I had a chance to talk with Giles Pritchard and Donald Dennis of the Games in School and Libraries Podcast a bit about my work and the value of games in education. Episode number 19.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/gsl019-interview-brian-mayer/id574644106?i=133483856&mt=2

I have new art to share from my upcoming game, Freedom: The Underground Railroad. I just got back the rest of the player boards which players keep infront of them during play. They represent different roles that the players may take on during their struggle to bring down the institution of slavery. I love the strength and period feel of the characters.

The Stockholder is a powerful fundraiser for the Abolitionist Cause

The Station Master helps slaves on the run evade catchers in pursuit.

The Shepard helps to coordinate and plan the movement of slaves making their way north towards freedom.

The Agent also helps bring about change through political action and influence.

 

 

 

Game: Chicago Express
Publisher: Queen Games
Number of Players:
2 to 6
Play Time:
60 Minutes
Grade Range:
Middle and High School
Return on Investment:
High
Format:
Analog Game

Chicago Express

Chicago Express

All aboard! Chicago Express is a game of investment and riches centered around the early days of railroads in the United States. In the game, players can invest in any of the four railroads companies in the game by purchasing stock. Holding stock in a company allows a student to make decisions for that company on their turn as well as receive dividend payments over the course of the game. Players can hold stock in more than one company, diversifying their portfolio and giving them a controlling interest in multiple companies. As the companies grow and expand, their value increases and so do the dividends they pay. This is important as the winner of the game is the player with the most money, cash on hand and stock value.

While this may sound complex, the mechanisms for play are rather simple. On a player’s turn, they may take one of three actions. First, they may put a new share from any of the railroad companies up for auction. The auction goes around the table to the highest bidder and the money paid goes into the company. Second, they may add new trains onto the game board for a company in which they own stock. The board is a hex map of the northeast section of the United States from the coast to Chicago. Each of the three companies start in a hex on the east coast and they slowly spread out, connecting to the other cities on the board. There are costs that come from growing the railroad and those costs come from the coffers of the company. But of course, as a company spreads and links to more cities its value increases making the expenses worthwhile. The last action a player may take is to improve an area on the map. This too increases the value of any railroads that have expanded their railroad into that space.

Each of these actions may only be taken a certain number of times before the students are locked out from taking that action. When two of the three actions have been exhausted, the companies pay out dividends on their stock. Each company’s current value is divided by the number of stocks currently issued to determine the value of each share, which is then paid out to all the players who own stocks in the companies. The actions are reset and play continues with students being able to chose from any of the three actions once again. This cycle of play continues until one of several end game triggers, when players count up their personal assets and determine the winner.

Chicago Express is a wonderful introduction for students to investment, stocks and dividends. Not only is the game ripe with the financial application of math, it rewards careful planning and calculated risks. Coming in about sixty minutes the game will be spread over over two days, but it is worth that investment of time as there is so much math concentrated into that one hour. While a player’s action choices are simple, there are a few game rules that can be omitted which won’t affect the game’s play or curricular value and make the barrier to entry that much lower. There is a fifth company that is introduced when one of the railroads reach Chicago that can be omitted as well as the rules for increasing the costs when more than one railroad has a train in the same space. Those two rules aside, just a few copies of the game can easily accommodate a classroom of students and provide students with a fun and challenging game of economic investment.

Name: Bazaar
Publisher:
Gryphon Games
Number of Players:
2 to 6
Play Time:
45 Minutes
Grade Range:
Middle and High School
Return on Investment:
High
Format:
Analog Game

Bazaar Cover

Bazaar Cover

Bazaar is a reprint of the classic game by prolific American game designer Sid Sackson in which players are vying to be the most efficient and lucrative buyer, using gemstones to purchase wares from the local bazaar. At the start of the game, a set of ten equations set the exchange rate for the duration of the game. An example might be that a green gemstone can be exchanged for two red and one white. During the game, players can use these rates to exchange gemstones they acquire, working from either side of the equation. The goal is to be able to purchase varying priced ware cards from one of the stalls in the bazaar, the value of which is determined by how many gemstones the player has left over after the purchase. The fewer the stones, the more valuable the ware is for the player. After two of the five stalls have been emptied of wares, the bazaar closes and the player who purchased the most valuable wares is the winner.

Bazaar’s true strength is the depth of play opened up by a very simple rules set and it is this imbalance that gives Bazaar its high Return on Investment. Players either roll a die, taking the corresponding colored gemstone or they make an exchange. They can then acquire a wares card and their turn is done.With just a few simple instructions, students are able to fall into the rhythm of the game, using algebraic equations as the language of trade to find the best ways to maximize their interactions.

While multiple copies can easily facilitate several small groups, they can also be combined to make a large group game as the simplicity of play leaves little downtime for the other players. So, by simply doubling the number of stalls created during setup and needed to be emptied to end the game, a teacher can use two copies to accommodate up to 12 students. For three copies, simply triple that number. The game’s scalability extends beyond the ability to add players. The length of play can also be adjusted by adjusting the number of stalls that need to be emptied for the game to end. That condition can even be removed and students can simply play for a set amount of time, with the winner being the student who has the most points at the end of that time.

The game can also serve as a problem prompt for students where they are presented with a set of exchange equations, gemstones and available wares and are tasked to work out the best possible scoring possibility, sharing their problem solving approach. This is another example of how analog games can be used to create intentional instructional moments as the teacher has full control of what the possible exchanges are, making it as easy or challenging as they wish.

Name: Zendo
Publisher: Loony Labs
Number of Players: 3 to 7
Play Time: 45 Minutes
Grade Range: Middle and High School
Return on Investment: High
Format: Analog Game

Induction is one of the key elements of scientific thinking and research. It gives students the ability to look for patterns based on specific observations and begin to develop theories from those observations. While this may seem as far from fun as a concept can get, it is actually the core mechanism for play in Zendo. In the game, one player takes on the role of a Buddha Master who know the secret nature of things. The other players are his students trying to discover the rule that governs

Zendo is played with a minimum of four Icedice pyramid pieces sets made by Loony Labs. These are sets of colored triangles that come in three sizes, each size featuring a certain number of pips on them. At the beginning of the round, one player creates a secret rule that will govern the round. Simple rules contain a single variable (e.g. There are no red pieces.) More complex rules will contain more than one variable (e.g. There is one medium piece that is not touching the ground). That player then constructs two examples using the Icehouse pieces. One is an example that follows the rule and the other does not.

Play begins with players taking turns constructing examples using the Icehouse pieces. After constructing an example, they use it to gain information in one of two ways. First, they may ask if their example follows the rule, getting a simple yes or no answer. The other is to allow the group to each secretly guess if the example follows the rule. After they reveal their answer, the players who guessed correctly receive a token which they can use on their turn to guess the rule. Because each player’s constructions remain on the table, the group will slowly build a set of results from which they can begin to develop theories on the rule. Students begin testing various theories by exploring and manipulating potential variables in an effort to narrow down the rule. If a player thinks they know the rule, they may use one of their guessing token on their turn. If they are incorrect, the player who set the rule must construct an example that follows the rule they set while disproving the one guessed. The first player who is able to correctly guess the rule, wins the round.

Zendo is dripping with curriculum. It is amazing that just a few plastic pieces can hold such a disproportionately large amount of educational value. While the boxed game is no longer manufactured, the game is easily assembled from four or five sets of different colored Icehouse pieces and some colored stones. The game rules are freely available online as are example rules for the play rounds. In the classroom, the game works fantastic with a full complement of player, and if you have enough Icehouse pieces, you can push those numbers. Teachers can also construct problems, consisting of several examples that give enough information for students to infer the governing rule. This could be set up in the class or photographed and shared with the class. With just a minimal amount of effort, your students can begin having fun, building and testing theories in the classroom.

Rules for the game can be found here.

Name: Bolide
Publisher: Rio Grande
Number of Players: 2 to 8
Play Time: 120 Minutes
Grade Range: Middle and High School
Return on Investment: High
Format: Analog Game

Bolide brings racing and physics together on a crash course as students hope to be the first across the finish line in this dynamic simulation of the sport. In the game, car movement is not driven by dice or cards. Instead each movement is based on vector physics, giving students control over their car’s momentum and inertia as they weave between their competitors and the twists and turns of the track.
Bolide is played on a double sided board, which features a different race track on each side. Both tracks are overlaid with a grid, whose intersections serve as the movement points for the cars as they race along the track. Each player has a car and a momentum marker that will be on the board at all times. At the beginning of the game, a player may move anywhere within a one space radius of their car at the starting line, moving on the intersections of the grid. For example, they could move forward one intersection and over one to the left. After the student finishes moving, their momentum marker would then mirror that exact movement pattern, one space forward and one to the left, from the point where their car finished moving. Now, for the remainder of the game, players must finish their car’s movement anywhere within a 2 square radius surrounding their momentum marker. This simple mechanism allows students to interact with and push the limits of acceleration and momentum as they make their way through hairpin turn and long straightaways.
The game, while normally played for two laps, can easily be played for just a single lap to shorten the playing time. This doesn’t exclude playing longer games though, as the game state can easily be saved between classes and recreated by taking a quick picture of the board. To take the game even further, students can mount a camera over the board and take pictures of the cars as they move each turn. Those pictures can then be used to create a stop motion video that allows students to see the motion of their cars in a more fluid manner.

There are other rules regarding the risk involved with being near other cars, special movement actions and drafting but these can easily be removed to ease student entry into the game. Because, even without these extra mechanisms, Bolide is an exciting game of Formula-1 racing that is centered wholly around the principles of physics. While that is value enough, Bolide goes beyond by giving students an opportunity to experience and manipulate these concepts in a familiar and fun environment.

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