Gaming in the Classroom – A Classroom Guide to Civilization IV: Colonization #edchat #gaming #edtech

Games and simulations are an important way to create meaningful, experiential knowledge for students. Additionally, games are supported by Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design (Keller, 1987) in that games can capture the Attention of our students, are Relevant to their world, appeal as an appropriate challenge that students feel Confident they can approach and offer frequent feedback leading to student Satisfaction. When employing gaming in the classroom, it is the job of the educator to relate and connect the activities to the required content. The purpose of this article is to share a bit of my experience in classroom gaming in an effort to support you in your attempts to do the same. I must preface this article by explaining that I regularly accept that failure in implementing these types of activities is a very real possibility… so Why do I bother? The positive student reaction to gaming experiences in the classroom is both powerful and transformative. If you are thinking of taking on a little more advanced gameplay like the example discussed here, I highly suggest user testing. Start a club or find some kids in a study hall and have them work out the kinks for you, they will love it, and you will have meaningful data to inform a full class rollout.


My social studies classes find themselves playing multiple kinds of games in my classes, ranging from board games to Oregon Trail. For the past three years I have been using Sid Meier’s Civilization IV: Colonization game to help my students experience the Age of Exploration and the concept of Mercantilism, that it is, the colonial policy of using colonies to benefit their home country in Europe. In the game, players take on the rolls of English, French, Spanish, or Dutch settlers looking to create a colony, export goods, and eventually gain independence.

Although the game is setup for a single user interface, I partner students into groups of two or three each. Here’s a look at how gameplay occurs…


The first turn begins in 1492 AD, the year that Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World. From 1492-1599 one year equals one turn. From the year 1600, each year has two turns: spring and fall. Each class day matches stages from introduction:


Start – Initial overview, survey, and teams

Stage 1 – 40 minute gameplay

Stage 2 – 40 minute gameplay

Stage 3 – 80 minute gameplay

Stage 4 – 40 minutes gameplay


Start. You start with a ship in the middle of the ocean… the area around the ship is black which is an awesome way of illustrating the difficulties of exploration, a concept our Google-Earth-minded students have trouble with.


A key early concept of the game is to direct students to frequently go back to Europe and pay for passage for as many immigrants as they can. Students can pay for as many as 10 immigrants, most will be specialists that are normally expensive to purchase directly from Europe (via the ‘$’ button on the Europe screen).


Once the ship arrives in Europe, students should unload their settlers onto the landscape that they wish to settle. Next, students should send the ship back to Europe (a pattern they should keep repeating). From here think of the game in six stages: – early conquest, exploration, economy building, and revolution.


Stage 1. Early conquest. The placing of cities is very important. Students should be encouraged to focus early settlements along the coast, this will allow for easy access to shipping back to Europe (a key strategy in European Mercantilism). Food is most important, they should either have at least one tile of a food source near a river, since river fields have a bonus on food production. Students should take into account is that natives let you settle for free with their first settlement.


Stage 2. Exploration. It is important to send out colonists to explore all locations as soon as possible. There is a lot of gold available during this phase, which will enable you to get more immigrants. It is your choice to keep the discovered treasure rather than sending it back via the King. Students can build a Galleon as soon as possible and send it back to Europe themselves.  Be careful when exploring ancient burial grounds, use a seasoned scout, or else the natives may declare war on you. NOTE: When those adventurers arrived upon any unknown coast, their first inquiry was always if there was any gold to be found there… Adam Smith would call the quest for easy riches, through finding gold, to be an epic waste of time in early colonization efforts.


Stage 3. Economy building. Make sure that students build some inland cities only two tiles away from your coastal cities. When the revolution occurs, the King will attack the coastal cities. It’s important to remember that the King’s invasion will occur at or very near to the exact spot where students were made landfall when the game started, so the cities at that location should be very well defended. Students should purchase the experts from Europe if necessary and specialize their cities with: 1) at least one port city close to Europe (set up your automatic wagon trade to deliver finished products to the port city or cities); 2) a gun producing city; 3) a University city and cities specializing in particular industrial products such as cigars, cloth, coats etc. Students need to maintain positive relationships with Native Americans, they should not forget to trade and give gifts to the natives. Native leaders will pay very high prices for goods they desire if they have gold in their accounts. Missionaries can go to all of the surrounding native settlements and possibly convert natives (a meaningful class discussion on Westernization efforts and racism should be linked to this activity). Students can specialize some cities to produce political points, this will help them to obtain good founding fathers.


Stage 4. Revolution. Around 1650, give dragoons experience by sending them out to conquer a nearby European colonies or native settlements. The experience providing by founding fathers such as Ethan Allen (Free promotion of Ranger I and Mountaineer I for Gunpowder Units), Francisco de Coronado (+1 movement for Dragoons), Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve (Free promotion of Formation for Gunpowder Units, +1 movement for converted natives), and Dom Pedro 1 (+50% Great General emergence, Free promotion of Veteran I and Minuteman I for Gunpowder and Mounted Units) are very helpful in battles. Use dragoons to attack and keep your ships nearby to evacuate the wounded.


The day by day breakdown is as follows:

Day ONE:

  1. Have students take the student personal preference survey: Which of the following descriptions can you most identify with? This will auto-sort students into groups based on how they answer the questions (which are meant to reflect the opinions of certain historical countries and leaders)
  1. Introduction Document
  2. Game Manual Review


Day TWO:

– Groups of 2-3 students per computer

– Set up 8 Computers

– Direct IP Connect

– Begin Game Play

– Each group selects a captain to turnkey gameplay tips

NOTE: groups should find land, establish at least one colony, and travel back and forth to Europe for more people in the first day of game play.


Day THREE: Students should get right into the game. Teacher will meet with the team captains and walked them through loading and unloading their ships at the European ports in order to get more settlers and make money.


FINALLY: A few lessons learned from implementing the game with 20-45 students at a time for three years…


Gameplay Time and Overview:

  1. Label each computer with a flag and leader name. AND Assign a team captain to turnkey (as well as save and load the game).
  2. Washington Computer runs and saves the game (only). This computer should set up the game speed (Turn Timer) to “Blazing Fast”
  3. Check the IP Address of the Washington Computer at the beginning of each day. Once or twice my IP address changed over the weekend.
  4. Each team should make sure the game “player” name is their leader name
  5. Use as many computers as you can (10 – computers is great).
  6. Save each game with the Module #
  7. Load the game each day from the Washington computer.
  8. After loading the game on the Washington computer, then have each other team connect, but they must ensure that the re-select their country and correct leader.
  9. Check “Ready” and the Washington Computer will load the game.


Game Notes

  1. Actual full game is 300 turns. I’m considering breaking up the five class days (approx. 200 minutes) over a whole unit that pertains to the same content.
  2. Consider changing the initial turn timer to 225 turns – this will move the game along.
  3. Put the full game manual (PDF) in a Google Drive folder (or Google Classroom) and have one device available for the students to review it during game play.



Gaming in the classroom takes on many shapes and sizes. Levels of difficulty and even games designed for success vs those with potential for failure all have places in the classroom. Why use games in the classroom? To challenge learners in content? to teach teamwork and communication skills? to engage students in new and meaningful ways?… yes, all of the above. Successful game design and/or classroom implementation is no easy task, but the rewards are powerful!



Civilization IV: Colonization: Strategy – Beginner Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved January 1, 2017, from


Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and Use of the ARCS Model of Motivational Design [Abstract]. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3). Retrieved December 1, 2016, from Development Use of ARCS.pdf

2 Replies to “Gaming in the Classroom – A Classroom Guide to Civilization IV: Colonization #edchat #gaming #edtech”

  1. Good afternoon Micah. I have a question regarding how you implemented this in your classroom. How were you able to have multiple instances of the game running at once? I want to try it out with my juniors this year, but am worried that I’ll have to run it on my Smartboard and play it as an entire class. Did you purchase one copy of the game and download it onto multiple computers?

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