Tag Archives: Story-based

Technology, Stories and Learning

As you may know I’m an instructional designer by trade, one of those people who creates the eLearning and training you all have to sit through at work. Also, if you’re here reading my blog then I assume that you know that I am also deeply in love with games that tell a great story!

In a professional capacity, I recently attended the UKs largest learning and skills convention, Learning Technologies 2014. Throughout the day I went to several of the seminars that caught my eye. Two on gamification and one on an eLearning course about story telling skills. I have to be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by any of these seminars, but they all gave me time to think a little about story-telling in games, and later about story-telling in learning.

Gamification is rapidly becoming common-place throughout the business world and it’s begun to show its face in the eLearning sector too. However, gamification isn’t the holy-grail, nor is it the answer to everything that ails your learning content. You need to use gamification with caution and exercise restraint when you do. You must always balance what a business needs against what’s actually good for the learner!

I’ve heard it said that stories are one of the many elements that you can find in the gamification toolkit. I disagree with that concept on a fundamental level and would strongly urge people to think of gamification as nothing but a tool in your storytelling toolkit. After all, some of our favourite games are based entirely around a story. The game elements and mechanics work together to deliver and present that story to all who will listen! However, that said, this blog post isn’t about gamification or the merits of its use, that’s a topic for another day. This post is all about stories.

For the last three years I’ve been following the blog of Cathy Moore, an excellent instructional designer, who has a lot to say about the use of scenarios in a learning context. Why do I mention this?

Well… What’s a scenario if it’s not a story?

And what makes a story successful?

The answer to that second question’s simple! It’s all about the emotional engagement or investment!! If your story doesn’t evoke feeling and engage the reader then how can you hope for it to be remembered?

Story

During my time at the Learning Technologies conference I began wondering how I could use stories to promote learning. Not just a short scenario that illustrates a single point, but a full blown narrative, a story that evolves with the learners understanding. I thought carefully about how I learn to play a game. How I absorb abstract concepts and adapt my own behaviour to fit within the constraints of the game itself. I thought back to the different rule books that I’ve read over the years, hundreds of them if we’re counting. Some of these books were good, with excellent examples. Others were terrible, filled with confusion and errors. But ultimately, at the heart of every game, there is a rule book that teaches players to drive the mechanics that ultimately deliver the story.

I don’t really want to stray into the realms of discussing serious games or, more accurately, learning games. So, with that in mind, I’ve thrown together some thoughts on how someone who creates learning could go about constructing a story for an intervention. Here’s a handful of tips that I came up with for starting to think about your own learning stories:

  1. Work with subject matter experts (SMEs) directly – Don’t just ask them the same old tried and tested questions! That just leads to stagnation! Ask them about their feelings on certain subjects.
    Is there a particularly difficult task?
    How does it make them feel?
    How should it make the learner feel?
    See if you can include some of their personal experiences in the story that you’re building. This will help you build rapport with them and they may even provide you with some story-telling gold.
  2. Keep the story relevant to the learner – Why does the learner care about what you’re teaching them? Appeal to the learner’s intrinsic motivations if at all possible. Simply saying that they will be motivated to learn because it’s part of their job doesn’t count… Whether your employer believes it or not, work necessity is usually an extrinsic motivation, the learner is being forced to care, and therefore is unlikely to actually care on an emotional level.
    Take for example a company who wants to reduce the number of accidents at work because they may soon face financial repercussions. Do the workers ultimately care about the repercussions that management have to deal with? Probably not, in fact, they most likely care more about themselves and their co-workers.
    So, with that in mind, start creating a story that’s based around an accident. Highlight the personal physical risks and explain what they could do to their colleagues if they don’t act responsibly. Once you’ve got them emotionally invested in the idea, reveal the big picture consequences. Perhaps the company is fined for its accident record. After paying the fine they can no longer afford to operate the business and take the decision to shut up shop. The result? Unemployment!
    What you put into the story is up to you, but don’t be afraid to tap in to the way people think, what they like, or what they fear. But a word to the wise, be sensitive!
  3. Start small and build up to a grand finale – I once heard that a person will only remember the best bit of a course, the worst bit, and the very last bit. So let’s make sure that the last thing we show them makes it worth waiting for. Of course don’t just try and cram everything in at the end, no-one likes a brain dump.
  4. Do not be afraid of comedy – There’s a fine balance between funny and cringe-worthy. But, even so, if you can make your learners laugh you’ll be giving them a small dose of endorphins. Yes you heard it here first, try and make your learners happy!
    Forget the teachers of the past who believed that you weren’t in school to have fun.
    News flash!!! There’s nothing in the world that says you can’t have fun whilst learning!
  5. Involve and engage the learner – Don’t be afraid to personalise your story, to bring the learner deeper into the world that you’re creating for them. If you can get your courses to pull the learners names from your learning management system then even better! Address important questions to the learner directly. For example, in a first aid scenario have someone asking the learner for help.
    “Tom! Help me lift this weight off of his leg!”
    Of course, in this scenario you probably wouldn’t want to lift that weight in case the victim had a crush injury. If you lift it and circulation resumes then you may release toxins back into his body and outright kill him. But in a learning solution it’s OK, “no people were hurt in the making of this story” and it’s one hell of a memorable lesson for those that didn’t know about crush injuries.
    “Who lifted this off of him? Was it you Tom? My God! You’ve killed him!”
    Remember though! Don’t trick your learners into doing things wrong, let them make their own mistakes, let them fail, but never trick them.

Anyway, that’s five little tips for coming up with your own stories to enhance your learning content. I’m not an author of fiction and I won’t pretend that I can provide you with all the guidance you’ll need. But I do hope that I’ve been able to provide something here that will be of use to you in your future stories! Don’t forget though, if you’re developing a game and want to work on a story for it, then you can just as easily apply the five tips to that too. In fact, for any game developer reading this, I highly recommend reading up on some instructional design principles before you start out writing your all-important rule book!

Top 10 Games – Update

Top10

Last year I did a podcast that listed my top ten games. Since then I’ve played a good many more games and have had chance to re-evaluate some of the games on the list. It’s been very interesting seeing how my tastes have evolved over the past year and I decided January was the time to rework my top ten games list.
As a reminder for those who didn’t hear the podcast, my top ten games last year were:

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Last Night on Earth
  • Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition
  • Zombicide
  • Galaxy Trucker
  • Discworld Ankh Morpork
  • Shadows Over Camelot
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • Carcassonne
  • Summoner Wars

This year my list has seen quite a drastic upheaval, 6 new entries, one upwards movement, two “down but not outs” and a single stationary entry. So without further ado, here’s my top ten games after 2013.

10 – In position ten, down six places, we have Zombicide from Cool Mini Or Not. A collaborative, zombie-survival, game that has a variety of weird and wonderful characters fighting it out with the Zombie horde.

09 – In position nine, for a second year running, we have Carcassonne. This brilliant little tile laying game is fast to learn, fast to play, and I really love it. Over the past year I’ve managed to get hold of all of the expansions and mini expansions, apart from the tunnels, and they add so much cool stuff to an already great game.

08 – In position eight, and the first of the new entries, we have Escape: The Curse of the Temple. A fantastic, frantic, and fun, run for your life game. Played over a ten minute period, you have to roll dice as fast as you can and navigate the cursed temple. If you don’t make it out within the time limit you’re trapped in the temple forever. This is a very good game and well deserves its place on this list.

07 – In position seven, the second of the new entries, Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island. A really great game, with plenty of theme. This one is the genius work of designer Ignacy Trzewiczek of Stronghold fame. Robinson Crusoe is a very difficult game that chews you up and spits you out before you even know what’s hit you. Despite the difficulty level, it’s a brilliant cooperative game with a whole bunch of mechanics that make a lot of thematic sense.

06 – In position six, the third of the new entries, Eldritch Horror. This new Fantasy Flight Games title is the sister game to their extremely successful Arkham Horror. Where Arkham Horror played out across an evil-filled city, Eldritch Horror takes it to a whole new level. This time you play the part of investigators tasked with traversing the globe in an effort to defeat one of the great old ones. From San Francisco to Tokyo this worldwide battle plays out in a faster, more streamlined manner than its older sister. If you like Arkham Horror then you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

05 – In position five, the fourth of the new entries, Exodus: Proxima Centauri. This is an awesome game that has been touted as a Twilight Imperium Lite. I love the way this plays, it’s everything I wanted from Eclipse and then some! The original edition had a variety of problems with component quality, but I got my hands on the revised edition and I have to say the components are gorgeous! If you’re looking for a fast space-combat and diplomacy game, then Exodus: Proxima Centauri is a must for your collection.

04 – In position four, the fifth of the new entries, Mice and Mystics! This is my favourite co-operative game of all time. I’ve praised this game since the first time I ever played it, and wrote a post that explained exactly what makes this game so great. Since then, I’ve played The Heart of Glorm Expansion and play-tested some of the amazing chapters that are coming in the next great expansion The Downwood Tales. Mice and Mystics is fun for gamers of all ages and it has a place in any gamer’s collection.

03 – In position three, knocked from its number one spot, we have Battlestar Galactica. An awesome game with a great traitor mechanic. This is a massively thematic game that is a must have for all Battlestar fans out there. Over the past year Fantasy Flight Games has released Daybreak, the third and final expansion. With all of the modular elements included in the three expansions, this is a game with legs and a lot of fun times to be had.

02 – In position two, and the final new entry to the list, Duel of Ages II. A game with hidden depth that won me over on my first ever play. The components aren’t the greatest quality but the sheer amount of game in both the base game and master set is quite astounding. There doesn’t seem to be anything special about the game when you first start to play, however, give it time and you’ll soon realise that it’s the stories that make you want to come back to this one time and again. During my first play, at Firestorm Games over in Cardiff, my base was attacked by an angry Unicorn and my only defence was a suited and booted bouncer who walked up and punched that Unicorn in its interfering nose. During this little scuffle, a space-slug slowly worked its way towards a target that it never reached, and a ninja space cat attacked a seemingly weak opponent with a laser weapon that did absolutely no damage. This game provides an engine into which the players pour their imagination and generate fantastical battles with creatures from all across time, space and fiction. I love this game!

01 – In position one, and up two places, we have Twilight Imperium (Third Edition). This is an epic space game that does everything you’d expect to see in any great quality space sci-fi TV show. I’m not going to go into any great detail here about the game, or how it plays, because I’m going to write a complete review of it over the next few weeks. All I will say is that if you do not have this game and love big, long, games that contain a healthy amount of combat and backstabbery; then this is the game for you!

Well there you have it, my top ten favourite games as of the end of 2013. Over the coming year I’ll be playing a load more games and writing a ton more reviews. So stay tuned to find out what I get up to and read about some of the games that you could see in my top ten at the end of 2014.

Mice and Mystics

Mice and Mystics

Anyone who‘s read my blog before may know that I’m a massive fan of games with great theme and an interesting story. I love to use my imagination when I play games and love to “see” the action taking place in front of me. Today’s post is all about a game that achieves this like no other game I’ve played before. Mice and Mystics, designed by Jerry Hawthorne and published by Plaid Hat Games is an amazing story-based game that tells the tale of Prince Colin and a band of merry mice who embark on an epic adventure to save their kingdom.

In this post I’m not going to go into how you play the game, or give any detail about the story, that would just spoil it for you. The real purpose of this blog is to take a look at three aspects of the Mice and Mystics offering and why I think they really make this game stand out from the crowd. Once I’ve done that I’ll leave you to form your own opinions on whether the game appeals or not, but I’d love to hear from anyone who agrees with me and goes on to enjoy the tales of Prince Colin!

So, let’s move on to three key things that I love about Mice and Mystics.

Story
Mice and Mystics comes with a beautiful storybook called Sorrow and Remembrance. This is the very heart of the game and everything that you experience during play is driven by one of the books eleven chapters. For maximum enjoyment each chapter should be completed in order, as a campaign, which advances the story as you progress. Aside from the rules that underlie the game, the individual chapters provide players with a series of new and unique challenges or decisions, including new chapter specific rules and excellent tile layouts. Every decision made links directly back into the story arc and can influence aspects of the game in later play.

Mice and Mystics is a co-operative game in which players form a party of mice which they follow through a fun and unique adventure. During their time in the game, players rapidly come to know and love their little characters and it’s not uncommon for people to form bonds and develop favourites. (Personally I’m a big fan of Maginos!)

Each chapter of the story can be played as a standalone adventure, but the campaign is where the story comes into its own. I won’t be including any spoilers here because I think people should experience this game for themselves. But, I will say, Mice and Mystics rides astride an excellent story which will appeal to gamers young and old.

Framework
Mice and Mystics is more than just a game. It’s a framework. Inside the box you get the core rule book which provides you with the basics upon which you can build your own fun and interesting rules and tales. There’s a set of eight, large, double-sided tiles that enable you to create a variety of different environments within which to scatter the numerous search deck cards that guarantee a large degree of variability as you develop your storytelling skills. The minions provided in the base box should be enough to enable you to make some fast and frantic encounters but there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from creating your own minion cards to represent anything you can possibly imagine.

Mice and Mystics will appeal to players of all ages, and once they’ve finished exploring the wonderful tale found within Sorrow and Remembrance they’ll want to know what happens to Prince Colin next. There are expansions available for Mice and Mystics but we’ll cover those shortly. Here we’re thinking more about how you can use the elements the game provides to tell your own stories, or more importantly, how children can use them to explore and build their imaginations. Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower fame has often commented on his podcast that he and his son have spent many hours playing scenarios that his son has created. Mice and Mystics, through its story and excellent framework makes me happy to be a gamer. It provides a spark that many family games lack and I smile whenever I hear of people building their own scenarios and sitting down to explore their own imaginations. I’m a strong believer in the old saying “A family who plays together, stays together.” and Mice and Mystics is definitely one to play together!

Expansions
Like any good story, there’s always a sequel in the works and the story-based nature of Mice and Mystics makes it incredibly easy to build and expand upon. Since its release there’s been a lost chapter called Cat’s Cradle, a small box expansion called The Heart of Glorm. In fact there’s even a big box expansion called The Downwood Tales in the works as we squeak (Sorry). I’m not going to talk about these in any depth here, but I wanted to make you aware of their existence because you need to know one very important thing! When you spend your cold hard cash on this game you aren’t spending it on another “one off” title, you’re buying into an adventure story that’s receiving the love and attention it needs to grow and flourish. The story telling minds of Jerry Hawthorne and his Plaid Hatted friends are pumping their hearts into this game and when you first venture into the world of Mice and Mystics you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

In summary…
So, there you have it! The three things I love most about Mice and Mystics. I really hope that I’ve persuaded you to take a step towards getting this game for your collection. It’s a beautiful work, not just as a game but as a story and I think it deserves a place on every gamer’s shelf.

Last Night on Earth

Last Night on Earth

Following on from my previous post I wanted to talk about one of the first games I bought for myself. Blowing me away with atmosphere and story, Arkham Horror had left me wanting more and I set out on a mission to find a sub-three hour game that still oozed atmosphere.

My first stop, a game called Zombies!!! Recommended by a friend, I eagerly awaited its arrival; but alas, there was no atmosphere there, it just didn’t meet my needs.
Disappointed and somewhat put off from purchasing my own games, I considered giving up. After all, Zombies!!! hadn’t been overly cheap for what I got… and we still had Arkham after all… Surely that was enough…

Well it turns out I was wrong, in desperation to scratch my growing Zombie itch (There’s a whole other post I could write as to why I had the Zombie urge!) I took a gamble and ordered Last Night on Earth a Zombie themed game, dripping with atmosphere and created by Flying Frog Productions.

I won’t go into the mechanics of the game, that’s not what I’m writing these posts for, I want to give people a feel for the game, an idea of what I think when I play them, and how immersive they are. I have quite a vivid imagination and I think this helps me get the most out of my games. I know people who don’t have much of an imagination, or can’t seem to visualise a game panning out in real life, and I think it really limits their enjoyment.

Anyway, imagination in full throttle I started playing Last Night on Earth, there were three of us the first time, one zombie player (Me) and two human players. It’s possible to play with six people, two controlling the different colour zombies, and four controlling a single hero each.

With each turn of the game the sun slowly begins to rise, the Zombie player sends endless waves of foul, decaying, undead minions after the human “heroes”.
In our first game each of my opponents controlled two hero characters and they worked together valiantly to fend off the zombie hordes. Alas, their efforts were in vane as one by one they fell to oncoming waves of the undead menace. This is where my imagination really kicked in.

Picture the scene…

“A young, unarmed, man quietly creeps down an alleyway attempting to avoid detection. He slowly peers around a corner where he spies the decaying corpse of an overweight towns-person ambling out of the darkness. With fear in his eyes he carefully falls back, turns to run, and stumbles on the remains of dog, savaged by it’s once human master. He let’s out a cry and instantly regrets it, he hears the, now louder, moaning of the towns-person drawing closer. As he climbs to his feet the abomination rounds the corner and begins ambling towards him.

Petrified the man turns and runs for the other end of the alleyway. Passing a nearby window he’s showered in vicious shards of glass which tear at his skin and sends him crashing into the wall opposite. A zombie waitress thrusts her arms and head through the now empty window frame and grabs him, tearing at his skin with her cracked nails. She gains a hold and drags herself out into the alleyway screeching as she goes. There’s nothing that he can do, he’s trapped, with no hope of survival. With the screeching waitress clawing at his flesh, he resigns himself to his fate. As she sinks her teeth deep into his face the, slower, ambling towns-person bears down on him, dropping to its knees it joins the waitress and begins its horrific lunch.

Slowly the screams die down and the alley returns to its previous tranquillity, the zombies return to their mindless wandering, simply waiting for the next meal to pass by.”

Playing this game is like watching a first class zombie movie panning out in front of your very eyes. With a variety of scenarios there’s massive replay value. Add to this the Growing Hunger and Survival of the Fittest expansions and you will never be short of fun zombie action. I love Last Night on Earth and I can’t wait to play and review the Timber Peakexpansion which is currently sitting on my shelf demanding to be played.

Score: 9/10