If you're a board game fan, even a casual one, you don't need to be told that every game we play teaches us something. On the most basic level, games will teach us social skills like being a good winner or loser, how to wait until your turn, or how to work together to accomplish shared goals. If you delve a little deeper, certain games can help develop cognition skills, the ability to plan ahead, and how to work within a set of base rules. Any game should be able to help us grow in a variety of ways, especially when they're introduced at a young age.
However, when we start to talk about 'Educational' games, all of a sudden people's eyes glaze over and they tune out. For years, games that have been specifically used as educational tools have been designed to hit students over the head with the pertinent information, but without any real focus on the design itself. At the end of the day it results in another standard lesson that fails to grab the imagination of the student. All that has started to change and as the overall quality of design continues to develop, so too does the quality of educational games. Modern board game designers are taking into account math, sciences, history, art, and geography in a way they never have in the past. The results are games that would benefit any classroom's curriculum, without losing a sense of fun for the players.
Matthew Higgins has been teaching subjects like Anthropology and Military History for over 25 years. Reaching his students, ranging from Grade 9-12, is not always an easy task. Higgins and teachers like him have a lot more competition these days for a students’ attention. He has begun to experiment with the cooperative World War 1 game The Grizzled in some of his Military History classes, and the results are very encouraging.
“Board games give the students the ability to synthesize information they have learned through experimenting with various styles of play,” said Higgins. “Also there is nothing better as a teacher than over-hearing a student use 100% historically accurate smack talk within the playing of the selected game.”
The Grizzled was designed by Fabien Riffaud and Juan Rodriguez to represent the hardships of war in the trenches and the strain it places on people as they fight for survival. Although it is a game about war, players won't fire a shot or drop a bomb. In The Grizzled, everyone must band together to get through the trials and hardships they're facing. Through cooperation they will survive together or fall together.
“The thing that most appeals to me as a teacher about The Grizzled is that it is a cooperative game. So much of schooling is about competing against the other students, so bringing a game where all the players are against the game is, in itself a real lesson. The cooperative aspect particularly is important with The Grizzled as the reality of warfare is brought out by all the players working as a team to survive until Armistice Day.”
Players go on a series of missions in The Grizzled where they will place down various Trial cards representing many of the horrors soldiers would face in the war. Weather, like rain or snow, or more tangible threats like shell or gas attacks all have to be faced by the players. As a team they can withstand two of any one threat, but a third will cause the mission to fail and set them back from victory. Players will also have to contend with Hard Knocks that stick with a specific character until they receive enough support to get rid of it. Hard Knocks can turn players selfish, or fearful, or even give them a trauma. In any case it's going to take teamwork to help them get through the tough times.
Higgins sees incorporating games as the final element of teaching about a specific time period.
“The Grizzled serves best as a concluding event to a unit on the First World War. The students will need to be exposed to the material first to truly appreciate the game. I think it is also really helpful to American students that The Grizzled is about the experience of the Poilu. By the time that Pershing arrived and declared ‘Lafayette, we are here.’ the French had already been savaged for years. The game brings that fact home to American students rather nicely.”
It should be interesting to follow how The Grizzled works as a teaching tool. As more games are designed with educational properties, hopefully they will make their way into classrooms more and more.
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