Live Virtual Board Games for Learning – Lessons Learned

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Over the past few weeks (16 – 28th March, 2020) amidst the Corona Virus lock down, we ran a series of live, board games and table top simulations virtually. This blog post is a reflection on what we learned in the process. We had 50+ participants from across India who played these games live. The games we played were:

  • Deal or No Deal – A sales table top simulation game
  • My Kanban – A simulation on the Kanban framework
  • High Stakes – A stakeholder engagement board game

Tools Used

  • GotoWebinar – Live webinar
  • Google Docs – Simultaneous multiplayer environment
  • Tlk.io – Live collaboration and chat

Here are our reflections and lessons learned from these virtual games. First, a list of things that worked.

Simultaneous Action Selection Mechanics Works Best

In Simultaneous Action Selection games Players plan their turn simultaneously and secretly. Then, they reveal their plans at the same time. (Definition from Boardgamegeek.com)

This mechanics allows virtual players to be divided into teams. Teams can collaborate using a team chat/breakout room tool. Once they have decided, they can make their decision open to other teams. This may or may not influence the other teams to change their decision. This mechanic ensures heightened peer to peer learning, discussions, and collaboration. Plus, it ensures that the game is always exciting and moves faster.

Our user tests showed that turn based games would not work in a virtual, learning board game setup as players would have to wait for other teams to complete their decisions before they can make their move. This would be time consuming and would reduce the overall engagement of the learners.

Google Docs provides a wonderful and easy to access platform for virtual collaboration and simultaneous action. The Google Slide became the virtual board on which players could mover their pieces and watch the game unfold in real time. The last minute moving and jostling added to the drama and players loved it.

Simultaneous action selection using Google Slides in Deal or No Deal

More on simultaneous action selection games here:

Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration

The one feature that all players said they liked the most was live collaboration with other players. Board games provide an unique opportunity to enhance peer to peer learning and collaboration. We created virtual chat rooms for each team. The chat rooms were created using tlk.io. We found the chat rooms were buzzing with activity all the time. Players were arguing, defending, discussing and collaborating on decisions.

The greatest concern that people have about live, virtual events is peer to peer collaboration and we found that even simple tools like live chat rooms can spark peer to peer collaboration and learning.

We also created two chat windows; one for interaction within the team and another one for interaction among all players.

Jugaad Works

Jugaad is a Hindi word that literally means – a flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way. We stitched together our game UI using Google Slides and tlk.io. This meant that we were leveraging existing technology to deliver these board games and hence could deliver the game in days and not months.

Yes, the UI was rough around the edges and the experience was broken at times, but once the game started, everything flowed smoothly and participants came back with fantastic reviews.

A snapshot of the game UI is provided below. Note that this does not look anything like a game interface, but it is.

Virtual Board Game UI - Stakeholder Engagement

Lessons Learned

  • Communicate through work email ids. We found out that work email id were checked more often than personal email ids. Most communication that was sent to personal email ids did not get checked
  • Don’t assume that people understand the technology that you will be using. We were surprised that a few players struggled to get into the chat rooms and while using Google Slides
  • Like face-to-face sessions, people drop out or don’t join at all. So creating teams after the webinar starts is better
  • Give people specific instructions to join using a laptop or PC unless your application interface is conducive for game play on mobile phones. Ours was clearly not
  • Most people use their work computer to login. Ensure that people can access the webinar software, Google Sheets/Docs or whichever tools you are using and there are no IT restrictions
  • Avoid introductions. Instead ask participants to write a line introducing themselves in the global chat window. This saves time
  • Game guides and instruction sheets can be emailed in advance. However, they will most likely not be read. Instead, a demo round is better. The demo should explain all the rules and possible moves and allow participants to get a taste of what’s coming up
  • Give enough time for discussions. We found 5 minutes to be sufficient
  • Have rewards and prizes in the end. I am not a big fan of external motivation. However, we found that players were more likely to stay through the initial learning curve of the game and be patient with the technology if there was a clear reward in the end
  • Reduce the number of tabs/windows that people need to keep open while playing the game. We were able to bring it down to two – the webinar software and the live game interface. This simple thing improved user experience by several notches
  • Give people a chance to defend and argue with the group through voice. We found that most players wanted to discuss and argue their thinking process
  • Restrict to 15 players divided into 5 teams. Our game that had 24 participants was engaging but also chaotic
  • Always have a co-facilitator who can manage the logistics, moderate the chat and answer questions. We wouldn’t have been able to run any of the games without the support of our wonderful team here at Skills Cafe’

Live Game Play Videos

Coming soon…

Other Virtual Board Game application and tools

Other tools that we would like to explore in the coming months:

We will continue running play tests and virtual games and report back on what we learn in the process.