Smash Up the Social Studies!

We’re a family of games, especially with my youngest son who loves playing every type of game out there – video games, board games, card games, you name it. Games are social, so they’re perfect for the social studies classroom in for social studies teachers. And, if you’re lucky enough to know Michael Matera and call him a pal, you can find out about any game in existence – the guy is incredible. My family’s current infatuation is with an awesome card game called Smash Up from Paul Peterson and Alderac.

We were introduced to it by our game nut nephews and my brother in law Rick, and it now is a nighttime staple! Not only do I love the game for it’s flexibility, gameplay, and creativity, but I also think it would be an awesome game to repurpose for the social studies classroom. So … here goes …

If you’ve played it before, skip down to the next paragraph. If you haven’t, here’s a brief description of Smash Up – the rules are pretty easy to follow.  In the game, there are multiple sets or factions of cards linked to a specific topic, genre, or concept.  Players take two different factions and mix them together – smashing them up. Each faction has a set of minions any set of actions. Each turn, you can play a minion on a base and then play an action. The abilities of each minion and the actions are thematic – for example, Pirates are able to move from base to base, Dinosaurs have a great deal of numerical power, Killer Plants keep growing and growing, and Elder Things make opponents mad by having them draw certain cards.  Your goal is to total enough points to score a base and add to your overall tally. It is cleverly written game, because each deck has certain powers, making it on par with every other deck. The creativity that went into the development of the game is astounding, in my mind, and that’s something I’d like to tap into when he comes to my students.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Smash Up involves long term and short term strategy, thinking well ahead of your turn, but also the ability to make decisions instantly.  No two games are the same, since the various factions mix to make combinations with different powers and actions.   It’s great head to head, but the more the merrier in Smash Up.  I could easily see students partnering with a deck and discussing their next move – what great collaborative thinking!

So, I have gushed about this awesome game, but where am I going with this in the world of social studies? Simple – students can create their own Smash Up  decks based on historical eras, geographical locations, political systems, or anything else that involves people (or animals, or weather, or geographic features … there is no limit!) The game already includes one truly historical faction, Mythic Greeks, so I can’t be too crazy with my idea (and I guess I’m not very original either, but bear with me.) Smash Up minions each have a printed point value and an action or talent that goes along with them. Students could take a historical era and create minions for real or representative individuals.

For example, for a Civil War Smash Up, the theme could be moving up in rank and building larger armies to wear out the opponent. A simple Private in the army could have the full value of one, but played with another Private, this value could increase.  A Major could have a higher value, while a General could have the highest value and the ability to move around any subordinate officers to different battlefields (bases, in the game). The actions can be historically based and involve some sort of thematic element from the time period, location or topic. For the Civil War, a Spy action would could allow a player to look at an opponent’s cards and discard one, while a Hospital action could allow a player to revive a minion from their discard pile. As students create the deck, they are digging into the content, developing a theme for the deck, and creating minions, actions, talents, and bases that match the theme curricular area.  The challenge, critical and creative thinking, and fun would explode – especially when they get to play their deck!  How cool is that?

Here are some examples I developed for the Civil War.  Could it work, maybe for that creative gamer that doesn’t like playing the game of school?  I think so!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I made some templates for minions, actions, and bases.  Let me know if they help out!

Some possible ideas for Social Studies Smash Up sets:

World History: The Roman Empire, Chinese Dynasties, Ancient Egypt, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution (think of the actions – “Off With Their Heads”, “Let Them Eat Cake”, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”), The Cold War, The Age of Exploration, Barbarians, Greek Philosophers, Aztec Warriors, Enlightenment Thinkers, the Industrial Revolution

American History: Colonial America, the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Civil War, the Women’s Rights Movement, the AEF in WWI, the Roaring 20s, Captains of Industry (I can see the minions – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Morgan), the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement

Geography: general geography, any specific area of the globe, environmental challenges (Global Warming would be a high powered minion)

Government and Civics: political systems, the Constitution, citizenship (the actions could all be ones of civic duty)

Economics: The Stock Market, Comparative Economics, International Trade

This could totally work for other curricular areas t00.  How about factions for Shakespeare, the Periodic Table,  or great Mathematicians?

You can print the cards on heavy card stock at home or at school.  If you want a more professional card set, try MakePlayingCards.com or TheGameCrafter.com.

Of course, to understand the repurposing of the game, you have to play it – and I encourage you to do so.  After a few times through, you will be nodding your head, thinking “Michael and Chuck are right, this is a totally fun game” and “Chuck is onto something here with the repurposing of Smash Up.  Has he ever written about repurposing other games?” Actually, I did! Check it out, please!

Hopefully you get the chance to play this awesome game at home and with your students. It’s addictive to social studies nuts and gamers! And, when you have your students make a deck, send a copy my way – I need to beat my son with some great social studies factions!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s