The Settlers of America Colony Game

posted Sep 5, 2016, 12:47 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Sep 5, 2016, 5:25 PM ]
Last week my student played through my 13 Colonies game - The Settlers of America. This was only my 3rd time running the game and first in two years. 

I made two major changes. First, I created a Spreadsheet that students could use to track their decisions throughout the game. This Sheet did all the calculations on population and British relations for them. This was a massive improvement over the first two times I ran the game where students had to track it all on paper and do the calculation themselves. It didn't help, of course, that the original score sheet was missing a couple boxes here and there (so too was the digital form it turns out), but the whole thing was just too cumbersome anyway. I mean, it worked... eventually. It just took a good half a period to get them to understand it. This time there was no confusion and no need for a long explanation.

The second change was that I didn't prepare at all other than to build that sheet. I wanted to see how the game ran if I didn't spend a ton of time prepping beforehand. Basically, I wanted to see if it was clear enough to be run by other teachers without requiring a huge amount of explanation.  Turns out, yes and no. The game ran just fine without extra prep but it quite complex. So, I'm going to try to create a step by step how to play guide.

Step by Step How to Play Guide

1. Divide your students into teams. I played with 6 but 4 would be better. 6 can work if you have a limited number of devices to access the digital score sheet. With 6 it was too easy for kids to "opt out" of the decision-making process.

2. Provide each group with:
  • 1 computer or tablet with this score sheet (be sure to use the Make a Copy command in the File menu of Google Drive and have them do the same. You do not want them all editing the same document!)
  • OR this sheet printed out if they are going to track their points by hand.
3. Use this presentation to introduce the game and explain the rules. Note, this version is missing the video intro. I do suggest you make something to hype it up. America: The Story of US has some cool clips that might work. Download the file and run it through Powerpoint if you want to see the animations properly. Google Slides will work, technically, but it is limited.

4. After reviewing the rules give them 7 to 10 minutes to complete the pre-game tasks. Make sure the slide showing the map is on the screen. They will make a name for their colony, choose their location and create the first 3 laws to govern their colony. These go into a chart on the far right side of the score sheet. They may need to scroll over depending on their screen size. Their laws really don't matter. It is just a chance to start the discussion on what things are important for a new settlement. They *can* have an effect, for example if they provide the right to bear arms then that will count as them have defense for their settlement. I do not tell them any of this.

5. Click to the next slide "Spring 1623" and begin the first "build" phase. In this phase teams have 3 options:
  • Build a farm to add +10 to their population
  • Send an envoy (or make it build an embassy if you want to keep the "build" theme) to add +1 to British Relations
  • Build a "special" building of their choice. 
Teams record their decision in the first column on the score sheet then put in their gains in the next columns. This *should* cause their population and relations totals to update automatically. 

Check all the computers or score sheets to make sure everyone has added things correctly.

6. Announce the first event phase. Click to the next slide and read the scenario. Give teams about 30 seconds to discuss and then click forward to start the 30 second timer. I tell them at this point that any team continuing to talk  when the clock hits zero will have their population score reduced. At this time teams record their answers in the Event Decision column. Click to the next slide and read the results. Teams record their gains and/or losses in the following columns. Again, this *should* automatically update their population and relation scores.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the next two seasons.

8. In season 4, Winter 1624, teams do not have a build phase. Instead, they have a council meeting and can add one more law to their list. There is still a normal event phase for this season.

9. The story then jumps ahead 50 years. Teams will get an automatic bonus to population based on their location. This information goes in the "50 Years Later" line.

10. That's it. That's the gameplay loop. It goes on following this cycle for the remainder of the seasons. It will end in the Summer of 1776 with teams deciding whether or not to sign onto the Declaration of Independence. This serves as a great interest-builder on that document.

You can award winners however you choose. The game starts with population as the goal but the idea of freedom builds organically throughout and then is finally measured in the final event. You may choose to reward that if you wish. I use it strictly as a discussion starter.

I highly recommend checking the game out. It helps to get across many of the issues facing the colonies in the run up to the Revolutionary War and they really enjoy it. Empathy is a powerful learning tool (I'd argue the most powerful) and putting the in the shoes of the decision makers really helps drive the concepts home.

Plus, it's free, so what have you got to lose?

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