Monday, November 2, 2009

Best Intro Game?

I just had a wonderful visit this weekend with my soon-to-be-in-laws and they described playing Candy Land with their grandkids. Although I never played much as a kid, I think it's a good introductory board game. The game has good visuals, both using the imagery of delicious candy, but also using colors instead of words or numbers to describe moving around the board. This definitely appeals to 3-5 year olds---whatever that age range is called---and is likely the first board game many American children play.

What about when it's time to play games in the classroom? What should a student's first game be then?

I'm focused on impartial games, and versions of Nim had popped up in my elementary and middle school classes. Basic Nim is a candidate for a good introductory game: it is both simple and (surprisingly) has a very sneaky trick to determine who is winning. This gives it a very satisfying quality: we learn about the rules of a game and some of it's underlying details and then, happily, we find a strategy to play the game well! This is unlike some other games that are more fun to play but might be disappointing to students because they don't reach this step.

The text Lessons in Play decides not to introduce impartial games until much later, instead beginning with Domineering. This is another nice game, due partly to its simplicity. Another key point here, though, is that this game uses pieces from other known games: a checkerboard and dominoes. This can lend a sense of creativity to students. "Use your imagination to create your own games from the pieces around you!"

I've also heard from people who swear by Hackenbush. This is a game where your turn consists of erasing an edge of a graph (usually drawn on a whiteboard) that corresponds to your color. After your turn, if there are any subgraphs not connected to a ground node, those are also erased. This game has the excellent feature that it is super customizable and doesn't need to use a parallel-to-the-ground board at all. Again, this sort of thinking outside the box can be very beneficial to students!

Note that both Domineering and Hackenbush have easy extensions to impartial games. Thus, that transition can be made easily.

What else do people prefer? Are these two the most common? Is there anyone out there who advises doing impartial games first?

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