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The 'Germanisation' of Board Games

Upon writing the headline 'Germanisation of Board Games' I'm left to ponder if this is the best neologism of which one could think. Perhaps 'Germification' or 'Germified' might be better, although there is a strong probability that both of these alternatives make the reader think of a virus, a causal relationship that is far from ideal during Flu season.

Like many of you I grew up sans-Smartphone. In this pre-iPhone universe, indeed, in the age before Blackberry was championed for being more than a fruit, I tend to recall board games prospered. I also tend to think that Boardgames are making a come-back. And that's wonderful!

In a shocking turn of events, this bespectacled Englishman who roams the Upper School bellowing "Good Day" to your children is a board game fanatic. I grew up on Monopoly and Scrabble, initially, before gravitating to what I thought at the time was high-strategy by means of the game Risk. These early flights of fancy have been replaced in our home by two stand-outs of the last twenty five years: Settlers of Catan and Pandemic

I'd like to make a case for you to play board games with your children, particularly if you've not tried some of the newer games on the market. Many young people in their pre-teen and early teen years tend to become frustrated with some of the more traditional options. The slow roll and wait model of these games, coupled with genuinely Victorian premises (Risk), can be at best tedious and frequently alienating. This is a charge discussed in depth in a recent edition of The Atlanticthe columnist Jonathan Kay declaring confidently that:

"In North America, the complex board games created during the latter half of the 20th century typically took the form of simulated warfare. In Risk, Axis & Allies, Star Fleet Battles, and Victory in the Pacific, players take on the role of generals moving their units around tabletop maps. But for obvious reasons, this wasn’t a model that resonated positively with the generation of Germans who grew up in the shadow of the Third Reich. Which helps explain why all of the most popular Eurogames are based around building things—communities (Catan), civilizations (Terra Mystica), farms (Agricola)—rather than annihilating opponents. The result is a vastly more pacifist style of a game that can appeal to women as much as men, and to older adults as much as high-testosterone adolescents."

Hence the 'Germanisation' of the subject line. Perhaps most compelling as an argument for considering the likes of Catan is the inclusive nature of the aforementioned Eurogame genre. Once again, quoting from Kay:

"The earliest creators understood something fundamental about the psychology of gaming: While people can tolerate losing, they despise the feeling of being eliminated from a game in progress. And so most Eurogames are designed such that scoring comes at the end of the game, after some defined milestone or turn limit, so that every player can enjoy the experience of being a contender until the final moments. If this sounds somewhat Euro-socialistic, that’s because it is. But such mechanisms acknowledge that no one wants to block off three hours for gaming, only to get knocked out early and bide their time by watching TV as everyone else finishes up."

This weekend, after our daughter falls asleep, Mrs. R and I are considering the extent to which we can drink our tea, eat our biscuits, and work collaboratively together to prevent a world-wide outbreak. I encourage you (in groups of 2-4 with the standard version) to consider doing the same. My gamble would be that your 5th Grader will love it just as much as your 10th Grader.

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Upper School Director