The first review features not a digital game but a regular card game, and one designed for educational purposes at that! I know I have not shown much enthusiasm for such games in the past but this one struck me as different: a game designed by language teachers, drawing on their own knowledge of the classroom and their own love of card-based RPG games.
This is Question Quest: The Language Card Game
Availability: Hard copy via mail order
Official website: http://www.question-quest.com/
Suitable for: Teens and adults, levels A2 and up
- 104 game cards (74 question cards & 30 special cards)
- An English Instruction Manual
- A Japanese Instruction Manual
My first impression when opening the box was how professionally designed and produced the whole set is. It looks and feels the same as any other card-based game I have seen and the artwork and detail on the cards is beautiful. A lot of thought and time has obviously gone into developing the characters and the game world and this really shines through in the presentation.
If the target gives a grammatically correct and meaningful answer, they take the question card and draw another random card from the top of the pile. If their answer is incorrect or doesn't make sense, the questioner owns the question card and takes another from the pile. These cards are put aside until the end of the game.
The judge decides if an answer is acceptable or not. This can be another player or a non-player such as the teacher.
The special cards come into play in different ways. They can give the target the option to skip a question (the "I don't know" card), let other players usurp the questioner or target roles ("I have a question" and "I'll answer that"), force another player to answer ("What's your answer?") or demand more information from the target ("Tell Me More").
At the end of each turn, any player who has less than five cards draws new cards from the pack to fill their hand.
At the end of the game (which comes either when an agreed time limit runs out or when the final card is drawn from the deck) players add up the totals of 'crystal points' (the value given on the top left corner of each card) and the player with the most points wins.
We played a trail game for a few rounds just to get used to the rules. We then reshuffled the pack and started a new game. I initially took the role of the judge but I soon relinquished it as the students jumped in to challenge and correct each other. They were fully engaged and the only thing they did not like was when I called time as we had reached the end of the lesson. That day's class finished with me having to promise we would return to the game the following week.
I was true to my word and we set one of our three hours aside for the game the next lesson. I stepped back completely this time, only intervening when there was no consensus on whether an answer was acceptable or not. They were quite strategic in their use of the special cards and a competitive but friendly atmosphere permeated the session.
I took the opportunity to listen closely to their English in action, noting down persistent pronunciation errors when asking and answering along with any errors the judges missed. After 45 minutes the game was done and I used the last 15 minutes to go over some of these areas.
Feedback was very positive - "the best lesson of the course" and "I've never asked and answered so many questions in one lesson before" were the standout remarks.
What made it a good game?
- The 'pick up and play' factor - the best way to learn the rules is through playing and the game format is simple enough to allow this to happen but not so simple that the game is too easy
- Flow - the ease with which the students get into the game helps create a sense of flow as once they have got used to the rules and gameplay, they devote themselves to the game and, as happened the first time we played, they lose track of time
- Peer-to-peer interaction - the game is built on players asking each other questions. This naturally leads to them challenging and correcting each other, which in turn leads to the teacher taking a back seat. Combined with the flow discussed above, this makes for a student-centred gaming experience.
- Failure is an option - if an answer is rejected, you are back in the game a short time later when your turn comes around again. The "I don't know card" also gives an option to pick your moment for a better question, helping add to the sense of the players being in control.
- Players can alter the game - the other special cards give players the chance to up the ante when they feel they can answer a question well or take advantage when they feel an opponent may be struggling, further adding to the sense of ownership.
- The gameworld - although we did not focus explicitly on the characters or the backstory, the professional design and presentation of the game set and the artwork of the characters and the world they lived in really helped bring the game to life.
- The novelty factor - this was a very different kind of in-class activity for my students and offered a break from our usual learning activities or classroom games. That helped attract their attention and keep it.
The questions, especially on the higher value cards, may be too tough for several students, especially at an elementary level. I would say they work best with strong A2 students or above. An easier version for lower level learners would be a welcome addition to the series (and maybe even an advanced level set for high level students).
Finally, there is the player limit. As it is a game for six players, in most classroom scenarios, a few decks would be needed to allow everyone to join in. I was lucky enough to have a class of five recently but in my usual groups of 16, I would have to offer it an option alongside other games or persuade my employers to invest in a few more sets!
Finally, here is a game designed for the language classroom that actually plays like a genuine game and not a series of artificially-forced language points! It is definitely one to be recommended if you teach tweenies/teens or young adults at a strong A2-B2 level. Now, if only someone could make a digital game like this....