6 Eurogame Board Games for Teaching Social Studies

More and more classroom teachers are using video games and simulations as part of their instruction. We’ve seen students using text-based games to teach medieval Japan and teachers integrating PC based simulations to highlight economic impacts. Educators are incorporating video game cut scenes into instruction, using game specific wikis to build content knowledge, and finding ways to embed students into World War II through first person shooter console games.

But as the K-12 education world is becoming more comfortable with the use of video games and simulations, we shouldn’t forget the power of tabletop and board games. As you think about ways to engage students, you need to look at the possibilities available. This is more than just Monopoly or the simple roll the dice to see what happens to your Gold Rush bound wagon train.

A new form of game, developed in the 1990s and called Eurogames, combines simple rules and strategic complexity to give teachers a powerful instructional tool not previously available. The games put a premium on interacting with other players, long-range planning, and managing limited pools of resources. Unlike traditional games like Monopoly, they de-emphasize direct conflict between players so capturing enemy pieces or eliminating opponents are rare occurrences.

Mostly board games, Eurogames emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.  In contrast, many American-based games involve more luck, conflict, and drama.

Most Eurogames share the following elements.

  • Player conflict is indirect and usually involves competition over resources or points. Combat is extremely rare.
  • Players are never eliminated from the game (All players are still playing when the game ends.)
  • There is very little randomness or luck. When randomness does occur, it is balanced out by having the player decide what to do after a random event happens rather than before. Dice are rare, but not unheard of.
  • The designer of the game is listed on the game’s box cover. Though this is not particular to Euros, the Eurogame movement seems to have started this trend. This is why some gamers and designers call this genre of games Designer Games.
  • Much attention is paid to the artwork and components. Plastic and metal are rare, more often pieces are made of wood.
  • Eurogames have a definite theme. However, the theme may have very little to do with the gameplay. The focus instead is on the mechanics; so, for example, a game about space may be played the same as a game about ancient Rome.

Some great examples for social studies teachers include:

  1. Settlers of Catan – link to game

  2. Carcassonne – link to game

  3. Ticket to Ride – link to game

  4. A Few Acres of Snow – link to game

  5. Puerto Rico – link to game

  6. Imperial – link to game

Much of the brain research supporting the use of video games also applies to board games:

  • Players get to modify the game environment and make individual choices.
  • Players become the experts.
  • Creativity and problem solving skills are encouraged.
  • Players receive immediate feedback.
  • There’s always an answer / always a way to “win.”
  • Trial and error – failure – is an encouraged form of learning.
  • Game play is almost always better in groups.
  • It’s possible to adapt most games to support Flow – the point in gameplay where it’s hard enough to be challenging but not so hard that players give up.

And because board games are so much cheaper to produce, there seems to be a ton of them that can help focus the learning in a social studies classroom. So where can teachers go to find more information?

MidAmerica Nazarene University in the metro Kansas City area just started their Center for Gaming and Learning. They have some handy research as well as library of games for checkout. If nothing else, their list will kickstart your thinking.

The Genosee Valley Educational Partnership has a similar thing happening. They’ve got resources and actual games for checkout and a handy search filter to find games specific to your grade and content.

Board Game Geek has a ton of stuff specifically for board gamers including a list of game friendly games. The ReadWriteThink folks have a nice piece on using board games to support technical reading and writing. Edutopia shares ideas of using games for assessment and engagement. Browse through this Slideshare presentation on board games for some ideas. And this article on kids making their own games is a perfect fit with the current MakerSpace movement.

Need a bit longer read? Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Brian Mayer / Christopher Harris and Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages by Scott Nicholson are both useful. While they do focus on how libraries can use board games, there is a lot of overlap with the K-12 social studies world.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Jude Doyland.

One Comment

  1. Awesome article and resources! I would love if you would consider adding Board Gaming with Education to your list of recommend resources!

    “At BGE we are all about leveraging games for playful and engaging learning. We believe games and more specifically board games are teaching and learning tools that can be leveraged to create a more engaging, positive, and fulfilling learning experience. Our mission is to grow the idea of games for learning and to ensure best practices when doing so. We are here to help you find the resources you need for your learning environment, overcome challenges of implementing game-based learning design as a part of your teaching practice, find engaging at-home learning opportunities with board games, and most importantly help you find and play more games for learning!”

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