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.
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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

Unlock!

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Title: Unlock! The Formula, Squeak & Sausage, The Island of Doctor Goorse, The House on the Hill, The Nautalis Traps, The Tonipal’s Treasure, A Noside Story, Tombstone Express, & The Adventures of Oz
Publisher: Asmodee MSRP: $14.99 each
Recommended ages: 10+
Time: 60 Minutes
Reset: Easy
Players:  2 - 6
Recommended Players: 4 Players
App Required: Yes

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Unlock! is a fantastic series of escape rooms. This series is made up of a deck of cards that can easily be reassembled after each playthrough, making them perfect for circulation. Players put cards together, such as a screw and screwdriver, adding the numbers on the cards together to check if their solution is correct. While this system sometimes does allow for accidental puzzle solving, it’s easy enough to realize if you’ve solved something out of order.

Unlock! teaches players how to play by putting them through a tutorial room. It shows players what kinds of puzzles they can anticipate as well as making excellent use of the cards by teaching them step by step with each card they pull.

An app is required to play, but does the work of a Game Master and the various locks found in a live escape room. If players are stuck then hints are given or if a sound is required for a puzzle then the app provides it. It adds a layer of ambient immersion to the puzzles that an analog-only escape room board game would not be able to provide. The one downside is that the need for an app makes the game impossible to play without a device.

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The Formula and Squeak & Sausage rooms are exceptional. The puzzles are creative and intuitive without being completely obvious. They make excellent use of the app in interesting ways. Overall they have just the right kind of outside the box thinking. Unfortunately, The Island of Doctor Goorse left much to be desired. This third installment splits the party, and the puzzles feel obtuse. While the party is split, puzzles need to be simpler due to the party’s brain power being divided. Even when reunited though, some of the solutions were baffling. While we highly recommend the series, you may want to pass over The Island of Doctor Goorse.

If mobile devices are not an issue, then the Unlock series may be the best escape room game for schools and libraries.

 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Escape Room the Game

Title: Escape Room the Game
Publisher: Spin Master MSRP: $39.99
Recommended ages: 16+
Time: 60 minutes
Reset: Not without printing or using page protectors & dry erase
Players:  3 - 5
Recommended Players: 3 - 4
App Required: No

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Escape Room the Game easily has some of the most unusual technology of any tabletop escape room experience. When you open the box the first thing you will notice is a giant plastic mechanism with codes and ciphers stamped into the side, a bunch of strange plastic keys, and several bags - each one containing their own scenario. These elements makes Escape Room the Game truly unique and worth exploring.

That this box contains not just one but four different rooms is pretty amazing for the modest price of $40. When you add in the custom plastic keys and the “Chrono Decoder,” you know you’re in for a different kind of experience. The countdown timer adds tension, while sliding the keys into place and checking to see if you’ve found the right answer adds a physical element that sometimes feels lacking in other escape room products. 

The hint system is utilizes red filter technology and players are allowed to look at hints after enough time has passed. We ended up looking at hints even if we didn’t feel like we were behind, and on at least one occasion the hints caused us more trouble than they helped. Overall it’s a great system, but it doesn’t always work.

When it works, the Chrono Decoder is a great prop that also tells you when to look at hints. Escape Room the Game has expansion packs that utilize the Chrono Decoder provided in the base box. The themes are nice, but fairly standard for escape rooms.

Sometimes the Chrono Decoder doesn’t accept the correct keys, which penalizes you time and stalls out the game play. A couple of the puzzles are very poorly designed. It’s no good for more than four players and, except for the Nuclear Countdown room, is best with three.

As much as our group enjoyed Escape Room the Game I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. It is in turns rage-inducingly frustrating and stunningly brilliant. The Prison Break isn’t a great starting scenario and the Temple of the Aztec is the worst of the lot.  (Aztec felt like it needed a couple of extra components that were removed at the last minute.) The best scenario in the starting box set is the Nuclear Countdown room; just make sure you have a charged cell phone ready when you play it.

 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

CT Games: Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar

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Ages: 3+
Requires Batteries: 4 AA
Single Player
Publisher: Fisher-Price
Price: $49.99

Code-A-Pillar is an electric Caterpillar toy where children plug in segments labeled with commands into the main Caterpillar body and then watch as it carries out each command one by one down the line.

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Code-A-Pillar teaches the basic framework of Coding, inputting commands and the machine following them. The tactile nature and durability of this toy makes it very approachable for young age groups and perfect for experimental play. Users can also create extra challenges for themselves through creating obstacle courses or just trying to get Code-A-Pillars from a start point to a specific endpoint.

Code-A-Pillar is adorable. It’s too cute not to touch and play around with as our teens and patrons can attest. It’s also very durable and has safeguards in place to keep it from breaking, such as a bump sensor that keeps it from running itself into objects. There is also a large variety of different parts that can be purchased to expand what commands Code-A-Pillar is capable of, such as a pack of silly sounds or extra movement with 180 Degree turns and Repeat Action blocks.

Code-A-Pillar is pricey at $49.99 MSRP and availability is limited. It requires 4AA batteries (which are included). Code-A-Pillar is loud and there’s no way to turn down the sound without taking it apart , which may be a big concern if you work with children sensitive to loud noises.

Code-A-Pillar is a fantastic and sturdy introductory toy to programmed movement for young age groups. It’s great for programs of its own if you can afford multiples or do workstations and as supplementary to existing programs such as storytime. While pricey our Code-A-Pillars see a lot of play, and there are a number of venues that sell them at a discount.

 

Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

CT Games: Turing Tumble

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Ages: 8+
Requires Batteries: No
Single player
Publisher: Turing Tumble LLC
Price: $64.95


Turing Tumble is an introduction to computational thinking that was born on Kickstarter. It consists of a white board on a stand, a ton of red and blue marbles, a small plastic key, and six kinds of ramps and bits. The basic idea is that players place the ramps and bits on the board to program a path for the marbles from the top of the board down to the bottom. The key is used to help determine which color marble falls first. It’s easy to learn, challenging to master, and really fun once you’ve got the hang of it.

The game also comes with a 100-page booklet that serves as instructions,  provides challenges, and tells the story of Alia, the girl on the box cover, as she explores an alien maze and makes an unexpected friend. It helps that the booklet is broken up like an RPG campaign or a video game: Alia’s story is the ‘cinematic’ scene between levels.

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Turing Tumble is really good at introducing players to things like pattern recognition, designing based on trial and error, and breaking up big problems into smaller, sequential ones. It’s meant for players 8 and up and runs best as a single-player game, but I’ve seen smaller children trying it out under supervision and it can also be played with a group.

Its main flaw is that the marbles are small, easy to lose, and can be difficult to collect and put in place. The board doesn’t come with something like a tray to catch them if they bounce free, and gravity can make things a little unpredictable at times. With so many losable pieces and a price tag of $64.95, it may be a little too expensive and breakable for some libraries and schools.

All in all, we recommend Turing Tumble as a fun way to teach kids computational thinking. It’s not too shabby for the adults either.

 

Article by Ben Blythe
Ben can be found on Twitter @FlailingWriter. He's also got a blog on WordPress. And he even reviews things on GoodReads!
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

Computational Thinking

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In the preface to their Exploring Computational Thinking collection, Google defines computational thinking as a “problem solving process.” Computational thinkers take a problem and break it down into smaller sections, then resolve each section in a particular order t o get a desired outcome. It requires planning, pattern recognition, and learning how to operate within certain boundaries (what you can do, how you can do it, what resources you have on hand, etc.).

It’s worth pausing to note that while there is plenty of overlap, computational thinking is different from the scientific method or critical thinking because of its focus on process and predetermined outcome. It’s sort of like the difference between scientists, academics, and engineers: scientists and academics study, engineers build. Their methods have similar processes but they’re shaped by different goals.

Computational thinking is emerging as a cornerstone in STEM education. As its name implies, it’s a good skill to have in the information age, and tech companies in particular value it for how readily it translates into programming. The same basic approach of breaking down a big problem and finding solutions piece-by-piece can be applied across any curriculum: it’s a core tenet of outlining a paper, solving mathematical equations, building a bot, or drawing a picture.

Now let’s consider what makes board games an ideal tool for teaching computational thinking.

Board games…

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  • …rely a lot on planning your next move (whether it’s competitive like Machi Koro or collaborative like Mechs vs. Minions)
  • …often revolve around recognizing patterns (like spotting which cities will be infected in the next Pandemic outbreak)
  • …require you to operate within certain boundaries (rules of the game, what materials you have to work with, what you’re allowed to know going in, etc.)
  • …often involve breaking a bigger problem down into smaller, more manageable ones (Escape the Room-type games tend to be really good at this)

 

It’s not just newer games that do this! Even old stalwarts like Chess and Monopoly can teach the basics of computational thinking. And lest you think this is all kid stuff: The CIA has been using board games to train its analysts for years. They even have their own version of Pandemic. Other government agencies and private businesses have also realized the value of board games for training and teambuilding, leading to a huge uptick in escape rooms and corporate game libraries.

The important thing is that your library—whether it’s in a school or a secret government base on the moon—has a good stock of board games to choose from. Sure, something like Tsuro is about running your opponents off the board, but the real value of the game is the lessons you learned (and applied) along the way.

 

Article by Ben Blythe
You can find Ben on Twitter @FlailingWriter. He's also got a blog on WordPress. And he even reviews things on GoodReads!
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

Webby's Challenge: Breadboard Puzzle

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Webby’s Challenge premiered at ShushCon 2018 and we made a couple modifications from the Print and Play Model to spiff it up. The biggest modification was the Breadboard puzzle. We used some Breadboard and wires that we had laying around to give participants a more tangible experience in place of the default circuitry puzzle. The following puzzle replaces the Circuit Puzzle in Webby's Challenge, but can be used as a standalone puzzle or incorporated in a different Escape Room all together.

Setup

Breadboard
8x Wires
3x Green LEDs
2x Yellow LEDs
2x Blue LEDs
2x AA Battery Pack
2xAA Batteries
Printer
Scissors

  • Print the Breadboard Puzzle Kit.
  • Set out the 3x Very Important sheets, Instructional sheet, Breadboard, Battery Pack sans batteries, all the wires, and LEDs.
  • Set the 2x AA batteries with one of the sets of clues that players need to unlock. Make sure it isn't the stack that unlocks from solving this puzzle (Answer:3220).
 Fun Fact: The reason there are no Red LEDs in the room is due to technical difficulties we had with them burning out and smoking. Make sure to try out various setups ahead of time to make sure all of your LEDs are in working order, and be sure to keep spares on hand.

Fun Fact: The reason there are no Red LEDs in the room is due to technical difficulties we had with them burning out and smoking. Make sure to try out various setups ahead of time to make sure all of your LEDs are in working order, and be sure to keep spares on hand.

In this puzzle, participants find the LEDs, wires, Breadboard, instructional papers, and battery pack scattered in the room but not the 2x AA Batteries. This keeps participants from immediately burning out the batteries by touching the positive and negative charges together. It also gives them time to read the various instructional warnings laid out on the table before they truly get started on the puzzle.

The batteries will be unlocked with which ever answer they correctly solve first. If using lock boxes with Webby’s Challenge, then put the batteries in either the Robot Path or the Colored Shapes lockboxes.

Participants will use the parts list to make sure they have all of the pieces they need. They’ll then use the list with the various numbers and letters to place the wires and LEDs in the correct sections of the breadboard’s grid. They’ll also have to make sure to put the batteries into the battery pack. Once everything is assembled the LEDs will light up and participants will be able to see what colors the LEDs are. They’ll use this information with the colored boxes page to get a 4 digit combination either to give to the moderator or for a 4 digit lock, or if you’re feeling extra spiffy, a 4 digit color lock.

 

Access Webby's Challenge for free on Google Drive

 

Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Posted on May 8, 2018 and filed under Libraries / Ready to Code, Tabletop, Escape Rooms.

Webby’s Challenge: A Coding Escape Room

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Webby’s Challenge is an Escape Room designed by Stephanie Frey of the Georgetown County Library System for the Ready to Code Toolkit. It is an experience meant to be used as either an introduction or supplementary material to Computational Thinking and Coding Activities. It starts with a variety of framework puzzles to get participants in the right mindset and as they unlock new clues they delving into coding shapes through Khan Academy.

Webby’s Challenge requires a computer and internet access. The experience can be embellished with the use of lock boxes, like from a Breakout EDU kit, but they are not required. If not using lockboxes participants will give their answers to the Moderator who will then give them their newly unlocked clues. It works best with ages 10+ youths and can be played by 3 - 6 players.

Access Webby's Challenge for free on Google Drive

Setup

 We laminated our Colors and Shapes page and used dry erase markers instead of covering the squares.

We laminated our Colors and Shapes page and used dry erase markers instead of covering the squares.

Materials

Printer
Computer with Internet Access
Scissors
Paper bits to cover squares
Figurine to serve as a robot token
Webby’s Challenge Kit
 

  • First, print out the kit. It has all of the physical puzzles you’ll need. All the items on pages 1-9 will be available to players upfront, as well as all the numbers only coordinate slips.

  • Cut out everything with a dotted line; scatter or hide the pieces as appropriate. Hiding pieces works better with younger age groups, while hidden pieces may stump older players. Any left over scraps can be cut up and used by players to cover the squares of the Colors and Shapes page.

 
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Starting Items:

  • Colors and Shapes Page p1
  • Conditional Directions p2
  • Conditionals Info Guide p3
  • Robot Shape Maze p4
  • Robot Instructions p5
  • 4x Directional Arrows p5
  • Webdings Translator p6
  • Webby’s Note p7
  • Circuitry & LED Page p8
  • Colored Squares Input p9
  • Webby Work Station Web Address p9
  • 10x Number Coordinate Paper Slips p13 & 14
  • 2x Hint Cards p9
  • Pages 10 - 14 will mostly be clues that players need to unlock. Gather up all of the other pieces into their proper groups. If using lock boxes, set your locks to each answer and put the assigned materials in each box. If not using locks, make piles of each material. You may want to use a note on top to differentiate when participants receive each pile.

Robot Path Answer:  Up, Right, Down, Left

Get Rect Unlock p10
rect(x,y,w,h); Slip p13
Webding Small Note p11

Colored Squares Conditionals Answer: 509

Webby WIP Webpage p11

LED Colored Squares Answer: 3220

Draw the Line Unlock p11
line(x1,y1,x2,y2); p14

Fix the Code Puzzle: MOUSE

Epic Ellipse Unlock p10
2x ellipse(x,y,w,h); p12
fill(0, 0, 0); & fill(255, 255, 255); Slip p12

FINAL ANSWER: 8241

  • Make sure to have a computer available for players to use.

  • Setup a final item for your players to discover once they’ve solved the final puzzle.

What the players unlock from the final puzzle can vary greatly. The story line I usually run is one where Webby an infamous hacker has stolen government documents and the players are trying to pass her trials to retrieve them. I usually have the players unlock redacted government documents out of a final safe. The story you run can vary depending on what would be interesting for your players and the stakes can be as great or low as you think interests them; Whether it’s Webby has locked them in a room filling with poison and players must solve the puzzles to escape, players must retrieve some candy she stole, or whatever story you want to tell as the Moderator. If you want to run the story I’ve provided you can read the paragraph below for your players and embellish it as you please.

Webby the Document Thief Story

Webby is an infamous hacker. Recently, she’s stolen some important government documents. You’ve been sent in as a team to infiltrate her hideout and recover what she’s stolen before it can get into the wrong hands. Webby however has left a number of puzzles to test your skill, and if you can overcome her trials she’ll let you take the documents.

Good luck!

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Running the Room

  • Make sure to tell your chosen set up story to the players.
  • Explain what parts of the room don’t need to be moved or touched, such as if you have a room with bookshelves or pictures frames that are completely unrelated.
  • Also explain to your players that if they get stuck they can give the Moderator one of the hint cards to help them through the experience. It’s best to give hints that point players in the right direction without giving them the answers; Such as, pointing out what pieces players haven’t used yet, asking what sets of pieces might have in common, and other leading questions.

Puzzles

Conditional Puzzle: 509

Players use conditional statements to cover up or leave them uncovered the square spaces and reveal a number. Example:

If (sun=green){

Space=uncovered;

}else if (sun=other color){

Space=covered;

}

This statement shows that any suns that are green will be uncovered. If the sun however is any other colors then the space is covered.

Robot Shape Maze: Up, Right, Down, Left

Players assign directions they find in the room to specific shapes. When the Robot Token is on a shape then it will follow the command that’s been assigned to that shape. Players needs to get the robot to the end of the maze. The order of the directions is the answer to the puzzle.

Circuit Puzzle: 3220

Players look at what wires are connected to the battery. Players then need to count each color of LED that would light up. The order of the number code is the order that the colors appear on on the color input line. (If you know LEDs and breadboards, you can make this a much more technology oriented puzzle.) 

Fix the Code Puzzle: MOUSE

Players use the KhanAcademy guide to help them determine how to fix the broken code. Once players have fully repaired the code, a picture of a mouse will appear with the word MOUSE under it. MOUSE is the answer to this puzzle.

Code the Answer Puzzle: 8241

Players use the slips of paper that they find throughout the room. They organize them by font. Players then replace the (x,y,h,w) of lines of code with the coordinates they’ve found. Through this they use code to create shapes that form numbers. This gives them the final answer for the room.

 We replaced the circuit puzzle with a breadboard.  It isn't necessary, but it is pretty cool.

We replaced the circuit puzzle with a breadboard.  It isn't necessary, but it is pretty cool.

Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Posted on May 2, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms, Libraries / Ready to Code.

Exit

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Publisher: KOSMOS
MSRP: $14.95
Recommended ages: 12+
Time: 60 - 120 minutes
Reset: Not without Printing
Players:  1 - 6
Recommended Players: 2 - 4
App Required: No


The Kosmos EXIT series is a destructible escape experience where participants are expected to fold, spindle, and even mutilate, the various provided elements in order to find clues and solve puzzles. As of this writing, the authors have played the first three; EXIT: The Secret Lab, EXIT: The Abandoned Cabin, and EXIT: The Pharaoh’s Tomb.  

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One of the best things about the EXIT games is how they do clues, at least when the system works.  Puzzles are marked with symbols such as an hourglass or crescent. When players are stuck they pull a card from the clue deck with the matching symbol. The first card instructs what pages or cards will be needed to solve the puzzle, which is an excellent function of a hint system, while further hints detail the process of solving those puzzles. Unfortunately the signalling is poor at times, meaning players frequently can’t tell when they have all the right pieces for a puzzle, or even which puzzle they should be working on next without actually burning a clue. Add this to the fact that the clue cards sometimes leave out which other game elements are part of a puzzle, both of which mean the EXIT series has some critical flaws.

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The mechanic for checking answers is fairly ingenious; players check their answers with a wheel, inputting the correct combination beneath the puzzle’s symbol. This reveals a number, players check that card number in the answer deck to find out if they’re correct or need to give it a bit more thought. This keeps players from brute forcing combinations on the wheel like may sometimes happen in Escape Room the Game.

As far as puzzle quality is concerned, the puzzles in the EXIT series are a bit of a mixed bag. There are some fantastically creative ones, but they’re mixed in with others that are a bit repetitive or aren’t exceptionally intuitive and cause intense frustration.

Fortunately the EXIT games are quite reasonably priced, even for one-use items. Making them great giveaways or for use in programs, like game nights or escape-camps.  However there are several reasons they are not ideal for a library game or puzzle collection. They aren’t terribly suitable for groups above three or four. Too many pieces have to be repaired or replaced for each play through so it isn’t  a viable addition to a standing collection.

 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Posted on April 23, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Gravity Warfare

Gravity Warfare box.jpg

The table top and jumbo versions of Gravity Warfare were featured at ShushCon2018 earlier this year, and was a huge success. The game entertained and amazed gamers and attendees of all ages at the convention

Gravity Warfare 3.jpg

"ShushCon offers a lot of entertainment like board gaming, RPGs, tournaments, and Escape room events. They even had “Play to win” for the duration of the convention, offering awesome new games for attendees to take home.

We were there demoing our Gravity Warfare™ but being the avid gamers that we are, we couldn’t help but try other games after our shifts. We played a few different games and had so much fun! The group that we played with was very friendly and the GM had unbelievable skill, offering a truly immersive experience."     -Dan M

The game that’s been keeping everyone on the edge of their seats, Gravity Warfare – Gaming on a Whole New Level™ is NOW LIVE on Kickstarter. A dexterity and strategy game like no other, you compete with your opponents to play your pieces and be the first to place them on the self-balancing board.

What sets this game apart is that you can challenge your opponents with cards from your hand, and make their turns much more difficult to complete to keep them from winning. If they make a mistake, they lose their turn; but if they make the pieces fall, they lose the match!

Gravity warfare teaches physics in a very tactile way. The unique balancing board is an excellent lesson in torque as players place pieces and the board reacts. Players see first hand how far from the pivot base they can set their pieces and how it affects the board. This game is also a lesson in friction as pieces remain on the board well beyond what players would expect. Players learn strategy and resource management as they save their cards for the perfect moment for maximum benefit.

 

 
Gravity Warfare 4.jpg

Gravity Warfare is a family project, created by a father of six, and developed by the whole family. Eight lives and sets of skills bring this game to life; from an artistic background, to mechanical engineering and business management everyone had an important role that fit perfectly to create this game.

Help make Gravity Warfare a reality by clicking the link below and support the project today! Every little bit goes a long way.

 

 
 
 
Posted on April 20, 2018 and filed under Tabletop.

ALA Midwinter Reflections

This week we present Stephanie Frey's reflections on her ALA Midwinter attendance as part of the Libraries / Ready to Code Phase III Cohort.

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ALA Midwinter was overwhelming. I’d never been out to the midwest or a library convention and was unsure of what to expect besides massive amounts of people. After much consideration, I found that each of these elements led to me having a fantastic time at ALA Midwinter, helped me deal with how huge and overwhelming an experience it can be, and enabled  me to get the most out of the experience.

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Sit in the Front

I cannot stress this enough, sit up front in panels you attend.

Normally I tend to sit in the back at events. ALA Midwinter already had me so far out of my comfort zone that I decided to give sitting up front a shot and I got so much more out of it.

Sitting upfront put me in contact with the most excited and energized people; their energy and sheer glee was contagious. Everyone had so many ideas and was eager to get right into solving whatever problem was thrown our way. At the beginning of each session we were handed sticky notes to keep track of our ideas, and everytime it was the groups in the front rows who had forty or more sticky notes crammed full of ideas. With so many ideas flowing, I had so many different epiphanies on my own programming.

Each panel I found the same and some new eager faces sitting up front ready take away everything they could learn from the experience. It was so much easier to make friends, get to know my cohorts, and get so many ideas going.

 

Exchange Ideas

ALA Midwinter puts you in the proximity of other librarians, so many other librarians. Not only were these people eager to present ideas, they were extremely friendly too. It made it so easy for me to share my own ideas, experiences, challenges, and contribute to theirs.

The strength and best benefit of being around other librarians is how the format encouraged everyone to share how they handled a variety of problems common to all library branches; such as pulling older teens into coding activities, attracting  students to return, and finding online resources for the right age groups. Finding that everyone else was facing the same challenges and finding their own ways of powering through them was empowering. Discovering that some of them used grant money as paid internships to incentivize teens to run their own programs, parent involvement to get students to return, or Google’s Applied Digital Skills courses and a wealth of other resources.

The convention environment was very welcoming to just throwing ideas out there. We bounced so many unpolished ideas at each other which made it the perfect place to collaborate. I had run into one librarian in every panel I attended and by the end we determined we needed to do a collaborative project together using Google Docs.

Set Goals

ALA Midwinter is huge; there are hundreds of people to see and the list of panels go on for pages. The RtC Cohort was kind enough to supply a list of panel recommendations and it helped immensely. Using their suggestions as a guide I was able to plan out my weekend by those panel times which gave a lot of direction to my time at ALA Midwinter. I was also able to glean plenty of fantastic information, and even more fantastic contacts, by interacting with other librarians interested in the same kinds of programming. I discovered things like Citizen Science Projects, HOMAGO (Hang Out Mess Around Geek Out), and a much simpler way of getting data by having patrons mark a single statement that they feel most applies to them. Having my schedule pre planned ahead of time made it that much easier to focus on collecting data instead of focusing on where to get the data.

The Exhibitor Hall was a completely different challenge. On arriving I skimmed the entire convention book that detailed all the stuff going on and found the ALAR Maze happening inside the Exhibitor Hall. The ALAR Maze gamified the whole experience for me and made it much easier for me to peruse all the vendors and exhibits while looking for hidden displays strewn throughout the hall. It even gave me a second wind when I thought I could walk no more.

Through interacting with technology easily put to practical use for our own programming that also gave me extra incentive to check every nook and cranny of the Exhibit Hall the whole experience became more approachable and by the end I managed to win a copy of Ready Player One out of it. I also discovered Vuforia, software, which would work well with resources we already have.

ALA Midwinter is an amazing event. Seeing what people are doing in their own libraries and sharing ideas with others was such an empowering experience. I came back to my own library eager to share everything I learned with my fellow staff and ready to leap into action.

 
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Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

The ideas expressed by libraries included in the podcast are not expressly endorsed by the Ready to Code project or the Georgetown County Library System. 

 
Posted on March 28, 2018 .

Power Up: Exploring Gaming in LIS Curricula

Hello!

We are Aaron J. Elkins, PhD, Assistant Professor at Texas Woman’s University, and Jonathan M. Hollister, PhD, Assistant Professor at Pusan National University. We hope to better understand the current status, use, and discussion of games and gaming within American Library Association (ALA) accredited Library and Information Science (LIS) degree programs in the United States. Ultimately, we hope to provide curricular recommendations for LIS educators and programs as well as best practice guidelines for librarians and other information professionals.

If you are an LIS educator (this includes tenured/tenure-track faculty members, adjunct instructors, teaching faculty members, graduate lead instructors or graduate assistants, etc.) who have taught, are currently teaching, or developed curricular materials addressing gaming for an ALA-accredited degree program, then we’d like to hear from you! You can learn more about the study and participate, if you so choose, at the link here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YNF63ZY

Participants may withdraw from the study at any time and there is no penalty for not participating. If you begin to participate and then choose to withdraw from the study, your partial data will not be analyzed: We will only use completed surveys. There is a potential risk of loss of confidentiality in all email, downloading, electronic meetings and internet transactions. If you have questions or need clarification about the study or your rights as a study participant, please do not hesitate to contact the Institutional Review Board at Texas Woman’s University by phone at 940-898-3378. The Human Subjects Research Committee assurance number is FWA00000178 and the IRB number is 19792. You may also contact Aaron J. Elkins at aelkins3@twu.edu or Jonathan M. Hollister at hollisterjm@pusan.ac.kr directly. You can also use these contacts to enquire about the research results.

Thank you for your time and participation.

Best Regards,

Aaron J. Elkins, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Library & Information Studies
Texas Woman’s University

Jonathan M. Hollister, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Library, Archives, & Information Studies
Pusan National University

Posted on March 14, 2018 and filed under Surveys.

Deckscape

Escape room games.jpg

Publisher: dv GIOCHI
MSRP: $15 USA

Recommended ages: 12+
Time: 30 - 90 minutes
Reset: Yes, reasonably quickly
Players:  1 - 6
Recommended Players: 3 - 4
App Required: No

Another in our series of tabletop escape room game reviews, and this time we are talking about the Deckscape series. The two sets we’ve played are Deckscape: Test Time and Deckscape: The Fate of London, and this review reflects experiences with those two titles.

Deckscape 1.JPG

There are several elements making Deckscape appealing additions to both school and library collections, the most important of which is that there is no reason any of the components, all of which are cards, need be destroyed while playing the game.  With an incredibly reasonable price, the included cards are of good size and good quality and all the needed information is clearly visible. With care these boxes should see dozens if not hundreds of plays.

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One great thing about about Deckscape series is the good density of puzzles in such a teeny box and price point. To get so many in the box there seem to be a bunch of easy puzzles which help build momentum, right up until players hit a wall and can’t progress at all. Which leads us to the most egregious issue; most, if not all, of the Deckscape puzzles have binary fail states. There is no “oh, we were wrong, so let’s go back and try again”.

Unlike most other escape experiences, if you get an answer wrong in DeckScape then that puzzle is failed; players then take the penalty, and move on. In other words, players don’t have the satisfaction of working through a puzzle if they get it wrong on their first answer. Unfortunately some of the puzzles seem to be designed to make players fail, the game could have used a bit more testing.

At some point in the game Deckscape has players break the deck up into parts as you go through the adventure. These parts are different puzzle chains that intersect with each other, keeping the experience from being narrow and linear by having players work on entirely different puzzles simultaneously. Splitting the puzzle chains also keeps players engaged and interacting with each other as they each have a unique perspective on the tableau of puzzles before them.

As you can see Deckscape, as a series, is not without some problems. The order of the cards in the box really matters, because both sides of the cards are needed, and it is essential that they are revealed in a certain order. This differs from the Unlock series where, because of the way cards are revealed during play, most of them don’t need to be in order. Unfortunately having any of the Deckscape cards out of order has a good chance of actually breaking the game flow. Fortunately, the numbers indicating card order are clear and easy to see so it is theoretically possible to sort most of the deck without ruining any major surprises.

Hint System

 I've been out of school for more than a decade, and still my blood pressure shoots up when someone says "there will be a test".  -DD

I've been out of school for more than a decade, and still my blood pressure shoots up when someone says "there will be a test".  -DD

As with most puzzle games, there are always a couple puzzles that seem designed to force all but the most non-linear thinkers to use hints.The Deckscape hint system is two cards with a list of card numbers and a hint written backwards next to them. Unless players are careful it’s pretty easy to accidentally discover a hint.  While it’s great to have the ability to play without an app, it would be excellent to have a mobile app allowing players to access clues without the chance of seeing clues they aren’t looking for.

Suggestions for Circulation

Include copies of the score sheet (card 6 in London, 7 in Test Time), or make one that multiple patrons can use in sequence to replace the existing one. Another possibility would be to put that card in a card sleeve/ziploc bag, or laminate it; either way include a dry erase pen.  It’s also a great idea to include additional card sleeves for cards that include puzzles more easily solved by writing on the card.

Even though the Deckscape games don’t get our highest marks for puzzles or hint systems when compared with some of the other boxed rooms these quick and affordable escape experiences are great candidates for inclusion in a school or library, if you have have someone to sort them every time they are played.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  
 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Posted on March 7, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment

 Look! A real lock!

Look! A real lock!

Publisher: Mattel
MSRP: $29.99
Recommended ages: 7+
Time: 60 minutes
Reset: Not without Printing
Players:  2 - 8
Recommended Players: 3 - 8
App Required: No

If you are looking for the most realistic escape room experience then this is the one. The Werewolf Experiment has locks and other common escape room gizmos that would be a bit too spoilery to discuss. The game has a relatively strong narrative and is a neat twist on the mad scientist room.

The best thing about the Werewolf Experiment is the way they structure the puzzle chains; larger groups can stay engaged in puzzles instead of just one or two players like in many other escape activities. The Werewolf Experiment really works well with a group of up to six or possibly even eight, without feeling like it’s being stretched at the seams. The same puzzle structure makes it really tough to complete in the time allotted with only two players.

Speaking of puzzles, there is a good variety of puzzle form and quality for a tabletop experience. The designers packed some very interesting puzzle props into the box, and the puzzles range from easy and silly to quite challenging. Some will probably need more than one person to examine them before being solved, but that's the nature of escape rooms. 

If they hit a wall and cant proceed, the players have a hint booklet that they can reference a certain number of times during the escape “without failing”. It does a great job of spurring things along when players need help. There is a second hint booklet that appears later to help with the final puzzles, and dividing the hints that way helps to prevent accidental spoilers.

 Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

The only significant problem with the Werewolf Experiment is the pain of resetting it for the next group. Which is even more of an issue because of some consumable items that, once depleted, will be impossible to replicate without just purchasing more. The box includes several refills, but they are a limited resource. (While the game requests you put a kettle on, or have a source of warm water while playing we managed to complete the session without doing so, but for kids it would be much cooler to have the warm water available.)   *** UPDATE: The puzzle which we were describing was for the original Kickstarter version only and was replaced in the Mattel version of this product. The replacement puzzle componants are not used up during the course of play.***   

While many of the other tabletop escape rooms play out like normal game experiences, it is easy to tell the designers want their escape room to be an something more. Nothing shows that more than the Werewolf Experiment website where they have party tips, printable labels, invitations, a "SUPER RAD SOUNDTRACK", a bonus puzzle, and repacking instructions. 

To sum up, Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is the closest thing to a real escape room currently available as a tabletop experience. It would be an excellent core to an escape room event, but our recommendation is to buy two copies, play through it once, and laminate the pieces which require writing on the second set. This would provide additional backups for any elements that might go wrong. With a very high percentage of good quality puzzles and the ability to keep more than two or three people engaged at a time, this is recommended for a big event, if not necessarily as a permanent part of a circulating collection.

For additional information about Escape Room in a Box and the people who created it, check out On Board Games #  276: Escape Experiment where Donald Dennis talks with Juliana Patel and Ariel Rubin, designers of Escape Room in a Box.

 Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

Image used with permission of Escape Room in a Box

This review is based on the first version of Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment. We have not played or examined the Mattel version.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  
 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
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

Posted on February 28, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape the Room

The Escape the Room series includes:

Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor
Secret of Dr. Gravely’s Retreat

Publisher: Thinkfun
MSRP: $21.99
Recommended ages: 10+/13+
Time: 90 minutes
Reset: Yes
Players:  3 - 8
Recommended Players: 2  - 4
App Required: No, but website is available for hints and atmosphere

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Think Fun's Escape the Room: Mystery at Stargazer's Manor, is the first escape room themed game ever published. For a first take it does so much so well. Even though none of the current generation of escape room games are re-playable by the same person, because of spoilers, this series can be repacked and played by other groups. Players can easily complete all of the puzzles in either Mystery at Stargazer’s Manor or The Secret of Dr Gravely’s Retreat without destroying any of the elements meaning it can be packed up and returned to the box so it is ready for the next play.

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This series set the tabletop escape room standard of “game teaches itself” as you start to play, but it does so without neglecting the narrative element. The starting scene card sets the stage and then over the course of the room players open a series of envelopes by solving puzzles. In each are more puzzle pieces and a card advancing the narrative by explaining what happened in the world they are exploring.

Once players believe they have solved a puzzle they enter symbols they discovered into a solution wheel, which will show if it is actually solved and players can move on. The one potential failure of this clever mechanism is how easy it is to brute force the answers, or even say “hey, look, we succeeded” and move along. Most groups don’t cheat, instead relying on clues from the website (or a friendly teacher or librarian) to get them through any tough spots.

The website supporting the Escape the Room games is only essential during play if players need hints. Besides the a hint system, it also has background music selections to help set the atmosphere, and a map for resetting the game. Unless there is someone present who has already played through the room internet access may be essential for players to complete the rooms, let alone to have an enjoyable time.

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The one unfortunate element of this series is the linear nature of the puzzles that prevents them from being suitable for groups of larger than three or four. Four tweens or three adults who enjoy puzzles can have an interesting time completing these in about 30-45 minutes, but if you have five players someone is going to be bored. Players should also be aware that both of the current Escape the Room sets have one puzzle that is significantly harder than the others included in the box. 

Because most of the puzzles in the series are not extremely difficult Escape the Room gets a Green Light as an amazing “first escape room experience” for small groups, and is a great introduction to what real rooms have to offer, or even what can be expected from other tabletop experiences.  The puzzles in Dr. Gravely's Retreat are a just a bit more difficult, making the the perfect follow-up to the Mystery at Stargazer's Manor.

Join us in the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group to discuss this review or join in other conversations about using escape rooms in libraries.  

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

Posted on February 23, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

Escape Room Game Series

 These are some of the games we will be covering in our escape room series. 

These are some of the games we will be covering in our escape room series. 

Games in Schools and Libraries is kicking off a new series on escape room related products for our blog. In our subsequent articles we will cover the breadth and depth of store-bought tabletop escape experiences, print and play activities, and even games that aren’t (strictly speaking) in the escape room genre but still evoke enough aspects to appeal to the same audience.   

Few experiences are more engaging than escape rooms, solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles are made even more enticing by the physical nature of the activity and the race against the clock. There are a variety of pre-packaged escape products that aim to reproduce one or more of the essential elements of the escape room experience, such as cooperative puzzle solving, critical thinking, and doing all of this under the clock.

Many of the tabletop products we will be covering have novel takes on many of the same problems - how to present a series of puzzles in such a way that players can continue to progress in solving interesting problems without getting stuck in such a way that the experience is destroyed by an insurmountable feeling of bafflement. Should players get truly stuck there is no sympathetic Game Master to deliver hints, but all of the games in the escape room genre have had to deal with this issue, frequently finding unique ways to present hints or allow players to progress even if they can’t follow the designer’s sense of logic.

We will be talking about all of these issues over at the Library Escape Room Enthusiasts group, and even discussing some of these games before the reviews are posted. If you have something to say, or are just looking for more opinions after the blog post has dropped, that’ll be the place to go.

Link to the group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1922174474731812/  

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

Posted on February 22, 2018 and filed under Escape Rooms.

4 Player Video Games - Sports Edition

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Sports Games

Sports games are always an excellent addition to any video game collection. They see constant play and are nearly always multiplayer. Their appeal to a broad audience brings in a fair number of patrons we wouldn't see otherwise, as well as being accessible to all ages.

 

Madden 18

Console: PS4 & Xbox 1
ESRB:  E  For Comic Mischief, Mild Language, Mild Violence

 Just nine more dudes to shove through!

Just nine more dudes to shove through!

Madden 18 is a competitive/cooperative sports game that has come a long way from the original game John Madden Football. There’s the typical game where you can play against your friends with all the different football teams. There is a new game mode called “Longshot”, where players take on the role of a fictional would-be quarterback character. Eventually new stories for this game mode will be released.

 

NBA 2k18

Console: PC, PS4, Xbox 1, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch
ESRB:  E 10+ For Crude Humor, Mild Lyrics

 I wonder who sponsored this one.

I wonder who sponsored this one.

NBA 2K18 is your average “Break people’s ankles” game with a few new features! The newest game mode called “Run The Neighborhood” is about an average guy who “climbs the ranks” to be the guy who Runs The Neighborhood.

 

Fifa 18

Console: PC, PS4, Xbox 1, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch
ESRB:   E

 The right camera angle makes the difference between epic and awkward.

The right camera angle makes the difference between epic and awkward.

Soccer players will love the new Fifa 18! There are all new features including; new and improved scoring animations, real player motion technology, new team styles, and an immersive atmosphere. Also starting back up this year is is competitive Fifa! Think you can become one of the greats out there?

 

NHL 18

Console: PS4 & Xbox 1
ESRB:    E10+  For Mild Violence

 I swear he just tripped coach.

I swear he just tripped coach.

EA has greatly improved a ton of stuff in this new game including: a brand new defensive skill stick, creative attack dekes, new and improved A.I, hockey training camp, there is even a new expansion draft for the new Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team. Also, there is now create-a-mascot if you create a new hockey team!

 

Joshua Valderrama is one of our Teen Room Volunteers and an avid Broncos fan.
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

Posted on January 29, 2018 .

December Playstation Plus PS4 Roundup

If you do console gaming in your schools or libraries then Playstation Plus and Xbox Gold can be an amazing way of adding new games to your collection each month. However, not every free game may be appropriate for your space. We’ll be going over all the PS4 titles this month so that you can decide what works for your space.

 

Darksiders II Deathinitive Edition

Single Player
M for Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Violence

 Because flaming scythes is everything's elemental weakness.

Because flaming scythes is everything's elemental weakness.

Darksiders 2 is a hack and slash game. Players take on the role of Death as he tries to resurrect humanity. Gameplay consists of hacking through enemies with your array of weapons (scythes, hammers, so on) and gaining new abilities to make it easier or cooler looking to do so.  

Darksiders 2 is a neat and action packed game. If you have an M rated games collection go for it, otherwise you’ll want to pass.

 

Kung Fu Panda Showdown of Legendary Legends

1 - 4 Players
E for Cartoon Violence

 When the best move is to not move.

When the best move is to not move.

Kung Fu Panda Showdown of Legendary Legends is a fighting game. Players can take on the roles of a number of characters from the movies and battle it out. Items also drop during the matches, giving an advantage to players that manage to nab them before the others. It’s basically Super Smash Bros, but with Kung Fu Panda characters instead.

It plays up to 4 and is appropriate for any setting. It gets played pretty frequently by our kids.

 
 It's glowing, that means we have to check it out.

It's glowing, that means we have to check it out.

Forma.8 is an action adventure game. Players take on the role of Forma.8 a probe that is exploring the planet it’s stranded on. Players explore the area finding things like lore and power ups that will help them progress further along in their exploration. The visuals of this game are lovely.

Forma.8 is a fascinating little game, but is more of a one player experience. If you are able to cater to single player games then give it a whirl.

 

Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

Posted on December 30, 2017 .