High Concept: Overview and vision statement

Versus is a role-playing strategy card game designed to advance critical thinking (CT) skills in the context of everyday situations, thereby helping the players achieve more positive outcomes in life. In a 3-sided battle of wits, players present and evaluate familiar controversial claims and real evidence, pitting persuasion against discernment. With similarities to popular entertainment like Metagame and NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" Bluff-the-Listener Challenge, Versus combines fun party-trivia dynamics with topics that really matter.

Need for the game

Many scholarly research studies have shown that improvements in CT skills can lead to fewer negative life events in health and finances (Butler), better educational outcomes (Paul), career success and flexibility (Facione), and a stronger basis for rational and democratic society. Calls for more effective CT training for adolescents have been issued by a diverse chorus of key stakeholders, including business leaders, government and education think-tanks, state & local school boards, the Common Core, and the College Board (Willingham). In traditional forms of CT training, many approaches have been tried, with varying degrees of success. Explicit, highly-engaging training methods seem to work best, and the most gains have been observed in the same context as the training; so if you want adolescents to get better at applying CT skills in common life situations, you should train them in a fun way with common life situations (Marin).

  Heather Butler (2012), "Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment Predicts Real-World Outcomes of Critical Thinking"
  Peter Facione (2013), "Critical Thinking: What It Is and Why It Counts"
  Lisa Marin & Diane Halpern (2010), "Pedagogy for developing critical thinking in adolescents: Explicit instruction produces greatest gains"
  Richard Paul (1984), "Critical Thinking: Fundamental to Education for a Free Society"
  Daniel Willingham (2007), "Why Critical Thinking is Hard to Teach"

Serious Goals

  • Improve the players’ ability to analyze information (identify and examine claims and reasons).
  • Improve the players’ ability to evaluate claims (assess credibility of sources & quality of arguments).
  • Improve the players’ ability to provide explanations (present arguments and justify procedures).
  • Broaden the players’ understanding of multiple viewpoints in controversial issues.


Target Audience

Adolescents, ages 11 - 18, especially those with moderate-to-strong literacy skills and not well-served by CT training in school programs.


Gameplay Summary

One player assumes the role of judge, while the others divide into two contesting teams of 1-3 players each. Within the domain of Pop Culture, in each round a topic is randomly selected from among Music, TV/Movies, Videogames, and Mobile Devices. The judge assigns a stakeholder role to each team, relevant to the selected topic, and the contestants draw cards. Some of the cards contain controversial (and probably familiar) claims, while other cards contain detailed evidence (from real sources) that either supports or counters one or more claims. The contesting teams take turns choosing and verbally presenting claims and evidence to the judge, while the judge evaluates the evidence presented. The contestants can earn points by convincing the judge of their evidence's validity and their case's authenticity for their assigned role. The judge can earn points by correctly appraising the quality (source credibility, accuracy, logic) of the presented evidence, and by ruling in favor of the contesting team with the highest-quality set of evidence. In the next round, a new topic is selected, new stakeholder roles are assigned to the contestants, and some new claim and evidence cards are dealt. After several rounds of play, the side with the highest point total wins; the judge can win if his/her point total is highest.