July 29, 2008

Strata game development: it's my family's fault

For the record, all I did was create a game to engage students in talking about education policy. But my daughter suggested we play it, even in draft form. Here's what I learned from that first round of playtesting:

  • The basic game is playable.
  • Everyone started inventing stories for their families, and my son (who was given the poorest family) complained about how unfair life was... until his family's children did well in the first round.
  • Game pieces exist for a reason: it's a headache to keep track of a game's state-space on a notepad
  • More generally, do not create a board game that requires a calculator or a spreadsheet
  • I now understand the role of Monopoly's chance and community chest cards -- to introduce shocks into the gameplay without having to change the regular rules.
I've simplified some of the rules and added a set of "change-agent" cards to be drawn each round. Half of the cards do nothing. Some of the other cards determine economic circumstances (long boom, boom-and-bust, depression), a few change the circumstances of either the wealthiest or poorest families, there's a forced vote on a tax cut (everyone gets a bit more money, but with a tradeoff in educational quality for the next turn or two), and a few cards give players the option to propose rule changes for the entire game. Oh, yes, and one of my children suggested a card for a social revolution and purge, with players exchanging families (the poorest and wealthiest players change families, then the 2nd poorest and wealthiest, and so forth). They've enjoyed games like Guillotine, my son has played nation/culture-strategy games such as Cyber Nations, and they may have come to the table expecting some dramatic turn of events. So for the record, the idea of a revolution and purge is not my idea.

While thinking about and drafting the game in the last week or so, I've come across a number of discussions about using nation/culture-strategy games in history classes, such as using historical war tactics games, Civilization modifications (or mods for short), or other teacher-selected/created simulations, or requiring that students create simulation games. Civilization or SimCity are good in thinking about resource limits, but I'm wondering if there are other structures for the type of history class I would teach (specifically, history of education), where decisions are in between the individual/family and the society-wide. (Strata is for an interdisciplinary class.)

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Posted in Teaching on July 29, 2008 12:45 PM |