William Tierney, Director of USC's Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA), sees a need for better college application process awareness. The director is concerned that budget cuts in school districts are adversely affecting the ratio of students to counselors from 300:1 to 800:1. Consequently, many students are not fully aware of the college application process, such as: deadlines, financial aid and other requirements. In Tierney's work with the school districts, he is noticing that students are under applying their college potential. For instance, students who have the grades to enter prestigious national universities are going to regional universities, while students who have the grades to make it to regional universities are going to community colleges and so forth. William Tierney wanted a creative solution to educate high school students about the college application process. He partnered with Tracy Fullerton, Director of Game Innovation Lab at USC, to create Application Crunch, a serious card game that teaches college planning. CHEPA provided the game content and the high school playtesters while Game Innovation Lab created the game. Educational videogames tend be glorified, animated homework exercises while serious boardgames like Cashflow 101, tend to model the ancient roll-and-move genres games like Sorry and Monopoly. I was elated that the Game Innovation Lab and CHEPA partnership created a fun and informative Eurogame.
Application Crunch is a simultaneous move, resource management cardgame with elegant Eurogame mechanics and humorous TCG-like flavor texts. Your goal is to apply, get in, pay for, and do well in college. The game centers on the fifteen Deadline cards, which in turn create fifteen turns. In each turn, the player draws a Productivity card that offers 3-5 action points that can be spent on preparing or mailing the applications, acquiring or upgrading the four types of Activity cards that go into an application, or draw and play/ask a Question card. The four Activity cards are Academics, Extracurricular, Service, and Work. Each Activity card generates different resources like Money, Top Grades, Letters of Rec[ommendations] and more, which are requirements for different types of schools. Action points can be used to level up the cards to generate resources. For example, a type of Academics card is called Core Classes, which ranges in value from 1 to 6. “Good Attendance” is at the lowest level of 1 and can be leveled up to “Aced the Class” which has the highest value of 6 and also generates a Top Grades resource. Once the cards are leveled up to desired levels, you can use action points to stuff them into an application envelope. By using another action point, you can then mail it to a school of your choice listed on the Deadline cards. The Question cards are trivia questions related to the college application process that can ask another player. If that player answers correctly, both of you get to level-up one resource card of your choice. Once you get into school you must ensure that you meet the financial requirement through a combination of scholarships and money from Work cards. At the end of game, you earn victory points (Badges) by meeting goals set by the school you are attending.
Although there is some competition and interaction, Application Crunch is mostly a multiplayer-solitaire. A player is managing time (action points) and resource generators (Activity cards) to timely apply for colleges and scholarships. I was fortunate to play the game with the design team at USC. In my game, I applied a quantity over quality strategy on Extracurricular and Service cards. I was a member or volunteer for over a dozen clubs and organizations all cards at level 1. At the same time I was aggressive on scholarships, earning a full ride scholarship to college of my choice. Ultimately, because I was solely focused resource management, like a good Eurogamer should, I ran out of action points and misfiled my application to a prestigious private school. As a result, I became a straight-A student with a full ride scholarship to a community college. The lesson for me is as the rulebooks say, “...have a backup [school] in case you can't go to your favorite.”
The partnership between Game Innovation Lab and CHEPA has attracted the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, awarding one million dollars to create a line of serious games to educate students under the Collegeology Games Project. Application Crunch is the first game of the Collegeology line of games and is being “ported” as Facebook app. Application Crunch is out-of-print but will be available for purchase sometime this month directly through CHEPA and Amazon.com.
Application Crunch is a 2011 Indiecade finalist.
Here is a video of gameplay. Application Crunch was previously branded as Pathfinder.