Posts filed under Self Teaching Games

Self Teaching Games: Role-playing Games

 

Fog of Love  
Designer: Jacob Jaskov
Players: 2
Ages: 17+
Time: 60-120 minutes

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Imagine a blind date as a board game and you have Fog of Love.

Each player takes on the role of a character in a budding relationship, using cards to shape themselves, their partner, and the events that unfold over the course of the game. Each player chooses their occupation and inner personality, while their co-player determines their physical traits (re: the things that attracted you to them in the first place). The rest of the game is spent playing cards back and forth to determine what sort of hijinks happen, such as a simple breakfast in bed or seeing your partner with another person. After each card played, players secretly answer questions which affect their character’s satisfaction in the relationship as well as shared and individual objectives on the board.

Fog of Love has a lot of complexity, but introduces players to all its different mechanics one or two at a time by using a shorter introductory scenario. The introductory scenario comes packaged ready to play and teaches players new rules as they draw cards from the different decks. Play continues until new tutorial cards are drawn, at which point the rules expand. Numbers in the corners of the cards and asterisks are used to help players know which cards are part of the starting scenario and how to reassemble the decks for the next time they play with somebody new.

Fog of Love is a complex game, but the introduction really helps to reduce the learning curve and is a blast to play through. It’s a lot of fun playing out the dates of a new couple, and Fog of Love handles this subject with a lot of interesting nuance: characters can be either gender, unaffected by physical traits; professions run the gamut from gutter to glamorous; and personality traits can enable or get in the way of relationship satisfaction. Our playthroughs varied from romantic comedies to daytime soap opera and everything in between. It has a lot of replayability and plenty of interesting looking expansions on the horizon.

In all, Fog of Love is a good game to have in any collection that caters to late teens and adults of all age groups. It gamifies relationships in ways that teach not just computational thinking, but interpersonal skills.

 

The Cloud Dungeon

Designer: Andrew Miller
Players: 2-6
Ages: 7+
Time: One two hour session, or three sessions of less than 45 minutes.

It’s tough to imagine an RPG style game where nobody needs to read the rules or do any session prep, but The Cloud Dungeon does it in style. Print out the PDF, get some standard six-sided dice, and set out the craft supplies: you’re ready to go!

Craft supplies? Yes! The Cloud Dungeon, the first in the DIY Adventure Games series from AndHe Games, is a papercraft game where players cut out elements, color them, and attach them to the characters they play. Using their creativity and their adventuring gear, players overcome challenges. Sometimes they save the day by working together, and sometimes they do it in competition with each other--and it’s never the same game twice.

This is a great introduction to tabletop roleplaying games for younger kids, and the papercraft aspect adds a diversity of activity so children more interested in art than being the center of attention will feel engaged as well. It’s well-presented, easy to get into, and the person running the activity can read ahead while players are customizing their characters. A GM isn’t really needed, but with younger kids who get distracted easily it probably is a good idea to have one present just to keep the game focused.

The Cloud Dungeon is a great game on its own, or an exciting supplement for small story-time activities. If you are going to get The Cloud Dungeon for repeat use, we recommend getting both the spiral-bound book and the PDF. Use the book as a reference, but print out the pages you need for each run, and do expect to go through a lot of paper and other art supplies.

 

Article by Donald Dennis
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
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Self Teaching Games: Board Games

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Fast Forward: Fear
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Players: 3-5
Ages: 8+
Time: 15 minutes per hand, about 75-90 minutes when playing through the entire deck

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Fear is the first entry in the Fast Forward series from Stronghold Games, where players learn the game as they play it for the first time. One of the key selling points is that the game has no rulebook. Instead players begin with a deck of cards with the starting rules on the first card. Players draw cards to begin playing the game; as they work their way through the deck, new rules cards surface so players learn the relevant section as they play.

On their turn, players each draw a card and play a card from their hand. The goal is to force other players to push the total value of the cards in play over 15, all without doing so themselves. The hands end when someone raises the value over 15, and the person who causes the pile of cards to exceed 15, but the person who has the highest value in their hand wins. Play changes as cards are removed from the deck and rules evolve as players dig deeper in and new cards are added to the mix.

The core mechanism is simple, with interesting decisions from both designers and players, all of which add both to the dynamic of gameplay and the sense of the discovery. Conflict is indirect;  instead of simply attacking each other, players try to arrange things so that their opponents are forced into making the critical error that ends the hand. As players become familiar with both each other and the ever-evolving rules sets, the game gets more difficult: the same strategy rarely works twice, and any stunt you pull might well inspire an opponent in the next game.

Fear is perfect for just about any public facing collection. It’s a devilishly basic game that works well as an alternative to traditional games like Uno, Crazy 8s, Skip-Bo, and Spite & Malice. It works equally well for circulation or in-house collections.

 

Fast Forward: Fortress
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Players: 2-4, best with 4
Ages: 8+
Time: 15 minutes per hand, about 75-90 minutes when playing through the entire deck

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Fortress, the second in the Fast Forward series, is a bluffing game. Unlike Fear, the first entry in the series, Fortress focuses on direct conflict as players try to conquer the titular fortresses using sets of monsters they gather to increase their combat strength. The number you play of a given type of monster increases their effectiveness when taking over or defending a fortress. Over multiple plays, the variety of monsters available change, and the number of fortresses expand, as do the rules pertaining to them.

Play starts with all the core rules on the front and back of a single card. New rules emerge from the deck over multiple rounds, called “hands.” Re-sorting the deck once players have completed all the rounds isn’t a hassle, but it also isn’t necessary. Once players have played through the whole deck, they can either re-sort the game and play through it from phase one, or shuffle all of the non-rules cards and play with all of the rules available from the start of the new game.

In all, Fortress is a perfect library game. It has enough depth to have interesting decisions for a wide range of game skills, while the conflict of attacking fortresses owned by other players will be exciting for kids raised on video games. Players who like traditional games like War, Old Maid, Battleship, Risk, or Stratego will find Fortress right up their alley.

 

Fast Forward: Flee  
Designer: Friedemann Friese
Players: 2-4, best with 4
Ages: 12+
Time: 75-90 minutes

Flee is the third and (to date) final Fast Forward game. Like Fear and Fortress, Flee’s first cards instruct players on how to start the game, with new rules being revealed on other cards over the course of play. If you’ve been following our takes on this series, this should sound familiar, but don’t get too comfortable. Where the other Fast Forward games are competitive, Flee is a puzzle that players must cooperate to solve.

Because of its nature as a puzzle game, the deck can’t be shuffled and re-played from scratch as a complete game once players have made their way through. It’s basically one-and-done, but the end result is an engaging and highly structured Alice in Wonderland-themed game where players try to work through the deck, overcoming challenges without a game ending condition being inflicted on them--and by game ending condition, we mean “being eaten by monsters.”


Because Flee is cooperative, the cards players gather are played face-up where everyone can see them, becoming actions they can utilize and pass off or discard over the course of the game, with a certain amount of collective commentary and strategizing. Flee is a tense and exciting drama that that builds teamwork and critical thinking skills as players stave off inevitable defeat long enough to learn what they will need to do to get further on their next play through.

Flee, unlike Fear and Fortress, is not suitable for just any game collection. It stands out as a difficult problem to solve, making it appealing to fans of logic puzzles but less so to casual gamers. We liked Flee, and played multiple sessions of it, but never actually completed the game by making it through the deck and defeating the required number of monsters. It’s a good capstone to Fear and Fortress, but don’t expect heavy circulation if you stock it.

 

Article by Donald Dennis
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries 
Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries 
Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: 
schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

Self Teaching Games

One of the most difficult aspects of incorporating activities with a high cognitive load, like games, into a school or library program is managing multiple activity streams and instructing diverse groups in how to play a variety of titles. Not knowing how to play a game is always a barrier, but it’s significantly tougher for potential players unaccustomed to internalizing new and complex rules structures. Fortunately there is a new trend in tabletop games, one that video games adopted years ago: have the game itself teach players how to play - without needing to wade through an impenetrable rules book.   

That impenetrability raises a further question: why are most rules books so horrible? The reasons range from poor visual presentation to simply overwhelming new players with irrelevant information. A set of rules that effectively teaches players how to play a game is a different beast than one that acts as a good reference guide once players already know the the structure of the game.

Game companies have tried a variety of ways to sidestep these issues. Some games have introductory scenarios while others include long narrative examples to provide more context than players would get out of a bullet point. It’s also become common to find “How to Play” videos on YouTube in an attempt to mitigate the difficulty of thickly written or poorly designed rulesets. If a game can’t be taught effectively straight out of the box, there are options. But having to take that extra step just to learn how to play isn’t exactly a good thing.


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With games like those in the Fast Forward series, Stronghold Games has embraced the idea of teaching the game as it’s being played. The three games of the Fast Forward series - Fear, Fortress, and Flee - have no ponderous tome of rules. Instead players start with a deck of cards, and the starting rules are right on the first card. Players draw cards to begin playing the game, and as they work their way through the deck new rules cards surface so players learn the relevant sections as they play.

The Fast Forward system is an elegant framework allowing players to explore a growing gamescape. The sense of discovery is intense and exciting, despite the small steps players take towards learning how to play the complete game. Fear, Flee, and Fortress are each amazing because at the end of the experience, players can either rebuild the starting deck so they can be played again from scratch, or the rules cards can be kept out and the cards can be shuffled so the games can be played in their final, completed form.


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While this system of game instruction is ideal for games with relatively simple rules that can scale and evolve, that isn’t the only place where this structure would work. Hush Hush Projects’ Fog of Love is a rich game with a much more complex set of interactions, and their tutorial system steps players through their first play of the game with named and numbered cards integrated into numerous decks. Besides the significant difference in complexity and subject matter, Fog of Love also has well structured rules that exist less to teach players how to play the game, and more to act as a reference to answer questions that pop up during play or in future sessions of the game.  

Not all games need to inflict a significant learning curve on players. Even richly detailed games which have a fully functional rulebook, like Fog of Love, can still walk players through an engaging learning experience while shorter games that need repeat plays to experience seem ideally made for this format.


Escape Room Games http://www.inversegenius.com/gsl-blog/?category=Escape+Room

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Unlike the other entries on this list, escape room games aren’t a single product with a single publisher or a single way of doing things. Many have a “Get started now!” option, but games like the Unlock! series also have a tutorial that teaches you how to play without having to digest a rulebook, as well as an app that helps manage the game experience without needing to have a librarian standing by and answering questions. Check out our series of reviews on escape rooms for more information. http://www.inversegenius.com/gsl-blog/?category=Escape+Rooms

Self teaching games also support computational learning activities by serving as an example for how to chunk instructions by breaking up information and providing them as needed instead of all at once. This has really served as an inspiration for how we manage game design classes; our young game designers write their rules on note cards so they can better examine how to organize and present them during play.

Not only can self teaching games like these help reduce the load on staff during high traffic game days, but the sense of exploration through play is intoxicating. It’s a joy of discovery: the playing field is leveled between the people who would normally be running the game and the people who play it, preventing any one personality from dominating the group and allowing everyone to bring their own ideas and interpretations into play. That same element of discovery encourages a level of collaboration often missing from games that give away all the rules up front.

The rest of this series will have in-depth reviews of the games mentioned here, as well as The Cloud Dungeon, and other self teaching games as they become available.

Unlike the other entries on this list, escape room games aren’t a single product with a single publisher or a single way of doing things. Many have a “Get started now!” option, but games like the Unlock! series also have a tutorial that teaches you how to play without having to digest a rulebook, as well as an app that helps manage the game experience without needing to have a librarian standing by and answering questions. Check out our series of reviews on escape rooms for more information. http://www.inversegenius.com/gsl-blog/?category=Escape+Rooms

Self teaching games also support computational learning activities by serving as an example for how to chunk instructions by breaking up information and providing them as needed instead of all at once. This has really served as an inspiration for how we manage game design classes; our young game designers write their rules on note cards so they can better examine how to organize and present them during play.

Not only can self teaching games like these help reduce the load on staff during high traffic game days, but the sense of exploration through play is intoxicating. It’s a joy of discovery: the playing field is leveled between the people who would normally be running the game and the people who play it, preventing any one personality from dominating the group and allowing everyone to bring their own ideas and interpretations into play. That same element of discovery encourages a level of collaboration often missing from games that give away all the rules up front.

The rest of this series will have in-depth reviews of the games mentioned here, as well as The Cloud Dungeon, and other self teaching games as they become available.

 

Article by Donald Dennis
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries 
Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries 
Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: 
schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com