Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Game Design

#mathchat last night (twitter stream, wiki) was on "Games: Where's the math? How can we use games to teach mathematics?" One of my favorite topics, and a good discussion. There are so many things I like games for in mathematics: playing a game is quite like math, strategy is an excellent context for problem solving, engagement level for repeated exercises or tasks, etc. But one of the things I like best personally is making them. (That's definitely one of the appeals of collectible card games; building a deck is a lot like game design.)  The amount of math that goes into making a game can be quite a bit greater than playing it.

So today for the 5th graders I brought a half-formed game based on the Traveling Salesman problem. Georgia Tech has a nice Traveling Salesman Problem site, with a few games of their own, nice explanations and history of the problem. It was inspired by the ultimate Traveling Salesman: Santa Claus. Every home in a night? Mathematician Elves on the job.  I eventually changed the game to running Christmas errands in town here, and intentionally left it rather drab.

We played a few turns of the game to get the idea. Then I shared how I wanted them to be game designers today, and we discussed possible things to work on.

Game Design To Do:
1) Playtest
  • Are the rules clear? Do they need to be changed? 
  • Are the mechanics of the game okay? (Right number of destinations, how to move, placement of stop, dice to roll…) 
  • Is it fun enough? How can you make it more fun? 
2) Develop
  • Should there be obstacles on the map? 
  • Decorate the board; add fun details or pictures. 
  • Make nice game pieces. 
3) Create!
  • Make your own map. 
  • Change to the world map or the US map. 
  • Change the story of the game. Santa, UPS, mail carrier, … 
  • Completely new game idea: 12 days of Christmas, Christmas tree, Hanukkah Candles, Winter Break, … 

I also brought a blank grid, a polar map (to do a Santa Claus version) and a United States map. (Click for full size. PDF of the whole document on Google Docs.)

Nobody used the polar map - poor Santa!  The class had many people make improvements to Santa Haven, and several who made their own game.

Some of the improvements: new goals, like get all the presents to Grandma's house.  Board alterations, like road block, traffic jam, hazards, stop signs, school zones, etc. Some quite clever, like a gas station (you have to go in if you pass), or a muddy spot that divides your speed by 2 until you get to the car wash. Play alterations, like the bank after every present, or a specific chore list (home, school, presents, back home then school then home). One student made walking and driving rules; driving was double speed, but had school speed zones and roads they had to stick to. At the end we talked about how this was mathematical modeling, where they tried to take real life stuff and figure out what they would be like in the game.

The new games included 2 Risk variations on the US map, variations on the traveling salesman with all new maps, and a candy cane math game with problems on the spaces.

Quite a lot of creativity, so much enthusiasm. And, I think, a nice lead into designing some of their own games later.

1 comment:

  1. I love well thought out, homemade math games. I would like to try this at some point with the student I work with. These are much better ideas than simply asking kids to make a "review game for our current unit." Thanks for all the great posts and Happy Holidays!