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Josh and his colleagues are huddled around a table studying their map. Based on the fear in their eyes, the situation looks dire. The last epidemic had come out of nowhere, spreading three diseases around the globe into areas that Josh and his team had struggled to help only minutes before. "What are our options?" Josh asks. "Sao Paulo is critical, any more breakouts around there and we could lose all of South America."
Heather shakes her head. "Forget Sao Paulo," she says. "We can stamp out the outbreak in the Middle East if we move quickly. Can we send somebody to Karachi right away?"
Josh and Heather aren't frantic public health officials or epidemiologists. They're sixth graders playing Pandemic, a new board game in which two to four players work as members of the Centers for Disease Control on a mission to save the world from an outbreak of deadly diseases. For video game--obsessed students, a typical board game just won't cut it. But Pandemic, a 2008 release from Z-Man Games, is part of a new breed--a designer board game, complete with the name of its creator on the box, like the author of a book.
Unlike traditional board games like Candy Land, Sorry!, or Trivial Pursuit that are based on rolling the dice, moving a pawn, and doing what the space dictates, modern board games are much more complex. In Pandemic, for instance, students work cooperatively to carefully manage and deploy resources. Though there's still some element of chance, it's strategy and communication that ultimately win the game. And a healthy dose of critical thinking and other library information skills doesn't hurt either.
The meta-level of gaming
Why are board games suddenly so hot? For starters, new board games involve a sophisticated thought process that challenges kids to think critically. While playing the game, Josh and his friends engage in "an inquiry-based research process by applying …