A few months ago, I became the trustee for one of the schools in the centre of Swindon – a secondary school with a very high population of students who have English as a second language. [EAL is the in-term these days]. The school also educates all of the pupils that have been evacuated from Kabul and Afghanistan and are living in Swindon and North Wiltshire.
For many years the school has run an after-school board game club, once a week, for an hour. Having found out about this late afternoon activity and with my interest piqued, I thought I would pop along and see what was on the timetable for the day.
Lesson One: There’s nothing wrong with Chess
My first visit to the board game club showed me the diverse backgrounds of the pupils. Most were lads with about half a dozen girls. The initial selection of games was, to be fair, pretty uninspiring. Not surprisingly, everyone reached for the chess sets and boards. Within a few minutes, about a dozen games were underway, some more of a collaborative affair, others were still getting to grips with the knight’s moves. What I saw was a passion for learning and a willingness to be challenged.
Within a quarter of an hour, I had been roped into a game. Here is the difficulty that I faced. Should I play my normal strategic game with a focus of grinding out a win, or should I keep it light and fun to keep things moving?
In the end, I went for a middle way. I thought, “This needs to be educational and informative”
Every move I made I ensured I explained my reasons, giving away all of my thoughts. [I’ve been playing chess for nearly five decades and it’s been many a year since I lost a game!] The year-eight lad enjoyed it and soon he started to use some of my tactics of pinning pieces against me! The result was not important, but here was a boy whose gameplay has moved on leaps and bounds.
The pupils all said they loved the relaxed atmosphere but were interested in trying something fresh. This is where my board game experience and Zatu’s back catalogue came in handy.
What games will go down well with this club?
There are some practical issues to consider, the first being time. At the most, just 50 minutes are available. Games need to be able to “hit the ground running”, with a minimal set-up time. Most teenagers would prefer just to get on with something rather than spending a quarter of an hour reading the set-up conditions.
The gaming club used the library. The games need to be finished and packed away when the school closed. This meant that any new game must be able to be finished within a defined time, or have the ability to select a winner at a specific point. Short, filler-type games would probably fit the bill best.
With sufficient patience, most players can be taught a new game. However, these school board games needed to be relatively easy to understand. The pupils had little previous gaming experience. Their only concept of board games were of “dice chuckers” such as Ludo or Monopoly! Worker Placement and Drafting as concepts are as foreign as some languages.
These pupils needed to be able to take the components, set up a game and start with a relatively short set of rules. This will allow others to join in quickly and start a new game with minimal fuss.
How often have you mislaid a single component, and a game is no longer playable? However careful pupils might be, there is always a danger of smaller pieces being missed during set down. Occasionally components might fall under a table and be forgotten. That might be fine at home but with the school being cleaned and vacuumed every evening any dropped pieces will be lost forever.
Components needed to be sufficiently robust and sizeable so that their loss would be noticed. Similarly, larger components might be noticed by cleaning staff and moved, rather than removed.
Whilst cardboard components are hard-wearing, wooden or resin pieces have a longevity. This means they will remain intact despite relatively robust play. Any games selected should have components such that the game will last. I am not saying that all pupils do not look after games, but certainly, some gamers have a somewhat protective feel of their personal games. Teenagers at school may not feel the same emotional attachments!
Some of the best games for children and teenagers are those that teach a new skill, but in such a fun way that the gamers are so caught up in the game that the “educational” element is second nature. Board gamers all vouch for the skills that develop with regular gameplay – negotiation, reasoning, planning etc.
These skills are all vital for pupils in the world of work so why not select games that might encourage these aspects in a personality to come to the fore?
Within a few short years, these pupils will be facing challenges in the workplace and perhaps some of these skills may help them get on too.
At this school, nearly 40% of pupils have English as a second or alternative language. A number of pupils in fleeing from war-torn countries, had their education disrupted. A good grasp of English is vital, not just for school assessments, but to become integrated in the diverse British culture that we love. Games that encourage spelling, wordplay and verbal reasoning can help here.
Co-operation, Not Confrontation
Too often, young people see their worth in comparison with others. Competition is very good in that it forces people to take stock of their abilities and improve. However, the beauty of some games is their shared experience of solving the challenges together and “beating the game”. That conversation and negotiation of a co-operative game will encourage team building. This is especially valuable as it shows pupils that the sum of the whole is greater that the sum of the individual parts. Co-op games can encourage the less able, and also show that everyone can make a useful contribution to the discussion.
Observation And Recall
Alongside the educational aspects, there are times when it is good to slow down and just observe. This will help memory skills which could be blunted in the age of smart phones and instant access to facts etc. Some rapid recall games will encourage verbal responses too which will also help language skills.
With the above parameters set, it was time to liaise with Amber and Beth at Zatu HQ and scour the back catalogue. Not every game filled every category but there was a superb selection of games that were chosen; Bananagrams, Dragonwood, Colourbrain, and Forbidden Island are just four that stand out.
Think of a fast-paced scrabble game, without the confines of a board, and the freedom to mess up your letters and start again. Bananagrams is played simultaneously by players sitting around the table with 200 letter tiles. Starting with just a handful of tiles each player creates their own mini crossword. As soon as a player has “legally” laid all of their tiles they shout “peel” and everyone needs to draw two more. The game continues with the frantic grabbing of letters, with each player hoping not to grab the “K” or “V” These seem more difficult to place than an “X” or “Z”! Once all 200 tiles have been taken and lair scoring is dependent on the total number of words created (horizontally and vertically)
For the school board game club Bananagrams is perfect. Set up takes about 20 seconds- as long as it takes the players to turn over the letter tiles. Any number of players can join in. Most games take about 5-7 minutes. Clearing away takes as long as sweeping the tiles into a banana-shaped bag. The letters are standard scrabble-sized and easy to see if dropped. Similarly, with 200 letters the game can continue even if one or two are mislaid.
Bananagrams taught the pupils some new words; EM and EN [printer’s measures] and is excellent at reinforcing spelling.
This is a card and dice game that develops an understanding of probabilities. The players are battling mythical creatures with the aim to be the most successful adventurer. Laid out on the table are five beasts. They can be defeated by playing cards from the hand [either a run, matching colours or matching numbers]. The total number of cards played will determine the number of dice that are allowed to be rolled. The sum total of the dice needs to exceed that indicated on the creature card for the beast to be beaten.
The animals can all be defeated but their strengths and vulnerabilities vary and these are dependent on the method of attack. Players, therefore, need to select the most suitable attacking method. Similarly, by understanding the probabilities of rolling certain scores with a handful of dice, this can inform decisions.
The pupils have warmed to Dragonwood. Six can play as there are sufficient cards. The element of a mythical quest is fun and the scoring of the defeated beasts during end game scoring always brings a sense of competition. The dice are large, and with a specific slot in the box for each, it is clear when a component is missing.
Dragonwood is another great filler game. For pupils with English as an alternative language, dice, numbers and coloured character cards make it very accessible in the board game club
This seems to be very popular with the girls in the board game club. Perhaps they are just more observant than the boys?
This is a versatile game that could be played in teams or co-operatively. The way the pupils in Swindon have chosen to play is in two teams, each has a set of colour cards. The answer for each question is a single colour or a group of colours. The first team to display the correct colour cards as an answer gets to keep the card.
Colourbrain crosses countries in its scope. Some questions such as “What are the colours on the Swedish flag?” [yellow and blue] may be known by some. “What colour comes before amber in a traffic light sequence?” [green] will need a little UK knowledge. The components are just a series of colour cards and set of questions.
Colourbrain takes a few seconds to lift out of the box and as a team game, any number can join in. Other variants are available such as Junior Colourbrain or even Disney, but for our teenagers the standard version seems perfect.
I selected this game for the board game club to demonstrate that not every board game needs a board! Co-operative games can give a real sense of shared fun when playing. The premise of the game is that you and your fellow gamers need to explore an island in search of treasure and to return to the helicopter landing site for a safe airlift away. However, during the game the island, which is represented by a series of tiles, is starting to sink beneath the waves.
As part of the island becomes submerged so it becomes more difficult to travel. Players need to co-operate to collect sufficient treasure cards in their hand, exchange cards if they are co-located. At the same time with limited moves, they need to shore up the island tiles and then get back to safety. Each player has an additional unique skill that can help in the task.
Forbidden Island is a game with solid components. The tiles are instantly recognisable and treasure pieces sufficiently large not to be lost. The initial set up may take about three minutes in laying the tiles and dealing the cards. Similarly, the first few games need significant input and guidance, remembering that these are gamers who have never played any games like this before. Most Forbidden Island games will take about 30 minutes so can be completed during the after-school club. With different skill levels, I anticipate the pupils wanting to be more stretched as they gain experience.
These are just four of the many games that have been used to stock the Lawn Manor Academy Board Game Club. In another feature, we will showcase alternatives that are also being enjoyed by the pupils. Perhaps this might inspire others to get involved in any after school clubs and have some fun at the same time.