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Friday, February 4, 2011

Roman Town from Dig-It! Games, a review

We are a family of gamers.  Period.  I don’t pretend that we game for educational purposes and even if we did, educational games tend to not be so educational if ya know what I mean?  Games tend to be a way to unwind and enjoy ourselves.  I don’t worry over much about it as just about everybody in this house will pick up a book first.  But I wouldn’t mind a truly entertaining game that could add to our personal knowledge, either.

Disclosure:  As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free download copy of Roman Town from Dig It! Games.  I received no monetary compensation.  The views expressed here are my own.

Roman Town emulates an archaeological dig of Fossura, a town destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  You will dig up 6 rooms of a ancient Roman home, one at a time.

for each room, you start with the actual dig:

where you’ll find artifacts:

And can learn more about them:Lucia

After the dig, you’ll visit the lab, where you’ll find interactive puzzles to solve, including 2-D and 3-D reconstructions:

…matching ancient artifacts to their modern counterparts, and more:

You can also visit a 3-D reconstruction of the room with clickable hotspots to learn about the various artifacts:

Afterwards, you’ll complete a little quiz:

What did we think?

I’m going to look at two main parts, here:  the playability of the game and its educational value.

First, I’d recommend this for ages 8 and up or so, depending on reading level.  My 10-year-old played it quite easily, but I think it would have been too much of a challenge for my 7-year-old to play alone.

Lets’ start with playability.  Total play time for my 10-year-old was roughly 2 hours.  He finished Roman Town in 3 sittings.  I’m going a little slower, but only because I have other things to do.

We were a little underwhelmed at first.  The opening scenes to the game have a very cartoony, low-tech feel to them, and all the characters are static cartoons, similar to what you see in the 3rd screenshot.  But, as you get into the game, the graphics are more on a par with what you’ll see from other PC games.

While I like that there’s an intro to give you the background story, you don’t really  need to see it every time you play the game.   I’d like to see a “skip intro” option or have the game take me directly to the menu where I could choose to see the intro, rather than having to click through the individual screens (maybe creating a new player could trigger the intro?).

There is music and some subtle sound effects, but no other audio track.  Directions, narrative and informational text need to be read.  Not a problem for my son and I like being able to turn off the sound (makes it easier with a sleeping babe in arms), but may present a challenge for children with difficulty reading.  See the “quiz” screenshot for an idea of the reading ability required.

The dig part was easy, but maybe a little too easy.  You are given a certain number of workers and tools to use for the dig.  I was a expecting this part to be similar to a time/resource management type game, but it doesn’t really seem to matter which tools you use to dig, you end up sorting the same artifacts eventually and there’s no time clock to beat.  This part would be more engaging if I could see how my tool choices make a difference.  There just doesn’t seem to be a wrong way to do it.

The 2-D reconstruction puzzles are good, requiring you to flip pieces and get them in just the right spot.  Not too many pieces to make it too daunting.

The 3-D reconstructions are cool, but a little iffy.  You can rotate the item you are reconstructing, but if it is not oriented just so, the piece you are trying to fit to it will not click into place (the spot it’s going to has to be facing you directly).  I found the hotspots for a few on the pieces to be a little off.  Might be a little frustrating for some kiddos, but overall not too difficult.

There is plenty of variety in gameplay (each room you excavate has its own set of mini-puzzles), to keep your attention.  Both David and I found it enjoyable.  I had to keep reminding him it was time to quit, lol.  The next time we study ancient Rome, we’ll pull this out.

But is it educational?

The short answer is, it can be, but it will depend on your child and how you monitor their progress.  Let me explain.

There is plenty of educational content in Roman Town:   matching up vocab with definitions, identifying ancient artifacts with their modern counterparts, memory games, reconstruction (spatial relationships), text explaining how objects were used in an ancient Roman home, and the quiz wrap-ups. 

Textual explanations can be skipped, but the knowledge provided by them is necessary to complete the quiz and some other activities. 

One wrinkle I found:  you can just guess.  The quizzes are things like fill-in the blank, True-False,  with words choices provided.  Many of the answers can be guessed just from the context.  And once you’ve answered them all, the program tells you how many you have right.  If you have any wrong, you get to change your answers until they are all correct.  Same with the definitions activity.  The only problem with that is that I child can just blindly change their answers without actually learning anything from their mistakes (did I see a child do just that?).

The game only keeps track of if you complete the activity correctly in the end.  There is no record of how many attempts were made to complete any activity. 

On the plus side:  the program does not tell you which ones you got wrong, you have to figure it out for yourself.  But, I would love to see more accountability for the student.  If they get something wrong on the quiz, I’d like to see the game have them revisit the the pertinent lab activities before they retake the quiz, so they don’t just start switching the answers around.

Overall

I’d recommend Roman Town as a hands-on supplement if you’re studying ancient Rome.  Or your kiddos are a little geeky about archaeology.  It’s a good dose of info and plenty of fun.  We would like to see more levels, though!

Roman Town is available on cd-rom from Dig-It! Games for PC.  A MAC version is in the works. 

Check out the vid on their homepage.

Current price for Roman Town is $39.95, but you can get a great discount! 

Use the coupon code TOS2011 and get it for only $19.96!  That’s more than 50% off!

Offer expires February 21, 2011.

For more reviews of this product, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew’s blog.

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