Christopher's Crossing

by Doug Kipperman, Deb Linder, and Linda Paulson

Doug Kipperman teaches computerized graphic design at Coronado High School, in Coronado, California.

Deb Linder is the manager of curriculum integration in Curriculum Products Development at Jostens Learning Corportation, San Diego, California.

Linda Paulson is an instructional designer for Lightspan, in Carlsbad, California.

Doug, Deb, and Linda are currently graduate students in Educational Technology at San Diego State University.


After playing the game, students will be able to answer questions about Christopher Columbus' first voyage. They will be able to describe the importance of wind, weather and tides on ship's movement. Lastly, students will be able to list some of the social and environmental conditions facing 15th century explorers.


Third, fourth, and fifth grade students will be able to use Christopher's Crossing. The teacher will supply the initial instruction about Christopher Columbus. Through role-play and readings from their social studies book, students will learn about Columbus. They will discover his interest in a short, easy way to the Indies, his struggle to get funding, his first voyage across the Atlantic in search of gold, and his reactions to the Indians. The game will reinforce their newly acquired knowledge in a realistic setting. Students can play the game as often as they wish. The structure allows for unlimited play possibilities.


The game itself will take approximately 45 minutes to play . If the teacher chooses to add the debriefing session it will add an additional 20 minutes.


A board game works well with this type of content. The layout of the board itself provides the geographical relationship between Spain and the West Indies. There is orientation between motion and direction. A captain must follow a compass heading when navigating on the open sea The roll of the die is synonymous with the strength of the wind. Fate cards included with the deck adds the thrill of random and uncontrolled events which Columbus comes across. They also give weaker players a chance to stay in the game. The question cards have the question on one side and the answer on the back. The player reading the question can challenge his or her self with the answer. Keeping a record in the optional log book mirrors Christopher Columbus' writing. It is through his log that we know about his first voyage. The game helps to get a true feeling of what one of the early seafaring explorers had to go through.

The collaborative debriefing session at the end of the game gives students the opportunity to synthesize their experiences. Through discussion the group answers the following four questions:

  1. Why did the winning ship get to the New World before the others?
  2. Why did some ships not make it to the New World?
  3. How was your trip like Christopher's crossing?
  4. If you made a trip from Spain to the New World today, how would it be different from Columbus'?

These questions help the student understand the social and environmental conditions facing 15th century explorers. Comparing the trip of the ship that won with the ships that lost shows the importance of compass heading, wind speed, and things that happen that are out of his or her control. Students will also discuss how early modes of travel differ from those of today.



Object of the Game

Players must correctly answer questions about Christopher Columbus' first voyage. This allows them to spin the compass and roll the die as they move from Spain to the West Indies. The first player to land on San Salvador in the West Indies is the winner.

Game Play

Each player selects a ship token and places it on START, Palos, Spain.

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

The player with the first turn answers a question about Christopher Columbus' adventure. The question is taken from the first card in the box and is read by another player. Answers are on the opposite side of each card.

If the player correctly answers the question, he or she then spins the compass to find out which direction the wind will blow the ship (North, South, East, or West). Lastly, the player rolls the die and moves the ship token the number of spaces on the die, in the direction the wind is blowing (from the compass spin). Play then passes to the left. If the player answers incorrectly, the turn passes to the left without any move of the ship.

Instead of a question card a player may have to follow the directions on a fate card, for example, "You have good winds to help you go faster - Go 3 squares in any direction."

Before a turn ends the player takes the question or fate card and places it in a pile in front of him or her.

With each die roll, move in the direction the compass is pointing. A token may land on any square that contains some water. If the ship runs into land or the sea dragon, STOP. The player must wait until his next turn to try to move.

Winning The Game

Play continues until a player successfully moves his or her ship token onto the square marked FINISH, San Salvador in the West Indies. It is not necessary to land by an exact roll of the die.


There is nothing in the rules about how long a player may take to answer a question or about how correct an answer must be. Players should figure this out before the game begins.

If the spinner does not land exactly on North, South, East, or West, pick the direction that is closest. Spin again if there is any question.

Christopher's Crossing lends itself extremely well to team play for as many as three players per team.

Optional: Players may prefer to write the question or fate in a logbook instead of collecting their cards.

Optional: The teacher may have students do the debriefing session at the end of the game.


Explorers' Game Log

Congratulations! You have just finished playing Christopher's Crossing and one of you has successfully made it to the New World. Much of what we know about Christopher's trip is from what he wrote in his trip log (journal). Now you must work together to complete this game log.

Each player will have a role in creating this game log.

Winner:First, assign a role to each player and tell them their responsibilities. Have the recorder write each person's name on the line beside their role.
Recorder:You must write down the group's answers to each game log question.
Time Keeper:You must make sure the group does not take more than 5 minutes on each question.
Gate Keeper:You must make sure each player is helping to answer each question.

Winner: Begin reading the game log questions out loud. Wait until the group discusses the possible answers out loud and the Recorder finishes writing down the answers before moving on to the next question.

Here are the questions. Be sure to look at the game board and the question and fate cards to help you answer these questions.

  1. Why did the winning ship get to the New World before the others?
  2. Why did some ships not make it to the New World?
  3. How was your trip like Christopher's crossing?
  4. If you made a trip from Spain to the New World today, how would it be different from Columbus'?



The idea for a board game about Columbus came about while talking to a third grade teacher. She wants an alternative method for motivating students to learn about explorers, specifically Christopher Columbus. Her experience is in grades three through five, so the material must be applicable across multiple grade levels. Discussions with her as the subject matter expert laid the foundation for the content and instructional ideas. Her comments have been very important throughout the design phase.

The board game went through three iterations. First was the "Linear Movement" type. Tokens move along a path from Spain to the West Indies. On each square the player draws a numbered fate card describing a situation Columbus found himself in at that stage in his voyage. With fate cards in numerical order students can only play the game once. This is unacceptable. It was replaced by type two.

A "Battlefield" type allows for more playability. The game is similar to "Clue" with Spain, the Atlantic Ocean, and the West Indies replacing the rooms in the mansion. There are fact cards about each of the above mentioned geographical areas and how they relate to Christopher Columbus' first voyage. Players draw one fact from each area and place them in a confidential envelope. The object is to move from place to place asking questions of the opponents to try to deduce which fact cards are in the envelope. Unlike "Clue" there was really no reason to move from location to location. In "Clue" a player has to be in the room with the weapon and the suspect before making an accusation. The confidential envelope with "Columbus' Crossing" contains one card from each "room" so a player merely has to move in and out of the same area. There is nothing motivating about sailing around with no obvious destination.

A usability study with an outside source helped focus the group around the third and final product. The person came in with no preconceptions and through a brainstorming session arrived at the board game described in the rules above. It proves how important doing user testing during the design process is. Had the "Clue" type been the final board game, the students would have tried the game once and not wanted to play it again because it made no sense, which they would rationalize as boring.

The resulting board game is explained in the Rationale section above.


Brenner, B. (1991). If You Were There in 1492. New York: Bradbury Press.

Clare, J.D. (Ed.). (1992). The Voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Ellignton, H., Addinall, E., & Percival, F. (1982). A handbook of game design. (pp. 47-51). London: Kogan Page.

Fradin, D.B. (1991). The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. New York: Franklin Watts.

Fritz, Jean. (1994). Around the World in a Hundred Years. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Fuson, R.F. (1987). The Log of Christopher Columbus. Camden: International Marine Publishing Company.

Kent, Zachary. (1991). The World's Great Explorers. Chicago: Childrens Press.

Levinson, Nancy Smiler. (1990). Christopher Columbus: Voyager to the Unknown. New York: Lodestar Books.

Margolis, Carolyn. (1991, October). Columbus: 500 Years. Learning, pp. 42.

Meltzer, Milton. (1990). Columbus and the World Around Him. New York: Franklin Watts.

Wood, Tim. (1993). The Renaissance. New York: Penguin Books.

Last updated by Doug Kipperman, Deb Linder, and Linda Paulson on October 19, 1995.

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