Teaching with Board Games: Playtesting the Curriculum

Written by Sara Lovett

On May 3, the board game pedagogy group met to “playtest” two prompts for analyzing and remixing board games. We used the social deduction game The Resistance (available at the library) to demo the curriculum. Below, I have included the revised prompts along with notes on our discoveries. Please feel free to adapt these prompts for use in your own classroom.

Game board and pieces for the game The Resistance

Prompt 1: Rhetorical analysis of a game

Teacher Notes

  • We found it useful to do a visual analysis activity before playing the game or even learning the rules. In our analysis, we noticed the the game is inaccessible to players with significant visual impairments since gameplay relies on images and text but offers no alternative. This realization led me to discover the website Meeple Like Us, which takes a human-centered design approach to board games, reviewing, critiquing, and offering solutions to accessibility barriers in board games. In case you’re interested, here is their review of The Resistance.
  • Depending on the length of the game, it could be played over two 50-minute class sessions, one 2-hour session, or as homework. If the game is assigned as homework (students could play it with classmates or friends), it may be beneficial to use class time to demonstrate gameplay with a fishbowl-style exercise so all students can either play or watch the game one time in class.
  • We suggest that students can focus on a different element of the game during each playthrough, but students could also each analyze a different element (e.g., interactive, rules, narrative, tactile, visual) across the three playthroughs and then compare notes.
  • Alternate assignment: students can create a disruptive “Let’s Play”/”Tabletop”/”Geek & Sundry”-style video in which they critique the game as they explain how to play it. This assignment would teach analysis, critique, and genre awareness.

Scaffolding

Before this assignment, students should learn about complex claims and stakes. It would be helpful to include a lesson on visual analysis too.

Assignment

Before you play, analyze the visual and tactile design elements of the game. What claims do the game pieces (cards, boards, tokens, dice, etc.) make? Play the game at least three times. Discuss your observations with the other players at the end of each playthrough and/or while you are playing.

  1. The first time you play, observe the rules, game pieces, and story. Make sure you understand the game, the claims, messages, and stories that the game communicates  and how the rules and pieces help facilitate communication.
  2. During your second play-through, pay attention to the overall narratives of the game. What claims does the game make through the rules and the story? What are the stakes of listening to or believing those narratives outside of the game?
  3. During your third play-through, return to your analysis of the game pieces. How do they serve as evidence to support or contradict the game’s claims? Or, do these elements make their own sub-claims?
  4. Write a rhetorical analysis (2-3 pages) of this game’s claim and how effective it is or is not. Use specific examples.

Students will be able to…

  • Identify claims and evidence in a multimodal text.
  • Rhetorically analyze a multimodal text.
  • Explain the stakes of a claim and how it could have an impact beyond the text itself.
  • Critique narratives, claims, and ideologies that underlie texts.

Prompt 2: Disruptive Remix of a Game

Teacher notes:

  • We got caught up on the concept of “disruptive” remixes. We had lots of ideas for remixing the game, but many of them did not critique the game. This is something to be aware of if you’re using this assignment: students might not be clear on what qualifies as disruptive, which is where examples may be useful.
  • Here are some disruptive remixes we thought of in various stages of development:
    • Because we identified visual accessibility limitations with the game in our analysis, we wanted to remix the game so it could be played by sighted and non-sighted people. Some ideas we had were adding tactile markers to the cards to differentiate them and creating a digital version of the game that uses text rather than images so it would be compatible with screen readers. We did not have time to build out a full prototype, but we discussed that we would need to do a lot of research and, ideally, playtest the game with non-sighted people to know whether our remix was effective. Limitations involving audience, resources, and time should be accounted for when students are prototyping their projects.
    • Instead of using guns as an image in The Resistance, we pondered how we could use memes to represent the spread of ideologies online.
    • Using the game Pandemic, we wanted to remix the game to reflect actual responses to real-world epidemics. For example, we could research an epidemic and revise the game’s mechanics to imitate real-world responses to make a claim about uneven resource allocation between the global North and South in medicine.

Scaffolding:

Before this assignment, students should learn about remix, critique, design strategies, and group work strategies.

Return to the stakes you wrote about in the previous assignment. What negative or positive consequences might result from the claims that this game makes? In this assignment, you will revise the game’s elements (story, rules, and/or design) to make a new claim.

Assignment:

  • Option A: Identify a problematic claim that the game makes and remix the game to make a more productive/ethical/equitable claim.
  • Option B:Identify a claim that this game makes that does not reflect real-world conditions. Remix this game to make a claim about the way the world is. Your claim should use the game to critique those real-world conditions.
  • Option C: Identify an accessibility limitation in this game and remix the game to address that issue. To identify solutions, you will need to do research, and you may benefit from recruiting playtesters from outside of our class.

Students will be able to…

  • Make, critique, identify, and respond to claims.
  • Remix multimodal texts.
  • Apply basic design principles.
  • Work productively in groups.

What’s next for the teaching with board games group?

Some of our ideas include full, fleshed out sequences for teaching with board games including more prompts and lesson plans; a workshop series in the fall on teaching with other types of games such as video games, tabletop roleplaying games, or live-action roleplaying games; and a gaming pedagogy workshop in the fall geared specifically toward new instructors. 

Links to check out the games in the library are below:

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