Science with a beer and a board game

Photo 1

Zombies, sci-fi, physics, chemistry, logic, maths. Something for everyone.

“Is this board game thing going to make me feel dumb?” My friend Kayla sent me this text after I had asked whether she and her mother wanted to join me for the ‘State of Play: Science Board Games’ event that was happening down at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA). What started as an idea for a pleasant afternoon of beers, casual chit chat and aggressive table flipping quickly became about something much bigger: why are people so scared of the word ‘science’? While Kayla tried to assure me that her hesitation was because “I only expect horrible things from and with you,” (#besties), I was determined to dig a little deeper.

We arrived at the CCA, and after inspecting a mysterious pile of board games left at the foot of the steps, our inquisitive minds took us to the terrace bar where the event organisers, Iain and James, greeted us enthusiastically. “State of Play is a group of like-minded board game enthusiasts. We put on board game activities at festivals and events, and not just science festivals, also book festivals and even canal festivals! We’re keen to share our amazing hobby with people who may not know about modern board gaming, and we’re convinced that gaming is a great way to engage people of any age with a topic or field of study.”

Photo 2

You’re only as old as you feel. ‘Robot Turtles’ involves planning several moves ahead to get your turtles from A to B, which is a coding skill.

It looked as though we were the first to arrive and so had our pick of the mountain of games on offer. As we began scanning the titles on the boxes, I could see the fear surfacing on Kayla’s face as the thought of an afternoon spent playing ‘New science: The Giants upon whose Shoulders the World of Science Stands’ made her contemplate the life choices that had led her to agreeing to be my friend.

Iain was keen to help us pick our poison and rattled off a quick pitch of some of his favourites. After a brief screening process based on our logic of “this one’s heavy and so must have a lot of science in it,” Iain told us that we should play ‘Pandemic’, a game all about working together to contain a deadly virus outbreak. We swiftly ignored him, of course, in favour of ‘Robot Turtles’, “because they’re robot turtles, Alex!” And just like that, Kayla was home.

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Some *ahem* “fairly” placed obstacles, all in good sportsmanship.

As the guests began setting up the game, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just maybe they would stick around long enough for me to get some half decent pictures, enough to trick people into thinking that they were actually having fun. It wasn’t long, however, until my fears vanished completely. This was my first time meeting Kayla’s mum, but the family resemblance was becoming clear. We were less than ten minutes in to the game, and already the two were inventing different ways they could bend the rules to get their turtles out of a tight spot. Twenty minutes in, and voices were raised in what was being dubbed “the cheating scandal of 2016” (remember kids, yellow flower turns your turtle left, purple flower right). Finally, we had hit family board game bliss, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Photo 4

Cheating scandal of 2016 – the aftermath.

I began reflecting on what I had experienced with Kayla and her mum. As I had expected, everybody was having a great time, so why had Kayla been so apprehensive earlier? The point of the Glasgow Science Festival is to bring the public together with scientists, have fun and maybe learn a thing or two along the way. There’s no doubt that the festival has achieved this in spades, but still I’m often shocked by how many people attending these ‘public’ engagement events are actually scientists themselves. Herein lies the problem of ‘how do you engage with those that don’t want to be engaged?’

The turtles had been cleared away, and as Kayla basked in the glory of her victory, I was excited to see a new game being brought out, to the delight of the group. The game was ‘Cluedo’, but with some forensic science tweaking. “The twist we’ve made here is that after every round you get a card with a forensic science fact that also gives an extra instruction to the players,” Iain explained proudly. We also decided to do away with the painfully slow dice rolling and just take it in turns to make our deductions about who was responsible for Mr Black’s untimely fate while our playing pieces conducted their investigations from the comfort of the lounge.

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Investigating murders is tiring work, especially when you’re made of plastic.

Before the game was in full swing, I decided to press a little further into what my two companions thought so far. “I just think that the word science can seem a bit overwhelmingly daunting to someone with little to no experience with it,” Kayla admitted. “When you offer a science event or a science game, some people may be put off because they don’t know what type of science they will encounter.”

I asked them what exactly they were expecting when I asked them along to a science board game event. “I guess I thought it was gonna be some kind of science trivia game, with a bunch of scientists sitting around saying like ‘what’s the square root of 7225?’” Kayla laughed. “I’m not gonna lie, I thought that too,” her mother added.

Suddenly I was beginning to understand that it isn’t the presence of ‘science’ that makes these events sound unappealing to some, but the confusion about what the word science even means in the context of the event. Here we were playing with turtles, building towers and catching dinosaurs. You certainly don’t need a PhD to do that.

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Super-rhino! Players take turns building a monstrous tower block of cards, with no regard for planning permission. Like Jenga, but with more lawsuits.

We continued to sit and chat away with James, Iain and his kids as game after game was brought out. Before we knew it, our time was up. We had sat there playing games for the entire duration of the event. What was supposed to be a quick stop in for some pictures had turned in to three hours of fun.

As we gathered our things and gave our thanks to the team, I took the opportunity to ask Kayla whether her opinion of these “science things” I rave about, had changed. “I think this event helped me get over my fear of the word science a bit,” she began. “I feel that I’ve simply been writing off potentially awesome events only because

Photo 7

‘N-tropy’ More wacky construction with architect-in-the-making David, where the dice roll determines how many of the previous sticks the one you place must touch.

they were labelled as science. I definitely will be less concerned about attending events labelled as science in the future.”

Be sure to check out State of Play’s City Builder event on Sunday 19 June 14:00-17:00 at the CCA terrace bar. These events are part of the wider Glasgow Science Festival schedule.

Can’t make it? Not to worry – The Antonine Board Gamers meet on the third Tuesday of every month in the Wheatsheaf Inn, Main Street, Torrance G64 – For more details contact Iain at  play@othergames.co.uk

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