STEAM in Action: Creating board games

Recreate a favorite game, make a lawn-sized version or invent a game from scratch.

Clouds rolling in and storms in the forecast are usually sure signs to dust off the board games. Sitting around the kitchen table with a deck of cards or playing a strategy game is a great way to help young people build communication, strategy and social skills. Interested in taking a rainy day favorite a little further? Try designing board games as an activity you can create and then play!

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) is all about finding ways to apply a design-focused approach to any topic and solving problems. In designing board games, there is a very important problem to solve: finding a way to have fun! When using board games as a starting point, you can play with three typical components of design: materiality, scale and program.

  1. Materiality. Recreate a favorite board game out of items from around the house. In picking new items, young people can reflect on if new materials have the same characteristics as originals or if a new material could improve the game. The designers of Candy Land changed their pawns from cardboard to plastic to make the game last longer. Playing with materiality leads to a sense of accomplishment or even some cool innovations.
  2. Scale. There is a recent trend of recreating various table top games life-sized. Letting young people play with scale in design creates new questions to explore. Will this material hold up when it is three times the size? Is this game more or less challenging if it takes up a room rather than just a table? Encourage youth to decide on a game to “scale up” themselves, but feel free to use giant Kerplunk or Yahtzee for inspiration.
  3. Program. Especially after playing with materiality and scale, invite young people to create their own board game from scratch. Youth get to think through the rules of the game, plan for any loopholes, and even create the pieces and parts needed for the game. If that is too intimidating, youth could even try to blend together two existing games to create a new one.

Designing board games is a great way to get young people thinking creatively with something that is familiar. Next time there is a storm, break out the craft supplies instead of digging out the old games. When the rain clears, everyone will be excited to finish their ideas or take a life-sized version outside!

Mary Blumka, Michigan State University Extension 4-H program coordinator in Oakland County, started this great idea when planning summer programming. Interested in learning more about 4-H Youth Development in Oakland County? Get in touch with Blumka at 248-858-0890 or

Michigan 4-H Tech Wizards is a 4-H Youth Mentoring program offered by MSU Extension in numerous communities in Michigan. The program uses various STEAM projects to help youth build long-term mentoring relationships with adult mentors. Since the focus of the activities is to strengthen their mentor relationship, projects often put a unique spin on STEAM that encourages improving communication, teambuilding and life skills.

This series, STEAM in Action, features various creative approaches and the staff member who facilitated these great ideas. Watch for more STEAM in Action articles featuring creative project approaches from our team, including:

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