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)
Publisher:
Drei Magier Spiele
Number of Players:
2 to 4
Play Time:
15 Minutes
Grade Range:
Elementary and Middle School
Return on Investment:
High
Format:
Analog Game
Awards:
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.

Plague Inc. is a wonderful little app I came across the other day and have been playing incessantly since picking it up for a mere $.99. The game simulates the mutation, growth and spreading of a disease across the globe. Instead of fighting the virus, like in the fantastic co-op game Pandemic, instead the player in this iOS app is taking on the role of the virus itself and trying to infect and eradicate the entire human population.


Players start the game by selecting a country to infect. Slowly, the infection starts to spread to others in the region and the player earns DNA points which can be spent to mutate, adapt and change the characteristics of the disease. How players need to change their disease is dependent on where the disease started and how people are reacting to it. Different modes of transmission work better under different economic and environmental conditions, so how the player adapts really matters in terms of where the disease is spreading in the world. There are also symptoms that can be adapted that increase the disease’s infectivity and lethality. Lastly, abilities of the disease allow for resiliency and special characteristics for survivability As players are able to win games, they unlock new types of diseases: viral, fungal. Each one has its own unique characteristics that make play very unique and keep game re-playability high.

As the disease begins to grow, the world begins to work on a cure. Then the race is on to mutate and spread the disease, infecting and eradicating everyone in the world before they are able to come up with a cure.

Plague Inc. is a fantastic look at how infectious diseases work, from the inside out and comes with a big recommendation.

I wrote earlier about the game I have been designing about the Underground Railroad. I am thrilled to announce that it has been picked up for publication. Freedom – The Underground Railroad should be out from Academy Games in the Spring/Summer of 2013. It has been a wonderful process and I have gotten such positive response from both the gaming and educational community. I will be sure to post updates as the process goes on.

I just wanted to share an amazing insight into the game design process from one of the most influential designers of our time.