You've Got Some Nerve!

by Beth Friedman and Bob Fisk

[instructional objective]  [learners and context of use]  [object of the game]  [game materials]  [time required]  [the rules]  [design process]  [references]

Instructional Objective

This game is intended to facilitate the learning of the motor (efferent) aspect of the human nervous system. Included in the objective are aspects of anatomy, physiology, testing, and response to outside challenges. It could fit into the nervous system component of any anatomy or biology course, not as instruction but as reinforcement and as a way to foster true understanding.


Learners and Context of Use

This game is aimed at the 12-14? year-old age group, grades 6 to 8.  The students involved must be interested in science, and about their own body and how it works.  Curiosity is a desirable, if not necessary, criterion for playing the game.

The game is used with a maximum of 4 players or teams. The use of teamwork is necessary if a large number of students are to be accommodated. Team learning is even encouraged here, as some collaborative research may have to be done to answer some of the questions and work out solutions.

The game is intended to be preceded by some didactic delivery of knowledge about the nervous system and the very fundamental anatomy (spinal cord, nerves, etc.). 

A debriefing of what has been learnt would constitute an excellent follow-up of the game.

The game is easy to set up, so no special resources are required.  A table would be necessary to set up the game board.

Because the nervous system involves an extensive knowledge base, this game may be played multiple times without repeating the same material.


Object of the Game

This is a linear game. The object is to be the first to complete the four motor neuron pathways from the brain to the target


Game Materials



Time Required

The game may be started and finished within the typical class period.  Set up, including any choosing of teams, should not exceed 5 minutes.  The game itself can be completed in as little as 35 to 40 minutes, but new players would take longer. Also, if interactivity between players during the game is robust, the time may be drawn out.

In any case, a game may be carried on over several days without diminishing its effectiveness.


The Rules

1. Players: 2 to 4 players or teams. The game will proceed much better if there is a separate individual to ask questions.

2. Object: the object of the game is to complete 4 nerve pathways in a stepwise fashion. Each player or team will trace the pathway of a motor neuron from the base of the brain, down the spinal cord, and out a plexus and peripheral nerve to the target for that nerve.  The 4 nerves are median, radial, femoral, and tibial.

3. Preparation: open the board and place it appropriately.  The Affect and Antagonist cards are placed in their location on the board. Each player or team will choose a color and take one piece and place it at the base of the brain (Start).

Each player or team rolls the die to determine who goes first.

4. Play: the first player or teams moves their piece to the first space in the spinal cord and addresses a Memory Challenge.  If they succeed, they have a choice: to move into the brachial plexus of the upper limb, or continue down the cord toward the lumbosacral plexus of the lower limb.  If they fail, play goes to the next player or team.

Moving into the brachial plexus only requires the roll of the die. The player may then move that number of spaces toward the goal.

If the player or team chooses to continue toward the lower limb, they move to the next space.  Here they will have to carry out a Motor Skill. If they successfully complete this, they then move to the next space, which asks the player or team to complete a neurological test.  When this is successfully completed, they may roll the die and move into the lumbosacral plexus.

A new piece may be started on the next turn. If they choose, a player or team may move multiple pieces during their turn, simply by dividing the number on the die between them.

5. Completing a Nerve Pathway: when a die roll permits a piece to be moved to the last space in a nerve, the player or team must correctly answer a question about the nerves of that limb to complete the trip.  If the question is not answered correctly, then that piece remains in play. If part of a die roll still remains, the player or team may continue with another piece.

Pathways remain uncompleted until a question is correctly answered.

When a pathway is successfully answered, the player or team may pick either an affect or an antagonist card.

6. Affect and Antagonist Cards: on their turn, a player or team may take an action against another player by invoking an Affect card. The card is placed face up and the recipient of the action is declared.

On their turn, if the recipient has an Antagonist card to counter the affect, they may play it and proceed on. If they do not, they may roll the die.  If they roll a 3, the Affect is countered and they may proceed with that number.  If another number is rolled, the play proceeds to the next player or team.

7. Winning: the first player or team to complete the 4 nerve pathways, including answering the question for each, is the winner.


Design Process

1. It was initially agreed that we would design a game around the nervous system, and some discussion addressed the audience and approach to the nervous system. Finally, since we both felt strongly about some ideas, it was decided that each of us would develop the skeleton of a game and we would choose the one that was most appropriate to this project.  This would let both of us initially do some creative work in the areas we were most familiar with.

2. A week later we sent each other an outline of our ideas and reconnected in discussion.  Bob Fiskís idea was a combination game, incorporating a problem-solving approach to learning the autonomic nervous system at the college or professional school level, while Beth Friedmanís concept was a linear game addressing the motor nerves of the body incorporating some fact learning and some problem-solving for a younger age. It was decided that the game for the younger age group was the better of the two, and actually offered a greater challenge. We agreed to develop the concept further on our own and discuss.

3. A week later we reconnected.  In the meantime, various ideas had been sent back and forth regarding aspects of the game, and some graphics had been found. These ideas came together as a linear game that would take a motor impulse from the brain to the spinal cord via 4 possible routes.  Each player would have to complete the 4 routes to win.  At the spinal cord level, a series of gateways would have to be passed through, incorporating a memory test, a neurological test, and performance of some motor skills.  The path from the spinal cord to the target in the limbs would involve some luck in the form of rolls of a die.  In addition, challenge cards incorporating ideas about the nervous system could be played to impede movement. Finally, each pathway would be completed only after successfully answering a question about the nerves of that limb.

4. It was decided that Beth Friedman would put the game board together and develop the memory challenge and fine motor skills. Bob Fisk would provide the neuro tests, the nerve questions, check all of the anatomy, and codify the rules.

5. The rough game thus produced was tested on a group of students of the appropriate age at Bethís house.  The problems were analyzed and changes made.



    Books and Journals

      Despopoulos, A, and S. Silbernagl. Color Atlas of Physiology. New York: Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc. 1991.

      Moore, J. and A.F. Dalley. Clinically-Oriented Anatomy. Baltimore: Lippincott. 2000.



      LifeArt SuperAnatomy Collections 1, 3, and 8.  TechPool Studios.



[instructional objective]  [learners and context of use]  [object of the game]  [game materials]  [time required]  [the rules]  [design process]  [references]