Tabletop Games and Leadership – An Awesome Blog Series!

Our fine friends JS Bragg and Bethany MacMillan at Miami University, who you may remember from last year’s NASAGA 2016 conference, have been writing a new blog series about using tabletop games for leadership training, in part documenting their efforts at Miami U. It’s really good. They’ve provided us with an introduction and snippets, each linked to their corresponding blog post at their site Tabletop Leadership.


Tabletop Games & Leadership

When you study leadership and work on leadership related activities, soon many things in your life become about leadership. I remember walking into the store to buy Marvel’s The Avengers on Blu-Ray and thinking “I could use this in my Emerging Leaders class to discuss Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development.” I started picturing all the scenes I could use from the movie to display the steps.

The same thing happens with me for many things…including tabletop games, which is a huge passion of mine. I don’t like the word “hobby” to describe it, because it goes beyond what I think of as a hobby. There were several games I played that I considered how they taught different leadership lessons. I clearly remember playing Ladies & Gentlemen with several friends for the first time and having two thoughts in quick succession. First was “this would be great to talk about identity in a classroom.” This was followed quickly by “I’ll bet I could teach an entire class based on leadership and tabletop games!” I broached the topic with the Educational Leadership Department and they liked the idea and wanted me to also speak with Interactive Media Studies. I planned to do so, but also considered the roadblocks (most notably the cost that would be involved with such a class) and put it on the back burner. I thought about it occasionally and even talked about the idea a little but that was it.

That was until Bethany MacMillan, a graduate student and dear friend I had been working with asked me…no, really she told me, she was going to do an independent study with me in Spring of 2017 to create the class. I love working with Bethany so I eagerly accepted the opportunity.  In my mind the class would then be created and I could teach it sometime in the future.  Then she told me we were creating it to be taught the very next semester-Fall of 2017. I immediately protested, but she told me it was happening. There will be more blogs about that process (including some by Bethany) but long story short…not only is the class being taught this fall, we got a $3000 grant from the Center for Teaching Excellence, got amazing support from both the Department of Educational Leadership and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies.  The class was placed on the schedule and registration maxed out so quickly that not even all seniors had a chance to schedule the course.

So now the dream is a reality. Thursday, August 31 Dane Winiesdorffer (my co-instructor and the president of the campus’ tabletop student organization-the Strategy Gaming Club) will walk into class and begin this journey. We will give the students copies of the Player’s Handbook(syllabus) and the adventure will begin!

But, the class didn’t write itself….


From: Step 0: Going From Concept to Creation

When JS and I first started working together, we found that our work styles lend themselves hand-in-hand to complete the full picture. JS thinks big picture, I see all the details. He wants to see something grandiose happen on campus, I set the deadlines to make it happen. Therefore, when JS mentioned how much he would love to have a leadership course that was taught completely through tabletop games, I responded, “You’ll be teaching it fall semester“. And he thought I was kidding!

Wait, wait, wait… you used actually tabletop games? Like what?


From: Why We Chose What We Chose

The games needed to be engaging and, for the most part, they should be part of the modern board game renaissance. There wasn’t going to be Sorry or Trouble or Uno. We wanted more modern games. As a matter of fact, our oldest game is Survive: Escape From Atlantis (1982) and only one other game (Once Upon A Time 1993) was released before 2004. We also wanted games that weren’t too complex (Twilight Imperium: Third Edition is a great game and you can discuss a ton about leadership, but there is a bit much going on for it to be accessible to a larger audience.) Speaking of TI3, we also needed the game to be completed (with time to discuss and for anything else we wanted to do) within one class period, which for us was an hour and forty minutes. Two games push this…but for those two games if people don’t complete the games, it works to the nature of the lesson for the week.

Alright, you have games, but do they actually learn things besides how to play games?


From: Curriculum Wizarding

Our curriculum started at the end: We started with our goal and worked backwards to the details. What did we want to accomplish? (See our above stated vision.) What topics did we need to cover in order to reach that goal? What games show these topics? What activities or dialogues can we have that accompany these topics? And, when we got to these smaller levels, we always had to stop ourselves and ask, “what is the why?”. If this didn’t match up to the larger goal, it was back to the drawing board.

And, the saga continues…


To read all of the blog entries for this class (and to follow along this fall as the adventure begins) visit


About the authors:

Bethany MacMillan is currently a Staff Teacher at Mini University, Inc, a child development center for birth through school age children. She has her P-12 teaching license, Collegiate Teaching Certificate, and the NASAGA Games for Learning Certificate. Bethany has created a total of three curriculums at Miami University, two of which with JS. Bethany hopes to continue to create gamified curriculums to help other instructors, teachers, and faculty increase interaction and learning both in and out of the classroom. Bethany is a past recipient of the Richard Powers Scholarship. Bethany’s favorite game is Carcassonne.

JS has served as Assistant Director of Student Activities at Miami University for the past 12 years. Currently he works with Miami’s over 500 registered student organizations, works with University Lecture Series and coordinates and teaches classes in the EDL 290 family of group leadership classes. He directly advises several student organizations including the League of Geeks, which is an umbrella organization for all Geek Culture groups on campus. JS’s favorite game is Battlestar Galactica.

2 thoughts on “Tabletop Games and Leadership – An Awesome Blog Series!

  1. Becky Reese Reply

    JS and Bethany, this is awesome! I’d love to learn more about how you’re using the games to teach about leadership. Would love to see the syllabus (offline) as well. Inspired!!

  2. Ed Murray Reply

    Oh, I’m a big fan of tabletop games. We are gathering with friends each week to play something. Never thought about gaming as something educational, moreover, that it can teach you leadership. It’s a rest and interesting some kind of entertainment for me. So you’re great, guys! It’s a totally different approach, I’d like to know more about it.

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