Game Terakoya: Examining “Railways of the World’s” Rules and Attendant Discourse some more, Summer “Homework” (8/5)

Our last session of the semester.

We talked about another aspect that was missing from the game: environmental impact. Players are laying track through mountains and forest and locomotives are spewing smoke, but this is not modeled in the game. If we wanted to include this in a train game, M suggested having players take an action to cut down forest / destroy some aspect of nature and then build track. This explicit action might make players think more about the effect their money-making actions took on the game world. I mentioned the history of Chinese workers in the North American railroad creation, suggesting that game rules could be written to focus on tragedies related to this work.

(image from wikipedia: creative commons license)

We then looked at the notes I had given them the week before on my examinations of the game rules and some attendant discourse around the game (a youtuber’s teaching and actual play of the game).

They were able to look at my notes and find additional language that they hadn’t noticed before.

They noticed various unknown academic and specialist (off-list) vocabulary which I used an English online dictionary and examples from the game to help them understand. Examples: flat broke, money pie, restrict, caveat, thematic, rename, tangent, signify, declare, dead broke, debt, beneficial, financial empire, cut throat, hammer, conservative, stagnation, jerk (there was a lot of crossover in their lists of unknown words).

N and M both noticed patterns.

  • N said that the youtuber “said they for every players… I sometimes get confused” “maybe it doesn’t matter he or she” and we discussed the recent change to “they usage” in American English:
  • N also noticed the usage of “Remember to…” meaning “it is important to.”
  • M noticed that “the speaker often uses the comparative” to “give advice to be a better player.”
  • M noticed the youtuber said “You can never deliver” (he doesn’t say: “you cannot deliver”) “to stress the rule”
  • M noticed that “some words are capitalized. In the case of Japanese, you can’t” and we discussed textual tools for emphasizing language (capitals, bold, exclamation marks) and how these can also be read as “yelling” in English depending on the context.

M and N discussed the purposes of the rulebook and the youtube instructional and actual play videos: to teach and also to help players check if their playing is correct or not. N said that the “The video is easier to understand than the rulebook. You can look the rules” and that it would be “difficult” (and costly) to put so many images in a rulebook.

About the video, M said that “combining with vocal and actual play this is more easier for me to understand. When I first read the rulebook it was difficult to imagine the actual play, so I think the video is better.” She reported liking to listen to English rather than reading English. Both of them read the rulebook for more than 45 minutes (the length of the videos) in order to check the vocabulary.

M said “Only rulebook or only video doesn’t work well. The combination is important” and N said “to know the rules well, it is good to use the rulebook. To make imagination, it is better to watch video. How to move the pieces, how to exchange money.”

This has important implications for using board games in language classrooms. Rulebooks can help the students notice new vocabulary in context, and they can be an excellent reference for particular rules and how to play the game correctly, but it they take time to read and students do not always understand how to play based on lengthy rulebooks. “Learn to play” and “actual play” videos can show students how to actually make moves in the game and have the language from the rulebook put into use.

This may lead to yet another reworking of the teaching framework, as James is also doing with his Kotoba Rollers Framework, in order to keep knowledge of the game improving in step with developing language to be implemented in the students’ play:

Students could:

  1. Read the rulebook and watch some videos
  2. Brainstorm some language for play (recognizing that they may not have a complete understanding of the game and language to be used)
  3. Attempt the game
  4. Re-read the rulebook and re-watch some videos (re-examining the language with the guidance of the teacher)
  5. Re-brainstorm and hypothesize about language to use.
  6. Re-attempt the game
  7. Repeat until the game and language use are at a satisfactory level for both students and teacher.

I am sure James can say more about this cycle as it seems it is related to task-based language teaching.

As an incredible side note, both M and N had a mandatory TOEIC test a few days before our meeting. M said “At the TOEIC test there was a word ‘locomotive’ in it. I thought everyone doesn’t this word. I know it! (she said in a singsong tone of voice). It appeared in an advertisement.”

She hadn’t known the word before playing the game but learned and was able to find success using it in a testing context!

(image from wikipedia: creative commons license)

Both students offered their personal reaction to the language. N said “It was really easy to understand the rules from the video. The rulebook is a little difficult to read for me because there are many new vocabularies. But it is detailed very much.”

M mentioned that she couldn’t catch some language in one of the youtube videos because it was too fast; it was “like another language.” She had written down the timestamp, so we all listened and I transcribed it for them and discussed the vocabulary, pronunciation/intonation and contextual knowledge that was giving her trouble:

“Now once you’ve got all these cities seeded with the kinds of goods that they are going to be producing, now the rules do tell you that you are supposed to remove some cities from all the cities based on the number of players. Well, that’s actually wrong because that rulebook is an offshoot from the original Railroad Tycoon game, and this actually is the original Railroad Tycoon game just renamed after Eagle Games lost the rights to use the name from Microsoft.”


I then brought their attention to things related to language in my notes that they hadn’t mentioned:

  • The speaker’s manner of stressing rules: “If you happen to,” “every single turn,” “you can never,” “extra special bonus”
  • Him saying “thanks for watching” at the end of his videos and the personal connection youtubers seem to have with their audience (unlike TV and movies)
  • Go ahead and VERB:” I had asked this in the brainstorming session because the youtube speaker used it. N hadn’t noticed it during the video, even though she knew the form
  • Expandable” game (written on the cover of the box and rulebook). M thought it referred to expanding territory, not game expansions, so I showed them some board game expansions (e.g., Sid Meier’s Civilization) and expansions being additional nations or maps that companies can sell.
  • the introductory passage in the rules and its “! marks,” story, personal, exciting, active verbs
  • The frequent usage of “him” in the core rules and some instances of “she” in the USA rulebook. M said that is is “not so big a problem. I don’t care. But, when the rule is written in Japanese, and I read “kare” I feel strange. Perhaps this is some difference between perception of gender markers in the native and second language? N said “I think it’s ok if I can understand which player is “he” (Bill, Mark in rules). If there is too many he, I don’t know if he is first player or second player” and that she would prefer Player 1, Player 2….
  • They didn’t read the information about trains in the rulebook. M said “she didn’t have enough time” and N “thought it was not necessary.” I mentioned that we make a game about Shizuoka and include some information in the rules, people might not read that information.

I then gave them some “homework” for the summer related to the research project and to the further analysis and participation:

  • a questionnaire about their experiences in the project so far
  • gameplay transcription (which I would correct)
  • gameplay analysis related to the descriptive/announcing language that they used (having them tally and give rationales for common forms)
  • reading and analyzing 2 forum posts on boardgamegeek
  • writing a short essay about a concept that we encountered this semester
  • brainstorming additional discussion or roleplay topics to reuse/apply the language we learned in the game
  • reading some media education questions and picking some to explore in the fall
  • drafting some questions to ask to boardgamegeek Railways of the World players
  • making notes and sketches for ideas for a Japan and Shizuoka game map/rulebook

I offered to do these assignments with them over the summer, if they liked.

I collected all their materials to scan and then analyze for the paper and thanked them for their great work this semester. It has been an incredibly meaningful project for me!

We ended by playing 2 quick games of Hey That’s My Fish (a cutthroat abstract strategy game).


M took a cute photo of her “team” and their stack of fish


and I showed them a “big game” version of the game that my students created 2 years ago for a game charity event (as an additional example of a remixing / participation activity around games).

I’m looking forward to continuing the Game Terakoya in the fall semester!