On Play Play Learn, when we talk about board games and education, we aren’t referring to Monopoly or CandyLand. Nor are we talking about those so-called educational games where students flick a spinner and then complete the worksheet that it lands on. The board games on this site fall within the general group of what are often called modern board games. It must also be noted that this site will often use the more familiar term “board game” to refer to the wide variety of what might otherwise be called “tabletop games” including board games, card games, dice games, role-playing games, wargames, and miniature games. This is done not to exclude the other types of games, but to be more approachable for those new to this type of gaming.
So what exactly is a modern board game? Sometimes they are called Eurogames after the European renaissance in game design that has pushed the movement; others refer to this style as designer games because most of them feature the game author (or designer) on the cover. No matter what the name, modern board games tend to share a set of common characteristics that set them apart from the board games we likely grew up with. In general, these games are more focused on critical thinking and decision making, are less focused on elimination and often include all players until a final scoring of victory points or a win condition is met, and tend to feature a high level of thematic integration with game mechanisms. In other words, a new vocabulary for those just encountering modern board games to explore.
Ticket to Ride is a great example of a “gateway game” that uses a few simple mechanisms that can help ease players into a new type of game experience. Each turn, players can draw cards to help them complete sets of colored train cards, play sets of cards to claim matching train routes, or draw new route cards for get bonus points for connecting two cities. Simple enough to easily teach, but complex enough to keep experienced players engaged with the potential for strategic route claiming.
As a family game, Ticket to Ride far outshines more negatively competitive games like Monopoly. Instead of being eliminated, players remain in the game until a final tally of victory points. Some of a player’s points are scored during the game as public knowledge, but route cards are held secretly until the final scoring so a player can come from behind to snatch a win. More importantly for future discussions on this site, Ticket to Ride incorporates strong thematic elements on top of what could otherwise be a simple set-collecting card game. With a theme that built around United States geography and train routes, it is possible to use Ticket to Ride as an educational resource to spark a discussion about historical and political geography. Why are the routes on the east cost so much shorter than the west coast? Why are there double lines of train tracks leading from Duluth to Houston? Do all the cities game author Alan Moon selected for inclusion represent historically important locations or do you think they might have been picked for game-play reasons?
This type of instructional use, and many others that we will explore and reveal in future articles, are at the core of why these modern board games are such a successful resource for educational use.