This weekend, my wife and I will be attending the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio, and as I look for new games to play and blog about at the convention (if you know of one I should check out, let me know) I’m leaving readers with a review of a game that I found at the convention a few years ago: The Chain Game by Out of the Box Games. Also, this game, as well as some other games that are cycling out of print, are super-cheap at the Out of the Box website right now – go here and use the discount code DEALS.
General Overview: The Chain Game is a phrase-naming party game for 3-10 players. The first player starts by reading a two-word phrase or compound word, like “chalkboard” or “traffic light”. The next player must name a two-word phrase or compound word using one of the words in the previous phrase/word. For example, “chalkboard” can become “boardwalk”, “sidewalk chalk”, or “game board” (among others). A word combination may only be used once. When a player can’t think of something for more than five seconds, one of the other players honks the horn included in the game, and that player loses one of the plastic chain links they received at the start of the game. When a player runs out of links, the game is over and whoever has the most links left wins.
- Literacy – This game features a significant amount of reading at the word level.
- Vocabulary Naming – The core mechanic of this game is thinking of vocabulary terms.
- Figurative Language – This game rewards players who are able to think out of the box (pun intended) and use idiomatic expressions. A player who can think of and use terms like “toss-up” or “about face” are more likely to do well than players who can’t.
- The game is simple: Like other Out of the Box games, this game is easily played out of the box with less than five minutes of setup and rules explanation. Modeling game play is easy.
- The game is quick: At a manufacturer-recommended time of 20 minutes, this game can easily fit into a 30-minute group treatment session.
- The game works with vocabulary at an abstract level: There aren’t many games and activities that can quickly deal with vocabulary at an abstract level. That by itself makes this game worthwhile.
- Literacy is required, and at a relatively high level: All the cards have words, and the vocabulary is too complex for younger students. I wouldn’t use this game earlier than 5th grade.
- Narrow scope: The Chain Game doesn’t address many of Gardner’s multiple intelligences. It engages linguistic intelligence well, but that’s about it. Students who learn best through other methods – and not many speech and language students learn best using linguistic intelligence – may need some reinforcement to enjoy the game or find it effective.
- Negative scoring/Player elimination: Negative scoring, demonstrated by the removal of links, and player elimination can be demotivating for many students. The first time I used this game in therapy (during my clinical fellowship year), my 5th graders more or less universally rejected the game for no reason other than the negative scoring.
- Perseveration - I’ve had many games where the students just repeated two-word phrases starting with “red” for three times around the group before I told them they had to pick something else.
- Keep it concrete: By taking out many of the word combinations that are abstract – whether figurative or referring to a movie or book title – you can lower the entry age of the game a bit, but significant modeling is still going to be needed with younger students.
- Kinesthetic engagement: For students who aren’t visual learners, providing some form of kinesthetic reinforcement can get these students more interested in the game. This is going to require creativity on the part of the therapist, though, because substituting picture cards is going to be difficult (unless you have a really extensive set of cards that includes a wide variety of adjectives). My best suggestion on this end would be something like those flipbooks where you make crazy aliens or animals by mixing up parts, but that’s almost to the level of creating another activity.
- Collaborative input: This game really works well as a group activity if you take each group, read off a card, and give the groups five minutes to think of as many phrases as possible. Each group gets one point for each answer no other group thought of (similar to Boggle), and mixing the groups up throughout the session means that each student has an equal opportunity to excel (and provides a great opportunity to work on pragmatic and social skills).
- Positive scoring: By adding links for each correct answer instead of subtracting links for not thinking of an answer, this game can maintain positive reinforcement strategies and remove player elimination while still being a competitive game.
Alternate Uses: I haven’t really used this game outside its specific context. For anything else I’d want to use the game’s prompts for (storytelling, etc), I’ve had much better luck using materials from other games. The links could make good kinesthetic scoring tools in other games, but I’ve not had success with alternate uses otherwise.
This game is a good game for middle school students – it handles language on a more complex level, and there aren’t many games that do that without modifications. However, if you’re working with students that are younger than 6th grade or so, you may find this game to be a bit too much for them (although I’d welcome suggestions as to how to do so).
Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used?