Battling Samurai

Andrea Reese -
Jennifer Landrey -

| Instructional Objective | Learners & Context | Object of Game | Game Materials |

| Time Required | Rules | Design Process | References |

Instructional Objective

Battling Samurai is designed so that after playing the game, the learner will be able to correctly answer questions on a unit test about key events in Medieval Japan, as outlined in California Social Studies Standards 7.5.

Learners & Context of Use

This game is designed for California Social Studies students in the seventh grade. These students are typically between 11 and 13 years of age. They are usually moderately interested in the subject matter, even more so when a popular movie has been released recently that is set during the same time frame, such as "The Last Samurai."

The game could be used in the classroom, or it may be an item in the library for use before and after school during some type of study hall. The game can be played more than once as doing so can reinforce information. Prior to playing the game students should have studied Medieval Japan, and then after the game students may be quizzed or tested on the information.

Object of the Game

The goal of the game is to be the first player to collect all five pieces of armor.

Game Materials

  • Game Board
  • Playing pieces
  • Challenge cards
  • Question cards
  • Armor cards
  • One die

The game board is a circular path that has five challenge stations where players can stop and earn armor cards.View game board
(PDF 234 KB)

The armor cards each have a labeled illustration of a piece of armor, corresponding to the labelled and illustrated armor spaces on the board (illustrations of armor cards unavailable in electronic format as of this writing--available later on request). Question cards include questions with multiple choice answers and point values listed at the bottom (corresponding in value to the difficulty of the questions). Challenge included questions, but without multiple choice options or point values.

Time Required

The game takes approximately 45 minutes to complete, depending on the players' knowledge of the content.

The Rules

Game Instructions

For 2 to 4 Players - Ages 12-14

OBJECT: Be the first player to earn a full set of armor. You earn armor by answering challenge questions correctly and lose armor in a battle when you take a blow to a part of your body not protected by armor.

CONTENTS: 1 Game board, 30 armor cards, 50 question cards, 50 challenge cards. You will need one small object per player as a playing piece (these can be coins, pebbles, . You will also need one die.


1. Print out and cut out the cards. Laminate if desired.

2. Print the game board and arrange sections so that the playing path forms a continuous ring. Attach the sections to each other with tape and attach them to stiff cardboard.


1. Position the board so all players can easily reach the board to move their pieces.

2. Place the question cards and challenge cards in the rectangles marked on the board. Place armor cards in the blue boxes next to the challenge spaces that have the matching picture.


1. Each player selects a playing piece. Put all the playing pieces in the "Start" box. Start with the player whose last name starts with the earliest letter in the alphabet. Play proceeds to the left.

2. During a player's turn, the person to the right of the player draws a training question and reads it to the player. If the player answers correctly, he or she moves his or her playing piece the number of spaces printed at the bottom of the card.

3. If the player answers the training question incorrectly, the question is open to all the other players except the person who asked the question. The first of the other players to answer correctly gets the turn.

a. When the other player completes his or her turn, play continues on to the left of the original player.

b. If the other players cannot answer the question correctly either, play continues on to the left of the original player.

4. Pieces move clockwise around the board. When a player's piece lands on an arrow space, the piece automatically goes backward or forward the number of spaces indicated by the number of arrows.

5. When a player lands on a challenge space, the player must answer a challenge question if he or she does not already have the armor card from that challenge space. Answering the question correctly lets the player collect that armor card.

6. Any player can call for a skirmish, but only during his or her turn. When a player calls for a skirmish, he or she rolls the die. The number rolled determines where he or she takes a hit, according to the Duel Key on the playing board.

If the player has the piece of armor listed for that number, the player is safe, and the rest of the players must roll the die and take a hit.

If the player doesn't have the piece of armor, he or she puts back the last piece of armor that he or she earned, and play continues.

When another player doesn't have the piece of armor for the die roll, the first player gets to choose which piece of armor the other player must put back.

7. The first player to possess all five pieces of armor at once wins the game.

Design Process

Original design:

We originally conceived of the game as a simple race from the base to the summit of a 2-D mountain propelled by answering question cards with different point values. General play stopped when the first two players reached the end and dueled by answering challenge questions. As soon as one player missed a question, the other won the game.

Problems with the design:

The design's main flaw was an incongruity between the game's content (medieval Japanese history) and its form (climbing a mountain). The challenge stations had no real game function-they just served pedagogically as barriers that forced players to answer challenge questions. As Dr. Dodge pointed out, the game's design limited participation, since any given player could attend to his or her turn, and then ignore the rest of the game. Also, duels potentially limited participation to two players for extended periods of time.

Revision of the design

We redesigned the board as a circle, making it possible to lose and regain pieces of armor throughout the game. This transformed armor-gathering into the object of the game, rather than a meaningless reminder of progression. This change also made it possible to hold duels at any point during the game, which incentivized armor-gathering as a defensive strategy. The duels became battles that involved all players, and increased incentives to answer challenge questions. Although we originally tried to map a classroom "Warlords of Japan" simulation game to a Chutes & Ladders-type board, the game now more closely echoes elements of Trivial Pursuit (gathering chits to complete a set that wins the game) and Risk (battling by rolling dice).

Testing of the design

Two graduate students, a middle-school teacher, and a seventh-grader tested the first version of the game and helped greatly by identifying ambiguities in the instructions and design. The second version of the game was tested by several seventh-graders, who enjoyed the game and expressed that they would like to do this more often in class, despite their lack of subject-matter expertise.



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Last updated October 17 2004