Top 10 Games that Inspire Research

For many locations, August is the ‘Back to School’ month and before August expires, I wanted to take a look at games that inspire me to learn more. The games that will make this list aren’t necessarily educational games. Instead, there is something about the theme / setting of the game that provides a feeling of “hmm…that’s interesting — I’m curious to know more about that…”. So, let’s dig into some games that get me digging into learning…

#10 – Bargain Basement Bathysphere

This is a Print-n-Play solo campaign game which utilizes a roll-n-fill mechanism. There is some press-your-luck involved, strategic dice usage, and a good deal of chance. One thing about this game — it is the first time I had come across the word bathysphere [a unique spherical deep-sea submersible which was unpowered and lowered into the ocean on a cable, and was used to conduct a series of dives off the coast of Bermuda from 1930 to 1934.] This is a fun, light game that I like to play occasionally at lunchtime, but that also sparks an interest in learning more about the topic of aquatic research.

#9 – Dastardly Dirigibles

In this semi-set collection game, you will be trying to build a dirigible with the parts that will score you the most points. There is a little bit of take-that as you can mess with opponents’ dirigibles…but of course, yours can be tampered with as well. This game touts itself as a steampunk game, but there is enough realism in Dastardly Dirigibles to inspire a personal interest in learning more about 19th and early 20th century ideas for flight and transportation.

#8 – Santorini

Santorini is a beautiful abstract strategy game and one that I expect to land pretty high on my year-end Top 100 list. Besides loving the gameplay, the components are very nice and wonderfully evoke the beauty of its namesake island in the Aegean Sea. Every time I play, I get an itch to look up pictures of the island and even daydream about the feasibility of taking a trip to this beautiful location.

#7 – Sagrada

Sagrada is another beautiful abstract game that has hit the market recently. The game includes colorful dice that are drafted each round as every player tries to make their own beautiful ‘stain glass’ masterpiece. [note: in this case, beautiful = most point efficient] 😉

Until this game came out, I must admit the Sagrada Familia is a landmark that I have known very little about. The beauty (and fun) of the game, though, has directed me to Google to learn more about this amazing and interesting location.

#6 – Great Western Trail

First off, Great Western Trail is a really fun game and does a marvelous job of invoking the theme of the game while you are playing. And this Pfister creation also makes me think of my time reading Lonesome Dove as I try to figure out the safest path for my cattle along the trail.

Beyond that, the game — and especially it’s beautiful ‘cow cards’ — actually inspire me to learn more about cattle and the cowboy life (which, despite being an Oklahoman doesn’t generally hold much appeal to me).

#5 – 7 Wonders

Every time I play 7 Wonders, it renews the intrigue and interest I have for the ancient wonders of the world. I love the artwork provided for each Wonder board and immediately want to learn more about these amazing, ancient locations. I have also played 7 Wonders with its Leaders expansion. That expansion gives me the same ‘research bug’ for the historical leaders that show up in this iteration of the game.

7 Wonders is one of my favorite games and apparently it is also a great game for inspiring me to crack open some history books again!

#4 – Spirit Island

While Spirit Island has a ‘fantastical’ quality to it — players take on the roles of island spirits trying to defend the land from ambiguous imperial settlers — the heart of the game is enriched deep within history, but from a different perspective than I would guess many Americans or Europeans would generally study this topic.

The game’s theme does a great job of motivating my fascination with the time periods of settlers and colonization — and to look deeper into this history from the perspective of all stakeholders.

#3 – Terraforming Mars

There are many who believe that the concept of “terraforming Mars” is a future reality for humanity. If that is true, it is a far-off piece of science fiction for the present. That said, this Fryxelius creation attempts to found its mechanisms and gameplay in concepts of what I would call ‘scientific potential.’

And thus, as I come across different ways to score victory points and successfully help in the colonization and terraformation of the Martian planet — I am captivated by the variety of options the game provides — and the game instills a desire to learn more about these techniques….to find out what currently exists within our scientific capabilities, what is not yet…but could be as we try to learn more…and what truly is nothing but science fiction.

#2 – Ticket to Ride: New York

The compact New York version of Ticket to Ride is not the only game I have that features a board with a map of New York. That said, this particular game does the best job of making me want to break out some maps of the Big Apple and dig into the city’s many locations.

I have read books set in New York, seen a ton of Cash Cab shows, watched many movies with NY as a backdrop, and perused through a ton of Marvel comics that feature clashes amongst the city’s many skyscrapers. That said, I have a horrible sense of where anything is in this monstrous city.

And maybe that’s why I appreciate the artistic and colorful simplicity of the board in Ticket to Ride: New York. I realize it may not be the most accurate map, but it does a wonderful job of creating a desire to learn more about this city, its features, and where all those ‘famous locations’ are in relation to each other. And hey, you could actually finish this game quicker than Ben Bailey can fulfill his fare.

#1 – Wingspan

Okay, John — are you just picking this game because its the current hotness and hype of the board game community? In my humble opinion….no.

Let me start with this. I’m not much of a nature guy. I’m not a bird enthusiast…in fact, I’m very “meh” about birds in general. Despite that, Wingspan truly creates an interest in this topic that I know doesn’t generally exist within me.

How does it do that? It is through a few subtle, but well-executed pieces of this game’s design. A) artwork — I personally love the card art in this game, especially that the birds are not photos, but realistic artistic impressions of the birds being featured. B) information — the cards also provide short, but sweet snippets of information about the birds in the game. It’s a small enough nugget so that a player doesn’t feel he/she is constantly having to read cards, yet interesting enough to make you go “hmm…that’s interesting” or “cool, I didn’t know that.” C) game execution — besides having cards that look cool and have some neat information, the birds in Wingspan generally perform actions that mimic or are reminiscent of the bird and its natural characteristics.

These elements put together do a wonderful job of taking a really fun and engaging board game experience — and elevate it to a mild, learning experience that can easily fuel a passion to dive deeper into research after the game is over.

Well, that’s my list folks. Feel free to share your thoughts and add some titles that you think deserve a highlight in this discussion. Thanks!

For more board game top 10 lists and discussions please follow me on Twitter @boardgamecrock1 and YouTube.

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