End of BOARDom Busters

End of BOARDom Busters

Pasta bake was delicious we added some broccoli cos girls don’t like onions and we loved making the penguins

Easter 2021 – the end of lockdowns is in sight, but there’s one more school holiday with museums empty, libraries shut, and shops closed.

After a year of schools being opened, then closed, then open again, we knew that some children were being disproportionately affected by remote-learning. We also knew some parents weren’t able to access the support usually provided through free school meals.

So we approached Hartlepool Borough Council with an idea – to do what we used to do in our tea room: feed people, and provide a space to socialise and to learn. But we’d do it virtually – by providing daily packs of board games, ingredients, and craft materials.

Because we couldn’t cook for people safely due to social distancing issues, we provided the ingredients for a healthy meal with easy-to-follow instructions, both written and videoed (thanks to St Matthew’s Hall for providing the kitchen space!). We also provided three games, with instructions on how to play via Zoom. Each game helped to keep maths skills sharp: we had Hey, That’s My Fish!; Kingdomino; and Sushi Go!

We also used the games as a theme for the day, with a simple craft and outdoor activity to go alongside it.

In total we had 22 families take part every day – and a huge thank you to those who shared pictures and stories from your week.

Empty plates all around even the teen ate the veg

If you were part of the club, please fill out this form – we’re not listed on question 5, so if you could add ‘BOARDom Busters’ to the ‘other’ box, that would be amazing.

We must also thank Throston and Rossmere primary schools for lending us some space to be able to safely distribute the packs every day.

We hope to do something similar over summer, and something better aimed at teens too. If you’d like to find out more closer to the time, please fill out this form:

Community Newsletter April 2021

Community Newsletter April 2021

Community Newsletter April 2021

What’s happening in the Gamers@Hart community at the end of March, and what do we have to look forward to in April?

Here’s a glimpse!

Plans to Reopen

At the end of January we explained our plans to reopen in summer, with the ending of social distancing restrictions.

So far we’re amazed at the support we’ve had, and we’re well on target for raising the capital we need.

Our initial plan was aiming to sell 600 items by the end of March – and we smashed that by selling 702 games, boosters, paints, and books!

We also announced, with the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, if the social distancing rules end before we have a new shop we’ll begin games nights in community venues.

Lockdown Family Support

We’ve been giving away literacy bundles with four games, some resources, and an online event for families to learn how to play! People’s Meeples have been very successful in raising money for this endeavour – so far we’ve given away 70 boxes. 30 came from People’s Meeples directly, 10 came from generous donations by customers, and another 30 were funded by the Tees Valley Community Foundation. We’re aiming to get another 30 into local primary schools before summer!

But we’ve also been busy working with Hartlepool Borough Council to provide a virtual holiday club focussing on games that support numeracy. We’re also providing food – ingredients ready prepared with easy-to-follow instructions. Thanks to funding from the council, we’ve been able to offer this to 50 children and their families.

We hope this is just the beginning, and look forward to running a similar face-to-face club in summer!

Top Selling Items of March

So what’s been selling well for us this month?

Our top 5 look like this:

  1. Marvel Champions: Galaxy’s Most Wanted – A living card game allows a continually expanding game to develop with regular updates, but without the cost of randomised collectable games (like Pokemon) – everything you need is in one pack. This month saw the introduction of a huge new expansion to Marvel Champions, and we not only sold more of this than anything else in March, we sold more than any other LCG upgrade, ever!
  2. The Quacks of Quedlinberg: Alchemists – An expansion for our best selling game of 2020. It introduces nightmares, obsession, and hysteria to The Quacks of Quedlinburg base game, with players working in new laboratories to distil essences that can free the citizens of Quedlinburg from these afflictions.
  3. Spirit Island – a fantastic cooperative game where you play spirits, defending your Island from colonialists coming to strip it of its resources. This is also our most successful bundle, with more people buying this with the expansion than the base game alone.
  4. Arkham Horror: A Light in the Fog – Another LCG, this time set in the Cthulhu Mythos. With all of the early decks recently reprinted, this is a great time to start it up!
  5. Qwirkle – Sometimes an old game suddenly becomes popular – we’re not sure why, but we had a run on this classic tile-laying game! It’s well deserved though.

What have we been playing in March?

What’s hit the Hart family table this month?

Those that have been the biggest hit include:

SHASN – a game of political meandering and decision making. A series of thought provoking questions define our political leanings – will we put up border walls, or welcome immigrants? Are we going to be idealists even if it costs us the election, or engage in some easy populist votes by denying rights to minorities?

Overboss – a tile laying game with a retro gaming theme, where we design a dungeon to thwart the hero. Similar to Carcassonne, placing tiles to gain points, with a subtle competitive angle as we manipulate each others boards to maximise our own points. We got our copy via Kickstarter, but it’ll be coming into our shop soon!

Lost Ruins of Arnak – this game came out in 2020 but we only just got round to playing it – one of the most hyped games of the year, this deck building worker placement strategy game is a deep thematic experience. Indiana Jones in all but name, you lead an expedition or archaeologists trying to find (you guessed it) the lost ruins of Arnak by searching for item, amassing resources, and researching about the long-dead culture.

What have we been backing on Kickstarter?

We regularly look for the next big thing on Kickstarter.

Here’s a selection of games we’ve backed in March, which will come to you later in 2021:

So, You’ve Been EatenThe One Ring RPGBlock and KeyCult of the Deep

Quiz Night

Quiz Night

We’re hosting our first online version of our fabulous (slightly geeky) tea room quizzes!

With rounds including movie sound effects, famous monsters, fantasy, sci-fi, and littlest geeks! Play as a team, or individually.

Old-time regular tea room friends and complete newbies ‘we just found you on the internet’ people are all welcome.

Click the link to get into Zoom on 17th February is all you really need to know: Click here
Zoom ID: 838 5558 4945

Suitable for all ages – in fact, teams with younger members may even have an advantage…This quiz was made possible because we’ve already sold 200 things in 2020 so far! Find our how we’re doing with our target to reopen here: https://gamersathart.co.uk/4981-2/

7pm, Wednesday 17th February

Lockdown Literacy Bundles: FAQs

Lockdown Literacy Bundles: FAQs

What are we doing?

With People’s Meeples (a community organisation we’re closely associated with), we are providing over 70 literacy boxes for families who will make best use of them. These boxes have four games in, that we’ve chosen because they support particular aspects of reading and comprehension: Just One, Braggart, Dice Academy, and Story Cubes.

This isn’t all though.

Everyone with a box gets a booklet explaining why we chose the games with some ideas for how to get the best out of them, and an invitation to a ‘virtual parents evening’ where we will teach the games and explain why they’re going to help their kids with literacy.

We’d love to give out more – if you’re able, you could donate here to help!

Why those games?

We explain this more in our parents’ evenings, but in short:

  • Braggart has lots of different vocabulary for children to read, it’s full of figurative language and idioms, and it has a sense of humour that we find keeps children engaged.
  • Dice Academy encourages the speedy recall of words, and introduces children to new vocabulary that other people around the table are using.
  • Just One introduces the same word from multiple different perspectives, helping to develop a fuller understanding of key vocabulary
  • Story Cubes, when combined with our special card based on Braggart, provides a different way to understand how stories can be structured, that will improve their comprehension of other narratives.

How are you choosing who to give boxes to?

We have a couple of schools we have worked with over the last few years, so we’re asking teachers to distribute boxes to families they think will benefit the most.  

Schools and families may also buy boxes (which will include the invite to the online parents evening and all the resources too).

If anyone knows of other places to receive funding, we would love to know!

How can I be involved?

If you’re a teacher with access to some funding, you could buy some for your families.

If you’re a parent, you can buy one for your family.

If you would like to donate one, you can do that too! See our shop here or visit our GoFundMe page.

What’s the theory behind this?

If you’re knowledgeable about games you might have noticed that, from out list, only Braggart involves much reading. So how will this help with literacy? We’ll explain this in more depth at the parents evenings, but there are lots of things that predict whether someone will be a strong reader as they grow. One key thing is vocabulary and understanding spoken words. Schools are exceptionally good at helping children learn how to turn the words on a page into sounds, so we’re deliberately focussing on helping children to understand what they read.

Our backgrounds are in research and teaching, with a particular interest in reading, with Peter working on a reading intervention project, which helped us find the perfect games.

Why are we doing this?

We’ve always had a passion for using games for the social and educational benefits they provide.

People’s Meeples used to run weekly sessions with Catcote School and an Autism Friendly Night. These have stopped now, and as Gamers@Hart is currently homeless, it may be a while before we’re running again (find out more about that here).

But we had some money ringfenced for work with young people, and this seems like the best use.

How will you make sure they’re wisely used?

Games will be given out by teachers who know their families, and know if they’re likely to be used. .

We also think having the online ‘parents evening’ will remove the biggest barrier – learning the games. We also chose games that we know can be easily learnt while playing, within 2-3 minutes.

What makes someone suitable for these boxes?

If you’re an individual family looking for a box, everyone is suitable. These are aimed as KS2, but the games also work well with KS3 and for many children, KS1.

Some schools may choose to give them to children who haven’t had much access to reading material during the lockdown, or where they’re concerned a family has been disproportionately affected by missing school. It may be tempting to only think of children who are struggling readers, but sometimes the strongest readers are those most disadvantaged by time away from school. The games we’ve chosen grow in complexity with the children’s understanding.

Buying Guide for Newbies

Buying Guide for Newbies

“I want to help, but I know nothing about games”

We get that. We have regular tea room customers who loved us for vegan cake, but didn’t play games. We have friends, acquaintances, and people who like the fact Hartlepool was home to something a little quirky, who want to support us as we soar, phoenix-like, from the ashes of our virus-ridden Pokemon cards – but they’re not sure how because everything looks complicated and confusing and not that much fun at all.

This post is for you.

Here are some ideas for games and the kind of people that might enjoy them. We had 3 rules when compiling this list.

  1. They’re fun enough for the Hart family to be willing to play regularly (spoiler alert – the last category breaks this rule on account of no one being 3 any more),
  2. They’re easy to learn – we expect no prior knowledge of any games,
  3. We have them in plentiful supply at a really good price – you can double check here: www.boardgameprices.co.uk – we’re trying to help you help us, not rip anyone off. (Don’t forget – free delivery within Hartlepool, and free postage if you spend over £40).


If Scrabble and Dominoes fell in love and produced beautiful babies, Qwirkle would be the result. Grab tiles from a bag, but instead of creating words, create colourful patterns.

Compared to Scrabble turns take seconds, and although we find some people are better at spotting patterns than others, there’s not the same disadvantage for people who haven’t memorised the dictionary. Compared to Dominoes there’s less luck involved, and more choice – creating a game that feels as simple as laying tiles, but with more strategy.

Plays in about 30-40 minutes, for 2-4 players, works as well with couples as it does with families, and keeps young and older kids as engaged.


Just 2 of you? Try this chess alternative. In chess each piece has it’s own way to move – bishops go diagonal. Rooks orthagonal. Pawns march onwards one at a time. Except when they march 2. Except when they’re taking and move diagonally. Pawns are kinda fickle.

With Onitama, a card tells you how your pieces can move this turn. And the card you pick stops your opponent from moving like that too – so it isn’t just about making the move you want, it’s about stopping your opponent from making the move they want.

Whether you win or lose, all this brain work makes you feel very clever.

We also have a bundle with the expansions here too.

One for the adults and older kids.


A modern classic, save the world from not one, but four, virulent diseases. Initiate your own hand washing procedures and lockdown – deal with deniers and super spreaders – while you travel the globe collecting cards that will allow you to find the cures.

We hesitated with putting this on the list because pretty much everyone must own it by now. But if you’re one of those people who doesn’t, well, consider this your call!

2-4 players, about 45 minutes to play, fun for everyone, but if you haven’t played many games with your kids before, the recommended 8+ is about right.


Place tiles to create a map.

That’s it.

Well, then you also put little people (aka Meeples) on the map, and depending on where you put them, they score you points.

That really is it.

There’s something quite calm and therapeutic about this game – gently picking up a tile from the stack, rotating it with your fingers until you find the perfect spot for it, satisfyingly completing aspects of the map… and if you enjoy it, there’s about 100 expansions with new and exciting tiles for you to try.

2-4 players, plays best with 3-4 though. About 30 minutes per game, and all ages can play this – but kids 8+ and adults probably get the most fun from it. For younger players, from 4+, there’s a ‘My First’ version that’s also amazing.

Story Cubes.

While school is out and kids have time at home, grab these dice, give them a roll, ask your child to tell you an awesome story. Keep that mind going – dredging up words from long-forgotten literacy lessons.

In fact – these have found their way into so many primary school classrooms your kids may already be well experienced with them.

Ages 4-11 do best with this, but if you can get your teenage kids to tell you a story, more power to you.

Marvel Splendor

Possibly the most challenging game on our list – but only because the other games are so simple to learn.

Collect your way to victory, swapping gems for more gems, and more ways to make gems, and then swap them for points. This is a super hero themed version of the normal ‘Splendor’ which may have an added appeal to some.

30-40 minute game, 8+ again, but not a kids game – adults will love it too.

Quacks of Quedlinberg

Perhaps one for people who have had a little more gaming experience.

But then, maybe not – the rule book is just a couple of pages longer than the other games in this list.

But we recommend this game to everyone – because it’s awesome.

If you already know you like games, and you haven’t got this, get it.

You put ingredients (little tokens) in your bag. Then you pull them out one at a time and place them in your cauldron. Each ingredient has a particular power that may (or may not) help you score more points. But eventually you’ll pull out the tokens that make you go BOOM – and prematurely end your turn.

Do you play safe and stop at a decent score, or keep going and risk an explosion?

Around 45-60 minutes per game, 10+ (or younger, if your family have experience with games), 3-4 players (5 players if you buy the expansion)

Haba games

Have you got very tiny children?

These break the ‘will the Hart family play them’ rule. Not that we’ve tried for a long time…. Maybe we’re doing our teenagers a disservice.

But for well made, chunky, tactile games for todders and pre-schoolers, these are amazing! It just adds another tool to your parenting bow when trying to think of what to do on another day of lockdown.

Christmas Deliveries 2020

Christmas Deliveries 2020

Will your games arrive before Christmas?

Tricky question – but from 19th December, everything ordered by 1pm will be posted the same day using a 1-2 day courier service.

If you live locally (TS24, TS25, TS26, TS27) we will deliver your games right up to Christmas Eve if you buy by 10am 24th December

Gamers@Hart Shop Closing FAQs

Gamers@Hart Shop Closing FAQs

Gamers@Hart Shop Closing FAQs – Updates 10/10/20

When are you closing the shop?

Our last day will be Friday 30th October

Why are you closing your shop?

A mix of Covid19 making businesses like ours unviable and uncertainty in the economy due to Brexit.

Is Gamers@Hart folding completely?

No, only the physical shop. We’ll still have our online shop – and if things change in the spring, who knows? Our passion for games hasn’t gone anywhere – and we were really, really excited about our new ventures helping families and young people get the best from games. Things affecting our ability to bounce back include: restrictions that limit socialising; the help from the government for businesses forced to close during the pandemic; the our online sales while our physical shop is closed.

Lockdown has been tough. 2021 will have people who have felt isolated looking for low-threat places to build new friendships and reconnect with others. We hope we can offer that, even if it looks a bit different.

Is the close permanent or temporary?

We honestly don’t know yet. We would love to bounce back in spring, but there’s too much uncertainty to say. We are, as they say, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.

What happens to my membership?

Annual memberships will be refunded – you can still use your card until the day we close for discounts.

Monthly memberships will have no more payments taken – you get most of October free!

What happens to the library?

The library will be open as usual until 17th October. Then it will close to people taking games home, however it will remain open until the last day for playing games in the shop. To allow us to close the shop for a few months or more, we’ll need to pay various suppliers. To do this we will need to sell off much of our library. If we are able to bounce back, we’ll start again with the most popular games!

What about events?

All events will be happening as normal until the end. We hope to add a few more ‘farewell for now’ events in our final week, AND because we’d normally have to spread our prizes across several months you can expect improved prize pools!

In the future we hope to be able to offer events again regularly – this may even begin before we reopen a shop.

What about my preorders?

All preorders will still be honoured – and we’ll be offering more. We’re looking forward to using our website to take your orders in the future, and we’ll deliver free within Hartlepool.

How can I help?

Pop in, say hi, grab something to put aside for Christmas, book tables and play games, keep checking out our online shop… basically keep using us while we’re here 🙂

Who else uses tabletop games?

Who else uses tabletop games?

Tabletop games are are used successfully in education, therapeutic and social settings across the world. However, they require a rare blend of qualified professionals, avid gamers, and areas with low overheads to work effective and affordably. Hartlepool is one of the fortunate place in the centre of that Venn diagram.

This is a brief overview of other people who have used tabletop games to benefit others, and shows why we think tabletop gaming and Magic: The Gathering are ideal for helping young people to make friends, gain confidence, and learn. It’s all about socialising, strategising, and problem solving with others – these skills don’t develop by chance, but within the right environments.

This isn’t just us! Lots of other people are using games for educational and social benefits, for example: GametoGrow use games for mindfulness and therapeutic purposes; the Bodhana Group in Pennsylvania use games to rehearse social skills and build empathy; The Brooklyn Strategist was founded by a clinical psychologist and researcher to develop stategy and problem solving amongst young people; Imagination Gaming run lots of successful curriculum days using games in schools in Yorkshire (and beyond). Hartlepool has joined a relatively short list of places able to offer gaming as an educational and social tool run by trained professionals.

What does the research say?

Generally, the quality of the research is pretty average – not many people have invested the time and money into researching board games to have a full measure of their true potential. There are few randomised controlled trials that are able to prove changes are down to gaming, however there are some large-scale studies that offer good evidence alongside experienced practitioners that show gaming can have a positive effect.

Families that regularly engage in ‘common, low cost, relatively accessible, often home-based activities’ , including table top games, have higher family life satisfaction [1]. Role playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons) improves empathy [2]. Magic: The Gathering has been used successfully as a rich literacy tool that fosters it’s own discourse [3]. Introverted children have increased motivation to open up during table top games [4]. Carcassonne has been used to teach geography successfully [5], Monopoly used to simulate probability and risk amongst business students [6], and Apples to Apples is used to train language therapists in understanding different forms of support for clients [7]. In 55 to 91 year olds, playing card games improves working memory and reasoning [8] and reduces the risk of dementia [9].

There’s also myriad examples of researchers creating their own games for specific purposes including alleviating the effects of Alzheimer’s [10], improving family life [11], improving the teaching of pharmacology [12], biology [13], and physics [14] undergraduate students, and improve social skills of primary aged pupils [15]. Games teach algorithms and computational thinking to pupils across the school age [16].

What do we expect to happen?

Based on the experience of other people, the research above, and our own experiences, we expect children and young people who take part in The Geek Room to:

  • Make new friends, even if making friends is hard for them
  • Socialise during a shared experience, even if socialising feels unnatural to them
  • Develop deeper problem solving and strategising skills
  • Develop confidence in their own judgements and decision making
  • Feel safe, valued, and welcome.

[1] Agate, J.R. et al (2009) ‘Family Leisure Satisfaction and Satisfaction with Family Life’ Journal of Leisure Research 41:2 p205-223

[2] Rivers, A et al (2016) ‘Empathic Features and Absorption in Fantasy Role-Playing’ American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 68:3 p286-294

[3] Dodge, A.M ‘Examining Literacy Practices in the Game Magic: The Gathering’ American Journal of Play 10:2

[4] Trajkovik, V et al (2018) ‘Traditional games in elementary school: Relationships of student’s personality traits, motivation and experience with learning outcomes’ PLoS One doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0202172

[5] Mewborn, M & Mitchell, J.T. (2019) ‘Carcassonne: Using a Tabletop Game to Teach Geographic Concepts’ The Theography Teacher 16:2, p57-67

[6] Gazdula, J & Farr, R (2019) ‘Teaching Risk and Probability: Building the Monopoly Board Game Into a Probability Simulator’ Management Teaching Review DOI 10.1177/2379298119845090

[7] Scharp, K.M, Seiter J.S., Curran, T (2019) ‘Learning supportive communication through an adaptation of the board game Apples to Apples’ Communication Teacher 33:1 p5-10

[8] Clarkson-Smith, L & Hartley, A.A. (1990) ‘The Game of Bridge as an Exercise in Working Memory and Reasoning’ Journal of Gerontology 45:6 p233-238

[9] Dartigues, J.F. et al (2013) ‘Playing board games, cognitive decline and dementia: a French population-based cohort study’ BMJ Open doi: 10.1136/

[10] Cohen, G.D et al (2009) ‘The First Therapeutic Game Specifically Designed and Evaluated for Alzheimer’s Disease’ American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementia 21:6 p540-551

[11] Blechman, E.A. (1974) ‘The Family Contract Game’ The Family Coordinator 23:3 p269-281

[12] Karbownik et al (2016) ‘Board game versus lecture-based seminar in the teaching of pharmacology of antimicrobial drugs – a randomized controlled trial’ FEMS doi: 10.1093/femsle/fnw045

[13] Luchi et al (2017) ‘Effect of an education game on university students’ learning about action potetials’ Advanced Physical Education 31 p222-230

[14] Cardinot, A & Fairfield, J.A. (2019) ‘Game-Based Learning to Engage Students With Physics and Astronomy Using a Board Game’International Journal of Game-Based Learning DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.20190101044

[15] Okada, Y & Matsuda, T (2019) ‘Development of a Social Skills Education Game for Elementary School Students’ Simulation & Gaming 50:5 p598-620

[16] Gresse Von Wangenhaim, C, et al (2019) ‘SplashCode – A Board Game for Learning an Understanding of Algorithms in Middle School’ Informatics in Education 18:2 p259-280

The Geek Room FAQ

The Geek Room FAQ

We’re delighted with how many people are showing an interest in our two new ‘Geek Rooms’ – one for people who would enjoy delving into the world’s most popular collectible card game, and one for general board and card games.

Here are some of the questions we’ve been asked. If you have any questions please send them in – our email address is info@gamersathart.co.uk

What happens if we enter a local lockdown?

We will follow the local guidelines. It is likely we will be required to close The Geek Room. In this case, you are welcome to receive either a refund for any sessions that haven’t been completed, or carry the remaining sessions over until the lockdown is over.

Is this suitable for a child with ASC/Aspergers?


All staff have either had ASC awareness training or are qualified teachers. We are providing a safe space for children and young people who enjoy problem solving or gaming to meet other people with similar interests. Part of our mission is to create an inclusive environment, and to develop an inclusive attitude amongst our members.

In fact we would go even further – gaming can be a great way for anyone who finds socialising difficult. It provides social situations with clear boundaries, where conversation and communication have a clear focus. You can talk to people about what is happening in front of you as the game unfolds, and afterwards there’s an immediate shared experience to base conversation on.

What if my child doesn’t enjoy it?

We believe the small groups, friendly leaders, and entertaining and fulfilling games will be enjoyed by all. But if your child doesn’t enjoy The Geek Room we will offer a refund for any sessions that have not been completed.

What particular procedures will you be following regarding Covid19?

Children will be in bubbles of 4, and they will not interact with other bubbles. They will be spaced 2m apart from other bubbles, and each child will be 1.2m from other children in their bubble.

All the usual procedures stand, including: wearing masks is compulsory for over 12s (unless they are exempt) and recommended for younger children where it will not cause distress, using hand sanitizer often, and games that are played are quarantined for 3 days.

What do you hope children and young people will get out of taking part?

  • New friends
  • A new hobby
  • Increased confidence to take risks and trust in their ability to make sound judgements
  • Increased ability to problem solve, be able to articulate reasoning for choices, and ability to make strategic decisions
  • Improvements in a range of academic subjects covered in our monthly focus on games
  • Increased concentration and willingness to cooperate.

Can I stay? Can I leave my child?

Yes, and yes. Our leaders have a DBS check, and large amount of experience as teachers and youth and children’s workers if you want to feel comfortable leaving your child. And we do have a small number of extra tables downstairs you are welcome to sit at if you would prefer to stay.

Using games in (home) school!

Using games in (home) school!

It’s no secret; we’re huge fans of using games to help with education and socialising.

This is why we love them as teaching tools!

#1 Games are powerful teaching tools because they’re fun, not because they’re educational

There’s no need to try and make a game ‘educational’, or overemphasise what they can teach. Choose games wisely, play normally, spot teachable moments, and trust that kids will be learning.

Many other activities also have similar educational benefits – we would never suggest gaming is the only way to learn, or even the best when compared to some of the educational interventions school provides. But what makes gaming unique is the almost-universal motivation to take part. Kids become actively involved in their own learning.

#2 There’s so much to choose from – you can find almost any combination of themes and skills!

The theme of the game might not be the thing you really want to teach, even though it looks like it is.

Take Scrabble as an example. Scrabble is not a word game. It’s a memory game. You win by memorising as much of the dictionary as possible. You don’t need to have any understanding of any of the words and it doesn’t improve spelling.

Genuine word games are things like Jask, Just One, Head Hackers, Codenames, and even Dixit – games that make you interact with words, where you’re actively engaging with the meaning of the words and searching for multiple interpretations and perspectives.

And Monopoly isn’t really a game that teaches anything about economics (other than how unfair it can be), if anything it’s a lesson in luck and probability. Games about economics mimic how resources can be traded for other resources, sometimes more profitably than others, like Century: Spice Road, Splendor, Power Grid, or Terraforming Mars.

#3 Games can introduce new concepts and skills

Heavily thematic games that have been well thought out provide an opportunity to learn some basic concepts of a huge range of subjects. I knew nothing about how anyone created atomic bombs before I played The Manhattan Project, and nothing about traditional wine making until Viticulture. Now I’m hardly an expert in either field, but this general background knowledge about grapes and ‘yellow cake’ opens up some new concepts that – according to research on learning – will make it easier to learn about actual wine production.

You could do it the other way round – teach the abstract concepts and then use games to reinforce that – but it’s better to have a practical, experiential encounter with the topic of the curriculum first, and then there’s something to ‘hang’ the more abstract learning onto.

For example, with our new Geek Room, we’re beginning with a month of games that introduce concepts about probability. Probability is a pretty abstract concept, and the general misinformation about the dangers of coronavirus show statistics and probability isn’t particularly well understood. The idea that you can manipulate probabilities in your favour is even more difficult to comprehend.

However, the idea that you can add an extra card to your deck, and you find you can ‘pull’ that card more often and having more success… that’s providing the foundation to learn about probability in a more formal setting.

#4 Games reinforce information from other places

Timeline is a great game. You have a few cards of inventions and discoveries, and you guess where they fit in the timeline you (and the other players) are creating. Cytosis is a great game for teaching the concept of how cells work, and throws in the language that GCSE students are expected to know. Terraforming Mars is a fantastic science-based simulation which blurs the boundary between science fiction and current thinking about how we could sustain human life on Mars.

And thanks to ‘spacing’ (as educational psychologists would call it), these games help to reinforce information that has been learnt elsewhere. It’s typically thought the best way to commit something into the long term memory is to repeatedly bring it to mind several times, over days or weeks.

If your child is learning about British History, then having a game of Brain Box: Kings and Queens every few days will be a great way to reinforce what they’ve already learnt.

#5 Developing skills, not learning facts, is the strength of games

We often think ‘educational’ means the content of the game has to teach us something new – and as we’ve seen above, there are some great examples of games that do that.

But the real strength of games is in developing skills – because the skills are reinforced across multiple games. What skills? Well, that’s a series of posts in itself. But let’s briefly take a few:

  • Problem solving – some games, like the Unlock series, are based entirely around this premise.
  • Strategizing – the more choices you have on your turn in a game, generally, the more complex it is and the greater strategy that’s required. There aren’t many games that have more choices than Civilization, but even Outfoxed (aimed at 5 year olds) has genuine, non-luck based choices to make.
  • Teaching new vocabulary, which improves comprehension, which improves reading, which improves… everything.
  • Logical sequences – which set children up for engaging in programming and maths – are integral to most games, but we think worker placement games are particularly good for that. These are games where you take an action (often by placing a ‘worker’ on a space on the board), which gives you a resource.
  • Recognising patterns – another key skill for maths. It doesn’t matter if it’s matching colours, or working through a hidden maze, many games involve patterns and repetition. Lovelace and Babbage is one good example though.
  • Developing working memory – any game that has you hold multiple pieces of information in your head at once helps with this. Who has what card again? What order did I want to take my actions in?
  • Deduction – the idea that you can work something out – or limit the options – with the information you’ve got. Who’s the Werewolf? Where’s Dracula hiding? What card is someone holding?

#6 Activating multiple skills at one.

Games often use multiple skills at the same time. Games that require maths often have cards with new vocabulary to read. Games that involve story telling still have points to add at the end. Cooperative games that are really about probability still require the use of strategy, conversation, and cooperation – and the ability to be persuasive. When choosing games you can also think about what secondary skills are being activated.

#7 Use the tools you already possess

We don’t even need to say this. Teaching has always been an art form. It’s always been more about the well-timed question and appropriate affirmation than lesson plans.

When playing games purely as a hobby a lot goes unsaid. In an educational environment, encouraging overt reflection on the state of the game, and asking multiple perspectives about what’s happening now and what’s happening next, and explicitly pointing to the reason for playing the game, will all help to get more from the game while keeping it fun.

Despite all this, in a classroom environment, using games can be tough. We have some ideas on how to overcome some practical issues in our next post.