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Ed. Magazine

Game On

Students meet weekly for a board game battle
Students in the game club
Gamers at Gutman
Photo: Alex Gagne

Their street name is Board Games Night.

(And by street, says master’s student Sarah Bennett, they mean Appian Way, and by Appian Way, they mean WhatsApp.)

Since the end of August, a group — offcially known as HGSE Board Gamers — of mostly master’s students and their friends has been meeting every Thursday night on the third floor of Gutman to hang out and play board games. The idea first surfaced over margaritas on Felipe’s rooftop in Harvard Square, says master’s student Miles Baird.

“It was the second day of the school’s orientation, and the LDIT cohort was having an informal meet and greet,” he says. “Naturally, with that much nerdiness in one spot, it wasn’t long before we brought up having a board game night. Just as Kevin Costner says in Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ We here at the Ed School live by, ‘If you create a WhatsApp group, they will join.’”

Bennett says she was instantly game for helping launch a group with Baird and others, including master’s student Kelly Coons, who is the group’s liaison to the Offce of Student Affairs.

“I really love board games, and I was looking for friends,” Bennett jokes. “But, really, playing board games with people is one way to instantly build community.” For Baird, the group was an extension of his pre-Ed School days. “Board games have been a large part of my life’s rhythm for the past few years,” he says. “My social circle would meet twice a week at board game cafes, and every other weekend we would have a large game of Werewolf with between 10 to 20 players. It’s something I care about and I wanted to facilitate that sense of community for others at HGSE.”

“As it turns out, playing board games lights up the sense of camaraderie, competition, and challenge that many educators crave in [their] social lives. Teachers were actually perfect for this.”

Turns out, other students also wanted that community, with a couple dozen showing up each week to play games, especially newer games like Codenames, Wingspan, Azul, Mysterium, and Anomia.

“A lot has changed in the board gaming scene over the past two decades. What used to be an occasional activity has become something which many identify with and is now the foundation of many mainstream communities,” Baird says. “Growing up, the typical board game for me was Monopoly or Yahtzee. It wasn’t until high school that I learned about Euro-style and other games which might have been considered ‘fringe,’ and now you can find clubs and cafes dedicated to board games all over the world. While I wasn’t sure how the club would be received, I realized that even if people don’t identify as board gamers, they still might relish a chance to relax with friends, shed some of the week’s stress, and learn a new game or two.”

Bennett says she favors the game Chameleon, joking that, “It’s so fun to lie.” Baird also loves Chameleon and another social deduction game called Avalon. “It’s just fun trying, and often failing, to read people. I’d say Chameleon and a party game called Codenames are our club MVPs.”

Bennett thinks educators are actually natural board gamers.

“As it turns out, playing board games lights up the sense of camaraderie, competition, and challenge that many educators crave in [their] social lives,” she says. “Teachers were actually perfect for this. We didn’t have to do much convincing.”

Rather than play one game at a time, students bring multiple games every Thursday, making it easier to split o› into several large or small clusters. And although the group started out as master’s students, Baird says doctoral students and local alums have also joined.

“That’s exciting because I feel there aren’t enough opportunities to build community across successive HGSE classes,” he says.

When asked if students get competitive playing, Baird shoots a glance at Bennett, who says, “One thousand percent.”

That begs the question, then, are there any plans to challenge student board gamers at other Harvard graduate schools?

“Absolutely,” says Baird. “I’ve heard the School of Design has their own gaming group, and I’d love to do what we do best and … teach them a lesson.” Bennett adds, “I’m not sure how they’ve designed it, but I think we need to go over there and educate them on the proper way to have fun.”

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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