Game Terakoya: Extending New Game Experiences, Names and Concepts (Railways of the World)

We have moved on to the “Eastern United States” map for Railways of the World.

A shot of the game in progress. So enjoyable to look at while playing. We couldn’t finish the game in one 90 minute period.

M and N read the expansion’s rules for homework and took some time to look at the map, but paused for quite some time when asked to make comparisons between the two games. After waiting, I asked leading questions about the differences between the games, specifically about the “Western Link” action that makes goods delivered from the West to Chicago produce 2 new goods cubes in Chicago (an interesting historical feature/inclusion). Some recasting was done with M about the cost of creating the link:


We noticed that each of the cities has a small illustration of a city hall, church, factory or other image in the middle of the hex.

Both M and N commented how big the map was.

Drawing on James’ Kotoba Rollers framework steps, we took some time to brainstorm language that would be useful in this game. “What language do you think you are going to use in this game?”

N offered vocabulary. “Bond.”

M said “I take the bond.” This lead me to ask about which grammatical structure would be correct to use when describing (announcing) the action a player takes in a board game. We offered and suggested various forms:

    I take the bond.

    I will take the bond.

    I want to take the bond.

    I am taking the bond.

    I need the bond.

    I am going to take the bond.

    I am going to go ahead and take the bond. (this was used in the youtube videos they watched)

But didn’t get into deciding which and why was right. I wanted to take more time on this.

Brainstorming the language to be used in the game seems to connect nicely with the multiliteracies step of “conceptualization” and the Sykes and Reinhardt EEE model step of “examine.” Both of these frameworks want students to collect and notice language and make and test hypotheses about how language and other systems function in a media. One next step for us could be to try (“play around with”) different grammatical forms while playing the game. Another might be for students to transcribe their utterances (I video record our games) and tabulate and compare and contrast what they used in the game, and when and why.

The grammar that we spent some time on is not particularly “advanced” (they probably learned most of these forms in junior high school). However, since there is variation and they volunteered this language to begin with, I think it’s worth looking into the method of student-driven analysis.

One little learning cycle with games and language I am going to need to think more about is something that might look like:

→ predict language use

   → play the game and use language as naturally as possible

       → transcribe language use

           → tabulate language use

               → analyze/compare/contrast language use

                   → discuss (draw conclusions)

                       → play again and use the language (according to                                      analyses)

                           → use the language outside of the game context (a discussion or roleplay)

Another aspect of language that I asked them about was “talking about the game” (for example: “That was a nice move” or “It looks like N is in the lead!”) not just “announcing actions during the game” (for example: “I move this cube to this city.”). I make the comparison to sports commentary.

Both M and N said that they preferred to be quiet while playing. They said that they preferred to play quietly to focus on their own game, to play secretly and not to give away their knowledge of other players’ strategies. They said that “tabletalk” or “metagame discussions” (my terms here, not theirs) might come as they play more and become more familiar and gain expertise with the game (I referred them to their earlier discussion of UNO being a great game to play to just hang out; they could chat while playing the game because it’s not very hard), but they also said that Railways of the World will be setup differently each time (randomness in games…), so they still might not speak that much.

Scott Nicholson’s book “Everyone Plays At The Library” has a wonderful diagram of the “board game experience” showing interactions in the game state and game world (the level M and N seem comfortable using language at right now) and interactions around external knowledge (perhaps my and M and N’s discussions about history and geography and trains) but M and N (and many students, in my experience) might not be very proficient at (or perhaps even interested in) using their second language in the social interactions around games.

It’s definitely something for me to think about more. I’m playing Diplomacy (where the game really is using language well outside/about the game state) with some very high level students in 2 weeks and the game state / game world / social interaction language is so tightly interrelated. I’ll think about this more after that game.

I wondered to M and N how other players play Railways of the World. We might put a poll up on boardgamegeek to ask this and other questions about the game.

We are going to “pause” for the summer break in 2 weeks. I’m going to give M and N a little homework (e.g., transcribing their utterances in the videos, brainstorming some game design elements, reading some reviews).

Time to start writing this project up for a paper!