Game Crossing #1:The Influence of Strategy Games

10 08 2010

In preparation for my upcoming book on teaching Strategic Thinking in life based on strategy games I offer some blog articles for your pleasure.  Please comment and add your thoughts. The title may be something like Game Crossing: Winning Ways for the Game of Life.


Your family has gathered around the dining room table and is playing a family game.  “Your turn”, says your daughter eagerly as she looks intently at the playing board then at you.  You know she has found your weakness.  She has learned from you how to solve a difficult situation.  She is excited about using a strategy and applying it and in doing so win a game. Most of us like this family have spent many hours playing board games as a pastime or as a rainy day activity. Teachers have also used games as educational devices or as reward activities for completing class work. We can all agree that board games have always been popular. But, is it possible for teachers and parents to take this fun activity and draw some life changing lessons from them? How can teachers and parents take more advantage of this fun teaching potential? 

 Some have even called this the Gaming Generation saying that even many video games, despite what many think, can prepare youths for the future. John C. Beck, a senior research fellow at the University of Southern California, and Mitchell Wade, a consultant to companies like Google and the RAND Corporation, have just published “Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever” (Harvard Business School Press). They assure us that by playing video games kids are actually training for the new world of work, not avoiding it. They are learning such lessons as: there is always an answer; you might be frustrated for a while, you might even never find it, but you know it’s there. Players are also learning willingness to take chances (60 percent of frequent gamers, compared with 45 percent of nongamers in the same age group, agree that “the best rewards come to those who take risks”). To add to this is a view that failure is a part of the game as well as a part of life.

If video games have this potential might not classic board games? Many have talked about the educational value of board games (especially Chess), but give little or no guidance on how to make them life-applicable. There are, of course, educational board games designed to teach or reinforce educational concepts such as math skills, historical trivia, etc. However, the games that may be most beneficial are those that teach creative problem solving and critical thinking.  How can we take advantage of this “playful” spirit and help students draw life applications from these fun activities? I believe this work you have before you will open this door of potential.

Before the reader think that game playing is not important I offer these quotes.

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.                                                                                                                        Plato

We don’t stop playing because we grow old: we grow old because we stop playing.                                                                                                                                                                                                               George Bernard Shaw

In our play we reveal what kind of people we are.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Ovid

Human beings are never more ingenious than in the invention of games.                                                                                                             Leibniz

Games have influenced so much of our language with idioms.  Here is a partial list……………………….

Check off the ones you have used in the last week.

Play by the rules

The game is afoot

Let the games begin

I’m game

The game is up

Two can play at that game

Game plan


Game Crossing


Hands down



Above board





across the board  –  applying to all (in horse racing a bet where an equal amount of money is placed on a horse to finish in any top winning position)

at this stage of the game    – at some point, at some time during an activity

ball is in someone’s court    – it is that person’s turn to act next (from tennis or a similar game)

ballpark estimate/figure  –  a guess in a certain area or range

bat a thousand- be successful in everything that you do

behind the eight ball – at a disadvantage (from the black ball which is numbered eight in the game of pool)

beyond one’s depth – in water that is too deep, do something that is too difficult

blow the whistle on someone-reveal information about someone

bounce something (an idea) off someone –  test someone’s reaction to an idea

call the shots- control something, make the rules (from calling the shots in billiards/pool)

carry the ball –   be in charge (from carry the ball in American football)

clear a hurdle – overcome an obstacle (from a hurdle in a race)

come out of left field-be completely unexpected

cover all of one’s bases-  thoroughly prepare for or deal with a situation

dive right into something – begin to do something without hesitating

down/out for the count – defeated, unconscious

down to the wire- at the very last minute (from the wire at the end of a horse race)

drop the ball –   make an error or mistake, handle things badly

first out of the gate- be the first person to begin a project

get off to a flying start –  have a very successful beginning

get one’s feet wet – start a new project cautiously

get the ball rolling- begin

get two/three strikes against someone –  get several things against one, be in a situation where success in unlikely

go to bat for someone-  support or help someone (in baseball you sometimes substitute one batter for another)

hand the torch/baton to someone  – hand over a particular duty or responsibility to someone

hard to call –   hard to decide or determine something

have the inside track- have an advantage

hit the bull’s-eye- achieve your goal perfectly

in full swing –   full capacity, greatest activity

in the ballpark- in a particular area or range (from a baseball field)

in the homestretch- be close to completion

in the running – to be a candidate (from horse racing when two horses are running evenly)

in the same league as someone- be at the same level as someone

jump the gun –  start before the starting signal or before you should start (as in a race)

keep one’s eye on the ball- remain alert, keep one’s attention focused on the ball or the matter at hand

keep the ball rolling- maintain the momentum of an activity

kick off –  kick the ball and start the game

know the score- know the facts about something

level playing field- a situation where everyone has an equal chance at success

make the cut/miss the cut –  meet or come up to a required standard/ fail to come up to or meet a required standard

meet one’s match- encounter one’s equal

neck and neck –  exactly even (as in a horse race)

off and running- make progress in something from the beginning)

off base –  wrong, unrealistic

off to a running start- start with a good fast beginning

on your marks –  used to tell runners in a race to get into the correct starting position

 out in left field- offbeat, unusual

out of one’s league- not equal to or in the same class as someone

out of the running – eliminated from a contest, no longer being considered

par for the course- what is normal or expected in a given situation

pass the torch/baton to someone – hand over a particular duty or responsibility to someone

play ball (with someone)- cooperate with someone

play by the rules-  follow the generally accepted rules of something

play fair – avoid cheating

play hardball with someone – behave in an extremely determined way to get what you want

rally around someone or something – join together to support someone or something

right off the bat- at the very beginning, immediately

roll with the punches- adapt to difficult circumstances

run interference – intervene on behalf of someone to protect them from something

saved by the bell-rescued from a bad situation at the last minute

score points with someone- gain the favor of someone

set the pace- establish the speed or pace of something

sporting chance – some possibility of success

strike out – fail

tackle a problem- attack a problem with much effort

take one’s eye off the ball- fail to keep one’s attention focused on the ball or the matter at hand

team player- someone who works well with others to achieve some goal

“That’s the way the ball bounces.”- that’s life, there is nothing you can do about something

throw in the towel/sponge-admit defeat, stop fighting

throw/pitch someone a curve – pitch a curve in baseball, confuse someone by doing something unexpected

too close to call – so evenly balanced that it is not possible to predict the outcome (in a contest, race, election)

touch base with someone- briefly meet or make contact with someone

whole new ball game– a new set of circumstances (from a new game of baseball)

win by a nose – win by a very small amount (the narrowest margin that a horse can win in a horse race)




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