Five Favourite Story-Based Games
At Craigmillar Library, we really like to play games. In summer 2016, we set up our Word/Games programme, which includes a weekly game club for young people. We've spent hours and hours playing wordy and story-based games: discussing what we like about them, which game mechanics work, and which don't. The game club teens are now building their very own fairytale-inspired table-top game! And they thought you might like to know which games they've enjoyed the most on their journey toward becoming game designers…
1. Story Stones
Story Stones is the favourite at all our Word/Games events. We got the idea from the always-inspiring Scottish Storytelling Centre, where the Storytelling Cafe sports little jars of stones on every table. The stones have words painted on them, and each jar includes instructions, encouraging visitors to write a small story using the stones and then take a #storystoneselfie.
At Word/Games events (like CBBC's Awesome Authors weekend, the Scottish leg of which took place at Craigmillar Library in July), we've scaled up the Story Stones idea. To use our version, you'll need lots and lots of stones – I mean hundreds! You'll also need permanent markers, and a big table for making stories on. We usually start out with some of the word-stones already made – you'll need multiples of some words, like 'I,' 'and' and 'is' – but we ask the kids and teens who come along to write their own words on stones, too. Then we challenge our attendees to write the longest story they can, using as many stones as they can. Our current Story Stones champion wrote a story that used over fifty! Young people really enjoy getting to write words of their own, and they come up with really interesting ones. At some of our events, we've been able to let attendees get outside and collect the stones themselves, too.
Bananagrams is like Scrabble… only without the boring bits (sorry, Scrabble fans)!
Dixit is a table-top storytelling game with beautiful artwork, and it's great for small groups. Each player starts with a hand of six richly-illustrated cards. Players then take turns inventing 'stories' to describe what's on a card of their choice. It's a little bit like Call My Bluff – before everyone guesses which card the story was about, each player picks a card from their own hand that could match that story, to try and confuse things! The key is to convince as many of your fellow players that your card is the original story card… whether you're the storyteller or not! But you can't be too obvious: if everyone guesses the same card, you lose points.
Dixit is a brilliantly flexible game – though it works best with older children, you can (like all the best games) modify it, so younger children can get involved too. At some Word/Games events, we've taken away the bluffing and scoring system and placed cards next to one another in a line to make an ongoing, collaborative story. I've also had great success using the cards as creative writing prompts with adult learners.
Bananagrams is like Scrabble… only without the boring bits (sorry, Scrabble fans)! In Bananagrams, you're not limited to only seven letters – you use as many as you can to create as many words as you can, as fast as you can! There's no board – instead, players create their own grid of interlocking words, which can be as short as 'and' or as long as 'antidisestablishmentarianism'! The key is, the words need to be spelled correctly for the game to work – and for you to be in with a chance of winning. Bananagrams is a firm favourite with kids, teens and adults alike at our library – and it's the most fun way I've found to get young people enthused about spelling.
4. Once Upon A Time
Once Upon A Time is a card game that works brilliantly for older children and teens. Another game with beautiful artwork, Once Upon A Time draws on traditional fairytale tropes to encourage players to tell long, intricate and engaging stories. Cards in the game include characters like witches and princesses; useful items, like maps and magic wands; and events, like everyone in the kingdom suddenly falling asleep. Players must use the cards in their hand to start a story of the sort you might find in a children's fairytale… and then they have to work together to keep it going and match it to a fitting ending. This game can also be modified for different audiences in a similar way to Dixit – we've learned that the cards' lovely illustrations are enough to draw kids into a world of imaginative storytelling and play.
The Once Upon a Time cards' lovely illustrations are enough to draw kids into a world of imaginative storytelling and play
Storycubes do exactly what they say on the tin: they're dice that create a story when rolled. You can find lots of different sets, but our favourite at the library is Storycubes: Voyages, with dice that take you sailing over choppy seas or riding on the back of an elephant. Each Storycubes set comes with a little booklet of ideas, because there are loads of different ways that the game can be played. However, our game club members have also enjoyed coming up with their own rules, and finding ways to make the storytelling task ever more challenging. The latest idea: one player rolls all nine dice, and must tell a story using the dice in the order that they land. Trickier still: the next player must use the same dice in the same formation, only reverse the order, so their story begins with the last dice rolled and works backward to the first. Other players – or listeners -- then pick the best story and award points. This is just one of the dozens of ways we've used Storycubes in the library so far!
The thing that the kids and young people we work with always love to do is try their hand at making up their own game elements. Most of these games provide opportunities to do that: young people can write their own story stones, draw their own cards to include in Dixit and Once Upon A Time, and even design their own dice symbols to add to a Storycubes set. Let the games begin!
Craigmillar Library's Game Club is open to young people aged 10 to 18, and meets on Monday nights from 5.30pm at the library. New members are welcome!
Claire Askew is a Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion. Learn more about the Reading Champions here.
Looking to get your poetry published? Claire has some great advice for you!