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Making a STEM Board Game: Cell Survival, Thomas Williams

I was on my way into work when the idea hit me. I had wanted to represent the focus of my STEM work, researching how cells notice and adapt to changes in their environment, in a fun, interactive, and accessible way for a while. On that chilly October morning, I realised that I could do it with a board game where players used their plucky resistance skills (cell defences) to defeat an outside evil (cell dangers). Cell Survival was born!

The idea is born

Once I had the idea for the game, it was a matter of refining it. I strictly defined the intended learning outcomes, then developed and tested prototypes with potential players (family members, colleagues, schools) and University of Dundee outreach professionals. The biggest challenge was making the instructions both easy to follow and linking to the cell biology research performed at my workplace, the MRC-PPU, University of Dundee, and the school curriculum – a matter of seemingly endless rewrites and clarifications!

The finished product was great to play with at home. My then 3-year-old really enjoyed it and wanted to play again and again. I made a simplified version for schools, which also went down brilliantly. When you’re trying to engage 60 people though, it’s inevitable that some of them won’t buy in for whatever reason. Luckily, I’d prepared for this by making activity sheets to support the learning, which they really enjoyed as an alternative!

Testing the game with a captive audience

Awash with positive feedback, it was suggested by pupils that I should release the game more widely. I pursued this with help from the University of Dundee discovery team and outreach professionals. This needed a slightly different approach and extra material to ensure the key learning points were still met without my presence, and that the learning outcomes were connected to the curriculum. Finally, Cell Survival was ready to be released to the wider world, for free, in forms which could be played at home and in schools.

I’ve had a lot of fun developing and playing this game, and even reused some of the material I generated for undergraduate teaching! Have a go at Cell Survival yourself, and have a go at gamifying your STEM!

Cell Survival offers on the STEM Ambassador platform:


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