Chrononauts Lesson Plans
By David Millians
Chrononauts is a fascinating, whimsical exploration of time travel, causality, and possibility covering many fascinating and significant events of the last century or so. The rules of the game are quickly learned, but even experienced players can meet new challenges in every session. Teachers new to the game ought to at least play the Solonauts solo game before using Chrononauts in the classroom.
Chrononauts takes about an hour and a half to play, especially with a large group engaged in team play, so it is reasonable to set aside three class periods to complete the game with the teacher serving as Time Keeper, maintaining the Time Line, and keeping the game going smoothly. The game plays best with about six players or teams of students. For team play each student has a role. Ideas are listed below in order of decreasing probable need and allow for a about thirty students. The teacher can always create more teams, especially using more than one deck.
Day One: Announce the game, tell the students their groups, and hand out ID cards (5 minutes). Each group should take a few minutes to choose a team name, based on their ID cards. Students can also produce a banner, compose a chant or song, or craft any other props which will make the game more meaningful to them or which the teacher considers important (5 minutes or more). Give a quick overview of the game's simple rules, pointing out to them that they will learn more as they go and that a few mistakes early in the game are unlikely to affect its outcome (5 minutes), and allow time for questions (5 minutes or more, depending on the group). Hand each team its Mission card and three other cards from the main deck (5 minutes). Use the remainder of the class period to begin play. At the end of the period, set aside the game and each team's hand of cards.
Day Two: Continue to rotate through each team's turn. Play can end at any time, with the team closest to its victory conditions being declared winner. At the end of the period, if play is to continue, set aside the game and each team's hand of cards.
Day Three: Continue to rotate through each team's turn. At the end of the class period, if not before, determine the winner of the game. Allow time to give them any written assignment (5 minutes) and to locate all of the game components and clean up (5 minutes).
Day Four: The teacher should lead a debriefing of the game, using some of the questions provided below.
There are many ways this game can be applied in a classroom. All of the activities described below are appropriate for any age, though the game itself is best for students ten years of age and older.
In all of the ideas presented below, teacher-led debriefing is vital to getting the most out of the game activity. Chrononauts presents the students with a variety of sometimes humorous turning points in history, and guiding them through the questions this creates is an excellent examination of the stuff of history itself. Debriefing itself requires another class period, or it can be accomplished as a writing assignment.
In the Beginning
Play the game at the beginning of a unit or course on the Twentieth Century. Students will receive an overview of the period of study and begin to question its trends and and surprises. As they encounter these same events in their texts, lectures, formal discussions, and so forth, they will already be familiar with them and their connections to other events or outcomes.
This is the End
Play the game at the conclusion of a unit or course on the Twentieth Century. The students can then more powerfully examine the cards and events of the game. The debriefing after a game at the end of a unit of study is especially valuable.
It's in the Cards
Students familiar with the game can make their own cards, modifying and expanding the game. They can make new artifacts and patches. They can write new ID for time travelers and new missions, based on their knowledge of history. They can create new cards for the Time Line or even make a whole new set of Time Line cards to set the game in another period of history.
Players are normally encouraged to narrate their actions to alter the flow of history, not simply play a card for its game effect. Any one of these could form the basis for a substantial story. A story describing a full game would be still more elaborate and would be an interesting exercise in verb tenses. The Time Line cards, Linchpins, Patch cards, and even ID and Mission cards can inspire stories without even playing the game.