November 17, 2017

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‘Tis the Season: A wonderland of new games for classrooms, libraries, or just for fun | The Gaming Life

Meeples in colors and boards that are linen.

Bright flashy game bits and knowing I’m winning.

Unopened game boxes tied up with strings.

These are a few of my favorite things!

The winter season is filled with a special atmosphere and traditions: holiday decorations, hot cocoa with panetone, the Riverbottom Nightmare Band, and holiday shopping. Just like the retail market unveils their best items during the months leading up to winter, many publishers release some of their best games of the year just before the holidays. But discovering the gems among the hundreds of new games can be daunting.

The following “alternative holiday buying guide” features four fantastic new games. They are a lot of fun and challenging to play—and they are all strong curricular resources that support both the American Association of School Librarian’s (AASL) and Common Core standards. In keeping with the season of giving, each game is introduced by a more traditional gift that it might replace.

Thinking of a microscope?

Strain (HungryRobot Games, $25) is a wonderful game of competitive bioengineering for three to seven players. The game consists of three different types of tiles: Cytoplasm, Petri Dishes (organelles, virus, actions), and Organisms. Players work towards building and scoring microscopic organisms by playing the organism cards in front of them and adding cytoplasm and organelles to key areas around the organisms. Besides helping to complete organisms, the cytoplasm and organelles provide some levels of defense, toxins, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the cellular energy currency. As each player works to complete their own organisms, they can also attack other players’ organisms by using toxins or by infecting them with viruses. While this is a necessary tactic to slow down a player close to victory, it also expends valuable resources needed for growth and survival, so it must be done selectively. Play continues until one player is able to collect a target number of victory points provided by completing organisms.

Strain is a fast and infectiously fun game for middle and high school students. While there are a set number of points that the players are working towards, those numbers can be modified depending on classroom time. More importantly, Strain is ripe with curricular concepts and vocabulary and helps fills the void of good games with a strong foundation built around science.

Instead of Kitty Care Vet Playset…

The award-winning Fauna (Foxmind Games, $40) is a purr-fect board game for elementary, middle, and high school users. It features 360 large animal cards which test each player’s knowledge as well as their ability to hypothesize. There’s also a double-sided board that has a map of the world broken up into various geographical areas along with measurement tracks made up of numerical ranges. One side of the game board utilizes Imperial measurement while the other uses metric, giving players the opportunity to think in metric as they make their guesses about the animals.

In each round, a new animal card is chosen from the stack and placed into a sleeve that hides the correct responses. The card indicates what questions must be answered about the animals, such as geographic location, tail length, body length, weight. Not every animal will have the same aspects listed, keeping players on their toes. From two to six players take turns placing their guessing cubes on a range of measurements and geographic locations. Only one player’s cube is allowed to be placed in any one space. Players continue taking turns putting their cubes down until all of them have chosen to pass. Then, the answers are revealed and points are scored for both exact placement and proximity to the correct answers. While an answer doesn’t have to be exact to score points, the response should be carefully thought out. Players have a limited amount of cubes, and those placed in incorrect areas are not immediately returned to them, lessening their scoring possibilities during the following round.

Fauna helps students develop problem-solving skills by prompting them to make decisions based on limited information. The game maintains student interest by not limiting scoring possibilities to only exact answers. A sure win for libraries looking to support the science curriculum.

Rather than a fire truck…

Flash Point: Fire Rescue (Indie Boards and Cards, $40) brings the thrill of saving lives and fighting fires as players take on the role of emergency specialists who arrive to a house engulfed in flames. In this cooperative game, all the players are on the same team and they must work together to keep the fire under control while attempting to rescue any survivors still inside before the house collapses or too many victims are lost. The game is played on one of several boards featuring the layout of different houses. Each player has a limited number of action points to spend on their turn. They can use them to move their pawns, open doors, chop holes in walls, fight fires, carry victims, move hazardous materials, and more.

Once a player has spent their action points, they must advance the fire inside the house by rolling two dice and introducing smoke to the corresponding space. If smoke is already present, it turns to fire, and if there is already fire, it causes an explosion that spreads. As the game progresses, the danger inside the house begins to grow out of control, causing doors to blow out, walls to collapse, and fires to flare up again .

The game creates a tense and exhilarating experience that demands group problem solving and quick individual assessment of a dynamic information environment. The game’s ability to handle up to six players (middle and high school), as well as its adaptability for novice and experienced players, earns it a place in all gaming collections to build cooperative learning experiences.

In place of ‘The Apprentice’ boxed set…

Bazaar (Gryphon Games, $25), the reprint of the Sid Sackson classic, is perfect for budding business tycoons. From two to six players collect and trade resources in the form of colored stones. They are traded according to ten exchange equations which are chosen at the beginning of the game. Each equation shows an example of how resources an be combined and traded for other resources. For example: Blue = Green & Red means that players can exchange one blue stone for a green and a red one, or inversely, they can exchange a green and a red stone for a blue one. The objective is for players to collect sets of stones in order to claim target cards that feature specific resource combinations. Players must be efficient in the resources they collect because they will score fewer points if they have resources left after claiming a card.

While this may seem intimidating, game play is exceedingly simple and very accessible. On their turn, players roll a colored die and take a stone of the corresponding color. Then, they may either roll the die again for an additional resource or exchange resources they have based on the exchange equations that were chosen at the start of the game. Once a player has stones that match one of the target cards, they may cash in those resources to collect the card and score points based on the value of the card and how many stones they have left.

Bazaar is a wonderful game that gets students thinking mathematically as they work through the algebraic exchange equations trying to find the best ways to convert their resources. The game is easily adaptable for varying time and group size needs. For fitting into tighter schedules, educators can have students play for a set amount of time or to a target score. The game can also be modified for whole-class instruction.

So, whether you’re looking for new learning resources for your library collection or for something to top with a bow for family and friends, these games are terrific choices. Happy holidays everyone!


Brian Mayer is a school library technology specialist for Genesee Valley BOCES, NY.

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