If you search online for “geography games” or “geography board games” you’ll find a bunch of boring and arguably pointless trivia games that are just, well, trivial. Trivia games reflect a common misunderstanding of what geography really is and how to learn about it. Geography isn’t about memorizing encyclopedic facts any more than psychology is about memorizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. All-in-all, “geography” board games fall short in the content department, and in the fun department.
Seaman playing Risk… and Battleship! (Photo by William P. Gatlin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
With this in mind, I’m beginning a multipart series on geography-infused games. In future posts, I hope to integrate your feedback and the opinions of expert educators and gamers, along with more in-depth analysis of specific games. Today I’ll discuss the educational merits of classic board games, as well as a few obscure favorites of mine.
Board games have so much potential to make learning geography fun and engaging. Unlike video games, they give us an excuse to interact with actual, physical, tangible maps. Unlike atlases, they let us to do things on the map, like navigating them with ships, cards, and figurines. At best, they should illuminate the interactions of the physical, human, and biological world. At the very least, they should explore time, place and space in an interesting way.
Why did I feel like I had to include Risk? Maybe because it is the first map-based game that most of us played as kids. But beyond the general shape of the continents, the game doesn’t have any real-world geography to it. The silly sub-regions actually confuse our geographic knowledge because the country and region names are mixed-up and wrong. Why is it that Ecuador and Bolivia become part of Peru? Why didn’t they just generalize it as the Andes? (Yay! I think I found a topic for my thesis…). If you want to keep the fun military strategy and lose the bogus world map, check out this highly accurate version of Risk set in Middle Earth. Ages 12+, 3-5 players