I took a position at a new company about a month ago and I’ve had to hit the training and certification stuff pretty hard. While studying for the CCNA I came across several games offered by The Cisco Learning Network. A lot of these games, such as the subnetting game, have been around for years, but the Cisco Aspire game is relatively new. It’s a game meant to help you train for the entire CCNA and can be downloaded here for free. Although the download is free, the game can only be completed using tokens purchased from Cisco. From what I can tell, it’s based on Cisco’s Packet Tracer product that they’ve been offering to Cisco Academy students for years as a way to simulate network equipment and provide a lab with less expense than buying the actual hardware. This is not to be confused with the Packet Tracer tool found in the Cisco ASA firewalls.

Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, you create a user. Then you’re presented with a map of a small town with several businesses that will be your potential clients as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

There are also several people you will meet that become part of your network of clients and employers. They also call you every once in a while to help them out with practice test questions as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Other than the businesses, you have a house where you can see the different awards you’ve won throughout the game and a training center where you can pay for training sessions on specific topics (see Figure C), and a store where you can buy networking gear for different jobs. The premise of the game is that you’re kind of starting your network career and you need to build relationships and gain experience slowly but surely. There are meters of your accomplishments and money earned throughout the game.

Figure C

The first couple of jobs you do are mostly to get you familiar with the simulator and where things are located. You learn how to purchase cables, computers, etc., and you learn how to connect everything together and ping or run other tools. This can all be done for free because the game starts you out with a few tokens. However, after the introductory exercises, one of the people in your network kindly explains to you that you’ll need to purchase more tokens. You can purchase these tokens bit by bit or all at the same time. If you want to complete all of the levels it will cost $50 total.

After you’ve purchased more tokens, you can unlock the next job which is at an internet café. A little hint–the game can be very specific in what it wants. When given tasks to do something, you want to follow them to the letter. Also, when using ssh, use this format:  ssh -l [user] [destination] (ex:  ssh -l admin in the command prompt. You’ll pull your hair out trying to figure out the proper way to do it and you’ll get punished if you try to use telnet–as you should! This job is still easing you into troubleshooting but it’s pretty cool to see how you can run commands on the network equipment and everything works as if you were on the real thing! I’ve shown an example of this in Figure D. Once you’re done here, you really get into the more advanced stuff, such as routing protocols.

Figure D

It would be great if they offered some sort of answer key. I know that wouldn’t exactly simulate real life, as there are no answer keys in the real world, but it’s pretty annoying to get stuck and not be able to try something else. There is a forum and the people on it are quick to help you out, though.

All said, this game is pretty neat. It’s a little silly looking, but it does give you some practice. I’m not saying this should be a substitution for real-world experience, but it’s definitely better than just reading a book and memorizing facts. The game itself isn’t exactly the latest and greatest in gaming, and I highly recommend saving your game often as I’ve had it err out on me a few times, but it gets the job done. I’m really impressed that Cisco has put all this effort into helping techs learn networking skills and a $50 price tag really isn’t too bad.