The Role of the Mini Game?


As many of you know, I have created a year-long, gamified storyline for my World History course. Students entered the Realm months ago. Since then, we have been fighting battles in Egypt, taking Imperial exams in China, and started constructing our Olympic teams in Greece. Gamification has been a wonderful addition to my course.

Looking at my own game and comparing it to video games, I have come to realize the importance of the “mini-game”. Production video games, such as Mario Brothers, tend to have bonus games that are sprinkled throughout to provide a new challenge for the user. Mini-games serve several purposes for game designers.

For the designer, these mini-games offer flexibility for their storyline by providing them with the ability to have twists in the plot. These little challenges also offer the potential of being an equalizer, by giving new power-ups to the users. Most importantly, they are a distraction. Keeping people’s attention on a year long game is like performing a magic trick. To keep students engaged and paying attention, you need to keep shifting the focus from short-term mini-games back to the long-term, gamified storyline. A good game designer realizes that careful thought must be given to mini-games to keep the interest level up.

I have created several challenges for each unit that students complete to keep them engaged and allow all students more opportunity for success in the game.

Realm of Nobles Mini-Game examples:

One of the greatest examples would be my review games. These review games are played throughtout the year, but never get old. I make simple twists to the games to easily create something new, but familiar to the students.

  1. Mystery Box Review: Put squares, numbers 1-30, on the board. Each square is worth a certain amount of unknown points, values of 0, 5, 10, 20, 25, 50. On a separate sheet of paper write the value of each numbered square. Each time a student/team answers a question correct, they choose a square, and earn the points for that square. This review game is great because it keeps every group engaged. Even groups who are behind in points stay active participants, because they always have the possibility of getting the big 50 pts number and catching up quickly.

  2. Royal Rumble: Version 1: Students play Jeopardy in class. However, I allow them to start the game with points they have already earned in class up to this point. This makes each game a bit different, as students start with a varied number of points and work from there. This rewards the students who have worked hard in the larger game and offer incentive for other students who have not.

  3. Royal Rumble: Version 2: This game requires some version of a clickers/buzzer system. I use five buzzers. One for each group and one for the “PIT”! What’s the pit? It is a square taped on the floor that student are banished to when they answer incorrectly. In order to get out of the pit, all the members must compete to hit the one buzzer and offer the correct answer. Students love this one! Warning: This one is very lively!

  4. Paper Football Points: As the name suggests, you will need some paper footballs, as well as, some little army men and poker chips. During the review, groups earn poker chips for each right answer. At the end of the review, groups turn in their poker chips for a chance to knock down the little army men with the paper footballs. Each army man knocked down earns them a point. Students love this game, and it keeps all groups doing their best in the review. It doesn’t matter how many poker chips you have, just how many army men you knock down.

  5. Mega Tic-Tac-Toe: This is a great game for just a few extra minutes in class. I divide groups into two teams. I draw nine tic-tac-toe boards on the whiteboard, three across and three down. Where a team puts their first move dictates which grid they can play on next. Confused? Let’s explain a little more. Say the first team puts their X down on the upper-left spot of the middle tic-tac-toe grid. Their next turn, they must play on any spot on the upper-left grid. The strategy of getting around the nine different grids, in order to complete their string of 3 X’s or O’s, keeps the kids thinking hard. Students love this and the game is pretty quick, too!



Mini-challenges can offer time dependent activities that are only available for a moment. I offer several of these timed challenges on my LMS (Edmodo, Moodle, Schoology). This keeps students coming back to the site. These challenges can be as simple as a review question, looking for the first student to answer. It can also be a practice test, in which student compete to be the first to earn a given amount of points. Another fun timed challenge uses Quizlet. Play the game yourself, and give points to students who destroy your score. The students love competing against the teacher!

Mini-Challenges in class are also a good way to increase engagement. Think of different activities you can offer. I have posted on about using Kapla blocks to get students more active. I have also bought the basic lego deluxe set that comes with 650 basic block pieces and am excited to offer different building challenges about what we are studying. One of my favorite moments in class was when I downloaded a video of a sunset on youtube and used it as the timer for our activity. Students loved/hated the pressure of not knowing the exact time of the activity. They were left with one optionWORK! Try these different games, think about how you might adapt them for your class, and make them your own.

Final Thoughts

However you build your gamified unit, don’t forget the power of the mini-game. They give your unit extra pop and sizzle, while driving home your content in a different way. Students are already accustom to this style in their video games. Trust me, they are craving the mini-game in your classroom. Roll up your sleeves, and apply your creative twist to any of these games. I would love to hear from you guys about what you have come up with for your class. Please post below so that all may benefit.

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