Whilst the use of serious games and simulations in educational learning and development contexts has generally been regarded as synonymous with video games and digital technologies, there are very simple, easy to set up and effective gamification techniques which do not use technology at all and which are proven routes to engagement. Cards and board games offer many opportunities to both apply and teach gamification in every imaginable sector. There is an almost unlimited range of playing cards such as the standard 52 pack of cards used in games like poker and solitaire, Uno cards and the many varieties of Happy Families cards. All of these cards provide an ideal way to introduce the elements of challenge and chance into any classroom or workshop situation. Using the selection of cards to create teams of people at random can be a great icebreaker as well as encouraging collaboration.

Some examples of card and board games used in educational and behavioural contexts

Playing cards are used to great effect by masters of games-based learning workshops such as Dr “Thiagi” Thiagarajan who has developed different sets of playing cards to teach a range of topics. An example of the set of cards he uses to develop teamwork techniques is shown in the above image.

Customised sets of cards for gamified learning have also been developed by Playgen and the team at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL) at Coventry University.

Board games are also an effective platform for gamification strategies which embed elements of chance (roll of the dice), challenge and consequence. Snakes and Ladders is one of the oldest games to epitomise these elements which mirror what we all encounter in everyday life.

A company which uses both cards and board games for social benefit is Trance4mation Games LLC run by Leslie Robinson and based in New York.  The games which includes dice, cards, paper and pencil are designed to be played by couples or in groups with the intention of developing emotional wellbeing, empathy and communication skills. Although these games are intended for use by adults in stressful situations, the generic principles behind the games mean that they can be adapted and tailored to educational settings where life skills and citizenship are being taught. The design of the games and the rules create a non-confrontational, non-threatening environment which encourages collaboration, teamwork and empathy..

I would certainly recommend the regular use of cards in classrooms and workshops to embed the gamification elements of challenge and chance into the learning process. At the very least, it takes learners out of their comfort zone and forces them to be active participants in learning rather than spectators.