Musings from The Ox Pen

I like to muse over board games. Occasionally, I even write them down. This is a collection of those thoughts.
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Musings on Starting a Community Board Game Program

Rhiannon Lee
United States
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I've been working on developing board game programming for my local community center. I'm meeting with the Director again today, which of course, has me thinking about the design of my program.

Here's the gist of it:

It's a ten-week program. We're going to run it in a repeating four-week block for the remainder of this school year and then start the ten-week run at the start of next school year. Using the mini-sessions to test the waters of interest and adjust on a more manageable scale.

It's based on mechanics. I've talked about this briefly on our podcast, but I'll bring you up to date. After a lot of discussion with my husband, I decided on doing it based on mechanics. The Director thought it would be good to do "theme weeks", which is the way I used to run my adult game group before I stopped. I wasn't in love with it though since the program is designed for brand new gamers, and while themes are fun, it can make learning games more difficult. I thought about doing it based on genres, but it wasn't focused enough. Ultimately, I decided to go with mechanics because it allows gamers to understand how a single mechanic works in a variety of games. It makes teaching easier in that I can give a general overview of how the mechanic works and then apply it to each specific game. It also allows players to decide on their comfort/enjoyment of a type of game versus a theme of a game. Another main reason I picked mechanics is because it's easier to plug and play games based on age/ability/interest.

As you may or may not know, I have a background in education. I taught high school English and reading through a Special Education Department as well as some adult ed GED classes. In both of these capacities, I developed curriculum because it wasn't readily available for my students (such is the life of the red-headed bastard stepchildren programs of the education world but I digress). My point is, my brain thinks like a teacher who is charged with reaching a diverse group of learners with, in some cases, extremely varied learning needs. If you happen to be in education, you might be familiar with Understanding by Design principles. The lesson plans/training materials I am working on will follow this framework.

I'm trying to run the program with each week increasing in difficulty. I realize this is a completely subjective list, but I'm trying to make games structurally approachable. I did spend some time on the Geek researching gateway games, etc. to make sure I was on a somewhat coherent path. The definitions were the result of looking at several resources. The games were mostly chosen based on personal experiences, but some were picked based on suggestions and/or trolling the Geek. Anyway, here's an outline of the program.

The 10-Week Program Outline

Week 1: Set Collection
Week 2: Press Your Luck
Week 3: Deck Building
Week 4: Tile Placement
Week 5: Auction
Week 6: Worker Placement
Week 7: Area Majority
Week 8: Action Selection
Week 9: Resource Management
Week 10: Co-ops

The Four-Week Mini-Sessions Outline

Week 1: Set Collection

Overview: Set collection involves players collecting sets of cards, goods, or tiles in order to obtain points, resources, or benefits.

Established Goal: Players will be able to play games that use the set collection mechanic.

Understandings: Players will understand...

how set collection works in a variety of games.
how set collection enables players to accomplish different goals.
Essential Question: How do board games use the set collection mechanic?

Example Games

Ticket to Ride
Looting London

Week 2: Press Your Luck

Overview: Press your luck involves players tempting fate by deciding how long to stay in an action. It is up to the player to choose whether to play it safe and save their progress or keep going until they lose their progress.

Established Goal: Players will be able to play games that use the press your luck mechanic.

Understandings: Players will understand...

how press your luck works in a variety of games.
how to calculate the odds they earn a desired result in a game.
Essential Question: How do board games use the press your luck mechanic?

Example Games

Incan Gold
King of Tokyo
Can't Stop

Week 3: Deck Building

Overview: Deck building involves building a deck of cards from a base set. Typically, cards can be purchased or drafted and offer unique abilities. It is not uncommon to have chaining effects, offering points or other benefits.

Established Goal: Players will be able to play games that use the deck building mechanic.

Understandings: Players will understand...

how deck building works in a variety of games.
how to effectively build a deck and utilize chaining effects.
Essential Question: How do board games use the deck building mechanic?

Example Games

Smash Up
Thunderstone Starter Set

Week 4: Co-ops

Overview: Co-ops, short for cooperative games, involve players working together to try to beat the game. Typically, there is little or no competition, but some co-op games involve a traitor who tries to hinder other players' progress toward beating the game. There's only one winner: the players or the game.

Established Goal: Players will be able to play cooperative games.

Understandings: Players will understand...

how cooperatives work in a variety of games.
how to simultaneously use multiple mechanics to work with players to beat the game.
Essential Question: How do board games use the cooperative mechanic?

Example Games

Forbidden Desert
Forbidden Island
Castle Panic

Other Possibly Interesting Points
I'm using high school volunteers to run game tables. The high school students in my town are required to complete so many hours of community service in order to graduate high school. In an effort to save costs for the community center as well as provide a service to the community, I've decided to use high school students to teach. This is also true of my TableTop Day event, although I will have staff as well that day.

Training materials will include lesson plans and videos. Being able to have anyone run the program was important to the Director. Thus, I am making training materials to accommodate this need. I decided to do both lesson plans and videos to reach people in a variety of formats. Truth be told, the lesson plans will function as a sort of script for the videos. Speaking of the videos, I think I'm going to create two segments. One where I teach the teacher and cover things to watch out for, helpful modifications, etc. The other where I teach the player as a sort of sample teach.

Games were purchased and donated. I was given a budget to purchase games. All of the games listed above were purchased. In addition, game companies and stores graciously donated some games, which fit nicely into the other weeks' categories. The ones that don't will be available for open gaming events. All of the games will be available to play during my TableTop Day event.

The program is for school-aged students, families, and seniors. The four-week mini-sessions are targeted for the school-aged students. However, starting in the fall (possibly the summer), there will be programming for all levels of players. The school-aged students will be able to attend an after-school program, complete with transportation from the school. Families will be able to have open gaming one night a week (although this may be better for a once a month on a weekend type event). The senior center will also have a board game day once a week around lunch time.

And that's that. I'll be sure to post completed program stuff soon (I'm hoping by the end of the month).
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