Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr

IMG_20190509_095555Here is a fully collaborative, resource management game that presents players with a realistic context in which the objective is piecing together the fragments of a dying sixty year-old man’s narrative. Plenty of decision making opportunities that support talking and listening assessment.

Pupils – any number between 2 and 4 – play this game, which is a simulation of the medical and palliative care of the titular character, Billy Kerr, who has recently suffered a massive heart-attack on a flight from Sydney to London.







So time is precious.

Confronted by random emergencies, staffing shortages, stressed nursing and hospital staff, the players must gain Billy’s trust as they try and piece together his fading memories.


Per turn, one pupil will take responsibility for the administration of care and resourcing; within each turn there are three phases that represent the Morning, Afternoon and Night shift patterns that would be present in any hospital. IMG_20190509_093637

Pupils gain experience of the themes of dying and regret; they also experience resource constraints and difficult decision making. Failure will not only result in the dying patient being transferred to another hospital, it may ultimately lead to his accelerated death whereupon the secret of his past dies with him.



  • Small footprint / easy set-up
  • Fully collaborative
  • Distributed leadership
  • Emerging narrative
  • Thematically relevant


  • Narrative cards must be kept in proper sequence

U-boot by Phalanx

MVIMG_20190426_094255I have used Silent Hunter III in the past (see link) with great success in delivering an insight and some content knowledge on one of the perhaps lesser-known arms of the German forces, but my main reason for using such a game is as a stimulus for imaginative writing: pupils write from the perspective of a young member of the Kriegsmarine who undertakes Patrols 4 and 7 of the actual U-boat U-96, which is featured in ‘Das Boot’.

So we had been waiting on this one for some time – and it was finally brought to the table last Friday.


It is a 4-player game, and with each player taking control of 4 characters within a specific section of U-boat management. This lends itself quite well to assigning each pupils in a class of 16+ to one of the particular Kriegsmariners; there is a system of First/Second watches which theoretically doubles the rota to 32.

It was a rough start. One of the drawbacks is the ‘lag’ as inactive players – pupils! – await being pressed into service; those roles with less to do may become distracted, but one should build in co-operative tasks between the team of four to support their overarching function. (And we’ve only just looked into

IMG_20190426_094114Immediately apparent was the real application of the class’ recent learning in Geography: the Navigator and his team interpreted Enigma-encrypted alpha-numeric grid co-ordinates (e.g. AE23 – AN35) and plotted their position and destination – using an actual protractor, pencil and paper – working out their angle of travel, and the time that it would take.

Next the Captain gave the orders for Speed and Depth, during this time we briefly discussed diesel and electric engines, and difference in speed whilst travelling on the surface or submerged.


So far so good.

We used the time-skipping option, and six hours after leaving St Nazaire at 8am we had arrived at our grid area; it was now 2pm.

The game uses an app that runs on any android device, and which provides the real-time interaction between the players and their submarine, the enemy, as well as simulating  the environment – the view from the bridge, the periscope view, dials and instrumentation, radio transmission transcriptions, environment.

The observers mobilised to their respective positions and began – in the rain – to search the horizon, quickly experiencing the boredom and frustration that beset submariners hunting their prey.

They decided to submerge, wishing to try out the periscope. Meanwhile one pupil took control of the hydrophone. He almost jumped out of his skin when a contact was made at 4 nm (nautical miles). A bearing and course was given, and we had to work out an intercept angle using a series of dials imprinted with angles and arrows.

And that is as far as we got.

One downside, and this applies to many of the boardgames we have tried, is ‘saving state’. We plan to ‘resume’ playing this Friday, giving the pupils more responsibilities now that they have had a first play.  There are very many components to the game, but these can be easily packaged together into poly-pockets pertaining to the roles.


  • Multi-disciplinary – Geography, Maths, English, History
  • Collaborative – pupils engage in intra and inter-group decision making and planning


  • Set-up time, number of components
  • Learning curve
  • Player activity/engagement





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)