Mark Biggar and Todd Goodman will be teaching a new table top game design course at Thomas Haney secondary in the upcoming school year. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Table top board game design new to Thomas Haney in 2019

The new course will be interdisciplinary, hands-on and teach students how to work in a team

When the Thomas Haney secondary board game club meets, students can be seen playing games like Gloomhaven, Tyrants of the Underdark, Camel Up, Dinosaur Island and Root.

Board games are making a big come back at the school. At a recent Awake-a-thon, during which 300 students stayed awake at the school overnight, about 74 per cent of them, at some point, were playing Cards Against Humanity.

“When I was younger, when I was these kids’ age, I played a lot of video games, but with each other,” said Mark Biggar, who teaches social studies, English, photography, computer studies and video game design at Thomas Haney.

“But video games kind of went online and there’s not a lot of face-to-face time that the kids spend with each other anymore because they are all playing online, into headsets and things like that. This kind of recaptures that old way of playing games just beside your friends and having fun,” said Biggar.

Next year, Biggar will also be teaching the art of table-top game design along with his colleague Todd Goodman.

“We’re going to spend some time learning about different types of games and things that [the students] might not be exposed to yet.”

Students will be given many examples of successful board games before they jump into designing ones of their own.

They will be learning about card games, rolling a dice and moving pieces and different ways to build games.

They need to know how to build a game where one person doesn’t run away with the score or that takes too long to complete.

Students will also have to get used to putting out prototypes of their ideas.

This might be difficult, said Biggar, for the students to do because they have been trained to hand in only their best work.

The idea for the course came out of Biggar’s and Goodman’s masters project.

They recently completed their masters in educational technology at Simon Fraser University, where they created a board game called Pelts and wrote a rationale paper on the use of games and the implementation of them in the classroom.

Pelts is a fur trading game in which players take a canoe out from Montreal with a collection of First Nations peoples, traders and unlicensed ones, and travel through river systems through upper Canada to find areas to gather from.

“We looked at some of the research around games and it turns out that most games designed for education just sort of teach kids how to be better at the game,” said Biggar, using Canadian Monopoly as an example.

“[It] wouldn’t be teaching you all that much except that there are various parts of Canada. And then learning the game mechanism takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time to run through that game,” he said.

So Biggar and Goodman designed a game where users could learn something from the game, but the mechanisms were simple so it could be taught and played and back in the box within an hour.

And having designed it the pair also discovered how to design a fun game, how to engage people and how to connect the curriculum to the design process.

They want the new course to be interdisciplinary and hands-on and they want students to learn how to work in a team environment, a skill Biggar says that is being seen more and more in the workforce.

During a recent excursion to a few video game studios in Vancouver, Biggar learned that working as a team and knowledge of the design process was more important to these potential employers than technical knowledge.

“Technical knowledge can be taught later, but actually being able to work in a team is the most essential skill in these workplaces,” said Biggar.

“We’ve kept that in mind when trying to design the syllabus for our new course.”

Table-top board game design is one of 44 board approved courses that will be available for the upcoming school year.

The school board will be retiring 16 courses as of September 2020, including digital video and animation, introduction to the food industry and costume design and construction.

Courses on the retirement list are either already offered within the new ministry curriculum, or there is no current intention to offer it in the coming school year.


Students in the Thomas Haney secondary board game club play a game called Root. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Students in the Thomas Haney secondary board game club play a game called Root. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

Students in the Thomas Haney secondary board game club play a game called Root. (Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS)

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