Great Scott!

The Fantabulous Student Flummoxing Invention Game.

Creating ridiculous, multi-functional inventions with a Victorian flavour.  A fun way to really stretch high-level learners and practice describing things.

PRACTICE:

  • describing items which have two functions
  • defining and non-defining relative clauses

WHO IS IT FOR?

  • Level (CEFR C2)
  • ages 15 yrs. and up

THE RUNTHROUGH:

Great Scott! is the first game from independent publisher Sinister Fish and their game had a successful campaign in the crowd-funding site Kickstarter last year.  We unfortunately missed the campaign, but the lovely folks at Sinister Fish were kind enough to send TEFLGamer a review copy and we were delighted to give it a run-through with our EFL learners!

The first thing I noticed upon unpacking Great Scott! is its looks.  It’s beautifully presented and the use of archive illustrations from the Victorian era really adds a lot to the theme.

To its credit, the ultimate object of the game is quite simple: players must collect a set of cards upon which there are a range of adjectives, gerunds and nouns.  They must combine these words to make the name of an invention that follows the pattern:

adjective + noun + gerund + noun + noun

for example:

fantastic sheep collecting iron destroyer

The process by which they collect these cards is super simple.  Five decks are placed in the table, and there is a deck for each of the coloured parts mentioned above, but they are named:

  • concept I
  • asset
  • concept II
  • asset
  • concept III

To start, each player takes 2 cards from each deck, they choose one to play (i.e. the first part of their invention) and they then pass the rest of their hand to the next player.  They then choose a second card before passing the cards and so on.  This mechanism is known as a card-drafting mechanism and one of its greatest benefits is its simplicity.  After passing and choosing five times, the players have 5 cards in front of them and they must sell their invention to the other players.  Once all players have presented, each of them use smaller voting cards to choose which invention they want to give their gold and silver prize.

Now things start to get a little more complex with the scoring.  Firstly, they get points for the awards they receive from other players, but there are also bonuses for a number of extra things: having concepts which are the same type (suit), having assets which are the same type (also, suit) and alliteration.  This means that students would get a super-fat load of points for an invention like the brilliant bear bending bee blaster, mainly because of the 5 word alliteration bonus, but also because bear and bee are animals.

All told, it took about 45 minutes for the students to learn the game and play a couple of rounds.  The materials in the box were just about right for a class of 12 students, but it was tight mainly because I had to remove some of the more obscure vocabulary items.

BEAR IN MIND:

  • The game manages to maintain a really nice Victorian theme, partially through the use of some sophisticated and slightly antiquated vocabulary.  Likewise, one of the asset sets, minerals, always seems to cause difficulty for learners, especially those who don’t even know what bauxite is in their own language.  I vetted the deck quite thoroughly and removed almost all of the mineral cards and the occasional other too.  I did decide to pre-teach some others, such as dirigible and automaton, not because I felt they were particularly useful language-wise, but mainly because of the Victorian theme they conveyed.
  • Even with that considered, students were asking a lot of questions about the words on the cards, even ones that they actually knew (or at least were familiar with a word from the same word family).  Their main explanation for this was that when there is only one word on a card, there’s no helpful context and I’m kind of inclined to agree with them.
  • It was fascinating to me how much difficulty advanced (C1) learners had with understanding the meaning of the words they had chosen, when they were put in the order dictated by the game.  It was really difficult for them to grasp how the words combined and I needed to really outline how the words were grouped.  i.e.  a fantastic sheep collecting iron destroyer … a) is fantastic, b) collects sheep, and c) destroys iron.  It was curious that none of my ESL students has ever encountered this structure before and really needed it spelling out clearly in order for them to be able to effectively present their contraptions.
  • The way players score points is actually quite simple, but it’s always worthwhile playing a round without suit and alliteration bonuses until they get the feel for how the game works.
  • I did experiment with the idea of having students make their inventions in pairs, however, with this game it really slowed down the pace of play and the students didn’t support each other as much as I had seen them do so when playing other games collaboratively.  I think this may come down to the fact that selection of each of the five cards requires a number of factors to be considered and the negotiation of this is quite time consuming.
  • Even though I felt that the Victorian theme came through very nicely, I did get the impression that this theme didn’t resonate with the students as strongly as I thought it would.  I guess there is also quite a strong cultural aspect to the idea of the Victorian Mad Inventor which for me is a given and my students not so much.

SUMMARY:

Great Scott! was a lot of fun.  After some initially furrowed brows, my students enjoyed it and were able to put together some really funny inventions and make some great pitches.  I guess for me, this game will always be measured against Snake Oil, because from a language function perspective, they both make players describe things using relative clauses.  I think because its mechanisms are slightly more complex and the language is much more demanding, realistically I will use this game with proficiency classes who have already played Snake Oil and who have become more familiar with a range of different game mechanisms.  All told though it was a good choice, it was easy enough to teach and the students got a lot of language practice out of it.  For very high level classes this is a solid choice.

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