November 2012

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.

Name: Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge
Publisher: HABA
Number of Players: 2 to 4
Play Time: 15 Minutes
Grade Range: Elementary and Middle School
Return on Investment: High
Format: Analog Game
Jungle animals are setting off on an adventure, but there is only a rickety old rope bridge for them to cross. With the help of the players, animals cross the bridge by balancing on the back of a crocodile. Each player has a handful of cards that show sets of animals that need to be piled together. When the right combination of animals are touching, players can discard the matching card from their hand. The first player to get rid of all of their cards, wins the game.
Game play is fast and very accessible. On their turn, students roll a die. If it shows one of the four valleys, they take an animal from that area and add it to the stack on the bridge. A question mark symbol lets players pick any animal, while the bridge allows for rearrangement of the animals already stacked. If animals fall, the player must pick a new assignment card, pushing their victory one more card away.
Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge is a big box follow-up game to popular game Animal Upon Animal. While both game help students strengthen their fine motor skills, Balancing Bridge is worth the small price bump from the original because of the pattern matching element that it adds.

Freedom, my game about the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad is getting close to going to print now. There have been waves of playtesting and quite a bit of tweaks and adjustments to help the game’s tension and feel. Currently, we are in the art stage with two separate artists working on the game.

Jarek Nocoń is working on the game component art. I am very excited to be working with him as he has been responsible for many games that I enjoy. The cover art is being done by Steve Paschal, who has done the cover art for most of Academy Game’s releases. I got the cover art back recently and I could not be more thrilled. It captures the tension of the game and is a true work of art.

Name: Geistertreppe (Spooky Stairs)
Drei Magier Spiele
Number of Players:
2 to 4
Play Time:
15 Minutes
Grade Range:
Elementary and Middle School
Return on Investment:
Analog Game
Kinderspiel des Jahres 2004

At the top of the stairs in the old, spooky castle there lives a ghost. Each of the players race up the stairs, trying to be the first to scare him. But the castle is enchanted and plays tricks on the students as they make their way up to the top. Whichever player is able to keep their wits about them, not forgetting who or what they are, and frighten the spectre first, wins.

Geistertreppe is a wonderfully accessible racing game in which player identity get shifted around. The game is played on a simple game board that features a staircase that spirals in towards the center. On their turn, students roll the die and move their pawn the number of spaces indicated, unless the die shows a ghost. If a ghost is rolled, the student can take a ghost piece and place it on top of one of the player pieces. Once a pawn is covered it stays covered for the rest of the game and its color can no longer be seen. Players will need to remember which pawn is theirs for the rest of the game. After all of the pawns are covered, anytime the ghost is rolled the player can swap the position of two ghosts on the board. Play continues until one of the pawns is moved to the top of the stairs and the winner is revealed.

With just a simple rule, Geistertreppe takes what would be a simple memory game and makes it into something challenging and fun. Besides encouraging student to focus by tracking their piece, the game also provides opportunity for students to explore simple strategy when switching positions of the ghost covered pawns. Initially, students switch pawns to move their piece forward trying to get to the end as quickly as possible. After several plays though, students begin exploring moving other pawns as a distraction away from their own. This gives students a simple way of thinking about the game from other players’ perspectives, an important step towards interpersonal skills and empathy.