Board of video games?

Mr. Mills builds a tabletop gaming community at McCallum


Ingrid Smith

Mr. Mills shows a group of Board Game Club students the different character classes they can be in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, helping the first-time players set up their characters the way they want them. “I love sponsoring the club because I get to share my love for tabletop board games,” Mills said. “If we’re doing DnD I get kids who are really more in their shells, and this is their social outlet. Naturally, they’re really shy, but they get to open up through the experience of role-playing games. They get to be whoever they want.¨

Ingrid Smith and Elena Ulack

Math teacher Jonathan Mills eats, sleeps and breathes tabletop games.

That’s why he was thrilled to step up as the sponsor of both the tabletop gaming and chess clubs. With over 350 games in his personal collection, Mills is determined to bring students together and show them the social and mental benefits of tabletop games.

Mills recalls the ’80s board game “Dungeon!” and how it made his imagination run wild as a teenager. In a quest to crawl through a six-foot dungeon, fight monsters and claim treasure, he found an outlet. On his 16th birthday, Mills had friends over until 4 a.m., playing board games and adjusting the rules to their liking.

I’ve had kids who have never read a day in their life who start playing and a week later they come back, and they’ve read the entire monster manual for DnD.”

— Tabletop Gaming Club sponsor Jonathan Mills

Now, he attends the “Board Game Geek” convention in Dallas twice a year and has formed some of his most valued relationships there. Mills believes playing board games and collaborating with other players offers a unique type of social interaction and creativity that you wouldn’t get from playing video games.

“Working as a group dynamic is a big thing,” Mills said, “just learning how to work as a team versus always being opposed to each other.”

Mills believes that this year, building community is more important than ever, and he is certain that tabletop games have the power to do just that.

The Tabletop Gaming Club, which meets after school on Thursdays, is a new addition to McCallum, though Mills likes to introduce a tabletop gaming club everywhere he teaches. The club focuses on non-electronic games that can be played on a tabletop, such as role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and card games like Exploding Kittens, favorites of his students in the past.

Tabletop games are a new passion for sophomore Guthrie Jones. The collaborative aspect of the Tabletop Gaming Club has made it a perfect time for Jones to be with friends, bonding through playing games. Through the club, Jones has discovered the innovative and creative side of board games.

“It’s been a super fun experience overall,” Jones said. “I’ve gotten a ton of my friends to join, so it’s a really great time for us to hang out. Mr. Mills knows a ton about not only the games he’s playing but also different types of tabletop games, so any information you’re lacking about the game, or just how to play certain games, he will know and help you out.”

As a second-year teacher at McCallum, Mills was excited to get to know students in a social setting and bond over a shared love of games. Over 30 students were in attendance at a recent Tuesday Chess Club meeting, the unexpected number leading the club to begin fundraising in hopes of buying more chess sets and attending tournaments in the future.

Math teacher Johnathan Mills shows off the 25-piece board game collection he keeps in his classroom. Having a teacher that keeps a shelf of board games in their classroom is not standard but for Mills, it’s a necessity. “Games are a part of me, and I want to have pieces of me in my classroom,” Mills said. Photo by Nate Williams.

Senior Liam Glancy, founder and leader of the club, is happy Mills has provided a space for the growing chess community at McCallum to play. After the popularity of the recent TV show The Queen’s Gambit, Glancy noticed a rise in the number of people interested in playing chess. When Glancy walked into the McCallum library and saw a large amount of people with chess boards out, he knew he wanted to create a club and allow the community a space to come together and play chess officially.

“Essentially, I’m in charge of teaching people and running the club,” Glancy said, “making sure that all the beginners have a lesson in front of them and are able to make progress.”

Even with the club in its early stages, Glancy is able to see how Mills’ passion for board games works its way into his role as a supervisor.

“[Mills] definitely gives us a healthy amount of space to work, and he’s very supportive,” Glancy said. “He always offers to do more and is always willing to take more steps than what I’m asking of him, and that’s very appreciated. I think there’s a great community and anyone who’s interested in it should totally join the club.”

[Mr. Mills] always offers to do more and is always willing to take more steps than what I’m asking of him, and that’s very appreciated. ”

— senior Liam Glancy

According to Mills, the benefits of playing tabletop games are endless. Although he was a shy kid, Mills loved playing board games and found a solid community of people who shared the passion, something he hopes to recreate at McCallum.

Aside from the social aspect of having to interact with others, by playing games you can learn strategy and improve your skills of thinking forward and understanding rules, while at the same time being creative and making decisions of different consequence. Role playing games, however, have a whole other set of benefits.

“Dungeons and Dragons is different,” Mills said. “I have had students who are a bit socially awkward who after playing several sessions tend to open up.”

Mills has even seen some students who have never read for fun, experience an increase in reading scores on standardized tests due to a newfound love for gaming.

“I’ve had kids who have never read a day in their life who start playing and a week later they come back, and they’ve read the entire monster manual for DnD,” Mills said.

Mills has some tricks in store for both clubs as the year progresses. He recalls proudly wearing his own sash filled with buttons at board game nights as a kid. With a button making machine on hand and these fond memories, Mills hopes to print buttons for students who win games and allow them to build a collection as well. He also hopes to collaborate with another department to design and 3D-print their own board game pieces or create their own games.

If you like strategy and math, being creative, or simply having fun and playing games, you would enjoy checking out one of the 25 games in Mills’ classroom. The Tabletop Gaming and Chess Clubs are here to stay.

“If your imagination is boundless,” Mills said, “you should come join us.”

Game Changers:

Need a new game? Pick your favorite subject to land on a suggestion from Mr. Mills himself.

If you like Science
"Terraforming Mars” In Terraforming Mars, players act as a corporation attempting to make Mars habitable. The game is scientifically based, the objective being to increase oxygen, water and temperature levels as well as to perform tasks to advance humans’ role and understanding of space. Photo by Eliot Phillips accessed via Flickr, reposted here under a creative commons license.
If you like Math
“Laser Chess” is like regular Chess, but with lasers. The laser beams bounce off of the mirrors on the pieces. According to Mr. Mills, the chess aspect of the game requires strategy and problem-solving skills, and the laser beams could help with understanding of angles. Photo by Newton Graffitti, accessed via Flickr, reposted here under a creative commons license.
If you like English
“Paperback” “Paperback” is a drafting game where players draw letter cards and attempt to build words which they are scored on and paid for. With that money, players can purchase better letters to create more impressive words. In the game, players act as authors rushing to complete novels in different genres and earn money.
If you like History
“Twilight Struggle” This is a two-player game where one player acts as the Soviet Union and the other is the United States. The game is played over several decades, starting after World War II and leading to the Cold War. Photo by Nacho Facello, accessed via Flickr, reposted here under a creative commons license.
If you like Art
"The Gallerist" Playing a gallery owner, players search for new artists, buy and sell art and curate their galleries. As a result, galleries will gain respect and visitors, and gallerists can grow their fortunes. Photo by Volgar, accessed via Flickr, reposted here under a creative commons license.
If you like Music
"The Lords of Rock" In a fight to rule the universe, gods come together to form rock bands. Players select gods to play different instruments from certain pantheons and play concerts to gain fans and, in turn, defeat the other bands.