New Tech students craft board games that are more than just fun

May 31, 2016
Napa Valley Register

Clever students at New Tech High School have found ways to make learning about the carbon cycle fun.

They have turned the carbon cycle — the ways that carbon shift-changes in our natural and human-made worlds — into board games. It’s all part of a game design class, now in its second year, at New Tech.

“The reason we came up with the game design class is because there’s a population of students here who are really into games,” said teacher Lisa Gottfried. “They’re big gamers.”

The class is no intellectual lightweight. It also teaches things like storytelling, writing, 3-D modeling, manufacturing and marketing, she said.

Gottfried said the game design class isn’t about making video games, it’s about what students need to learn before making video games. When she’s asked game designers what she should be teaching her students, she said they all say the same thing – they need to learn how to tell a story, learn how game mechanics work and learn how to break a game and fix it.

Students had to make decisions on how they wanted their games structured, how to make sure the instructions were clear and understandable, what colors to use, what pieces to make and how big to make them and what the text on the box would look like.

The process was spread out over two semesters and the games were recently delivered from an outsourced printer. The students used modeling software and a 3-D printer to make their original game pieces.

Altogether two classes made eight games. But they aren’t just any games — they’re educational games.

The game design class collaborated with the environmental studies and bio-fitness classes to incorporate lessons into their games. Gottfried wanted the subject matter to be useful and marketable, so they decided to make the games about the carbon cycle — something every high school student needs to know.

“I envisioned that they (the classes) would use it every year,” Gottfried said. The games didn’t have to necessarily teach students the carbon cycle, but they needed to at least engage them in the subject matter.

Carbonanza, designed in a style similar to Monopoly, sought to review the carbon cycle with students by incorporating trivia questions in the game play.

“Instead of investing, we’re gardening and building houses,” said Chad Bender, 16, one of the game’s designers. Carbonanza featured small, robot-like game pieces in various colors all sporting different head gear – a top hat (a nod to Mr. Monopoly), a winter hat, a bow, headphones. All the players roll to see who goes first and all begin on the same space.

Once the game begins, players either land on a blank space, a space that gives them more houses or trees, takes away houses or trees, or calls for them to pull an event or a trivia card.

The object of the game is to get the most houses and trees. Players are rewarded if they get trivia answers correct and the event cards give the game some humor.

One card read: “You find an extra seed stuck in your pants, gain one tree.” Players could also move ahead a few spaces if they pulled the hover board event card, or move back a space if they “lost” their shoe in an event card.

The quirky cards give the game personality, Bender said. “It adds a little bit more to the excitement of the game.”

The students said that the process was enjoyable.

“I thought it was fun to get into,” said Jordan Bergner, 17, who helped design Planet Zone Conquer, based loosely on Risk. “I really enjoyed sitting down and making pieces,” he said.

Planet Zone Conquer also incorporated trivia about the carbon cycle. The object of the game was to have the most resources – sunlight, plants, water and wildlife – and attack other players to get them.

Brandon Gonzalez-Gray, 18, who also worked on the game, said that he enjoyed making a backstory for the game. For him, it was important to make the game not only interesting and fun, but also simple to play, he said.

“Every year it’s a better project,” Gottfried said. Next year she hopes to take it to the next level and have students work on more promotional materials as well as marketing using social media.

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