Top 5 Educational Board Games to Play With Your Tutor

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Looking for something slightly different to do in your tutoring sessions this summer? Oscar selects 5 board games which are not only great fun, but also might teach you a thing or two.


Anyone who's spent some time with me will know I'm a serious sucker for a good board game.

For many folks, the words 'board game' conjure up terrible memories: games of Risk where your siblings innocuously offer up the chance to 'ally' with you before revealing their true Machiavellian power-grabbing intentions, tedious rounds of Monopoly which play out as a cruel metaphor for free-market capitalism as one of your parents quietly amasses an unassailable lead in the game's property market or perhaps just the mind-numbingly boring dice rolling associated with many 'race and chase' games.


But it doesn't have to be like this.


For quite a while now, board games have seen quite a resurgence. No longer the sole preserve of Dungeons & Dragons fans, there is a dizzying array of games on offer for a variety of audiences, from light party games like Cockroach Poker all the way to epic 12 hour space operas like Twilight Imperium (no, I haven't played my copy yet). Not only are some of these games exceptionally fun, but they can also teach you some useful skills in the process. So, I've thumbed through my collection to select 5 educational board games which will be perfect to play with your tutor or your friends.


1) Deep Sea Adventure


What is it about?


My first entry is a delightfully breezy game about divers looking for treasure under the sea. At the start of each round, tiles are laid out in a path from the diver's submarine, with less valuable bounty at the start of the path and more valuable treasure further down the line. On your turn, you roll two dice and advance further down the path based on what you roll while choosing whether to pick up treasure. For each piece of treasure you take, you subtract one from all subsequent dice rolls. When you fancy it, you can turn back and head to the sub, with the round ending when all players are back. The player with the most treasure after three rounds is the winner.


So far, pretty simple. The catch is that you only have a finite amount of air, and it decreases exponentially as you gain more treasure. So this is a risk/reward game, get too greedy and you could end up marooned with no treasure left (scoring nothing for that round)!


Why is it educational?


On the face of it, this game doesn't seem particularly educational at all. However, I'm sure the mathematicians amongst you have already worked out what makes this game so good . With many risk/reward games (Black Jack is another), calculating probability plays a vital role in determining what you ought to do on your next turn. Deciding when to scramble back to the sub is the most important decision in this game, should you press your luck and keep gathering treasure or do you play it safe and return early? In your tutoring session, try working out the probability of returning safely to the sub at the start of your turn - perhaps it'll help you win more too!


2) Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective


What is it about?


This game's title is pretty evocative of its contents. A recent addition to my collection, this is an open-ended detective game where players assume the role of Sherlock's aides, sent scurrying around Victorian London to try and solve a myriad of cases. This game recommends that players are 10 years old or above, so not one to play with younger students!


At the start of a new case, you're handed a copy of the day's newspaper, a London directory, a map of London and that specific case's notes. After reading the case's introduction, you're off! To visit a lead or location, simply look up its address in the directory or use the map, and then read the corresponding piece of text for that address in the case notes. The text will then no doubt give you clues as to where to head to next. Almost every location has an entry in the case notes, so it's possible to visit well over 50 places while trying to solve the mystery! Once you reckon you've cracked the case, there's a questionnaire and a solution with points for correct answers and deductions for following unnecessary leads - Holmes scores perfectly every time and is a nightmare to beat!


Why is it educational?


While the events of SHCD are a work of fiction, the designer's depiction of Victorian era London is vibrant and well-researched. From a history student's perspective, it's great fun just visiting the locations and reading about the characters in this fascinating setting. For the English literature student, this is essentially an interactive Conan-Doyle novel! But this alone doesn't earn it the title of 'educational'.


The game's cases are genuinely a real challenge and will keep you agonising over their solution for hours. After finishing my exams this year, my girlfriend and I sunk 4 (!) days into the opening case - and even then we arrived at the wrong conclusion! This title is a mesmerising problem solving workout and will get you thinking outside the box to try and crack the mysteries within it. The best piece of praise I can give this game is that even in defeat, it's still a blast to play!



3) Scrabble


What is it about?


Ah, a bona fide classic. This excellent game of wordplay has been about since the dawn of time. Probably. Each player is given a rack of seven letters which are given a value, with 'trickier' letters (like Q, Z, X) assigned higher values. Players then use their letters to create words on the grid and then score based on the overall value of their word, adding bonuses if their word/letter is on a double/triple word/letter space (apologies for the flagrant slash usage). They then re-fill their rack to seven letters and the round moves to the next player. As more words emerge on the board, the opportunities to build off other player's words increases, with the winner the player with the most points after all the letters in the re-fill bag have run out.


Why is it educational?


A common criticism levelled at Scrabble is that experienced players will often know hilariously short and bizarre words which are great for offloading annoying letters. The unholy trinity of Zax, Za and Zzz spring to mind. However, by simply adding the house-rule that all players must be able to use their word in a sentence, the game can be an excellent vocabulary expander for English students - especially when playing with more experienced players.


I'm now keen to see who would win more often in a game of Scrabble between a tutor and their student... Send your game scores in and perhaps I'll write another post revealing the results!



4) Tsuro


What is it about?


Set on a large 6x6 grid, the aim of Tsuro is simple: be the last player standing. At the start of the game, you place your token on the edge of the board and draw a hand of 3 tiles. Each tile has four lines on it which represent paths you can travel on, you choose which start on and then you send your token down the path. As the game progresses, you place tiles adjacent to where your token is, moving your token down the new path until either you're eliminated by either colliding with another player or by being sent off the grid. It's best shown in practice, so here's an extremely quick video explaining how a game of Tsuro works.


Why is it educational?


Like Deep Sea Adventure, Tsuro's educational appeal is not straightforwardly visible. In order to succeed in this game, long term planning and quick reactions are essential! If an opponent makes an unexpected move which closes off your options, effective problem solving skills will be vital for staying in the game.


For added pressure, playing with a turn timer can certainly bring on the heat! In this context, Tsuro can help students who struggle to cope with exam time pressure, improving their decision making and mental agility. Try starting with a 2 minute timer and then gradually reduce it until you're having to choose your next tile in just 10 seconds!


5) The Resistance


What is it about?


Okay, so while all of the games previously listed are functional at two players, The Resistance is going to require at least 5 players (and improves as you add more). In this hidden role game, players are either plucky resistance members fighting against a corrupt government or evil spies who are trying to sabotage the resistance's efforts. The spies are in the minority but know who each other are, the resistance don't know anybody's allegiances.


The game takes place over 5 missions, with a leader selecting players to go on a mission and the group voting on that combination. The resistance win if 3/5 missions succeed, and the spies win if 3/5 fail. Once a team has been confirmed, all the team members secretly decide to help the mission 'pass' or 'fail' by using voting cards. A mission passes if all the voting cards are passes and a mission fails if just one is a fail. If you're on the fence about purchasing this game, you can play it with a standard deck of cards!


Why is it educational?


If you're a spy, being a master of rhetoric is the key to success. Delivering arguments quickly and persuasively (waiting too long to give a response will make others suspicious of you!) will help confuse the resistance and you'll have to be constantly thinking on your feet. We've spoken about the value of rhetoric for politics students in a previous guide, but having some experience of defending yourself against accusations (in this game, from the resistance) is invaluable for anybody. If you're struggling to have the confidence to speak up, playing this game with friends and family will allow you to exert yourself in a comfortable environment.


What about the resistance players? For the resistance to have a chance of succeeding, they must carefully sift through the evidence presented to them throughout the game and scrutinise every action and decision - the spies want to rush proceedings and cause confusion whereas resistance members would rather meditate each decision or action carefully. This highly methodological approach is reminiscent of Bayesian reasoning and playing The Resistance in this fashion - with the resistance carefully evaluating the cumulative evidence and the spies attempting to derail these efforts with shameless rhetoric - would be an excellent exercise for a class of politics or philosophy students.



So there you have it - I've had a cracking time with all of these games, I hope there's something on this list which you're itching to play!


Have you played any of these games? Are there any board games that you would recommend for students? Do reach out to us on our Facebook or Twitter accounts and let us know what you think - happy gaming!


Blog Post Crafted by Oscar


Oscar studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Warwick.


When he's not studying or tutoring GCSE Maths and Science, Oscar plays saxophone and co-ordinates the Small Band division of the University of Warwick Big Band.


In 2017 he set up his own jazz function band, Mirage Quartet, and has been a keen collaborator and ambassador for Bromley Youth Music Trust.

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