As a teacher for fifteen years in special schools, I was often encouraged to engage children with the school's supply of 'Educational Games'. Many of these were sadly lacking in a key element i.e. FUN! The brain works best when happy and unfortunately these games felt all too like 'school' for young people. The games I did use tended to come from my own collection and included Take it Easy, Brief History of the World and For Sale. These always worked a treat.
Fast forward and now retired from teaching, but doing some private tutoring in maths. My pupil is an autistic boy who has only a basic grasp of simple numbers and moreover finds it hard to use his skills outside the confines of a 'learning maths' framework. He is finishing some good work from a text book and I suddenly realise we have fifteen minutes of spare time to fill and more maths exercises is not the answer. A quick glance at my games collection and I am stumped, but only for a moment. On my desk is the prototype for Backpacks & Blisters, all ready for the filming of a demo video in the not too distant future. We get it out and have a go. It works beautifully.
The core mechanic consists of using cards depicting circles and squares which allow the player's 'rambler' to move around a map of the English Lake District. This fine landscape is depicted by circular or square locations joined together by paths made up of ... circles and squares. Now to my pupil even this simple movement system presents quite a few challenges, not least because he holds four cards in his hand at the start of each turn (until lunch time). Then he has to make a decision:
• How many circles or squares are needed to get from location A to location B ?
• Which cards have a combination of these ?
• Is there a better route on the map, maybe involving location C or Location D ?
• Which card would be the most efficient to use?
On arrival at a location the rambler score points equal to the value of the location. These are recorded on a score track running round the board. The rambler can only score for a location once and so therefore must place a 'stone' on that location. The player then draws another card. My pupil needs good organisation skills to do all this; he doesn't yet have them, but he is acquiring them quickly. His turn is decisive, very visual (he can see where he has already visited) and fulfilling. Like most gamers he enjoys the feeling of being 'clever' in what he is doing. He is having FUN!
So we passed our first few minutes of Backpacks & Blisters. We agreed we had to be back in Keswick before his Mum rang the doorbell at 6.00 pm, otherwise Mountain Rescue would send out a helicopter and all points would be lost. Naturally he got back... and I didn't.
So where do we go from here? Well we start by adding extra elements into the game. These include:
• Target destinations giving bonus points
• Secret Desires which also give bonus points
• Rainy weather - all locations are worth one point less
• Chocolate - doubles the movement value of a card
• Refreshments - stop in a cafe and score points
• Bus rides and Ferry trips - no need to walk but score yet more points
• Money - needed to pay for Chocolate, Refreshments, Bus rides and Ferry trips
• Time itself - only so many turns before lunch, tea and returning to Keswick
When all these have been mastered we can move on to Equipment tiles:
• Binoculars - add +2 for mountain locations
• Sun Protection - add +1 on all locations
• Walking Sticks - add one circle to each card
• Guide Books - add more bonus points for Secret Desires
• Compass - draw two cards and discard one
And then finally there's The Heavy rucksack. Two turns (yet more recording) to carry it in which each card reduces in value by one circle and one triangle. But don't worry - the sixth Equipment tile is Kendal Mint Cake and this can help!
So all in all I have about a year's worth of material to entertain us both. After which I will no doubt try to sell his parents a copy so he can give them a good thrashing! And boy, will they know he's been learning.
Backpacks & Blisters is currently being re-booted (little waking joke there) and if you'd like to support us in our efforts to get this great little game back into production, please go to: