Tuesday, December 26, 2017

More than a "Design your Own Board Game" Project

Link to Unit Plan

In a recent conversation, the subject of student-created games came up. As many before me, I've had students create games for a variety of reasons - to review the content, to demonstrate knowledge, etc.  However, often the products are nothing more than trivia games, where students go around the board they created answering questions. At best students craft a nice-looking "skin" for games like Trivial Pursuit or Beat the Parents, and at worst there are only boxes and questions in a quickly hand-drawn path. There is little challenge or replayability - as @MatthewFarber has been known to say, "chocolate covered broccoli".

This got me asking, "Where is the disconnect?"If all of my students have played games before, can quickly make decisions about whether a game is fun or not, and know that there will be a game tournament at the end, why is it that they rely so heavily on these types of games? Now, I know that one part of the answer is simply that they equate questions/answers with review. However, in my search for answers, it also became clear that they look at this type of assignment from the point of view of the consumer, not as designers of an experience.

At this point, I would like to clarify that I have never taken a course in game design myself, but with a willingness to learn, I embarked on my own quest to help my students become better at designing games. The assignment I am sharing with you is the end result of this experience.


In this assignment, the research is not where students go over notes or textbooks looking for questions and answers, but rather where students learn about creating games. We start by investigating different board games and discuss what makes a game "good". This is also where I explicitly teach the parts of a game, including the need for goals, challenges, storylines and clear rules which will then make their end product interesting and replayable.


One of the key parts of game development, which is often overlooked in "create a game" assignments. From carefully selecting a theme to presenting and playing a paper prototype with a focus group (consisting of other students), the goal is for the students to develop a well thought out game idea before committing to a final product. This is where students often realize that their game is really a non-game, just a pretty board with questions. Providing this opportunity to prototype, play-test and most importantly act on the feedback is a good way for students to develop critical thinking skills.

Final Design 

If the previous two sections were done successfully and allowed enough time for students to digest the information and feedback, this section is relatively easy to implement. The "hard thinking" is done and it is just a matter of crafting the product and making it look pretty. Skills to be practiced in this section include of course fine-motor skills (which even my middle-schoolers need to practice), and digital media creation (icons, game pieces, digital art and transforming hand-drawn art into digital formats). Although some of my most artistic students like to create their art by hand, I require them to digitize it ("If you wanted to create 50+ copies of your game your art would have to be easily reproducible").


Often some teams of students are ready to move on to our tournament day while other teams are still crafting or even prototyping, so I added the advertising section. This has not only the benefit of providing us with a time buffer, but also continues the "think like a designer" mindset, with the goal not only of creating a better game, but also to be able to market it adequately.

ISTE Standards (for students)

The beauty of this project is that it also allows your students to practice several of the ISTE standards for students. For example:
4a -Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
4c- Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
6a - Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.
6b -Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Below you will find a small version of the board I created for students to access the complete assignment. If you would like the version that I share with my students click here. Almost all of the icons and text are clickable, opening the needed information and items students need to document their progress. On the student assignment page, you will also find a Teacher Corner button, which opens to a unit plan that may help you in implementing this with students.

Feel free to share with others who may find this useful.

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