Building a Game (Part 2)

We’re back to this. I’d been waiting for an Amazon order to make it’s way to my house, and that finally happened.

As we had been playing, there were a few things that were starting to box in some of the more creative play I wanted to be able to allow. We only had 6 sided dice- and we likely could have made that work for a bit longer, but I was trying to bring an every-growing degree of complexity to the game, so… I bought some dice. A big bag, actually- it had about 100 dice in it (D4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 20, & Percentile). Those should give us a better ability to modulate tasks- a monster you need to defeat can exist on a difficulty scale of 1-20 now, instead of just 1-6. That will help as I start to make the games serialized.


Yup. We’re starting to carry data from one game to the next- so weapons you amass come with you, money carries with you (more on this in a second…), and attributes your character uses exist over a scale longer than a single sitting of the game. I’m hoping the longer narrative structure helps to maintain some of the enthusiasm the kids currently have- it also allows us to not have to re-built resources for their characters. Every. Time. We. Play.

I’ve also introduced money into the game. I wanted to build it in for two real reasons- the first is to introduce some of the most basic elements of economics. Rare things cost more. Common things cost less. You only have so much money- and when it runs out, you need to make choices about what to do. And so on. Also (point 2!), MATH! Right now, coins are just coins- pennies in our case- and you have however many you have. But soon, as the amounts increase, we can introduce nickels, dimes, and quarters to the mix. Some good experience with the math of money.

Besides the coins, I wanted something less linked to a numerical value. That is to say, a nickel carries the value of 5 with it- and I wanted “money” for which the value could change- it could be worth more or less at any given time. Clearly, what we needed was jewels. Did you know Amazon sells jewels? Yup. Nice, big, colorful “pirate jewels” made out of plastic and sure to please. Got a big bag of those too.

Clearly, we’d outgrown our previous modest box’o’stuff, and I needed to upgrade. Home Depot sells these lovely small part boxes, and I picked up one- the girls really enjoyed sorting the different (and exciting) types of dice into bins. Heck, that was an activity for a night on it’s own. All that looks like this:


That mostly took care of the manipulatives we needed (so far), and I moved on to making the game more modular and unpredictable. What I needed, really, was a stack of interaction parameters that we could draw from- when the map says “monster here,” you’d draw a card to see what sort of monster you were fighting and what their properties were. Amazon sells big boxes of blank playing cards that are totally awesome for this- they’re just the right size, they have rounded corners and the right finish on them, and they take sharpie just great. Got a box of those, too. Cheap! And there’s like 500 in the box, so we’re good to go for a bit.

The next step is to sit down and actually make the cards– I think I’m going to have a brainstorming session with the girls about types of monsters and baddies and whatnot, and then I’ll spend some free time (HA!) making a stack of cards and attributes based on those notes. I suspect those stacks will be a constantly changing and evolving sort of thing. There are always new types of monsters (and good things, too- Wizards and Elves and whatever else they think up…) to be added, and the properties are always up for debate. I’ll need to figure out how to keep the stacks organized- though for the short term, a colored dot on the back of each type of card category should do the trick. Pics of those to come, as, you know, I actually make them.

I also want to build out a couple of other stacks of cards, too. Items (and they’re properties) and Interactions (and their rules) should probably get made, and I’m still working out a reasonable (and adaptable) economy for things like “Health” and whatever other things we can work out.

Looking over this (and the last) post makes me pretty sure there will be a Part 3 to this. Dunno when, but there you go.

Research List #33

Things I’ve been looking into and/or have been fascinated by:

  • Wardrobe trunks (generally) and Goyard trunks (specifically)
  • Bubble and Squeak
  • Montana Gold spray paint
  • Carhartt B01 (made in USA version, new “original fit”)
  • speed reading bookmarklet
  • Manfrotto model 209 tripod
  • the Ambitious Card
  • as always, looking for better small part storage
  • Principles of building a RPG (a game, not a grenade)

So you want to be a teacher.

Filmmaker Werner Herzog has quipped that to be successful in his craft, one should not go to film school. Instead, he recommends some of the following skills:

  • Lock picking
  • Document forging
  • Multiple languages
  • Martial Arts

His argument hinges on a simple truth: in the act of making a film, these skills trump the theoretical offerings of a formal art school. And while thinking of this, it seemed clear that there were things you should know and study that they weren’t teaching in education school.

To that end, I’ve put together a list of the skills and areas of study that I feel are crucial to being a good teacher- but that aren’t taught in any typical education program.


And not some simple statistics-for-education. A real, honest to god statistics course. Knowing how to interpret data is crucial- both so you can see the actual meaning of what you’ve gathered, but also so you can see when someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes.


If you think teaching isn’t an act of performance art- stop. Withdraw from your program and give up. You are not presenting yourself as you teach- you are presenting a created version of yourself that best allows you to teach. That’s acting- and you’re going to be doing it six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year. If you’re uncomfortable with that fact, this job isn’t for you. Walk away.


Students deserve materials that are well designed- and that’s not just a matter of them “looking better” mind you- good design addresses having the form help the function. I know that Comic Sans is listed as a font on your machine but trust me- it’s not. Not only is it hideous and an abomination- it’s not very readable. It is not in the best interests of your students no matter how “nice” you think it looks. A decent design course can help give you the sensibilities to make better choices.

Conflict resolution training

I took a 32 hour course in restraint training- physical restraints, that is. In my time in conventional classrooms, I never once had cause to put hands on a student. That’s a good thing. What was most interesting about the course was that it spent MORE time on de-escalation techniques than on the actual physical holds. In fact, the mentality was that if it comes to a physical interaction, you’ve already lost. Everything is about slowing things down and calming people. That part of the training I used nearly every day- with students and staff.

Film making

Digital delivery is a given today- you need to be adept, comfortable, and effective at making short films. There isn’t any more “that’s not my job” or “it’s too hard” or whatever. Consumer grade computers capable of digital video editing have been around since at lest 1999- learn how to shoot and edit video. It’s a thing now.

Project management

Dealing with projects spread across some 120 students in various states is as clear an example of project management as I can think of. Learn some tools and techniques to be able to deal with that sort of volume of creation.

I can’t even tell you how many times lock picking was useful in my teaching career- and having some solid A/V experience let me do a lot of things I wouldn’t have been able to any other way. Or how being able to circumvent a firewall/filter was crucial to teaching a lesson. But the above list, I think, represents more along the lines of how we should be thinking about educating teachers. Lateral thinking should be encouraged, rather than the step-by-step adherence to the latest regulations.

I’m not sure I could recommend going into the field to anyone right now- the deck seems so heavily stacked against the ability of good teachers to do what they do best… It’s too big a subject to tackle in this post, I know. There seems to be so much emphasis on “making sure” that “teachers are doing their jobs” (as dictated by a group of distinctly non-educators, mind you…) that there’s no room for good teachers to do their thing.

Still. If you’re in the process of entering the field, and you’re wondering what elective courses to round your program out with- there’s my pick.

Building a Game (Part 1)

I have young children, and for reasons I won’t delve into here, they need some special attention paid regarding their vision. As such, and in an effort to enrich their play, I’ve embarked on a project to introduce them to RPGs. Roll Playing Games are exactly what you think- you assume the roll of a character in a game and play from that perspective. The most famous of these is likely Dungeons and Dragons, but there are many, many others. Think of it this way: if you were to play Clue from the perspective and in the roll of Colonel Mustard¹. THAT’D be a RPG.

My kids are small, and even the most stripped down version of DnD has a rule book 100 pages long (the full version, near as I can tell, is 320 pages). So it should come as no surprise. Indeed, when researching what game I might introduce, the general consensus was that we should build our own. Fair enough. I wasn’t sure about their ability to grasp some of the more abstract concepts, so I chose to test the concept with a game structured around our house and our family.HouseGameProto(crop)

This is the first game board we made. The layout of based (roughly!) on the floor plan of our house, “x” on a spot makes it “special” (and you draw a card for that…), and mostly, you go about the tasks you do in real life- go to the living room or kitchen, walk around, make messes (lose points!), be polite (add points!). And that’s it. There’s no narrative or ending, but it was enough to gauge their interest in the format. Time to get more ambitious.

I wanted to keep a few things in mind:

  • These are little kids, and as such, the game should be of a finite length²
  • The game should be re-useable
  • The game should be adaptable
  • The game should be as familiar as possible
  • The game should be hackable

With all that in mind, I drew up this board:


It’s not perfect at all- and that’s ok. It shouldn’t be precious, because I don’t want any hesitation to change it all around. I made it a fairly generic “maze” layout, and I added a coordinate system. That will allow me (as I run the game) to place obstacles and rewards in various spots, to be discovered as they play. It’s a sort of miniature quest. The complexity of the journey can be dialed up or down based on the nature and frequency of these additions- a few easy monsters with copious resources at first, then more monsters and scarcer resources. Speaking of resources…

I opted to stay fairly low-tech with much of this. That’s a recycled chunk of foam core for a board. The manipulatives- the pieces- needed to feel familiar to the kids, but also be versatile enough to function not only for this game, but for future variations and new games. So…


This is the start of the collection. This will grow a ton in the next week or so, as some Amazon orders or parts come in. But for now, that’s a pile of Lego Minifigs, some counting bears, a handful of tiddlywinks, some small treasure chests, and a home-made die. I’ve got a bag of “pirate jewels” coming (for treasure…), 100 dice (D4, D6, D8, D10 (and percentile), and D20), as well as a couple hundred blank cards. Most of what that’s for is obvious, but the blank cards are key: those will get turned into set of stacks, each stack on a theme. For example, in the “Monster” stack, each card will specify what kind of monster and any other parameters (how strong it is, what kind, etc…). If you hit a “monster” square in the game, you draw a card to find out details.

I’m excited. From a learning perspective, there’s a lot to do here- the kids are not only going to play the game with me, but they’re also helping me to build it. That’s a lot of cutting and glueing and talking and making lists and and and. It’s a proper project.

Updates as we make progress.


¹ Why don’t we play Clue this way? Sounds WAY better.

² I’m looking at you, Monopoly. And Mousetrap.