Uganda Village Boardgame Convention & Science Camp

by Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network in Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom

Uganda Village Boardgame Convention & Science Camp
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After a successful event in May 2022, Chrysalis will be running another Convention for children aged 8-15 at its Secondary School in Uganda

Project by Chrysalis Youth Empowerment Network

 New stretch target

If we reach £5,000, then we will be able to host 300 children at the event, more than in previous events.  If we get to £7,500, then we will host an athletics event directly after the Convention, as many of the children that come are also part of our athletics programme.  If we can break £7,500, then we will put the money to school reserves, improving the quality of education that we provide to students at the Chrysalis Secondary School.

Arnold was part of the founding team who started the very first Uganda Village Boardgame Convention.  He is now taking A levels at our Chrysalis School and has taken time out to give his views about the forthcoming convention - see below.

After a successful event in May 2022, Chrysalis will be running another Convention for children aged 8-15 at its rural Secondary School in Northern Uganda and this time including everything from last year but with a difference.  Rural children often don't have a chance to become enthusiastic about science, because of lack of resources in schools and, without a chance to see the experiments in real life, they find science complicated, as everything is just described on the blackboard.  Our aim with this Convention will be to help children at all existing local Primary and Secondary schools have a chance to work on scientific experiments during our boardgame convention.  At the same time we have acquired a wide range of science-orientated games for all to play and we will have a whole classoom dedicated to science games.

These are the planned activities for the Convention:

Gateway Games - (Hall)

It's important for newcomers to have games that they can play and understand quite quickly.  Young Ugandans have had little chance to read English and some may not even have learnt English in their time at school, since in the rural areas English does not start until Year 6.  Language-independent games are very important, but we have found that the local children can master quite difficult games, if they do not have to read.  Historically good games have included Kingdom Builder, 7 Wonders, Patchwork, Jaipur, Queendomino and many others.  

A roof was put on the Hall  this year and can take up to 200 gamers - almost like the NEC! - though we will need tables and some chairs to facilitate this number.  The gateway games will all take place in the Hall, to allow as many children as possible to access these games and enjoy them together.


Shipwrecked - a popular game in the 2022 event

Science Camp - Outside or in the Lab

This is a first for any boardgame convention around the world!  Yes, it's educational but, mostly, it's fun!  Science is very critical in rural areas, because lack of science education leaves local people vulnerable to deception.  Witch doctors are very common and make a good living, leaving many of their "patients" dead or badly suffering.  Lack of understanding of the impact of global warming in Omoro district, leaves many farmers mystified climate is changing so radically and many starve due to unexpected drought.  So, we aim to change this and our Convention can be a positive step if it brings in more students ready to study for a science career. 

The school Head of Science is a mean boardgamer and hard to beat Scrabble player and he has drafted a series of exciting experiments that the convention participants can take part in in between games.

We believe that far too many children in rural areas get an impression while still young that science is too hard for them and they need encouragement into the sciences.  One of our young people - Peter - that we started supporting in 2011 recently graduated as a doctor and has started operating in a disadvantaged area.  If more rural children became doctors and scientists, then we might see reduced infant mortality and early deaths from malaria before children build up their immunities.  Mixing science games and science experiments is our way of affecting lives in our remote location.

Here's some examples of the experiments we might implement - a mix of Physics, Chemistry and Biology:

1. Colour mosaic making (40 children)

2. Demonstrating centripetal force using micro race car in a glass bowl (20 Children)

3. Demonstrating magnetic force/filed (20 children)

4. Highlighter removal using lime juice (20 children)

5. Smoke/No smoke in bottle experiment (40 children)

6. Demonstrating surface tension using water and paper pins in a wine glass (20 children)

7. Making mini rocket using aluminium foil and match sticks (50 children)

8. Rapid bubbling of oxygen out of hydrogen peroxide (50 children)

9. Volcano using milk and potassium permanganate in an Erlenmeyer flask (50 children)

10. Match stack explosion with concentrated sulphuric acid. (50 children)

11. Making a chemical traffic light (50 children)

12. Making egg-hydrogen bomb (50 children)

13. Dehydration of sugar by concentrated sulphuric acid to make charcoal (50 children)

14. Paper slinky making (40 children)

15. Making paper bridge (25 children)

Some of these experiments will teach methodologies which can be specifically useful in rural manufacture of usable products.


Our science lab, at the Chrysalis Secondary School.

Omweso Tournament - Outside in the Courtyard

In Uganda, the favoured game played in rural areas is Omweso.  It can be played by digging pits in the ground and finding some stones, so anyone can play whenever they want.  It is part of the Mancala group of games, but the Ugandan version is distinctive because it has two rows of pits on each side.  A game is generally minutes rather than tens of minutes, so everyone can take part and almost everyone there will know the rules.We turn Omweso into a tournament in which hundreds of the attendees can take part in and the winners will each win their own omweso set to take home with them.


Omweso during the 2022 Convention in May last year

Tournaments - Classroom 1

This year, we have received supplies of the well known game for schools "I Lost my Mummy" designed by game designer David Gumbrell, who has been following our work for a number of years.  Our aim this year is to teach all attendees how to play this game and run a mega-tournament, with 200+ players.  Other than that, last year we ran a large number of quickie tournaments, where the children could win small prizes and some go home as winners.  These tournaments include the most quick to learn games, which still have a strategic or memory element (skill) to them.


Tribes was a hit in earlier years, so in 2022 we turned it into a mini-tournament

For we are still working on which games will form the tournaments, but it is likely we will bring in some new games, so that children are able to learn new games and be encouraged to do so.

Co-operative Games - Classroom 2

Thank you to Matt Leacock, who has supported Chrysalis and the Convention for many years.  We are very keen on co-operative games and this year we are going to have a classroom dedicated just to co-op games.  These will include (of course) Pandemic, Robin Hood, Gloomhaven (JOTL), Forbidden Desert and Sky, Ravenloft, CO2, Ghost Stories, Robinson Crusoe, Surviving Mars and others.

We believe strongly in developing teamwork skills amongst the children in this area.  If improved local living standards are going to be achieved, then it is by small groups of people with the same aims, not by individuals.  The co-op games help build trust between each person and also reinforce the essential needs of working to a plan, discussing the best solutions and then standing by decisions that have been made.

Big game Science FIction - House

For the more experienced gamers, we'll be playing one big game each day in the house, which is a bit more secluded and where people can learn rules more easily without interruption.  The game can be left out all day without too many people wandering past and altering the positions of the pieces!  We plan to play Twilight Imperium (3rd edition - not lucky enough to have 4th!) and then Eclipse.  The other days we will play half day games like Space Merchants, Cosmic Encounter, Alien Frontiers, Terraforming Mars, Time Stories, Underwater Cities, Dune or others from our library.


Eclipse played at the 2022 Convention


Along with the cooperative games, the kids very much like the buzz of winning the competitive.  They've really enjoyed games like Neuroshima Hex

This year we will also have a Star Trek film night, which will again cause the kids to start to think about outer space, astronomy, planets and stars.

Easy and Quick Games

Sometimes you have too little time before lunch is served - all kids attending will be served a varying menu for breakfast, lunch and evening meal - and only a quick or easy game will do.  We will also have some younger children for whom the gateway games might be too challenging.

We will have games like snakes and ladders, ludo, Frustration, Connect 4, Molerats in Space in this area.  If some children spend their whole time in this area, then we can encourage them by having a Snakes and Ladders tournament for age 10 and below.


One of the very quick memory games we played in 2022


Roleplaying is one of the only organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa that has had success with roleplaying.  For some people roleplaying games are the best type of games and they will always prefer an RPG game over any other.  In Uganda, for some, once tried, roleplaying is their favourite and so we are currently running Pathfinder, D&D and Pathfinder 2 campaigns at the school.  Planning a more accessible "low rules" RPG game at our Convention will be our plan.


We are very fond of the Hero Kids roleplaying system for children and for some of our younger children it is the most fun they have had with gaming.  We've played every adventure, though, so we might have to find something new for 2023. Likely we will do a taster adventure with D&D, Starfinder or Pathfinder 2 for the older participants, to introduce them into the genre.

Art Arena

40 or more years ago, I was invited to join an art group called Art Arena, run by a man named Don Pavey.  Like many great ideas, it impacted on just a few people and I was one of the lucky.  The idea was to paint a competitive painting on a theme, where there were teams each of which were bidding to paint on certain coded squares on the paper.  The theme could be anything, but each team had to bear in mind the whole, while still painting their own part, so dominating the painting was not an objective, just producing a finished picture which everyone could say was artistically excellent.  The theme is planned ahead of time and last year's picture was based around environmental issues.


We'll work on a much bigger mural this year, if we have support and try a new theme geared to future science - genetic manipulation, rocketry, AI and CO2 Reduction technologies.

LARP - Outside

Last year we turned our school into an imaginary land of talking Lizards and dangerous swamps.  Our teachers became ogres and orcs, while the kids competed to find the Tomb of the Great Lagwe, a dinosaur-sized lizard holed up in a cave.  Our school is situated in a rural location known as Lagwe Dola and this name inspired our story.

If we are successful with our fundraising this year, we will write a new story for the children to experience.  We will build more rubber swords and masks and make the adventure even more memorable!



If you can imagine living in a village area in rural Uganda, then you will be able to understand why stimulating the imagination of children is so important.  If they are going to dream a new future for where they live, then this is one way they can do it!

We'll also be putting on inpirational and creative films each evening, for those who want to take a break from boardgaming.

Science Games

Over the last few months we have gathered a large number of science-related games.  For example we have Terraforming Mars, Three Sisters, Ark Nova, Holotype, Evolution, Periodic Table and many more, including some games for younger children, such as Cascadia. Learning games and having fun playing science games will make a real difference to children with their perception of science, just as we do in our secondary school, by showing films and making science fun.

Our aim is also to bring science to all of our arts teachers at the Chrysalis Secondary School, so that they can also be familiar with latest technologies and scientific global issues, of which there are many at the moment.  This helps everyone to work together to inspire more science students.


Underwater Cities played at the 2022 Convention

When we play futuristic games like this, we give each game a context, to help the rural children grasp what it is that they are actually representing in the game.  So with this one, we were able to talk about the weather melting the ice and the land being flooded, necessitating the building of Underwater cities.  This game is particularly good at simplifying the situation, but encouraging the game participants to think about the technologies that would be needed, which helps in developing their vision.

Ugandan children also don't want to be second-rate scientists, they want to be at the cutting edge, developing and shaping the science of the future.

Draughts and Chess

At the school we already have a chess club and our students will soon be starting to play other schools.  In Uganda there are more than 300 chess clubs, yet we are the only organisation promoting board games for rural children, but we recognise that many will come to the Convention wishing to play chess and/or draughts, so this will be an option for children, just as it was last year.


Our strength is in our range of boardgames we have at the school, but we would love to see our students start to perform at higher levels in chess, perhaps joining the national leagues and we will be able to find children at the Convention who have this talent.

Escape Room

A new event this year, we've received donations of some Escape Room games and we have decided to try this out at the Convention for the first time.  Often, quizzes and puzzles don't work very well in Uganda because of the differing culture, butthe children are no less capable than any others in the world and we will make sure that we can develop the Escape into something for which they can use their brainpower!

In a rural environment, often solutions need lateral thinking, especially one does not have the funds to spend to solve a problem.  Part of problem-solving is developing the confidence to know you can solve a problem and then to dedicate time to decide how it can be done.  For us, we just like to encourage children who can solve their own problems, so that they continue to do what they are able to do.


Teotihuacan at the 2022 Convention

Some games are quite daunting for children to elarn, but when they have learned a game like this, then they see within themselves more capability than they thought they had.  In the words of Christopher Robin - “You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." 

What will be spend the money on?

Our aim is to bring 300 children aged 8-15 to the school during the Convention.  These will come from our own school but also other local schools in the area, even focusing on children who are not currently at school due to financial circumstances.  Virtually all will be from remote rural areas and some will have been coming since the Convention started back in 2017.  We will transport them, if necessary, we will feed them, while they are there and we will also provide them with personal needs, like soap and, most likely, mosquito nets, to help prevent malaria, which might otherwise spoil their stay.

We will need to ship boardgames we have collected and also cover the costs of some games we have already purchased for the science genre.  We'll also need to buy paints for the Art Arena and make sure we have enough bedding and other materials for the activities, especially the LARP.  We may need, if numbers rise to 300, more chairs at the school.

Here is a rough breakdown of the budget for 150 kids:

Shipping - £650

New games and materials - £250

Transport - £200

Food - £375

Bedding - £200

Mosquito nets - £300

Prizes - £175

Science equipment and chemicals - £500


For larger numbers (up to 300), then we need to add cost for food, transport, furniture, mosquite nets and bedding

TOTAL FOR 300 CHILDREN = £5,000 Stretch target 1


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