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

‘Super Motherload’ by Roxley Games

It has been quite some time since I have last blogged…But since coming to my new school in August 2017, there have been many exciting developments!

From October 2017, we have built a thriving number of groups who are enjoying role-playing games, board games as well as card/deck-building games (there is even one large group of senior pupils who carry their DnD 5th exploits beyond school – and beyond the working week!)

Advanced Squad Leader, Dungeons and Dragons (5th edition) and Traveller have been the mainstay titles for the first few months, however now that we have secured a steady cohort of pupils we are now reviewing newer games.  So what can these games provide pupils?

Recently I listened to the Games in Schools and Libraries podcast in which the hosts and guests discussed Leadership as one of the skills that can be nurtured, developed through board- and rpg-gaming.  Opportunities to lead. A chance to open up and talk – be creative – amongst their peers.

A new gaming experience stripped of CGI and re-enforced with an extra helping of human contact.

Games allow teachers to support the affective domains of the child – their emotional well-being, their affinity with peers, school – a sense of belonging

3d_box_cover2-0So, ‘Super Mother Load‘ by Roxley games. Those wonderful and very generous people provided us with three copies (one has been ‘checked in’ at the library as we see boardgames becoming an artefact as powerful as a novel or a text book) and we have just finished our first session (John won, by the way). It took us three weeks: lunchtimes are limited to circa forty five minutes.

So how did it fare? Very well, actually. I was really impressed.

At its most primitive, mechanical level, this game is effective at providing support for the teaching of Numeracy: using your drilling cards you dig for resources under the Martian crust, with each recovered resource providing the recipient with a dollar value, which then allows them to purchase more powerful cards…  I could envisage this game being used in a Business Studies context (I know – it is set on Mars), whereby pupils are rewarded for their ability to strategise and to discuss their re-investment options in future operational activities based on resource availability.

cameringo_20171119_102555-1The components are durable. The artwork is fantastic. The user manual is very well laid out, with each section is clearly represented and accompanied by symbols where required.  The game board is small enough to be located behind a cupboard door until the next outing; since multiple boards are used for each level these can also be stacked carefully.

The pupils worked fairly co-cooperatively – my two ‘opponents’ were also learning the game; but even as the action rose and the climax was reached,  over-competitiveness did not not rear its head and instead we all continued to discuss each other’s opportunities.

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processing_section <- function(x){
unlist(strsplit(tolower(x), “\\W”))

lf <- list.files(pattern=”.txt”)
lapply(lf, function(path) processing_section(scan(path, what=”character”, sep=”\n”)))

A huge ‘Thank You’ (Merci) to Vincent Bonhomme who helped me with this code: I can now read in any number of pupil text files and have them stripped and ready for processing – frequency analysis, unique word count, etc – by simply indexing the array/table/data frame/list structure.


Progress? PO, Finland & Malta

Successes so far?

Continuing in the hope of further study – and to provide additional supporting material for the GTC Professional Recognition application – I have been *real* busy with textual analysis.

I’ve been able to create dispersion plots for the occurrences of ‘I’ and ‘We’in one pupil’s work from the MSc.

What will be of interest will be testing the hypothesis: Student verb usage is more sophisticated when writing socially recounted actions in-game. Or something like that

I have successfully – with the help of others’ code – created files of POS tokens for both one science booklet and the aforementioned pupil’s work: I am pleased with this.

I have then run dispersion plotting – nouns and various verb tenses.

What I need to do now is to look for correlations between

What NN and NNPs from the science booklets need to appear in the pupils’ writing to evince their learning; and what verbs co-occur.


City & Guilds



Where do I find the time?

For CPD, one must make time.

Really enjoying the ‘Master Professional Practitioner Award for Career-Long Professional Learning’. I’ve passed Unit 1-Part 2 and hope to complete the Unit; engaging with HGIOS4 is coming up and forces me to do so.

I’ll see what comes of an application to join the EdD programme at Glasgow University; Plan B is a second Masters – this time the MEd at UWS, and only the dissertation phase.