What parents need to know
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.
What kids can learn
Thinking & Reasoning
- applying information
- problem solving
Engagement, Approach, Support
Kids are meant to feel like engineers, but a too-forgiving, trial-and-error problem-solving approach ends up making solutions feel repetitive rather than inventive.
Building catapults is a great way to learn about problem solving and engineering, but the how and why of catapults don't get explained well.
Solid support and several tutorial levels acclimate the player to the game, and the teacher guide helps make the game part of a larger lesson.
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.
Families can talk 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?