Awkward Family Photos

This week’s lunchtime game was Awkward Family Photos.   Based on a popular website and a New York Times best-selling book, Awkward Family Photos promises to have players in stitches!  As the game advertises, some pictures truly are worth a thousand laughs!

Game play begins by flipping over a photo card, rolling the 20-sided die, and reading aloud the corresponding question. Questions like “If your friend found this photo in your wallet, what explanation would you give for owning it?” and “What celebrity would be a great addition to this photo?” lead to some hilariously absurd answers!

Awkward Family PhotoAll players, except the roller, writes down an answer. Answer sheets are collected and read aloud by the player to the right of the roller. The roller then picks a favorite answer and tries to guess which player said which answer.  The player who wrote the favorite answer places one of their five chips on the board. If the roller matches two or more answers correctly, the roller also places a chip on the board.  The first player with five chips on the board wins!

Everyone at Zulama had a blast playing Awkward Family Photos, definitely a great game to enjoy with friends or your fun-loving (sometimes awkward) co-workers!



awkward family photo chart

Awkward Family Photo Game Review



Zulama Best Practices – How to Host a Board Game Jam!

Zulama Best Practices – How to Host a Board  Game Jam!

By Beverly Vaillancourt

Game jams may involve computer-based game design. But your school can start much simpler! Zulama recommends beginning with a board game jam for your classroom or school. Here’s how:

  1. Ask parents and students to help organize the game jam. Explain that students and parents will be working together to make a creative board game.
  2. Allow students to choose the area of focus. This topic could be a current area(s) of study in social studies, math, language arts, or science. It could also be a pressing social topic such as environmental science or homelessness in their communities.
  3. Collect poster board, markers, recyclable materials, straightedges, pencils, game pieces for use on game jam day.
  4. Ask local businesses to donate food, drink, and supplies to keep your gamers fueled and focused.
  5. Suggested two-day board game jam formats:
    • Choose an existing game that expresses the area of focus. Have enough copies so everyone can play it. Organize into groups and modify (“mod”) that game. Allow time to playtest each other’s games. Give awards for “the most creative mod” or “the craziest mod”
    • Allow groups to choose any existing game. Modify (“mod”) that game to express the area of focus.
    • Groups can make their own original games. The rules must fit on one piece of paper. After 24 hours, groups rotate around and playtest each other’s games according to the rules supplied, with no explanation from the design team. Leave groups time to refine their concept based on feedback from playtesting.
  6. Capture photos and videos to post to the school website.
  7. Have kids share their games at a school board meeting.
  8. Continue to engage parents in playing and/or creating games as a home and school connection.

Have fun, and happy gaming!

9-yr old Creates Game Arcade

Many of Zulama’s Game Academy courses involve making “analog” games. Even though they may be chomping at the bit to sit down in front of a computer and program a video game, students learn important skills by making board games.

Most great video game designers working in the industry today started off by “messing around” and “modding” (changing) board games. Changing one aspect of a familiar game and playing it in a different way than usual teaches more about game dynamics than just about anything else a game designer can do.

This kid has taken the idea of making his own game to a whole new level!

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.



Analog vs Digital Games

Board Games—Ancient or Relevant?

Teenagers increasingly seem to prefer digital media formats to their analog counterparts (kindle to books, texting to passing notes, texting to talking), and games are no exception.

During a recent early-morning run, my friend Todd and I were commiserating about how it’s becoming increasingly difficult to engage our teenage offspring in playing family board games. That’s just soooooo yesterday! Yet for both Todd and myself, the social dynamic that surrounds playing board games is truly the fun part—the actual game play much less so. Similar to making sure that families don’t lose the art of eating real, sit-down meals together, let’s not lose family game night!

A recent New York Times article titled Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks, provides a refreshingly two-sided perspective, here’s one quote from the story:

“We don’t want a world where kids are just staring at a screen for their play constantly,” said Michael Acton Smith, chief executive of Mind Candy, which makes the toys.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-video game. But isn’t it healthier for kids, adults, and for our families to play analog games, too? Your thoughts?

Board Games for Teens

This is re-blogged from a School Library Journal blog entry. Zulama students in the Games Through the Ages Video Game Academy course should find this particularly interesting!

Liz Danforth February 2, 2011

Library users, particularly teens and tweens, love game consoles and the Wii, but board games are also consistently popular in libraries nationwide. A recent study by Scott Nicholson, a game-focused professor from the Syracuse University iSchool, recommends that libraries offer a variety of formats to serve their increasingly diverse audiences. You probably know what electronic games to offer, but you also need to hunt up good board games as well.

What Should I Buy?

Which board games should you add to your collection? There are so many out there! Despite unfamiliar names and unusual mechanics, take the time to explore today’s Eurogames, which are sometimes called designer games, since many of them bear the name of their ‘creator. In general, the handle “Eurogame” includes a broad class of tabletop games that have simple rules, short to medium playing times, indirect player interaction, and physical components, such as wooden tokens or markers. In contrast to the old standards like ClueMonopoly, and Sorry, these newer games emphasize strategy, downplay luck and conflict, lean toward economic rather than military themes, and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

But keep in mind, there’s not a single list of designer games that’s going to be “The One List.” The games listed below offer options for teen and tween players. (For a list of recommended games for beginning players, see my article “Gateway, or ‘Bait’ Games,” and for more complex games, see “Gateway Games: Up a Level“—both appeared in Library Journal.)

Remember Your Audience

Games typically say “for age N and up,” where N is often a single digit number. This gives the appearance that the game is aimed at young kids, whereas many modern games are really intended for a somewhat more sophisticated audience. If your eight year olds read well and have the reasoning power and attention spans of middle schoolers, they’ll do fine. These games expect players to think through stipulations and rules, form strategies, and envision alternative outcomes. For teenagers, the serious hobby games start to kick in but usually not until the late teens unless an older sibling, parent, or friend initiates them into the hobby. For the uninitiated, hobby games include role-playing games, collectible card games, miniatures games, and war games.

A Few Suggestions2211tickettoride(Original Import)

Ticket to Ride. Many “must-have” lists start with this classic gateway game. (Gateway games represent the lighter, easier segment of hobby games.) Presented with a map of North America (for the original 2004 game), players draw cards and secretly assign them to connect various major destinations by rail. This is accomplished by playing the right number and color of train cards on the available routes. Strategic planning starts early, well before your opponents’ moves start limiting the more obvious options.

It usually takes less than an hour to play this game and it works equally well for three to five players, ages eight and older. Adults get full enjoyment from the game’s challenges. The game is easy to teach and learn, and high school and academic librarians will find it has the added allure of supporting geography and history curricula. Aside from the North American map, there are variants featuring the Nordic countries or Europe. The Märklin edition focuses on Germany and the Märklin line of model trains, and there is also a 1910 North America variant.

Settlers of Catan. I have to tip my hat to one of the most popular modern board games. Players take the role of colonists settling virgin territory, and there’s a map built of tiles laid in new patterns for every game. Quintessentially about resource management, players construct roads, settlements, and cities from their own 2211catan(Original Import)materials or by vigorous horse-trading with other players. Random elements from cards and dice introduce uncertainties to be strategically exploited, keeping everyone involved to the very end.

The game plays best with three to four people, ages 10 and up. I usually see older teens and adults playing because most games take about an hour and a half to wrap up, and the strategies can be complex. It helps to have someone familiar with it to explain the rules the first time around. The popularity of the game means you should easily find someone to fulfill this requirement, and the game is well worth the trouble if you cannot.

Ra. What library isn’t familiar with school projects about ancient Egypt? This is the game to capture the imagination of those who can tell Isis from Osiris. The game is visually appealing and easy to learn, and it has a familiar theme. Players bid on tiles to advance their position in the game, seeking to makes sets that will improve their culture and technology, build monuments, and influence the great powers. At the end of three rounds (or “epochs”), the tiles are scored and the winner is revealed.2211ra(Original Import)

The publisher recommends ages 12 and up, reflecting the need to assess the relative values of tiles and when to push ahead or to wait. It’s a tricky balance, but the simple mechanics and elegance of the rules make it an engaging game that can be completed in an hour. Although it’s recommended for three to four players, as many as five can take part. Note that while the official website is in German, the designer’s native language, information in English can be found at

Puerto Rico. Players are cast as Spanish grandees in colonial times, running their estates as businesses in competition with other plantation owners. Strategic decisions revolve around growing crops that are desired back home, building up factories in San Juan, selling finished goods or shipping raw materials at the most propitious times, and supporting the colonials. Set in a colorful period of history, the economic management of production and distribution makes this another game with a leg up for high school and academic librarians. This game for teens and older folks takes around an hour and half to play, and is perfect for three to five players.


If your gamers insist on electronic games, all the games mentioned above have online multiplayer versions. Most versions are free; some are pay to play.2211tsuro(Original Import)

In addition, you can find many more board games playable online at sites like YourTurnMyTurn or Pogo. Pogo features many of the classics, such as ScrabbleMonopolyYahtzee, andRisk. I’ve recently discovered the online solitaire gameEntanglement, which is similar to one of my favorite (and very simple) library board games, Tsuro. Make it a competitive tournament in your laptop mobile lab by recording high scores, with leader boards and double elimination.

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal‘s enewsletterSLJTeen. Subscribe here.