Randy Newnham
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On the Growing Up Gamers blog, Angie tells us about teaching in and out of the classroom using Through the Ages!

Using Games to Teach: Through the Ages- A Story of Civilization

Enjoy!
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Calavera Despierta
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I am having a hard time separating out my dislike for TtA with the wonderful article the author wrote. I find the suggestion of using the game to teach about civilizations inspiring - I just think that TtA is the wrong choice.

In my mind TtA is a civ game in little other than theme, and the real activity of the game is about logistical optimization--the winner is not the player who "builds the most glorious civilization" but the player who did the best job of placing workers exactly where they needed to be at exactly the right time.

REAL human civilizations certainly would have a logistical micromanagement component, I suppose, but ultimately I think they are far more fragile, and the day-to-day management of them (that the game allegedly simulates) is much more the tactical finger-in-the-dam approach, and there is a lot of luck in their survival - one bad plague or dirty war and they are wiped out (but luck is too much a dirty word in game design around here.)

So kids would certainly LEARN while playing this game but what they'd be learning is how to allocate workers in efficient ways, NOT the ins and outs of human history. You'd be teaching them to be really good corporate managers, but they'd walk away with almost no understanding of history.
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Pete Jurchen
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I guess a more accurate picture of civilization could be the old Avalon Hill Civilization. The lessons from this one: civilizations take a LONG TIME to develop, civilizations involve copious tedious record keeping and flood plains are generally not safe places to build cities. Yup, I think we got it covered.
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James Fung
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Things players learn about human civilizations from Through the Ages:

- A nation that neglects food will starve. Civil unrest increases during droughts and times of high food prices.
- A nation that falls behind in production will be buried. See the Axis powers in WW2.
- In a free for all environment, the world is often driven by the nation with the strongest military. Take your pick of just about any region and age of history.
- A technologically inferior nation will find itself hard pressed to compete as it does things less efficiently than others can. See the age of European imperialism when it contacted technologically inferior cultures.
- Various historical figures and wonders of the world.

To become good at Through the Ages, yes, one needs to be very good at allocating workers and tokens. Also knowing exactly what technologies to invest in and what to pass up. But I don't think the purpose of the article was to train students to become good at TtA, but to use a game to initiate questions within the students (e.g. as the article states, "Who is Genghis Khan and why does he give a bonus to cavalry?").

There is one reason I would not use TtA in the classroom: length. To explain the rules and get through a basic game with new players would take all evening. I don't think this would work in a classroom setting, but maybe in an after school program.
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fusag wrote:
Things players learn about human civilizations from Through the Ages:

- A nation that neglects food will starve. Civil unrest increases during droughts and times of high food prices.
- A nation that falls behind in production will be buried. See the Axis powers in WW2.
- In a free for all environment, the world is often driven by the nation with the strongest military. Take your pick of just about any region and age of history.
- A technologically inferior nation will find itself hard pressed to compete as it does things less efficiently than others can. See the age of European imperialism when it contacted technologically inferior cultures.
- Various historical figures and wonders of the world.

To become good at Through the Ages, yes, one needs to be very good at allocating workers and tokens. Also knowing exactly what technologies to invest in and what to pass up. But I don't think the purpose of the article was to train students to become good at TtA, but to use a game to initiate questions within the students (e.g. as the article states, "Who is Genghis Khan and why does he give a bonus to cavalry?").

There is one reason I would not use TtA in the classroom: length. To explain the rules and get through a basic game with new players would take all evening. I don't think this would work in a classroom setting, but maybe in an after school program.


Fair enough! I think the lessons you list are really valuable learning lessons. I just wanted to point out that when we use board games as instructional tools, there are always unintended lessons being taught as well (indeed, there are unintended lessons even when were are pursuing some other method of instruction.)

I guess my concern would be, having played TtA a few times myself IRL and online, the focus from turn-to-turn is SO granular, so microscopic, that it would be easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Even the newer Sid Meier's Civ from FFG does a better job of abstracting some of these things without losing focus - especially the tech and military tensions.
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Kevin Ballestrini
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The real problem that TtA (and every other instance is trying to force games into the classroom) is that the play objectives aren't one in the same as the learning objectives.

Meaning, there are a whole slew of mechanics for the game that have nothing (or very little) to do with what you are attempting to "teach" in the class. As always, if it's one thing that games do very well, it's teach you how to play the game.

If playing the game isn't the same as learning the content, you end up with some disconnect. How large that disconnect is depends on how well the instructor scaffolds the use of the game.
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