Backyard Engineers

Game review by
Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Media
Backyard Engineers Game Poster Image
Catapult-based physics with repetitive play, comic violence.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn basic lessons about energy, engineering, force, and work by designing catapults that fling water balloons at neighborhood bullies. Players will get an idea of how to make simple machines and use physics mechanically; they'll also get some sense of the design and engineering processes. Backyard Engineers acts as an accessible conceptual introduction to engineering, but much of the math is left hidden, missing an opportunity for deeper learning.

Positive Messages

Encourages kids to view themselves as problem-solving engineers but also asks them to throw water balloons at bullies.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No characters to whom the player relates; you essentially play yourself.

Ease of Play

A few tutorial levels, help options guide players, but still takes trial and error to see how each newly designed catapult works on playing field.

Violence

Cartoony children recipients of mild attacks, splashed by water balloons. They lose health, get drenched with each hit.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Backyard Engineers is an online game that helps kids think like engineers as they design their own homemade catapults to launch water balloons at neighborhood bullies. Players experiment with physics concepts and manipulate several catapult components -- such as gear ratios, arm lengths, and building materials -- in their quest to design the ultimate water-balloon launcher. It's easy enough to jump in, with helpful tutorials and extra instructional text throughout, but don't expect deep, content-based learning. The game is focused more on users getting a feeling for engineering and physics. 

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What's it about?

In BACKYARD ENGINEERS, players use engineering and problem-solving skills to take revenge on neighborhood bullies. Kids begin the game by working through several tutorial levels that teach players how to design, position, and operate catapults that fling water balloons at their antagonists. After the tutorial levels, kids try to design the best catapults possible to douse the bullies while using as few turns, movement steps, and balloons as possible. Before beginning to lob their balloons, kids design their catapult in the best way for that level, after they get a look at the current playing field. Each level has a different formation of enemies that can best be defeated by a certain kind of catapult or a combination of catapults. Players need to avoid hitting dogs while knocking down the bullies' hit points with splashes and direct hits.

Is it any good?

This game does a good job of introducing kids to the ideas of design and iteration, the repeated testing of a design. It's fun to try out different catapult designs and to find ones that work with decent range and accuracy. But as the game goes on, it's too easy to rely on the same design over and over. It's possible to finish the game with top marks on all levels without changing designs more than once or twice. There's also no narrative progression; each level just presents a new puzzle to solve using the proper catapult combinations and the right moves. Bullies keep showing up to get soaked. Since building an effective and relatively efficient catapult can be done fairly easily, the lack of progression either through story resolution or increased stakes makes gameplay feel a bit stale. Backyard Engineers could've taken great steps in highlighting the challenges of engineering and construction, but its lack of depth makes the gameplay all wet.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullying and how best to confront it. Are there specific ways to defuse bullying in schools and in neighborhoods? Why do you think some people bully others?

  • Talk with kids about how learning with technology can help them solve real-world problems. How could you use critical thinking and design, along with technology, to produce the result you need to address certain issues?

  • Discuss building your own complex machines out of household parts. What are the machines going to be used for? Do they need to be complex, or can you make them simpler?

Game details

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