Pick A Planet

by Jennifer Segars

Jennifer is an elementary school teacher on leave to work full-time on her master's degree in educational technology. She worked as a computer lab teacher for six years. She has a husband and two girls ages 5 and 8. She enjoys playing softball competitively.

Instructional Objective The child will be able to name the nine planets in our solar system, recognize their planetary symbols and answer factual planet trivia questions in the course of playing the game Pick A Planet.

Learners/Context Elementary age student in grades 4-5-6, providing reinforcement of classroom study of the planets and solar system. (Planet trivia questions may be changed to suit a different grade level without changing play of the game). Students may play in groups of two, three, or four as Pick A Planet lends itself well to team play.

Object of the Game Players must correctly answer factual questions for each of the nine planets in our solar system (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto), earning the right to place their color token on that planet on the game board. The first player to have placed color tokens on all nine planets wins the game.

Equipment Pick A Planet contains:

* one playing board

* one die

* Planetrivia cards

* six player shuttles, and

* 54 color tokens.

(Two player shuttles, blue and yellow, and 18 color tokens have been supplied in this rough version).

Rules Pick A Planet does not have any time requirements. The game continues until one player places their tokens on all nine planets; or, if the game is called because of time, then the player with the most tokens on the game board will win the game. The rules do not state how long a player may take to answer a question or how precise an answer must be. Players must decide this amongst themselves.

1. Each player (or team) selects a color space shuttle and receives the nine planet symbol tokens of the same color.

2. Players place their shuttles on either of the two blank spots on the sun. Tokens may occupy the same sunspots at any time. Players place their planet symbols along the edge of the board in front of themselves.

3. Players roll the die, with the player rolling the highest number going first. If two or more players tie, they roll again.

4. The player with the first turn rolls the die again, and moves their shuttle the indicated number of spaces in a clockwise direction.

5. Players perform the below actions:

Blank spot = Do nothing; wait until your next turn.

Pick A Planet = Select a planet from the board that does not have a planet symbol token of your color. Another player will take a Planetrivia card from the appropriate planet and read the question on the back of the card. If you answer the question correctly, then place the appropriate planet symbol token of your color on the planet space on the game board. If you answer incorrectly, then no move is made and no token is placed; wait until your next turn.

Free Planet = Select a planet from the board that does not have a planet symbol token of your color, and place your appropriate token on the planet space. You do not need to answer a question.

Lose a Planet = Remove a planet symbol token of your color from any planet space on the game board. If you do not have any planets yet, then simply do nothing; wait until your next turn.

Replace a Planet = Select a planet from the board that does not have a planet symbol token of your color and has another player's planet symbol token placed on the planet. Another player will read the question from the appropriate Planetrivia card. If you answer the question correctly, then replace the other player's planet symbol token with one of your own color (take theirs off the planet and return it to them; place yours in their place on the planet). If you answer incorrectly, then no moves are made; wait until your next turn. If there is no planet symbol of another player that you can replace, then do nothing; wait until your next turn.

6. After an incorrect answer is given, players are to read the correct answer aloud. A player has the right to see the Planetrivia card question and answer after they have given an incorrect response. Planetrivia cards are returned to the bottom of the appropriate stack after each question.

7. Play passes to the left after each player's turn, whether the question was answered correctly or incorrectly.

Winning the game The first player to correctly answer and place their tokens on all nine planets wins the game and becomes Master of the Solar System. If the game is called because of time, then the player with the most tokens on the game board will win the game. (In case of a tie, then the game is a tie and players are Co-Masters of the Solar System).

Sample Cards Planetrivia Questions

About how many years old is the planet Earth?

a) 200 years

b) almost 1 billion years old

c) between 4 and 5 billion years old

Answer = c

Jupiter's force of gravity is great. Anyone on Jupiter would weigh:

a) less than on the Earth

b) the same as on the Earth

c) twice as much as on the Earth

Answer = c

Astronomers believe that most of Jupiter consists of hot, liquid _____________.

Answer = hydrogen

The planet Neptune is named after the Roman god of _____________________.

Answer = water and the sea

The planet Neptune takes how many yearsto circle the Sun?

Answer = 165 years

The planet Mars is covered with loose rocks, scattered over a dusty colored surface. This color is why Mars is called the _______________.

Answer = Red Planet

Name the two tiny moons on the planet Mars.

Answer = Phobos and Deimos

Design Process Pick A Planet was not the first game that I attempted to design for board use. I tried to "force" a game to become a board game that was just not meant to be. As I was coming to grips with the decision to start anew, the idea for Pick A Planet began to materialize. I have designed learning centers about the solar system for classes that I have taught in the past. I recognized then the need to make the retention of some of the facts about the different planets interesting and worthwhile to the students. Pick A Planet seems to me to be a motivating way to achieve this. It is a board game that can easily be played for competitive fun, but one in which the educational objectives and content are integrated with the game.

Picture in your mind the board as a wonderful, artistic representation of the solar system -- colorful planet depictions and blue, swirling atmosphere. In the middle is the sun, not perfectly round and yellow, but looking like the sun should look with the sunspots also as they should appear instead of simple round circles. The sun is placed in the middle of the game board for ease of reach for all the players to move their shuttle playing pieces.

The game pieces should ideally also reflect the space image. The shuttle playing pieces should be realistic as well as different colors for each player. The nine planetary symbol tokens should be in the actual shapes of the symbols (think colorful, molded plastic).

Play options include various obstacles in the player's path to winning -- losing turns and possibly pieces, as well as the strategy of removing other player's pieces through the Replace a Planet sunspot. In addition, a shortcut is provided for through the Free Planet option. Randomness enters into the play of the game through the throw of the die to determine the number of spaces your shuttle moves on the sun.

The Planetrivia cards for the various planets are, of course, an important part of the game. In the initial phases of designing this game, little time was spent on the actual questions to be utilized in the game. Future design would necessitate a great deal of effort and thought in this area. The fact that the planetrivia questions may be revised to suit different grade levels without changing the layout and pieces of the game, as well as the play, is deemed a positive aspect of Pick A Planet.

Possibly, fact cards for the sun could be added into the play of the game. When a player has successfully answered questions and placed tokens on all nine planets, to win the game could then require answering a Suntrivia card.

I now view my initial failure at designing a board game as a positive learning experience. The relative ease with which Pick A Planet developed into a board game served to reinforce the fact that not all ideas are good ones, no matter how much you attempt to refine them, and that some game ideas are better left alone, or at least better left to a different format.