Here at Engaged Family Gaming, we love to talk about how teachers and homeschool parents alike can use games to teach different subjects. We have already talked about board games that can help you teach math and board games that can help teach reading. This time we are going to talk about board games that can be used to help teach history.
History is a tricky subject to teach using board games. They, generally, are too abstract to be able to realistically represent events that took place in the past. However, they can help teach the subject in two ways. On one hand, some of them are great at helping people memorize important dates, events, and historical figures. On the other hand, there are also games that are designed well enough to help capture the theme of a historical event. Both of these approaches can be a big help when trying to teach children about a given historical event.
Take a look below and see eleven games we found that can be used to help teach history in one of those two ways.
Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark is a game themed around the adventures of the two famous explorers of the same name. This is a period of American history that is often glossed over so having a fun tool to help explain what exploring what was an undiscovered country at the time is a good thing!
“The year is 1803. Take on the role of a team of explorers tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to chart the American West. Befriend the natives, live off the resources the land provides and be the first to set up camp on the Pacific coast. Players will have to manage hands of cards representing characters who will help to gather resources, recruit Indians and move forward in this race to discover the route from sea to shining sea. Beautifully illustrated, Lewis & Clark will have players reliving the exciting voyages of some of the most famous explorers the world has ever known”
Timeline isn’t a single game. Instead, it is a series of games that features all sorts of different categories like Music & Cinema, Americana, American History, etc.
Gameplay is straightforward. Players are each given a hand of cards that have events on the front and their corresponding dates on the back. The goal is to slowly create a timeline of events. Players do that by taking turns placing their cards in the correct place on the timeline in relation to other events. If they guess correctly, then the card stays. If they do not, then the card is discarded and they have to try again.
This mechanic helps to reinforce players’ knowledge of when events happened in relation to each other.
There is a lot of attention placed on World War 2. It is regularly studied in class. It is the subject of nearly countless movies and numerous video games and board games. World War I, on the other hand, is not often given much attention at all. This is in spite of the fact that it is a fascinating war that took place across several continents and featured cavalry, navy, air combat, and trench warfare.
The Grizzled is a cooperative game that helps right that wrong by putting players in the combat boots of soldiers trying to survive trench warfare until Armistice. The emphasis of this game is on avoiding the hardships and pitfalls that soldiers would have dealt with. If even one member of the team died, then the game is lost.
This is by no means a “light” topic, so parents and teachers should tread carefully. But, then, World War I is as tragic and terrifying as it is interesting in a historical sense. So if you are going to teach it, you may as well go all in right?
7 Wonders is a drafting game where players take on the roles of seven great ancient civilizations. Gameplay is divided into three “ages” that help demonstrate the development of human civilization through antiquity.
The game may not depict actual historical events, but it does a fairly good job of explaining how civilizations develop and the interdependence between resources and great scientific or artistic achievements.
I’m 35 years old. So I don’t remember the vast majority of the decades-long standoff between the United States and Russia. Twilight Struggle is a game that uses clever mechanics to help illustrate the delicate balance of power and aggression between the two nuclear powers.
This game is a bit on the long side and can take a long time to teach, but you would be hard-pressed to find a game that is better at helping visual and tactile learners understand one of the more pivotal periods in modern world history.
Memoir ’44 is hex based miniatures combat game that thrusts players into battles that mimic historical events during World War II. This is done using units, tactics, and victory conditions that mimic some of the famous skirmishes that took place throughout the war.
There are multiple expansions as well that include different sections of terrain and different parts of the war.
This likely isn’t a game that will teach much about World War II on its own. But, it is a great game to play while talking about some of the reasons behind the war and how it ended. Memoir ’44 illustrates that sometimes the best job a game can have is to keep the students interested while the real teaching is happening elsewhere.
Axis and Allies
It is impossible to talk about board games that can be used to teach history without at least mentioning Axis and Allies. A&A is a strategy war game where two to five players take on the roles of either a member of the Axis (Germany or Japan) or a member of the Alliance (United States, United Kingdom, Soviet Union). It isn’t just about battle though. Players control both the military for their chosen country AND its wartime economy. Victory is given to the country that captures major cities across the world.
Axis and Allies presents a historical scenario and encourages players to change history over the course of a few hours!
Ticket to Ride – Multiple Editions
I know. We probably put Ticket to Ride on every one of these lists, but we can’t really help it. The game is almost universal in its appeal and in its applications.
Ticket To Ride is not going to be a history lesson in and of itself. But, several of the expansions are ties directly to the expansion of the railroad system that crisscrosses the entire country. Besides, you likely already have the game anyway for other reasons (or at least you should) so why not have another reason to pull it out and use it?
Catan Histories of America: Trails to Rails
Catan is a classic euro board game. This version includes a fixed board that is a reasonable facsimile of the United States. The same rules apply here as in the standard version with a few exceptions. The biggest among them being that the win condition is the delivery of all of your goods across railways.
This is a great game to help discuss the westward expansion of the population of the US and the rise of the Railway system and its importance to the US economy at the time (and now)!
Sapiens is a game where players take on the role of a clan chief that is exploring a fertile valley looking for a new home for their people. This is a tile-laying game with an exploration theme. The art style is bright, colorful, and engaging in a way that will keep players interested as you talk with them about the challenges that faced early man as he fought for survival.
Founding Fathers is a strategy game that takes place during the dawn of the United States. Players take on the role of famous political figures like George Washington, John Adams, and others all the way up through Abraham Lincoln. Players work together to solve problems like war, financial panics, and eventually the division between the North and the South.
This is an excellent way to help reinforce the struggles of forming and guiding the United States. This is not a game for early gamers, but is rated for players age 8+.
For Additional Games to Support Learning
What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!
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These will definitely be making an appearance at my family gaming nights with my nephews. We love Munchkin, but I think they’ll get into these, and be able to learn in the process! Thanks for the tips!
I’m a High School History teacher and these are all great reviews. I remember Axis and Allies from when I was a kid (I’m 49, so a Cold Warrior), and my students have enjoyed it, also. Thanks for the list. Some of these games will definitely make an appearance in my classroom; especially after state and AP testing is over. There is always extra time for learning games!
Thank you for the kind words! Glad to be of help!
WOW you missed a few critical ones. Off the top of my head is “Liberte'” on the French revolution. Perhaps a little heavy for a family game, but a very good one none the less. I suggest you check out boardgamegeek.com for a much broader spectrum of historical games.
Most of this this list came from BGG. I’ll look for some more games to add though!
[…] as 7 Wonders, Timeline, Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, which routinely appear on lists of games which (help) “teach […]