Playing Games in Class


You may remember that a while ago I posted a blog about playing games in class and using them for educational purposes. If not, you can read it here.

Well, I tried it out! I think it was fairly successful, too. Here are the details.

I’m teaching grade 7 history, which is one of my favourite history curricula, since it contains the Seven Year’s War and the War of 1812, which I find very interesting. On top of that, many decisions were made that led to Canada having the borders and society that it does today. We haven’t gotten to 1812 yet, but I decided to engage students in European exploration of the “New World“, as well as giving them more insight into the places and events of the portion of the Seven Year’s War that took place in North America, also known as “The French and Indian War”.

Age of Empires III

One of the games I had them play was Age of Empires III, based on the video game of the same name. While looking for a .pdf copy of the rules to post on the class website so that the students could preview the rules, or use it to research the written assignment that followed, I discovered that the game had been reissued with new artwork and a new piece! This was a bit confusing at first, but once I realized it, I was able to find the rules that matched the version that we’d be playing.

Age of Empires III covered

What’s it about?

In the game, players place colonists in certain boxes on the board depending what it is they wish to achieve. They can place them on the colonist dock to send them to the New World to increase their presence in discovered areas; they can place them to collect resources; they might want to use them to get specialist pieces next turn which each have their own special rules; or perhaps they’ll put them in the Discovery box until they feel they have enough to send them to discover a new area. Other options include buying a Capital Building for a bonus effect or Victory Points, or using the colonists to bid for the merchant ship, which counts as a “wild” card when making sets of resources (which then determines their income). They have a LOT of choice to make, which is great, because the underlying theme of the entire year is “Choices and Consequences”.

What did they learn?

Each of the 5 colours of pieces is assigned a nation. The red player is England, the Yellow player is Spain, the green player is Portugal, the blue player is France, and the Orange player is Holland. Two of the questions I asked the students for each game are “What happened in your game that matches history?” and “What happened in your game that was different from historical fact?” They students generally reported which nations were claimed or were fighting over which regions of North and South America and compared that to which nations actually colonized those areas.

The students really enjoyed this one, and some of them came in to play it at lunch time even after the assignment was finished.

A Few Acres of Snow

The title of this game is translation of a Voltaire quote, when he referred to New France as “…quelques arpents de neige…” He was expressing the opinion that it wasn’t worth fighting over. I used this one to get the students familiar with the important places in the conflict.

A Few Acres of Snow

How does it work?

This is a two-player game that uses a deck-building mechanic, even though it does have a board with a map like a traditional territory-taking game. Players add to their deck by adding Empire cards (which are specific to each player), taking territories, or getting neutral cards. It helps to pick a strategy, because if you have a lot of cards in your deck, you’re not going to get the ones you need in your hand. The two different Empire decks and starting decks are different to represent the difference between the French and British holdings in North America. For instance, the French deck has Native Allies, but the British doesn’t (although they can get them from the Neutral Cards pile. The British deck has more ships, but the French has more access to bateaux (large canoes).

Both players can expand to neutral territories (towns) to gain the territory cards and the benefits on them (symbols to be used in actions), to earn them victory points, and to bring them closer to their objectives: Quebec for the British, and Boston and New York for the French. If they successfully siege the major enemy city, they win. I liked that when you begin a siege, any military cards played are placed in the siege box, not the discard pile, so they can’t be used again as long as the siege is on. This shows how these combats tied up resources.

What did they learn?

I could tell some of them were making connections when they looked at the board and said “There’s Oswego and Fort William Henry. Those are the ones that General Montcalm took over like in the video we watched!” Okay, I think only one student said that, but seeing on the board places they’d read about or seen in the video we’d watched reinforced the information. The other thing they should get out of it is the difference between the decks, as I mentioned above. Hopefully they were thinking about hose differences, and why they were represented in the decks.

Out of the three, this was generally the least favourite among the students. This might have been due to the huge number of choices for each player to do as actions on their turns. It takes a while to read through them all. I had played this game once before explaining it to the students, and halfway through the game, I got pretty familiar with my choices, and could skim the reference chart fairly quickly. Most students only played this once though, and were still learning as they played. In addition, I’m pretty sure none of them previewed the rules I posted on the class website. The rulebook also has an overview of the war itself, which is cool.

I read some fairly negative reviews of this game, but then found that most of the issues they had with the game were resolved with the second edition, which is the edition that I had.

1754: The French and Indian War by Academy Games

Again, to get an overview of the geography of the war, and to think about some of the choices that the decision-makers might have had to have made, and because I really like this game, I included this one as part of the assignment. I started by demonstrating the introductory 2-turn game, but realized that with the 2 hours of playtime we had in class that they could play the full game, and many did play to completion, or at least very nearly done before they ran out of time.

1754 French and Indian War (2)

 How does is work?

This game can have up to four players, because there are four factions to control. There are the French Regulars and French Canadians (who are allied), and the British Regulars and the British Militia (who are allied). There is also a Native American faction, but they are not played by a player; instead, whichever play controls a territory takes any Natives in there as Allies to fight with them. Turn order is random – a cube is pulled from the bag, and whichever colour is pulled gets to go next. Once all factions have gone, the round ends.  On the map are territories, many of which have a star symbol printed on them. Each enemy-territory star symbol controlled is worth a victory point. Combat is done through dice, but the different factions’ dice have slightly different results. For example, the Regulars for both sides do not have “flee” results on their dice, because their greater discipline means they don’t run away. Movement is done through choosing from your hand of cards, but the cards also include events, which are generally named for and related to historical personae and events.

What did they learn?

The board is packed with important places, including traditional First Nations territories. Louisbourg, which we talked about in class is worth two Victory Points to the British if they take it, and so was the location of many large and desperate battles during the students’ games. Both the French and British Regulars reinforcements arrive at unoccupied harbours, some of the students learned quickly not to leave their harbours unguarded.

Another great moment that happened during one game was when the British player used the “George Washington” card, which allowed them to build a fort in an area that they control, as long as it has a fort symbol printed on it. The student decided where to place the fort, and then upon looking at the board more closely noticed that they had decided to build it at Fort Necessity. “Just like in real life!” they declared, “because George Washington built that one.” I wasn’t at that table for the next turn, so I don’t know if it was promptly taken, just like in real life.

1754 Questions

This game was also very popular with my class. It is probably important to note that none of my students would have identified themselves as “board gamers”, and probably couldn’t name many board games outside Monopoly, Scrabble, and maybe Risk. This was a fairly new experience for all of them. To make sure that they all had a chance to play, I teamed them up. A set of partners played as a single player. This led to some great discussions about options, strategies, and what to do next. The assignments had to be done individually though. If you’re interested in looking at the assignment that I put with the playing of the games, check out the BSClub section. It will be available for BSClub members (don’t worry, membership is free if you aren’t a member yet).

I enjoyed the entire process, and was pleased with how engaged the students were with the history through the games. Academy Games, who makes 1754, also makes a 1775 American War of Independence game, and an 1812 Invasion of Canada game. Although we will be talking about the American Revolution and War of Independence, we won’t be spending so much time on it to have time to play the game, but we will definitely be playing 1812: Invasion of Canada. It is similar to 1754, but with the First Nations as a playable faction allied to the British and Canadians.

There are so many good games out there; I strongly recommend trying this if you ave a class. They can have fun with the game, learning and testing strategy, working to work with others, practicing social skills, as they can with any game, but if you can get one that matches the material they are learning about in class, there can be an extra level of reflection and connection. If you do try it, we’d love to hear about your experience!

Thanks for reading! Keep on playing and learning!

2 responses to “Playing Games in Class”

  1. Would you be willing to share the website you found that has lesson plans for games in different classes that you talk about?

    1. Hi Mary,
      I would love to! Here’s the problem… I can no longer find it! I discovered that link through a post on the Ontario Teachers Resource Sharing Facebook page, and didn’t save the URL! I’ve been searching for it since, both to share and to contact the author to share ideas, but have so far been unsuccessful.
      The assignment that I created for the games I played with my class is available through the BSClub page, and I will post more as I develop them, and I have come across quite a few sites that talk about using games in class, although they don’t always specifically include lesson plans, and many of them are based in the U.S., so the curriculum varies.
      If you find a page that you find very helpful in providing ideas and plans to use games, I’d be happy if you were to share them, either here, or through our other social channel,s, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to communicate with us!

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