California Missions

Chris Schmidt
Tammy Goodwater

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

| Time Required | Rules | Design Process | References | Game Materials - Images |

Instructional Objective

Learning about California Missions is part of the fourth grade curriculum. This game will reinforce concepts and ideas taught by the classroom teacher about the 21 missions. As students play the game, they will be able to recall information learned about each individual mission as well as the friars, daily life, California Indians, and the location of each mission. This game will help students meet social studies and language arts grade level standards. After playing the game, students will be able to:

  • explain the geographic basis and economic factors in the placement and function of the Spanish missions. (Social Studies Standard 4.2.3)
  • explain how the mission system expanded the influence of Spain and Catholicism while at the same time changing California from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy. (Social Studies Standard 4.2.3)
  • describe the basic regions of California.(Social Studies Standard 4.1.1)
  • read and comprehend informational materials to develop understanding and expertise. (Language Arts Standard 4.1.1)
  • describe the daily lives of the people, native and non-native, who occupied the missions. (Social Studies Standard 4.2.5)

Learners & Context of Use

This game is designed specifically for fourth grade students who have just learned about the 21 California Missions. These children are between eight and ten years of age, and had little or no exposure to mission information prior to teacher taught lessons. Students are multi-ethnic, from varying socio-economic backgrounds, may have English as a second language, and have varying levels of academic motivation and ability. In addition, the reading levels of these children vary between low first grade (primer) and seventh grade.

This game is designed to be used in a classroom of fourth grade students. Since most fourth grade classes have at least thirty students, this game has been created to allow for multiple players (minimum = 2, maximum = 5) during a single game. It can be played while students are seated at desks, or the gameboard may be moved to the floor to allow for a more relaxed "game atmosphere." The game may be played more than once as students become more familiar with the history content.

Ideally, students have received in-depth instruction regarding the California Missions prior to the game. They have participated in research activities to learn about the culture, people, food, daily life, and historical significance of the era. After the game, students will continue learning about the social studies content within the fourth grade curriculum. They will be able to use the information learned about California Missions (through direct instruction and the game) as a foundation for continued studies of California history.

Object of the Game

The ultimate goal of this game is to be the first traveling friar to traverse from the most southern mission (Mission San Diego de Alcala) to the most northern mission (Mission San Francisco de Solano). Friars must deal with various setbacks and obstacles as they choose from various paths along the game board.

Game Materials

Game materials include:

  • California Missions game board - rectangular game board which has an outline of California with spaces to place fate cards and question/answer cards. Various paths to/from each mission location are located within the California outline.
  • two six-sided dice
  • stack of fate cards - each fate card contains information about an event that might have happened to a traveling friar during the California Misison era. Based on the relative positive or negative results of the event stated on the fate card, the player may move forward or backward a variable number of spaces on the game board.
  • stack of categorical question and answer cards - each card has five questions (front of card) and answers (back of card) based on five categories: daily life, food, local Indians, hodge podge, and missions today.
  • 5 playing pieces, each a different color
  • game playing directions

Time Required

Game time requirements may vary based on the number of children playing and their familiarity with the content material. Actual game set up is brief, taking less than five minutes. After ensuring that each child understands the game rules, game time may go from 20 minutes to one hour. If a game is not finished within an allotted time frame, the "winner" is the player who is closest to the most northern mission. Since fourth graders are notorious for losing school supplies and materials, it is not recommended to have children keep the game left out to carry over to another play time.


 1. Each player rolls a die. The player with the highest number goes first. Play proceeds counterclockwise. All game playing pieces start at Mission San Diego de Alcala.

2. Player rolls dice to determine how many spaces to advance. Player may choose any route (as designated by colored circles) to get to Mission San Francisco de Solano. Sections of the game board are divided into three regions: Northern (blue), Central (green), and Southern (purple).

3. After advancing, player must answer one categorical question that corresponds to the colored circle he/she landed upon (red = food, green = daily life, blue = missions today, purple = hodge podge, black/white = local Indians). Categorical question and answer cards are color coded by region &endash; player may only answer a card for that region.

4. Person to the left of the player reads a categorical question. Player must answer the question correctly in order to roll dice again and advance game piece.

5. For games of three players or more, another person besides the card reader and current player may challenge the current player's answer. If the third player answers correctly when the current player does not, the current player loses his/her turn and the next player rolls the dice.

6. Once answered, categorical question cards are discarded to the back of their respective placement in the categorical question and answer box.

7. If a player lands on a yellow circle, he/she must choose a fate card from the stack and follow the directions. Used fate cards are discarded to the bottom of the fate stack. A player's turn is over once he/she has completed the fate card directions.

8. After a player has completed his/her turn, the turn passes to the player's right. The game piece remains on the space occupied and proceeds from that point on the player's next turn. Two or more game pieces may rest on the same space at the same time.

9. Game play ends when one player reaches the finish, Mission San Francisco de Solano.

Design Process

This game has been designed to be used in a fourth grade classroom after students have been taught about California missions. The game needs to be big enough for fourth graders to play without climbing on top of each other, visually appealing, and simple enough for readers who fall between first and eighth grade reading levels.  

Initially, this game was designed as a "treasure hunt" whereby players would travel to each of the missions and answer content area questions. If a question was answered correctly, the player would win gold coins and gain a "pie piece" to be placed in his/her game piece (similar to "Trivial Pursuit"). The coins would then be used to pay for passage back to Spain while the pie pieces would ensure that that player answered content questions from a variety of categories. After conferring with a game expert (Dr. Dodge), it was determined that this goal was unrealistic and historically inaccurate. The object of the game was then changed from a treasure hunt to a tax collector traveling to each mission and collecting gold. This also was deemed historically incorrect. Finally, the current game scenario was devised where the game player (a friar) would travel from one end of El Camino Real to the other. Players answer questions in categories relating to California missions when they land on game spaces. This game goal is historically accurate and challenging, yet still feasible for fourth grade students.

Background information was derived from a wide variety of sources. Internet sites were used for general information, game board layout ideas, and pictures. Students' fourth grade textbooks and California missions teachers' guides were used to gain content information. Addtional content information was found in trade books relating to California missions, El Camino Real, and California Indians.

Although there are many map type games produced commercially, none were found that related specifically to California missions. There are many educational games about California history, but few that had to do with missions. One simulation game was found, created by Interact, but this is not a board game and requires whole class participation. Interviews with fourth grade teachers showed that there is a definite need (and teacher interest for) a game that reinforces content information about California missions.

Feedback on the game idea, board game design, and content questions and answers was obtained from two different resources. Teachers and random adults were consulted to test the aesthetics of the game layout and feasibility of game use with children. Fourth grade students were used as guinea pigs to see if the game's instructions and category questions were too easy or difficult. The feedback derived from these two sources was then used to change various game aspects. Feedback showed that the game board needs to be relatively large so that fourth grade students have ample playing space. The game board should have a visual map of California so that students can easily figure out where each of the 21 missions is located. Extra playing pieces should be provided in case one gets lost. Fate cards should have slight, moderate, and catastrophic setbacks as well as a few positive results.

Inspiration was used as an initial design format for the game. Chart paper and markers were then used to create a "bigger picture." Finally, the prototype was developed on chip board and with construction paper. Categorical question and answer cards, as well as fate cards, were made from colored cardstock paper for durability.

Fourth grade students, the intended target audience, played a short version of the game and said it was, "really cool." They also wanted to know why they weren't being given time to play the full version of the entire game. Based on student interviews, a sixth game piece was created in case one was lost. Additionally, a more durable box to hold category questions was created.

Game designers learned quite a few valuable lessons from this experience. Combining educational content into a fun game-like atmosphere is more challenging when done as a board game as opposed to being done in a classroom setting. A stand alone board game must entice the students by itself and does not have an enthusiastic teacher to vouch for it. It is also difficult to take an idea from two people's heads and make it become a reality. Ideas that were "brilliant" during the first discussion seemed simplistic and unrefined during subsequent conversations. Also, seemingly insignificant problems become huge setbacks when the board game is brought to fruition. Where is there a box big enough to hold the game board? How much money is making this prototype going to cost? Is the prototype worth the cost?! How detailed does the game need to be before it can be determined if the game really works? What happens if the contact paper sticks to everything and makes gross bumps on the game board? Does everything need to be laminated? What should be placed on the box cover? These and other questions were part of this game design experience. Fortunately, all questions were successfully answered (at least moderately) so that a feasible game was produced. The reflections derived from these experiences will guide the next game design project!


Books & Journals

  • Miller, Henry. (1995). California Missions: The Earliest Series of Views Made in 1856. Santa Barbara, CA: Bellerophon Books.
  • Ostrow, Kim. (2000). The Missions of California. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
  • Wolff, Jean. (1992). California: The Golden State. Grand Rapids, MI: Instructional Fair, Inc.


  • California Missions --
  • The California Missions Site --
  • Index to California Missions Information --
  • The Spanish Missions of California --
  • California Missions Treasure Hunt --

Game Materials - Images

California Missions Game Board
Fate Card - Back Side
Fate Card - Front Side
Question/Answer Card - Southern Region of California
Question/Answer Card - Central Region of California
Playing Pieces
Question/Answer Card - Northern Region of California



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Last updated October 20, 2000 by Chris Schmidt and Tammy Goodwater