Game Design, Gamification, Learning Design and Assorted Other Strangeness

Brawling in the Classroom

BrawlingWhen it comes to the classroom, the most common activities tend to either be puzzles or races. In both of these cases, the amount of interaction between students is kept low. However there is a game type that offers targeted interaction, coupled with rules based elimination. It can be used to produce a fast paced activity with high student engagement. This style of activity in game design circles is known as a Brawl.

The object of a Brawl is to be either the last man standing, or to have the most chips at the end of the game at the expense of other players. Given that it is impossible to win without interacting with the other players, the students are encouraged to interact directly with each other through the system. With the levels of interaction, students are much more likely to police the game space themselves. This makes it more difficult for a student to employ cheating strategies that are commonly used in other classroom activities.

A simple Brawl game for educational usage might be described as follows.


Each student is given a list of questions about themselves (have you ever, do you like, etc.). The students answer yes or no to these questions in secret. The teacher then hands out between 3 and 5 chips to the students. The teacher models asking a question. If the answer is yes, the teacher hands over a chip. If a student hands over all their chips, they are out and must sit down. The winner is the person with either all the chips, or the most number of chips, at the end of a time period.


Students mingle with each other asking and answering questions. After several turns, certain students will be eliminated by the rules and sit down.

Advantages of using Brawl style games in the classroom

Brawls are of particular interest to the “Killer” player  type as it gives them an opportunity to directly affect others. The game is also likely to appeal to the “Socializer” player type as they have an approved time to interact with their peers. The “Achiever” type will also likely be motivated by the clear cut victory conditions, and the ability to see how they rank against their peers at the end of the game.

Brawls and chip taking games tend to produce dynamics of going after the leader to prevent them from getting too far ahead. This can encourage the quieter students to adopt a policy of sniping for points by paying attention to what other people answer. They can ask the questions they know the answer to and guarantee victory.

Disadvantages of using Brawl style games in the classroom

“Achievers” can feel that the game is too dependent on chance and is not an adequate measure of their skill.

“Socialiers” can sometimes feel too constrained by the simple ask and answer format.

Explorers” are not as likely to be engaged with the activity as the system of play is not very complex.

Players can also feel ganged up on to be knocked out of the game. There is a small possibility of king-making and politics sneaking into the exercise.


Given the difficulty of getting the “Killer” type to engage with classroom activities in general, the inclusion of Brawl games, such as the one described above, can encourage them to interact with other students in a controlled way.

For teachers who want to try this type of activity, you can get poker chips to use in the classroom here.

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One Response

  1. I just played a Jeopardy game in class using a saimlir strategy with students on teams each assigned a number so each team couldn’t rely on one leader. I felt great doing it this way avoided lots of confusion and stress and here I see the concept on this site with even more good ideas. I like the teams up on the white board with scores, and using it not just for games but lessons!

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