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.

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 am sure many of you have read the story about a group of gamers who have broken a particularly difficult protein folding problem that has stumped scientists for the last 10 years. They did this through some social science in a group game space using a game program called Fold It.

The game works on both Mac, Unix and Windows machines and requires a small download. To get started, the game has 32 starter “puzzles” that help you learn how to manipulate the proteins and amino acids within the game space.

Players can initially manually manipulate the shapes, but as they complete puzzles they get tools to help them  work through the problems. While having a very introductory understanding of the protein folding process and how different amino acids react, I was still very engaged throughout the game. The creators have presented the process in a way that is very familiar to any person who has played puzzle solving games. Learning is scaffolded, starting with small concepts that build to more complex ones so the players never feel overwhelmed just challenged.

Fold It is a wonderful example of taking steps back to when science was more accessible to everyone. When individuals were able to make contributions to its advancement. Give Fold It a try and you or your students may help advance the study of amino acids and proteins!

I love when I am come across a great science game. Global, Math and ELA are so easily immersed in games through theme, interaction and mechanics. But science is not so easy to come across. I have mentioned Bolide and Fauna, two fantastic games with a strong science theme. I should mention that Fauna recently got an English printing by FoxMind Games. I can recommend a third to add that list, Strain by HungryRobot.

In Strain, students are building microscopic organisms with cytoplasms and organelles. The various cytoplasms and organelles add to the organism’s defense, toxins and Adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP). The students can use these elements to launch attacks at their opponents organisms and defend their own as they try to complete organisms to score points. Students can also infect other player’s organisms with viruses which the host organisms needs to remove using their supply of toxins. Most of these actions are done by spending the pooled ATP of the player’s organisms. ATP is the energy currency molecule of the cell so using it to purchase elements is nice thematic touch. That is what is so great about Strain, a lot of though was put into bringing the theme and the science through in the game.

A fast and fun game with some “take that” elements, Strain is a great addition to any game library. It is for 2 to 7 players and plays in a little over 30 minutes but that can easily be adjusted lessening the score needed or just playing for a set time.

My first article for School Library Journal looking at resources that help students start to think like scientists.

“Board” with the Curriculum: Games can help cultivate important skills in an information-rich setting.

Who hasn’t dreamed of harnessing the power of the mind for good or evil. Well now you can practice for the future! Mattel is releasing a game that is akin to something out of science fiction. Mindflex is a an obstacle/dexterity game in which you move a ball through a series of obstacles…. WITH YOUR MIND!

Using technology similar to that of an EEG, the game uses sensors that you wear on a headband and connect to your ears which register changes in your brain’s activity when you concentrate and relax your thoughts. These changes control a fan that adjusts the height of a ball. The harder you concentrate, the higher the ball floats and as you relax your thoughts it descends. The goal of the game is to guide the ball through different obstacles set up around a ring. Using your mind to control the height of the ball and your hand to control the ball’s movement around the ring, you need to coordinate the two activities to successfully navigate a particular course.

While this carries a higher price tag than most games (approx. $80) it seems to offer some fantastic potential for applications within the school. Science classes studying human physiology can harness and experiment with the electrochemical aspect of the brain. Physics classes have a new tool that is assured to keep students’ attention and what a toy for technology. Mindflex has the making for a successful marriage of curriculum and play, allowing students to develop understanding and mastery of content and skills through use and interaction as opposed to passive reception and memorization.

I hope to acquire a review copy to bring in to schools so that I can get feedback from students and educators and provide a more detailed recommendation for when this becomes available. If not, I will be sure to pick a copy of this up. Either way, it seems that Mattel has a winner with Mindflex.