Friday, November 11, 2011

Make and Take

I'm falling behind on blog-writing, but have to share this game. Definite keeper, with great potential. Easy rules, great mathematical situations and pretty fun.

The game grew out of a meeting with Nick Smith, one of our novice teachers with a good game eye. He was looking for a way to make a game with number operations and maybe order of operations that had us using cards and trying to make a target. Wasn't quite working out.

Finally it occurred to me that if you were setting the target for your opponents... started trying it with cards and BAM! A game. It's simple enough, probably someone else has come across it before.  Basically, you deal 5 cards to each player/team, each team picks one card for the other team to make by combining their remaining cards with operations.

(Direct link to document.)

To launch it with the 5th graders today,  the teacher and I started to play. I put up the values for Ace, Jack, Queen and King on the board - which was a good idea as students consulted it frequently. Today was 11-11-11, and Jake, one of the students, had a birthday... his 11th! (He was in the local paper last night.) So we renamed the Jack the Jake in his honor, since the Jack is worth 11. Sometimes stuff just works out.

After about three turns of demonstration, the students were clamoring to play. Who are we to stand in the way of a math game?  Students were engaged, making interesting combinations, and making more complicated combinations as play went on.  It adapted well to students at different levels, as they were choosing combinations, and I was able to see automaticity with subtraction improving in students who have some math struggles at the same time as self-identified math whizzes were challenged to find fascinating 4 card combos, like Jack - 4/4, divided by 2 to get 5.

I tried the game with younger learners previously, and they got good addition and subtraction practice, and think it would extend well to middle school as support for order of operations.  (Write down your combination and check it on a scientific calculator.)  It was nice that sometimes the game called for easier combinations and had moments of challenge. Students were actively searching for new people to play and telling stories about games and combos. Very fun.

To finish our time, we discussed the combos (I had recorded some of the better ones on the board, such as Q, 5, 4, 4 -> 10), the strategy and the name.  I like how the game becomes a context for some pretty good problems.  The students were split on what made a difficult target. The majority felt like middle cards were harder to make, but a few thought the smallest cards. I actually don't know! One aspect of the game that I like a lot is that you gain information about the opponent's hand as you play. A strategy that many came across was reusing target numbers that your opponent couldn't make.

There weren't a lot of suggestions for names... math war and math attack had some support.  More suggestions about the game would be welcome, also.

Having written those game design commentaries lately (one & two), I can't resist thinking about the game using it.
  1. Goal(s). See numbers as related by operations. This game is great for that.
  2. Structure.The game reflects the goal by using a shifting set of cards. The slow turn over allows students to build relationships and more and more complicated sets of computations.
  3. Strategy. The selection of targets and which cards to keep to make combinations is the first level. Taking into account your opponents' cards is a whole 'nother level.
  4. Interaction. Choosing the target for your opponents and having to make their target offers lots of interaction.
  5. Surprise. The cards you draw and the target you're trying to make.
  6. Catch-Up. This could be a weak area. Once kids are good enough, it's rare to miss the target, which means it's hard to catch up. That's when you switch to the four card variation, which can be very challenging.
  7. Inertia. Kids were divided on the 10 card winning condition. Some thought it should be lower. One student who loved the game suggested 13 cards!
  8. Rules. Big win for this game. Very simple.
  9. Context. No context, but the game did seem to have a pretty fun level of gameplay for students.

Image credits: qthomasbaker, ames sf @ Flickr


  1. This is awesome!I like the name too, better than Card Catch. I really like that you included the 9 parts of game design. I played with a classmate on Thursday and he had a great idea. If we were playing and you couldn't "make" the goal card, then you had to prove it with your hand. If I could see a way to "make" it with your hand, then I got the card. If not, then you we would keep the card out there and I would add a card to it when we lay down our new goal cards. Now you have the opportunity to "make" the sum of the old and new cards, but I've seen most of your hand. I was able to pull ahead by three cards and almost win, but Dan got three cards back when he finally was able to "make" the new sum. Just another fun variation.

  2. I like this. It's similar to the Target Number game we play, but more interactive. And without the time pressure of "first to make it wins," so you can play with a wider range of skill.

    Someone pointed out on my blog that if you use Rook cards, you have the numbers 1-14 to work with.

  3. Hi, John! Could I use this game in a book I'm writing for homeschoolers? With credit to you and Nick, of course.