignment: a Risk-style board game based on a map of the 13 original U.S. colonies. Forging the mechanics and the content of the game challenged my intellect, and deepened my understanding of U.S. history and geography. The assignment also left me with a tangible product, something more useful than an essay.
Alison, my wonderful co-intern, has a similar story: “In 8th grade I made a game called ‘Communist Monopoly’ for an honors history class. Essentially, you had to hold onto your idealism as long as possible, and not be corrupt. But, the game was designed to make you cheat the system…eventually you had to sell off your family members. I made the game to make a point.”
Making board games is a great educational tool, and we hope this post inspires you to make a game about…whatever interests you! To get you started, I’m sharing the wisdom of game enthusiast Eric Kugler, who sent us some great game design advice after he read our first games post.

I met Eric before he ever read the first board games post, in fact–his wife, Tracy, was one of my geography professors at Middlebury College. The Kuglers indirectly informed the first part of this series on games. Eric encouraged me to play Settlers of Catan, and it was Tracy who turned me on to National Geographic Trivial Pursuit.
Here are some of Eric’s insights on board game design:
Deterministic vs. Free-form games
In the design of games, much consideration occurs about geography.
In the simplest of games, geography is determinate.  Take Candyland or
Chutes and Ladders for example.  The board is laid out to drive the
player’s pawn to a specific location, and depending on a randomizing
factor (cards or a spinner), the board interacts with the player.
There is little skill involved in the simplest of these games because
the play is entirely deterministic, while, in a more robust game–say
Monopoly–the decisions made are to mollify negative effects, or
improve positive effects of the deterministic nature of the geography.
In more free-form games, the designer has to choose what type of board
he will use.  There are basically only a handful of options for equal-sized and connected spaces–triangles, squares and hexes.
The Geography of free-form games
In Chess, geography is a huge part of strategy, as the board is split
into zones of control, and the player who can control the center of
the board is most likely going to win the match.
When designing a map game like Risk, it is important to delineate
discrete regions which can be controlled, but, just as importantly, [regions]
which can be taken over.  Look at Europe and North America.  Both are worth 5
armies, but North America has only three points of entry–Alaska, Greenland, and
South US.  Whereas there are more entries into the Ukraine than that!
So, when evaluating whether to try and take a continental bonus, Europe
is significantly less attractive than North America.
Real vs. fantasy geography
Map games often suffer from inaccuracies due to the needs of play
outweighing the needs of accuracy.  The current trend in imaginary
locations helps to alleviate that problem somewhat.
How can we make educational games fun?
The question shouldn’t be about how can we teach [a given] subject, but
rather how can we make an engaging and fun game around the
subject matter we want to teach?  Monopoly is a great example, as it
is not heralded as a very educational game, but it does teach several
very important real-world skills, including negotiation, handling
money, the problems with borrowing too much or too little, finance,
taxes, and the street names of Atlantic City.
You can visit Eric’s website for more posts on games and you can also see his homemade Role Playing Game (sorry, no board games on this site). 
To get real-world base maps for the games we’re sure you are now inspired to develop, check out these mapping tools on the National Geographic Education website.

Compiled and edited by Cedar Attanasio, for My Wonderful World

Photos from My Shot Your Shot
Hopschotch by Halllie Palsgrove

One thought on “Games part 2: BYOB (Build Your Own Board games)

Leave a Reply