Everyone has been through the horror that is an educational game. They try to beat the knowledge into you ham-fistedly while simultaneously sucking out almost all of the “fun” that is allegedly present. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something interesting while playing games. In fact, here are a handful that actually sneak some learning into a fun and engaging experience.
Timeline challenges your knowledge of history. I hope you paid attention to the dates of important events in high school, because that info will finally come in handy. Each player is dealt a set of cards that remains face down on the table. They say things like “Penicillin” or “the steam engine.” The backs of the cards have the years that these items were invented or discovered – but you can’t look at the back yet. Your job is to figure out the timeline of events.
A single card is set down with its date revealed. Perhaps, “The Eiffel Tower.” Now, you choose one of your cards, “Pasteurization” and decide whether that happened before or after the Eiffel Tower. Once you make a guess, it’s revealed. If you’re right, it gets added to the timeline. Then it’s the next person’s turn. As the timeline crowds with cards, it becomes more difficult to play your card in just the right spot.
Timeline is a fantastic little trivia game. It’s all about knowing the dates and filling out the arc of history. But you don’t need to be a history major to play the game. Instead, since the dates are tied to specific events, you don’t really need to know the exact years. You can try to figure out what came first, Traffic Lights or Telephone Wire. Every game is sure to bring out an amazing fact or two.
The “Porfirian Peace” is all about the Mexican Civil War as various factions tried to overthrow Porfirio Diaz from a de facto dictatorship. Like all Eklund titles, this game is massively deep. You can send troops to other players, manipulate the markets, or change the ruling regime, all while attempting to set yourself up as the one to succeed Diaz when he is overthrown, ousted by election, or when the United States invades.
Coming in a tiny container, Pax Porfiriana may have the highest ratio of mechanical depth to box surface area of any game on the market. You’ll assassinate rivals, nationalize business ventures, and even arrange to manipulate the passions of the people by playing damaging cards on yourself.
And for those interested in this important part of history, too often overlooked at school, the game is wonderfully instructive. Each and every card is tied to history in some way. Many relate to actual people that were involved in the Civil War. Others represent troops of various factions and the slave revolts that occurred at the same time. Attention is played to the division between Chihuahua and Sonora, as well as U.S. interests. And every card has flavor text helpfully providing context. It’s a wonderful game with a fantastic story to tell.
If I had to pick a subject that would be the most dull for a board game, it would be geography. Yelck. But this isn’t just any geography game, it’s made by the amazing Vlaada Chvatil. And, while Travel Blog may not be quite as strategic as Dungeon Petz, it is a fantastic game that is light enough for the casual gamer and still challenging for hobbyists.
You can play with either the Europe or U.S. map. Each round, seven cards are played, each of which has a country or state on it. Then one is played to the center. In real time, you have to pick the non-adjacent country that you can reach in the fewest border crossing. And, because the selection is made in real time, you have to get there first. If you make your pick after someone else, you’ll be charged a penalty.
The result is a geography game that is actually exciting. Perhaps with a little thought, you’d be able to assess the best routes. But given the fast pace of play, you have to go on instinct and a vague sense of where countries might be. Andorra … is that near Belgium? What about Belarus. That’s in Eastern Europe, but how close is it to Greece?
Travel Blog will have you playing fast and loose without taking things too seriously. And, at the end of the game, you might learn exactly where Macedonia is in relation to Hungary.
What games do you enjoy that teach you new things? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Asmodee Games, Sierra Madre Games, and Czech Games Edition