The final category of the Tabletop Games Curriculum, science, is also a sort of catch-all in the sense that “science,” in one of its many branches, can represent any topic of human study. For example, Phil Eklund of Sierra Madre Games’ oeuvre of “simulation games” contains a few historical offerings like Pax Porfiriana and now Pax Pamir, but titles such as Greenland and Neanderthal are more anthropological/ecological than historical, and his catalogue extends to undeniably scientific topics such as prehistoric biosystems and space travel in BIOS: Megafauna and High Frontier (both of which, I’m told, are pretty thorny rules-wise but rewardingly accurate to their respective fields of study). Greenland and Neanderthal, which share a ruleset, are relatively toned-down but can still be dauntingly textbook-like to learn; once you get the gist of the game, though, they are actually fairly simple to play and are fantastic representations of the struggles of the Little Ice Age and the dawn of human culture.
Even the lighter games in Sierra Madre’s catalog are more for gamers and science geeks. But fret not; there are plenty of science-heavy games that normal people can play, too. Matt Leacock’s explosive cooperative game Pandemic uses a straightforward ruleset to represent the spread of infectious diseases on a global scale, whereas Victory Point Games’ Infection: Humanity’s Last Gasp takes you inside the lab as you synthesize and recombine proteins to produce antigens to a rapidly mutating supervirus. Representing a different type of global threat, Stronghold Games’ CO2 plunks players down in the cushy seats of energy company CEOs responding to government requests for greener energy initiatives. In this semi-cooperative game, everybody needs to work together to reduce emissions and research sustainable energy sources while keeping your profits in the black.
Asmadi’s Red7 is another deceptively simple card game from one of my favorite designers, Carl Chudyk. Its rules are explained in a single paragraph, yet it’s deceptively complex to play, exercising critical thinking and problem-solving skills while providing a subliminal introduction to wavelengths and the color spectrum. One Zero One from Grail Games, another rules-light card game with a minimalist presentation, uses actual programming language (print:, if_then_) as action cards in a binary turf war. And Renegade Game Studios’ Gravwell uses a science fiction conceit and some simple cardplay to represent the gravitational attraction of nearby bodies.
As a last word on simulation-style games I offer Adam Kałuża, a mountain climber who has translated his hobby into cardboard with games like K2, Mount Everest and The Cave, all published by REBEL.pl. K2, the first in this series, is a race to the summit that accurately but simply represents such logistical challenges as managing body temperature under changing weather conditions. The follow-up, The Cave, is a little more in-depth, casting players as speleologists exploring a newly discovered cave–an exciting world of sudden descents, tight squeezes, and dead ends, where the meager contents of your backpack can mean the difference between life and death.
Tabletop Games Curriculum
I can’t overstate my central thesis that all games, electronic or analog, have educational merit; however, here is a short list of tabletop games, by subject, that I feel are particularly suited to supplement a K-12 curriculum. I’ve chosen to focus on tabletop games for a few reasons, foremost among which being that it’s an area that I currently find intellectually stimulating. Each content area will be released as a separate update.