Today we played Catan! (Yes, what took us so long.)20190201_113418.jpg

My son is ‘enjoying’ a break from Fortnite so we unboxed last weekend and played just a couple of turns (it was late).

Both my S2 and S3 pupils enjoyed the simple symbols that allows you to quickly read the game and plan which resources you need in order to complete your next build.

It is a beautiful game. But it really comes into its own – like Gangs of Britannia and Tortuga – when players begin to make short-lived pacts – and then the discussions really begin, collaboration and competition ensue.

What Catan really has in its favour is quick setup and turn taking; there’s also the small footprint and therefore the board can fit on a single school desk. 20190201_113518

Tactile pieces, colourful aesthetics I am glad that we finally got this to the table.

We played enough turns for the pupils to be within touching distance of the ‘End Game’; the Maritime Trade was side-lined for the time being, which I like because you can play the game using increments rule inclusion.



Kids on Bikes RPG

Having had ‘Kids on Bikes’ on the radar for a few months, and having almost finished Season 1 of ‘Stranger Things‘ I made the plunge and purchased the basics: softcover version of the core rpg (although I would have preferred the hardcover since it comes with a sample campaign), a set of dice and the Powered Character Deck.

What is it?

Think E.T., Earth to Echo. The Three Investigators. Think kids from the 60s – 80s eras solving crimes.

And all without Wi-Fi.

Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys may be other options (perhaps an all-female group may enjoy the former), but since I am more familiar with Jupiter Jones, Pet Crenshaw and Bob Jones I am going to look at the possibility of linking the narratives of the Three Investigators series with the Kids on Bikes system.

I shall be providing regular updates.

Time to dust down that old copy of ‘The Secret of Terror Castle’…

Villages of Valeria

164015This is a deck-building game where players assemble ‘kingdoms’ of various buildings and heroes by collating specific groupings of resources.

th6TGMC1C2The pupils really enjoy this game, although they opt NOT to employ the simple economic mechanism (i.e. represented by gold coins) of purchasing cards. The cards are colourful, and the game doesn’t have copious amounts of detail to read: they can simply digest


– Pupils can read the game through colour and symbology
– Pupils collaborate and compete
– Pupils use their listening and talking skills – they collaborate, commiserate
– Emergent narratives based on the development of ‘kingdoms’

– Pupils thought that there was  a learning curve that made initial games unrewarding
– ‘Castle’ cards should be a different colour, so as to differentiate them from other resources


How should one describe ‘Elementos’? Draughts? Rock-Paper-Scissors? Draughts-with-Rock-Paper-Scissors?


Elementos is a beautiful game: a nice wooden grid board that folds in on itself to house the chunky wooden components. The aim is simple: to move your coloured peg from the ‘home’ space at your end of the board to the opponent’s.  The player uses their pieces to forge a path upon which the peg hops.  Pieces can  slide forward, diagonally or ‘take’ based upon the following rules: fire takes wood (represented by a tree symbol); water extinguishes fire; wood takes water. Simple.


– Low learning curve
– Stimulates discourse as players discuss tactics
– Very fun!
– Makes you think!

– Peg movement rules can often be overlooked




This game is very interesting. It is hard at the start, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier. The game gets your mind going and it has a lot of tactics that you need to pick up on quickly. One thing that could be improved on is more clear and easy instructions as it took a while to get the hang of it. This game is very competitive and if you are anything like me you will love this game.

Emma (13) and Casey (13)


Stuffed Fables

SBoxThe first thing that strikes you is the sheer novelty of this game: the ‘board’ is actually a spiral-bound book.  And why not: at its very heart lies a very rich narrative into which the player assume a truly engaging role.

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Opening the book, the left-hand page contains the battlefield, a beautifully illustrated background overlaid with gridlines; the facing page contains the narrative and directions for the players.


Players assume one of the various stuffed toys who defend their owner, a little girl of seven who has just moved to her ‘big girls bed’ and who risks being wakened by the nightmares that emerge from under her bed, from parts of the her house…fight

Various dice are used to support a variety of player agency; players can earn rewards represented by gorgeous little coloured buttons. Players can carry or hold a variety of ‘weapons’ in their quest to defeat the minions and their bosses.


The figurines are truly grotesque – and that is NOT a criticism. They look appropriately more menacing when one considers that out there many hobbyists are applying colour to these gray plastic

We had four girls play the first section over four class periods (each period lasts 50 minutes). So, what did the students think?

“I thought it was too long”

“I enjoyed the storyline and the feelings changing from sad, scared & happy”

“It can be quite confusing but it is very fun to play. We have to help each other to get the blanket back(Using teamwork)”

“I liked the fact that we were all working together”

The bits and pieces [components] were very pretty and nice to hold and touch

“It has a good story”

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– Immersive narrative.
– Beautiful and engaging artwork.
– Collaborative.

– Setup time.
– Play time.
– Saving game state.



A Distant Plain, by GMT.

Terrorism. Counter-insurgency. CIA. Afghanistan. These words would stir up interest in many of us, but to a class of school students?

‘A Distant Plain’, designed by Volko Ruhnke (ex CIA agent) and Brian Train, and published by GMT is one of GMT’s COIN series – asymmetrical, insurgency/counter-insurgency – and which allows players to adopt the role of one of four factions within the context of this century’s Afghanistan War: The Coalition Forces, The Afghanistan Government, The Warlords, and The Taliban. Yes – the Taliban.

Games – war games included – are well used in educational settings, as well as in the workplace to support professional development, collaboration and team building. (This link offers a PowerPoint on an evaluation of the games use with Ministry of Defence, and included officers and service personnel who had actually served in this theatre of war.)

One of the main drawbacks, coupled with the steep learning curve (a trajectory on which I am still!), is the time required to set the board up, in addition to having no easy way of ‘saving state’: the duration required to play exceeds the default fifty minute period of a class. One would need to (carefully) store the board and components (perhaps taking some photographs of current play, card deck, etc.

The map is attractive, yet sparsely detailed: Afghanistan’s key provinces and borders are shown, as well as a number of status areas within each province; there is a huge ‘status track’ that borders the board, as well as additional status areas outwith the map area. Numeracy skills are a significant factor in co-ordinating the game, remembering how many resources they have, the political/diplomatic climate.

Pupils have to strategise in order to deploy their troops and bases: pupils are required to speculate and discuss either conducting an Operation, or playing an event card (or passing).

The game system employs a card-driven component that forces pupils to consider not only the current card in play but also the forthcoming card; this forces players to consider current situations with prospective events from their own and the perspective of the other three factions. And taking a turn on the current card has an impact on the faction who is next to play: one’s actions can limit or benefit the other player.

The game supports active collaboration – deal-making, discussions between each faction on whether they will PASS on a card turn or perform one or other card event that benefits them or their opponent(s).

Games such as Distant Plain, Fire in the Lake, Andean Abyss, Labyrinth help us – teachers and students alike – to consider complex situations, human and political affairs within which resources and actions have certain limitations, finite quantities; all of which is within a context that is historical.

Language – emergent discourse – is the key to the formation and construction of highly organic mental models that are constructed by the students during gameplay.

Isn’t that what we desire for our students when we set them a learning activity?


  • Decision making – worker and resource placement and management
  • Collaboration
  • Immersive strategizing
  • Relevant and contemporaneous context/theme
  • Rich content-driven card system


  • Steep learning curve
  • Initial set-up, storage and game resumption