Quite often, educational games aren’t just for kids, and board game publishers have made great strides in recent years toward making sure games are truly “fun for the whole family.” So, when I say the following three games are for kids, don’t think that means they’re no fun for you – in fact, I’ve only played these with adults! Here we go.
Odd World (Foxmind Games)
Odd World is a set-collection card game, with an interesting mechanism that involves both sides of the cards. The visible side on top of the deck (normally the “back”) will show two planets that might be on the other side (but only one of them it is). Using this partial information, players decide, without looking at the front of the card, whether to take it for themselves or give it to another player. Planets you’ve collected score points, but only if you have an odd number of that particular planet, otherwise they don’t score at all (hence the name). The game is over when someone has all nine planets (though they certainly may not win!). The cards look really great, the rules were clear and concise, and I like the tin packaging (especially for a game likely to get banged up in a classroom).
While Odd World involves a light amount of strategy and arithmetic, the real educational value in the game is teaching children the names and pictures associated with all nine planets. The game also tells you to sort the cards in front of you in order of distance from the sun, although I didn’t do that myself when playing with adults. The game was an okay way to pass the time, but the strategy was quite light since the game’s not-so-secret focus is elsewhere. This game fits in an elementary classroom exactly because the decisions are so simple and the game takes only a few seconds to teach. I don’t see adults getting excited about playing this one together, but I’d be elated to see it in any mid-elementary-school classroom (in fact, that’s where my copy went).
Fast Flip (Blue Orange Games)
Fast Flip has you flipping over cards (whoa! what a surprise!) and then quickly trying to identify characteristics on the revealed card. The cards have numbers and front on the revealed front side, and on the back side (i.e. the top card of the deck) there is a number or a fruit. Depending on what’s on the top of the deck, you need to either identify how many of the specified fruit were revealed, or which fruit is shown in amount of the specified number. There are several different variations on the official rules listed in the rulebook, but that’s the overall gist. Although the cards a little flimsy, the artwork is very loud, clear, and fun, and the I like that the cards are triangular, giving the game a unique aesthetic. The tin container is also a good idea.
I found that this game could be quite a challenge, even for adults. Clearly, the educational aspect is on spatial/eye coordination and a tiny bit of logic, and that’s something that people of any age will always need to practice more. There’s not really “strategy” to the game other than being faster than everyone else, but the game is enjoyable enough, and the fun theme and colorful artwork should make it appealing to a younger audience. Keep in mind that one rules variant involves stealing points from each other, which could be aggravating to some children.
Dr. Eureka (Blue Orange Games)
Roberto Fraga has quite a track record with kids’ games, having been nominated for the Kinderspiel des Jahres (Kids’ Game of the Year in Germany) several times, winning last year for Spinderella. So, it’s no surprise that his game Dr. Eureka is the best of this trio.
In Dr. Eureka, players are “chemists” moving molecules between test tubes, although what they are actually doing is a riff on the classic mathematics problem, the Tower of Hanoi. Players race to be the first to complete a “formula,” a picture of which molecule belongs in which tube (in a specific order). Players can only move molecules between the tubes by tilting the tubes into each other, not by touching the molecules directly, although they can also turn a tube upside down and “count” it in that form. This adds a fun dexterity element to the critical thinking already needed to solve what are actually somewhat tricky algorithmic math problems.
I love it when board games challenge skills different than those demanded by the classic strategy games. This game requires spatial thinking, speed, and dexterity in addition to logical thinking skills. It will challenge both kids and adults in a variety of ways, but it’s also high-intensity and really funny. Trying to balance the balls without dropping or touching them is quite a challenge, and one that makes you feel silly (in a good way) and catches the eye of bystanders. Not only is this a great game for classrooms of any elementary or secondary level, it would be a great game for a college group as well. I teach mathematics at a university, and we had an ongoing speed challenge for the Towers of Hanoi – this will be a fun evolution of that next year. My only real complaint is that the “Dr. Eureka” theme misrepresents the mechanisms as something more chemistry-related, when this is a game for mathematicians through and through. In any case, I’m eager to play again.
Do you have games to recommend that have worked well in your classrooms? Sound off in the comments!