StarLife

Vital Stats

Created By: Team StarLife
Development Time: 8 weeks (completed Dec. 2011)
Artist: Roman Stotland
Designers: Roman Stotland, Culver Redd

The TL;DR

StarLife is a serious board game targeted at 4th-grade-age students that was created for the Michigan State University TC830 course. This game is meant to build a foundation for further engagement in science (specifically, astronomy) learning and exposes players to beginner-level knowledge of stars and star death. While both myself and Roman worked on all aspects of the game, my focus was particularly on enumeration of the rules surrounding game mechanics and modifications to rules made by drawing cards, while Roman focused particularly on creating the distinctive look and feel of the game.

* Balancing the complexity of StarLife was extremely difficult. If we added more scope to our serious goals, the game became less fun, but by making the game more fun, we had more difficulty ensuring a solid educational impact.

* The experience of articulating a ruleset for a board game helped me improve my attention to details and my ability to spot potential exploits.

* Building an educational game taught me a great deal about the difficulties of aligning a game's goals with the myriad requirements, timelines, and standardized tests that are a part of the American educational system.

Postmortem

As Team StarLife's first foray into the building of a serious game, StarLife was both enormously fun and enormously frustrating. It was immensely satisfying to work toward bringing some fun into the education of the next generation of students, especially since we were focused on one of my favorite topics. That said, we found that designing and structuring the game to successfully teach what we wanted players to learn while still being fun was very difficult. When we began the project, we had a broad vision of teaching a host of concepts related to star life and death--how to read a Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, the relation of mass to the type of death a star gets, the relation of mass to star temperature and color, as well as the different classes of stars. In the end, we found that splitting the educational goal of the project so many different ways made the design of the game far too complex to be fun for adults, let alone our target audience of 4th grade students, so we scaled down to focus on the specific goal of teaching the relationship between mass and star death.

My primary role in StarLife was to articulate the specific rules that would enforce the tenets of the general design that was collaboratively generated by Roman and myself. This experience taught me a great deal about the attention to detail and clarity of language necessary for writing board game rules. In the first few playtests of StarLife, a great deal of loopholes and confusion appeared that existed simply because of the assumptions I made when writing the text of the rules. As the holder of a physics degree with astronomy research experience, I also took the helm for a great deal of the content research. In the process, I learned a great deal about how to align the serious goals and target audience of an educational game with the educational timeline and testing standards for a given state.

You can use the links below to download and print out your very own copy of StarLife. You may notice that the game board has been broken up into pieces that will fit on standard 8.5" x 11" paper. This is to allow you to more easily print the game from a home printer. Thank you for downloading, and I hope you enjoy the game!

Game Rules

Chance Cards

Game Board

Hydrogen Tokens (print 3 copies of this PDF in order to have enough tokens for one copy of the game)

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