Mailbag: Family Game Night- Operative Edition

Dr. J. was glad to see that his post from yesterday resonated with somebody.

Operative KH sent us this missive via Ouija board:

Good evening, Doctor, 

Your board game post struck a chord with me. My late father taught me to play Battleship in about 1967 on graph paper, and chess about the same time. He also turned my brothers and me on to BAS-KET (cool old basketball game with a ping-pong ball and spring-loaded shooters) and Foto-Electric Football. 

Now I play BAS-KET with my sons, and the younger just got Strat-O-Matic Hockey for Christmas; the older got Strat-O-Matic Football. We’ve played Tactics II a time or two as well, and my older son has been reading my old RuneQuest rulebook (I always liked RQ better than D&D), but they still get plenty of video-game time. 

My personal taste runs mostly to miniatures, but I like a lot of different things. 


Operative KH


Thanks for writing in. Dr. J agrees with you. He has fond memories from his yout’ playing Battleship with Papa J. We also played a Star Wars game called Star Wars: Escape from Death Star quite a bit as well. Indeed, Dr. J. probably learned my first lesson on how to be a good loser when the spinner didn’t go his way one night and was consequently very cross.

Dr. J. and two of his chums played D&D together, but never really expanded beyond the three of us for any sustained period of time. One game that got all the kids in the neighborhood together was Axis and Allies, a more complex WWII version of Risk. The game was ostensibly for 5 players, but we would often pair up a Master with an Apprentice if we had youngins tagging along above and beyond the usual five. Dr. J. was typically Germany, his closest chum loved to be Russia, if only to see how long he could last.

Dr. J. appreciates you writing in, Dr. J. has been thinking about games lately because Yoda, the headmaster at the New Atlantis Jedi Academy has been reading a lot about game based learning. Furthermore when he discusses the concept he is the only person that Dr. J has listened to that has not come across as a crazyman.

The principle is this: The Jedi Academy is doing a tremendous job teaching the 3 R’s, and preparing children to become great Padawan learners as they enter the next phase of their education. They also pay careful attention to spiritual growth and leadership development in addition to book learnin’. One of Yoda’s concerns is that the 21st century will be a different place than the 20th, or the 19th. He doesn’t know exactly what all of the challenges will be, but he wants the kids to be prepared to handle what comes their way and use the available resources and technologies which are always in evolution appropriately as they take their seat at the proverbial table.

Now in his view there are three levels of games.

The first level can be represented by Tic Tac Toe – There are a limited number of moves and once mastered it typically results in stalemate (unless you aren’t paying attention).

The second level is best represented by Chess – Again, you are limited in the moves that you can make, albeit to a lesser degree, and the permutations are greater than Tic Tac Toe, but again, your degrees of freedom are limited.

The third level is best represented by Go. – This game is far more complex than the first two, and with greater degrees of freedom. Indeed, there are times where you are working with your opponent rather than against your opponent in order to ultimately win, more so than a Queen’s Gambit anyway.

Game based learning, in his eyes, is a potential adjunct, and supplement to the modern curriculum, not a replacement. It can address team building and problem solving skills in ways that the current curriculum does not. Think about having to work with a classmate on a science project or poster, it was torture if you and they aren’t on the same page or at the same intellectual capacity. Game based learning may be a better way to develop these skills.

The example that Yoda likes to site is a documentary he saw called The World Peace Game. The idea of the game is that players are given a country that contains a set of resources. Countries should trade in order to achieve mutually acceptable goals. For example, Dr. J. has wheat, the Czar has iron. Dr. J. will need to trade the Czar some wheat for some iron. They both know what they need to keep, so they thus will know what is an acceptable trade to both of them. This all sounds well and good, and boring, however, there is a player who is a mole. Their whole purpose of the mole is to create chaos and not be discovered as the mole. According to John Hunter, the creator of the game, a number of problem solving and team building skills can be gained through the game. Now Dr. J. has no doubt that there is some hippie-touchy-feel-good crap associated with this game, but it also sounds a lot like Diplomacy, or Risk with resource management and a desire to avoid open conflict rather than take over the world. After all, none of us wants war and bloodshed, all of us want prosperity. This game sounds like capitalism and free trade are incorporated into it, rather than seen as losing strategies. In fact, when the Gormos are done fragging each other on Marathon, Dr. J. might bring this to Castle Game Night. (Yes Mandy, you can have your death ray, Dr. J. has his bioweapons, and we all know ‘Puter is the mole). Dr. J. does not believe that The Jedi Academy will test-drive the World Peace Game, rather, it will find an appropriate way to use games of similar complexity to teach these types of skills above and beyond the learning already extant in the curriculum. Yoda is really ahead of the curve.

This game, however, seems more realistic and edgy than the lefty simulations Dr. J. enjoyed as a student. In 7th Grade, Dr. J.’s class was given 2 uncut pizzas. The class was distributed into continents by population. Dr. J. was part of North America (natch), so his team and team Europe got the knife, representing technology. Each continent was given an allocation of pizza based on food available. The goal of course, was to shame the rich, who had the knife and the bulk of the pizz into sharing everything with the poorer continents. Of course, Dr. J. knew even then, that this was a lefty trope. So he convinced North America to lend the knife to South America, Africa and Asia, for a sliver of their pizzas. He didn’t want to share North America’s pizza because he knew the fat kid on team Africa was going to eat most of the extra pizza himself. Team Europe wanted to give them the knife for free. If Dr. J. recalls correctly, team Europe even shared some of their pizza with the other continents out of a sense of shame. Australia, interestingly enough was happy with his reasonably sized slice for one and kept his mouth shut.

About Dr. J.

Dr. J. was born the son of a New Atlantean sharecropper who cornered the market on notoriously delicious seaweed Himanthalia elongata (popularly known as Thongweed). With his newly minted seaweed fortune, Mr. J. the Elder sent his son to attend the Academy of Sorcery, Alchemy and Surgery where the good doctor apprenticed with the finest sorcerer surgeons in New Atlantis. Dr. J.'s areas of expertise grew to include bleeding, cutting for stone, trephination, medical divination with outstanding spatial and temporal resolution, cybernetic sorcery and medicinal alchemy. When King Orin of Atlantis fell ill with the Ick, Dr. J. stepped in with an elixir he devised from a combination of minerals, herbs and saps. Curing the king, Dr. J. gained significant notoriety which afforded him the luxury of time to devote himself to his side hobbies which include porpoise racing, the study of supply-side economics, cooking and raising his lovely merchildren alongside his lovely bride the archconservative Mrs. Dr. J.