All the worst things about games at camp I learned from Monopoly (part 4)


This is the final post of a series based on a presentation that I’ll be doing for SCampCon 3 on February 11, 2021. More info:


It’s your turn. You pick up the dice, give them a shake, and then toss them on the table. Will you be able to roll high enough to make it past Park Place and Boardwalk so you avoid landing on your opponent’s property and paying rent? It’s a seven–PHEW! You move your piece, land on GO, and collect your $200, surviving yet another run around the board. Now, to sit here and wait until everybody else goes…

When it is your turn, Monopoly can feel exciting, especially when you anticipate the amount on the dice you need to roll to land on the spaces that would benefit you or avoid ones that would be costly. If it’s not your turn, though, the only excitement you experience is anticipating someone landing on one of your properties and charging them rent. Again, I recognize that if you play the game by the rules as written, the auction mechanism leads to much more interaction. For most families, however, the experience of Monopoly includes a player getting to do a couple of things on their turn and then a lot of watching and waiting while the other players take theirs. When playing with a big group, waiting for one’s turn to come around again can become boring.

The thing about Monopoly is that only one person is active while everybody else watches.

Problem #4: Player Downtime

Thinking critically for a moment about the games we play at camp, you can probably recognize several that have this similar problem. I think the biggest culprit is relay races!

I remember one time volunteering at a camp that had an annual tradition called the “Great Banana Relay.” The leaders were hyped about the game, and there was a buzz about the epicness of it. The planning and execution were certainly impressive. I think there were about 20 to 25 “legs” of the race spread out over many acres of the camp’s property, and at each leg one camper from each team would run with a banana (as a baton) to the next location, do a challenging activity, and then pass the banana to a teammate who would run to the next station. Once campers were finished with their challenges, they were instructed to head back to the main gathering area where they waited for the last runners to arrive and eat their teams’ bananas to finish the relay.

The lead-up and anticipation were exciting, but reflecting back on the experience, I feel like the race over-promised and under-delivered. The vast majority of the game was spent in waiting. Players waited until the banana was passed to them so they could run and do their challenge, and then when their few seconds of action were completed, they had to go to the final location and wait for the race to be over.

It’s not just relay races that have this problem. Other games can be prone to having long periods of player downtime or spectating. For example, several “up-front” games that we play at camp feature only a handful of campers actually doing something while everyone else is spectating.

Good camp games feature more participating than spectating.

When it comes to planning for games at camp, I think it’s important to think critically about the participation vs. waiting/spectating ratio. We have decided to minimize relays at our camp, and have only used them if they are quick and can be modified to limit players’ downtime. For example, consider the classic relay activity of passing a wet sponge down the line of players to fill up an empty bucket with water. Typically, each team has only one sponge, resulting in a high waiting-versus-participating ratio. You can modify the activity by adding multiple sponges per team so that more than one person can be involved at a time.

Find ways to modify your “up-front” games so that audience members are participants rather than simply spectators. “Reverse Charades” (aka, “Heads Up” or “Statues”) is a great example of the audience participating in an “up-front” game. In this game, the crowd is trying to get contestants, who are up-front, to guess a word that the contestants can’t see by posing or using charades. We also like “Bean-boozled” where up-front contestants eat Harry Potter-themed Jelly Bellies that can be either regular or disgusting flavors. The contestants must then tell the truth or bluff about which flavor they ate, and the audience votes on how truthful they think the contestants are.

Will campers be watching and waiting more than participating in the game? If so, I suggest you find ways to modify it so that players don’t experience a lot of downtime.

Participating > Spectating

I hope you have enjoyed this series of ways to think critically about the games we play at camp. I’d love to hear your feedback. What ideas do you have to make games more engaging for your campers? Please post a comment below.

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