Last May, the 2nd Uganda Village Boardgame Convention took place - 180 children from villages throughout Northern Uganda, and some from Kampala, were brought to our remote centre in Koro near Gulu in a residential camp. There were four days of boardgaming, LARP, cooking and sports for those that came and we were amazed at the ability of the young people to learn boardgames of all types and styles and challenge levels. We already knew they loved to play boardgames, as they were members of our remote village clubs that we have been implementing over the last year or so, but they surprised us with their desire to learn more and new games.
Cinderella, one of the younger girls who lives in a very remote place in Omoro District, especially challenged us. We had a competition for the game Dragon and Flagon, one of the more complicated games, and our youth team initially tried to dissuade her from playing but her response was "I don't care how hard it is, I want to learn how to play it." And she duly did.
I believe that we underestimate the abilities of children living in villages to solve their own problems and, while they almost always lack knowledge of the outside world, they often have a drive to be different and create change. The Butterfly Project in Uganda strives to identify and train these young people so that they can be the architects of change in their village even at a very early age.
Boardgames are a good measure of a young person's desire to learn and master new and creative things and in Uganda it is no different. Village-based children have little opportunity to grow their skills and learn about the outside world and boardgames provide an opportunity for them which even works in their electricity-free environment. The reality is that these young people have more experience in what needs to change in rural life and many want the chance to be the one to create that change.
The Uganda Village Boardgame Bootcamp is a long weekend for young people who want to learn more challenging boardgames and some of whom have proved themselves to be interested in creating social change. It will be a small group of around 24-30 children, aged 11-14, who we will teach seven different boardgames:
1. Terraforming Mars - while not such a difficult game to learn (though hard to master), this is based on a concept which rural children will have little idea about and focus on technologies they might dream of but will have little experience of. So we will tutor the children before playing the game, so that they understand what it is about. While this game has a lot of reading, it does well using its iconography to explain what the cards do.
2. Signorie - we've discovered this game is quite appealing to young people in Uganda. Its focus on European history will challenge them, but some of the ideas in the game - marrying off young women, having many children, men being the breadwinners - are familiar.
3. Spirits of the Rice Paddy - this is a farming game and most of the children will have a good idea of the issues involved in farming rice - pests, water, allocating labour etc. Yet, this is a complicated planning game where you have to think at least one season ahead to have a chance at being successful.
4. Tikal - we have chosen this game as it is a little less thematic and more abstract yet requires careful thought and has more interaction than the other games so you have to think more holistically. Tikal also has no reading involved which is a positive.
5. Mombasa - we have playtested this game now with less experienced children and they have found it difficult, but certainly not impossible. We want to include it as it is African-themed and allows us to talk about the issue of the exploitation of Africa and how its resources continue to be plundered.
6. DR Congo - perhaps the hardest of the games to play, this one is themed around corruption and again will allow us to discuss this issue with the young people. The Democratic Republic of Congo is situated directly West of Uganda and most of the children will be familiar with it, as well of some of the challenges faced in the game.
Lastly, we want to play a co-operative game and have yet to decide on which this should be. One option is SOL; this was recently donated to us and is a game where there are two teams of up to four players. It is reminiscent of Tikal, but it will allow us to see how the young people interact in their teams. Another option might be Pandemic as this will also raise some new issues with the young participants.
Over the weekend, we will also have some simpler "filler" games and will have some sports and other fun activities. All will stay over at the Chrysalis Centre in Koro where we will provide food and accommodation.
At the end, we will ask each attendee to complete a questionnarie and have a short interview before they return home and we will publish the results on this forum.