Playing educational board games as part of your homeschool curriculum can really bring unexpected benefits in terms of skill and knowledge. And once your children have been playing a while they will be really open to the idea of a 'make a board game' project.
This is a great way to develop creativity and a sense of being entrepreneurial. But it also develops logic skills very well - most games are based on rules and those rules need to hang together logically.
How to Get Started Making Board Games
The key to creating a good game is to firstly play lots of different board games! This will give you all a feel for the different way that games are put together - and how the rules work. It will also spark lots of ideas for themes that you can use for your game.
Start simply by trying to adapt a game you currently enjoy.
Monopoly has had a lot of success with exactly this concept! Even small children can adapt Monoply to include 'grandmas house' and the local supermarket. Just changing the playing board without changing the rules is an easy way to get the satisfaction (without the difficulty of trying to get rules that hang together nicely).
Other games that adapt well to make your own board games are map based games such as Ticket to Ride and Risk. Create your own fantasy map - or sneak in some geography by getting the children to design something around a particular country.
Think of a new theme for an old game.
Take the idea of adapting a current game to make your own board game one step further by changing the theme of it totally. So for example, you could make a card game such a top trumps easily by coming up with a new theme (say dinosaurs or fish!) and investigating statistics to go on your playing cards.
This is a great way of adapting games to fit your current homeschooling project. How would Monopoly look if it was played in Ancient Egypt? Could you design your own version of Carcassonne to fit the country or city you are studying?
Once you have a few successes under your belt the children will be excited about designing their own completely new game!
Make Your Own Board Game
Brainstorm some different themes or concepts to try to come up with a new and different idea to make your own board game about. You will need to think about the age group that will play. How many players will the game need? How will it work - will it be a dice or spinner based game or will you use cards to make it based on strategy. If you have played a few games then you will know that not all games are board based. Games like Carcassonne and the Settlers of Catan are tile based whilst some games (like Yahtzee) are designed around their playing pieces.
Think also about how someone would win the game - what would they need to do to be a winner? Will they know when they have won or lost? Some games sort the winners and losers throughout the game so you know who is winning - but with other games (like Agricola) you often don't know until right at the end when you tally up the score.
Design a first draft for how you think the game will work and what it will look like.
You can then get to the exciting part of drawing out your new game board and designing the playing pieces. If you can persuade them, try not to let the children spend too much love and care on this first prototype of the game. It is bound to need some revisions so a simple mock-up works best to start with.
You can use the old boards as a cardboard base - and customize the playing pieces. We have found that customizing lego minifigs (see lego projects) is a great way to get 'people' for your game. Your game pieces could also include counters, marbles or money and again these will need designing. Old games from thrift stores come in useful here for spare parts.
The board could be hand-drawn - or use graphics, photographs and clip art to get the effects you want. Donna Young has some free game templates that you could use. You will probably have to print out elements of the board separately and tape them together if you are using a large board.
For games using cards, we have found it best to use an old pack of playing cards and glue new designs/information onto them. But stick these down well or they will be difficult to shuffle. And don't forget that you could use 3D models on your board for a striking effect. Does it need an Egyptian pyramid in the middle? Or a pop-up dinosaur?
Nearly done? Now is the time to play several run throughs of your game. You need to see how well the rules hang together. Are there contradictory rules? Do situations arise that aren't covered by the rules at all? You may find that you have to adapt your rules to make playing the game more fun (or shorter! or understandable!) Or tweak the whole game slightly.
If you think it is working well, this is a great time to invite a group of friends around for a gaming session. This will really help you to iron out any kinks in the game. When you are satisfied that your game is 'finished', then write out a rule book to go with it.
Marketing and Publishing
A good homeschooling project would now take your newly designed game and look at packaging and marketing! How would you box your game? Take a field trip to a toy store and see how the competition are stacked on the shelves. Which packages stand out? How could they make their box compete? Get the children to design an advertisement for it and think about how they would sell it.
A great resource for actually getting your game published is The Game Crafter. This lets you upload your board design, choose pieces and they will then print up your game professionally.
A 'make your own board game' project is a lot of fun - and makes a very educational homeschooling unit study.
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