So my wife is a 6th grade teacher and is doing her second year of a game design unit. Last year's was moderately successful considering she went into it with a lot of completely untested ideas and had to learn from mistakes.
I found last year's particularly interesting because she made it into a Research Project while they were studying human rights issues so the games were all portraying some relatively serious issues (The Birmingham Children's March, Human Trafficking, India's history with debt bondage, bullying, etc.)
There were ups and downs that year but in the end there were some very interesting final products, and a few that were genuinely fun and/or interesting to play.
This year she was coming at it from a different angle as a cumulative end of year project covering narrative, instructional, and argumentative writing/presentation. So the topics are much more free reign, but she's also expecting much more of a full experience from them.
Both years I have served as the "consultant" and prospective publisher the kids had to "pitch" to and get suggestions and help from. It's been a very rewarding, if somewhat exhausting experience.
Just thought I'd do a quick rundown of the 23 games currently in development from these kids. I have varying levels of confidence in what the final products from each group will wind up being, but there's definitely a surprising amount of enthusiasm and willingness to improve there and a few I'm honestly excited to return for during the playtest sessions in a couple weeks.
1. FBI themed sorta Ticket To Ride/Pandemic-y hybrid as players take their agents around the country to resolve certain crises and situations that arise.
2. Sci-Fi planet drilling/temporal anomaly-stopping dice rolling/resource collection game.
3. Haunted House hidden traitor game building off of Forbidden Island mechanics. It smacks a lot of Betrayal at House on the Hill but the kids have not played that game. It also employs the dual purpose Day/Night card mechanic of Jamaica as cards help players discover Clues during the day at the cost of being subjected to horrible terrors at night.
4. Cave escape game that while not employing unique mechanics to US, are very unique to the kids as they do not mimic any of the games they got to play in the prep-period. Players draw directional cards to traverse the cave, but have to stay in the bio-luminescent parts of the cave unless they draw light sources. Sounds like it will wind up being quick and light but fun.
5. Bakery themed yahtzee style dice rolling/set collection game to appeal to specific customers that features a timed mechanic which was surprisingly similar to Pie Factory (another game the kids did not play...weird!). It's actually mostly a skin of Dwarven Miner with a few minor twists.
6. Cold War themed Tsuro with hidden objective and more board manipulation and trouble for your player marker once you enter enemy territory. Kinda feels like Tsuro+Confusion!
7. Mt. Everest themed racing game of betting, set collection, and random events. The kids had never played K2 either, but feels like a light version of that using the Hare & The Tortoise game play but with event cards and "waypoints" for bonuses.
8. WW2 themed microgame a la Love Letter/Brave Rats
9. Stranded pirate island escape game with multi-purpose cards and Pandemic's "Epidemic" style timer as several cards in the deck are a sea monster causing a tidal wave that smashes your progress of the escape-rafts you're building.
10. Game of ghosts in a netherworld maze trying to be the first to the center where a chance for reincarnation is. Another unique mechanic game as the "maze" is represented by hex tiles lined with colors that must be rotated to match before you can cross and a unique action point system where players deposit their "spiritual energy" as they take actions and the energy must be able to find its way back to you after all players have gone. Really looking forward to seeing this one in action.
11. Space conquest game that kind of combines Munchkin with Race for the Galaxy. WHAT, you say? Eh, I'm okay with 12 year olds using Munchkin as inspiration.
12. Pyramid treasure hunt game with Forbidden Island flavor. Tiles are laid in a pyramid fashion and going up levels of the pyramid requires additional action. Also (naturally) MUMMIES. >.>
13. 4 way asymmetrical quick card game of 4 alien races trying to dominate each other. Bit vague on this one...
14. A fairly uninspired Munchkin clone that has only barely changed the game its based off. They're gonna need to do some work to meet wife's standards.
15. Super cute dice chucking game called PANDA BATTLE. Probably the lightest game of the whole bunch but they won me over with it.
16. OMG A EURO GAME. SHOCK AND AWE! Irrigating dry lands, fertilizing them, planting various crops in sets for points. SO DRY but I nearly wept with pride.
17. Another silly game of recapturing escaped llamas. Press your luck dice game of making sets of colored llamas based on cards displayed to move them towards your pen on a gridded board. This one I'm happy with just because it's come a long way from first draft which was just a roll and move game (despite wife's STRICT "No Roll and Move" rule).
18. ANOTHER Maze game with Ticket to Ride style drafting but programmable movement as you can only move one of your 4 mazerunners when you can complete a set of 5 actions (either movement or overcoming obstacles/hazards/hostiles). I was skeptical at first but it has potential and if done right lots of varied replayability.
19. Game of collecting reagents to summon monsters to fight. Simple mechanics but the kid's partner is AWOL and he's struggled a bit so kudos to him for what he brought to me.
AND THEN...Then there were the Werewolf variants...
If I never see another Werewolf variant it'd be too soon. Of course, the kids love Werewolf so if my wife continues to do this I'm sure I'll see them every year: I personally hate Werewolf, but all I ask of the kids is that they think outside the box and do SOMETHING unique so it's not just Werewolf with a different skin.
20. Vampire themed Werewolf. This started out with lots of groans from me. The kids knew they wanted the vampires to be able to TURN or eliminate villagers, but had no idea how to make that choice matter. I helped them with that and then we added Item cards each person gets at the start and can be stolen/lost/used, and a Scheming Vampire that gets to steal items and is trying to collect 3 items to revive an ancient vampire to overthrow Dracula (the chief role vampire that's always used) as its victory condition.
21. Jewel Thief Werewolf variant with Bag drawing mechanic. Drawing jewels from bags is fun so whatever I guess!
22. Marvel Werewolf with where the twist is extra narrator responsibilities as the narrator has "tokens" of all the in-play characters and those tokens flip each turn behind a shield and it changes what can occur (example: Hulk token flips between Hulk and Banner. If the villains target Hulk player and the token is on Bruce he's eliminated. If it's Hulk they get SMASHED and one of their numbers gets dropped. And then the narrator secretly shakes the token and slams it back down so the current status is always unknown).
23. Merfolk Werewolf with an interactive board and secret movement/agendas. At the start of the game everyone has a token of their role. This token is placed face down on a side of the board so that all tokens look the same. You have to keep track of your own position. During the Day each player can move ANY token on the board. If you believe your token has made it to the goal spot stated on your role card you can announce that and the narrator will check. If you are right, alternate win condition. If you are wrong, out you go.
All said and done, it's been pretty cool so far...