This will be a series of blog posts with brief reviews of games and their application for the classroom.

Because there will be so many, the comments are brief. These have all been marketed by companies as ‘suitable for the classroom’–but ultimately, that’s a comment designed to sell copies to (potentially gullible) teachers.  Hopefully the little comments here will help give an idea for you of whether these are games worth considering in some fashion.

“The Cost”

In a game forum I am a member of, a […]

1830 (out of print)

The computer game plays MUCH faster taking all calculations out. It would be the MUCH PREFERRED version for use in a classroom. Players buy stock in railroads and manipulate the market while developing a rail network in the Eastern United States. Completely different in style from the Empire Builder series. It is massive profits through stock manipulation, just like in 19th century America. The computer version can be saved and resumed. Boardgame version would require scrupulous students/students who stay focused when not actively participating in a turn.


It looks pretty and will have some critical thinking issues: do you press on with exporation or go back and claim your fame and hope no one else finds other, more famous things. Similar to “Source of the Nile” by Avalon Hill.

APBA Baseball (Basic Game)

The value is in the use of the cards. 36 possible results along with the various on-base situations allows calculation of possible results and probabilities. The statistics for likelihood of each on-base situation are researchable. This would work with moderate to high level math classes. Students could recreate player abilities/make their own cards by researching past baseball season stats.

Apples to Apples

Nice easy word game. The caution would be with older kids who could try and push the limits of word choices, but that is a rare problem. It is also easy to make your own cards for the game.


Better to tweak the rules and emphasize the creation of things and the riddles. Be prepared to provide extra play-doh or model clay!


It is essentially a 4-player chess variant.

Call of Cthulhu

This is a role-playing game and free-form. It explores the horror mythos of H.P. Lovecraft which inspired Stephen King and other writers. References to Cthulhu are quite frequent, including Arkham Asylum in the Batman cartoon series.

Central Powers (Axis and Allies)

If Axis and Allies is already known, this is a World War One variant to use the same rules and play the same game.

Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah

This is an RPG supplement, but its usefulness comes from its subject matter and fiction regarding the Holocaust. It is a VERY serious and intense book which provides an idea how the Holocaust can be explained/taught in alternative fashion.


Players are time travelers trying to create a certain timeline in Earth’s history. Players can end the world, create peace, etc. Photocopying for personal use would be necessary to have more than two players playing, or else modifying the rules.

Days of Decision

First edition tends to be directly tied with the World in Flames boardgame (making it harder to implement). This gives a good overview of the buildup to war, but requires some tinkering for classroom use.

Dixie (Bull Run)

Good game, but needs multiple decks. It is possible to have multiple games going on, but at $30/game, that can get pricey for a larger class.


Game requiring area control that limits some cards to one use only, making card-counting/probability important. Limited to 2 players, it is best used as an example of the mechanics of probability, etc.

Eagles (Battle of Waterloo)

Good game, but needs multiple decks. It is possible to have multiple games going on, but at $40/game, that can get pricey for a larger class. The game is a card came. The art is accurate and attractive. Cheap copies are available on ebay.

Eighth Air Force / Rise of the Luftwaffe

Covers all planes in Europe. Card game requiring strategy. Good to show superiority of jets, vulnerability of bombers. Definitely can see the progression in technology from 1939 to 1945. It is also possible to play a hand “solo” to learn the rules before explaining them to students.

Empire Builder (series of train games)

Once one is learned, the whole series is known. Players get to draw with crayons and build rails to develop railways. They then have to move trains to carry cargos to destination cities, showing where resources are and forcing players to find cities. The most useful in the series are Empire Builder (USA), Eurorails (Europe), British Rails (Great Britain), and Nippon Rails (Japan).

Escape from Colditz

One player is the German guard, the others are POWs trying to escape. Colditz was the escape-proof castle and was the subject for a PBS NOVA special as well. There is a novel based on the book, along with memoirs.

Fire Brigade: World War Two Miniatures

Can be done on card-table space. Requires figures (can be axis and allies pieces/risk pieces). Can also be used as comparative reference for troop/equipment quality. Co-designed by U.S. Army simulations designer.

Formula De

Variable dice can be used to determine probability. Or can be used for counting—results can range from 1-30.

Great War at Sea (several titles in series)

These cover various aspects of navy fighting at the turn of the 20th century. They are interesting for their discussions of the U.S. Navy Color Plans. These are easier to use if the teacher is already a “gamer”.

Honor of the Samurai

Introduction to Japanese feudal culture, nice components with a modernish yet Japanese style.

Iron and Fire

This requires one of two things–>money to purchase ship miniatures -OR- time, which can be used to xerox/create ship silhouettes. For a classroom budget, silhouettes are probably more efficient, and students could even be assigned creating the silhouettes, researching ships, etc. before playing. For an added twist, anyone who has a ship sunk has to have their assignment torn up! This recreates hesitation at throwing ships in to battle willy-nilly and creates a very realistic hesitation.


Players are stereotypes in a banana republic responsible for voting on graft/corruption as well as whether to overthrow the president. It should not be taken seriously! Teachers should be aware of the stereotypes being parodied.

Knock Knock

Halloween theme. Game involves bluffing other players and trying to collect sets of monsters (ghosts, vampires, and Frankenstein’s monsters)

Mare Nostrum

Simulates the creation of modern civilizations. It comes with an introductory scenario that, while not balanced really, does a good job of showing the key issues in developing an empire in the ancient world. It is also great fun.

Matrix Games (various)

This is a free-form role-playing/game system. It has scenarios for every time period and can recreate history or be used to get into characters. Ideal as the only additional equipment necessary is a single six-sided die. Games are not repetitive—even with same players. Highly recommended for use once you understand how they work/have experience with them (and still good otherwise). Hamster Press is good answering questions and with support material.

Mission I.S.S. (International Space Station)

Requires some cooperation and centers around the building of an international space platform. Can be played on a standard school desktop.

My Word!

Players look at cards and try and form words from the letters on at least three cards. First to blurt a word gets those cards. Simple, fast, affordable.

Nuclear War

Object is to wipe everyone out. It is VERY possible that everyone dies and no one wins the game. It IS possible to win the game without using nuclear weapons. There are expansions, but not necessary or helpful in a classroom. It’s advantage is the game plays fast.

Pendragon Role-Playing

Best use would be to research Arthurian values, etc. and let students create knights based on those values following this up with an adventure of their own. Pendragon is very thorough and true to Arthurian legends and medieval culture. It is a lot of work to use this, but it also has a correspondingly big payoff if successful. Good to use with “Le Morte d’Artur” or “The Green Knight”


This would be very good to have in a 5-6 grade class level for rainy days and indoor recess. You have to move pieces to get them in the same order as the pieces in the board’s center, except both players play cards to switch pieces in order, back and forth AND the order in the center!

Redemption: City of Bondage

The saving of souls. Game forces cooperation–no one wins if any of the players dies.

Road to Osaka

The rules are ok while the supplements have good information on Japan’s feudal system. The advantage is the rules are simple. The disadvantage is that it requires having little figurines (although using Risk pieces work).

Settlers of Canaan

Great for religion class, goes from Joshua to David. This could be a touchy game for a public school class as the game is very Christian-oriented. Otherwise, this is Settlers of Catan.

Settlers of Catan

Great game, relationship between resources and communities, also involves probability/odds in determination of resources. Instead of Catan, could easily call the game Settlers of Jamestown for a US History class for example.

Stone Soup

Good in combination with the book Stone Soup.

Survival or Extinction (English and Spanish versions are available)

Good to use during dinosaur units. Shows issues/questions regarding dino survival.

The Chicago Way

Contains political biographies of Chicago luminaries. Requires cooperation, trading/interaction. There is a Rated PG word on the Mayor Cermak card. Art is NOT realistic. Designer had potential education use in mind.

The Very Clever Pipe Game

Hard to bring a game to class with the name “Cheapass” on it. If used, whiteout the references and then play. Low quality components won’t stand up to prolonged use.

various titles

These are books covering every conceivable military campaign of history or army of history. The value comes from the brevity of the books, the conciseness of detail, and the photographs and color artwork that accompany the text. The research behind the books tends to be first-rate as well. If not used directly or made available to students, they can supplement knowledge in areas you feel you as a teacher need help with.

War of 1812

Not a normally covered area. Hard to get lots of students involved. “the Columbia block games” all use similar systems, so familiarity with one WILL make the others much easier as well.

World War One

To win you must advance, but you lose when you advance. Winner is really the last country with manpower left. After playing, students should feel incredibly frustrated…simulates feelings of officers of WW1 very well.