Time for a brand new guest reviewer to step up to the plate! Dear readers, please welcome the splendid Ben Douglas to the team, kicking off with… an educational game? What?
How do you make a successful educational board game? I’ll give you a Kloo…
Crappy puns aside this is one of the most accomplished attempts at an “educational” game I’ve come across. I put “educational” in quotation marks as one could argue unplugged games nearly always have an educational element to them. From the strategic thinking and forward planning you gain from playing Chess, to the historical overview you receive from games like Memoir ’44 or 1960: The Making of the President, most games leave your brain satisfied and potentially a bit cleverer for one reason or another.
But an “educational” game is when the main focus and reason behind the game is to teach, and as soon as you put a teaching agenda in a board game it usually muscles out the fun. With Kloo this does not happen. Andrew Finan has managed to make a game where the driving force to win the game is to learn vocabulary and build sentences in a foreign language and, remarkably, he makes one the most arduous parts of learning a language genuinely fun.
(I played the Spanish version, but there’s a French deck available too. This review is of the main rules but there are 15 other games that can be played with the same deck.)
The game consists of a deck of multicoloured cards, each with a Spanish word on them. A player begins the game with 7 randomly dealt cards and starts his sentence with a “Red” starter card. The aim is to then play as many cards as possible in a line. Each colour card tells you which other colour can be played on either side of it. Once this simple task has been done, you have a string of words. Together they make a grammatically correct sentence. It may be nonsensical but the grammar will always work. Every time. Every single time. The first reason why this game is so clever.
You get one point for every card you play. You then get to translate the words and every correct translation gains you one extra point. You claim those cards into a pile in front of you and the un-translated words from your sentence go into the middle to form a “pot”. The player picks up new cards until he has 7 again and play moves to the next person, who then has a chance before his own sentence to translate the cards in the “pot” for a bonus 3 points per correct translation. This is by far the most effective way to gain points – learning vocabulary actually wins you the game.
Now for the second reason why I reckon this game is very clever: on the bottom of every card you get a “Kloo”; a translation of another word in the deck. So the cards in your hand, and the cards you have claimed by translating, now give you numerous “Kloo’s” to help you translate the words in the “pot” for your next turn. This leads to frantically reading and trying to memorise every “Kloo” you have so you can grab as many bonus points you can.
That’s why the game works. The learning of vocabulary is part of the winning. Once you find a difficult word that no one else can translate you get a buzz of excitement. You just learnt a word no one else knows – Get In! Andrew Finan has constructed a game that is self-teaching and makes you actually WANT to learn new words. If you hated learning vocabulary as much as me I have a feeling you will be pretty impressed. I certainly was.
So who is the game for? You’d be mistaken if you think the only place for it is a classroom. This works at home too and would be a fantastic tool for parents to introduce their children to a language or enhance what they bring back from school. I played it with several University students who had undertaken a beginner’s module in Spanish and they all loved it, though having played the game with these fellow non-Spanish speakers, I feel the game would work better with a Spanish-speaking mediator to verify any attempted translations. This makes the game perfect for classrooms where you would hope the teacher could play that role. At home, a Spanish dictionary would have to be used – it’s less ideal but does the trick.
Looking at Kloo from a teacher/parent/learner perspective, I think this game is terrific. If you’re a hardcore gamer you’ll most probably not put this game at the top of your wish list but then you’re not really the core audience. Kloo has been designed to make learning fun and it does that with gusto.
Kloo is designed by Andrew Finan and was originally released back in 2010. It’s available from Amazon and other good online stores for around £13. The game comes in French and Spanish versions and sixteen different rulesets can be found, along with some nice new video tutorials, at www.kloogame.com.