As parents, kids and teachers all know, a lot of educational games aren’t fun, and a lot of fun games aren’t educational. Jim Moran is here to change that with Semper Smart Games, his Arlington-based board game company that has a mission of creating games that teach invaluable skills and knowledge—all with a good dosage of fun, too. Games include PlaySmart Dice, which promotes math-fact fl uency; Blobby’s Pizza, a strategic pizza-eating contest between cute monsters that teaches fractions, decimals and percentages; and Election Night!, a board game that teaches players about the Electoral College as they compete to become president, something that can come in handy for both children and adults during this election year. Here, Moran talks to us about his company, the importance of board games and more.
What inspired you to make board games?
For many years, I was a tutor during my active duty in the Coast Guard. I was on a lot of ships where I was tutoring young service members that were preparing to get out of the service and take college entrance exams, and on land, I continued that with high-school-aged kids. I noticed over the years there were gaps that a lot of these kids were struggling with that they might not have mastered in grade school. With my own two kids, I realized they found similar concepts challenging. I thought, instead of taking approaches where we just try to memorize stu_ , we could create longer-term memory of essential knowledge in the context of the game.
Why is having a board game about the Electoral College important?
There are a lot of companies that have made election games, and most all of them have some political bent, but it’s a limited portion of the gaming population that wants to embrace that. I think right now, we’re on political overkill, and politics is really hard for a lot of people. I went in the opposite direction. I created an election game based on civics and mechanics and not based on politics. I have people who are from all over the political spectrum that love this game. And the players, they’re running for president. I think it’s empowering, especially for kids, so it’s not like you’re playing some kind of proxy as a candidate. You’re not playing identity politics. There’s no political agenda other than trying to win the Electoral College, which is something that is not easily understood.
What do you love about board games?
They’re just fun. They engage our minds on many levels, but they’re also very tactile. When you see a lot of screenbased games, screen-based learning—they’re not really interactive as much as board games are. People are surprised that board games are having this renaissance moment; they’re really popular again. They’re multisensory, multi-experiential, and they provide a much better opportunity for collaborating, communicating and building a relationship.