Thursday, March 15, 2007

For Bloody Honor - Its Genesis in the Classroom

I am a high school teacher with 25 years teaching experience and 35 years gaming experience. There are a number of commercial educational games that teachers can use to enhance the learning opportunities in their classes, and of course there are a wide variety of war games on a host of interesting topics that are also available - some are even appropriate for a school setting. The problem is trying to match the curriculum one must teach, with the type of students one has in the classroom, with a game that is: easy enough to learn, doesn't take up
too much time, and has some educational outcome consistent with the
learning outcomes set by ministries of education.

As part of the History 12 curriculum here in British Columbia, we are responsible for teaching students about the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil War. I know that using games in a classroom setting is a powerful learning tool, one that students remember long after they have forgotten the "facts" we try to teach. When you can marry the facts to a game, well - you really have something that will stick in their brains!

At the time of its inception over 10 years ago, there was only one game on the Russian Civil war that existed, SPI's old Russian Civil War game. Given the constraints of the classroom, I could not take the time to teach the students about this game - it was too complex and required a level of interest that could not be sustained by 32 diverse individuals. I decided to fuse my two passions - gaming and education by designing a game of my own to be used in the classroom.

The first versions of the game were called "Civil War: Russkaya" (which doesn't mean anything, but I thought sounded cool). I found map of Russian in one of our textbooks, enlarged it on a photo-copier, divided it up into regions with a Political value based on population and resources, grabbed some old, square, plastic pieces from a Risk game, came up with a set of rules and voila - I had a game. The mechanics were pretty simple and the sequence of play was very rigid. The map was black and white, the rules and charts were word processed and the pieces and dice were readily available from old games (and the local dollar store).

I wanted a game that up to six students could play at one time - in other words instead of having one game that the whole class participated in, I would run 4 or 5 games simultaneously. The rules were simple enough that sharper students figured things out pretty quickly - others just went along for the ride. It took one 60 minute period to play the game to completion, then another part of a period to debrief the experience and make the links between the game and history. Ultimately, I wanted to show the students why the Reds won the Civil War, when most of the cards seemsed stacked against them.

In the original game, each White faction rolled a die to determine if they could move. If they succeeded, they moved then engaged in combat if they ended the turn in a space occupied by Red forces. Once all the White factions had moved, there would be combat. Then the Red player would move and have combat. Political points were scored by occupying territories which then allowed players to return any eliminated pieces back into play. This kept the Whites in it, provided they held onto their territories. The rolling a die to move was problematic, because the Whites had a 50/50 chance that they would not move at all. In many games, over the years, certain students spent most of their time waiting around after failing a movement die roll. In some cases, certain factions did not move at all during the game!

Despite this drawback, the students overwhelmingly loved the game. The tense die rolling to see whether the last Red unit would be eliminated from the Moscow Zone, or the anticipation of a successful White drive to the capital has kept student interest for a decade.

What lessons did I want them to learn? Well, the Whites did not cooperate in history, and they could not cooperate in the game. The Reds had better mobility and motivation, and this was reflected in their central position, greater chance to move, and the cohesive nature of their forces. What came out of those discussions and my own thinking is the game we have today - "For Bloody Honor: The Russian Civil War". I also happened to notice on Consim that Firefight Games was taking outside designs. I contacted Perry, made my proposal to him, sent him what I had (a very rudimentary version of the map and counters, the rules, and charts). He said he liked what he saw, but would have to do some work on the graphics.

Our gaming group happens to have a talented graphics guy, Brian Moore, who agreed to give my map a going over. He also spruced up the counters and we chatted about how to organize the various charts and format the rules. Much of the current product (with the exception of the counters)
is a direct result of Brian's work. We playtested the hell out of it, made some tweaks, and submitted the revised game to Perry. He liked it, made a few additions to the counters (which I didn't notice at the time, so some units were not explained in the first edition of the rules - that problem has been rectified and any games purchased now will include the updated rules and charts. If anyone has the old rules and charts - which did not explain how armoured cars worked or what the Denekin
Volunteers were and how they worked - contact me through this blog and
I'll get you the proper rules etc.)

The game presents a tense situation for both sides. Both sides also have a chance to win. The chit pull system works really well, and adds to the replayability of the game. If you haven't tried it yet, visit the Firefight web site and give it a gander - I think you'll be pleased - hey, hundreds of students can't be wrong!

Mark Woloshen, Game Designer

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