Posts filed under Computational Thinking

Unlock!

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Title: Unlock! The Formula, Squeak & Sausage, The Island of Doctor Goorse, The House on the Hill, The Nautalis Traps, The Tonipal’s Treasure, A Noside Story, Tombstone Express, & The Adventures of Oz
Publisher: Asmodee MSRP: $14.99 each
Recommended ages: 10+
Time: 60 Minutes
Reset: Easy
Players:  2 - 6
Recommended Players: 4 Players
App Required: Yes

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Unlock! is a fantastic series of escape rooms. This series is made up of a deck of cards that can easily be reassembled after each playthrough, making them perfect for circulation. Players put cards together, such as a screw and screwdriver, adding the numbers on the cards together to check if their solution is correct. While this system sometimes does allow for accidental puzzle solving, it’s easy enough to realize if you’ve solved something out of order.

Unlock! teaches players how to play by putting them through a tutorial room. It shows players what kinds of puzzles they can anticipate as well as making excellent use of the cards by teaching them step by step with each card they pull.

An app is required to play, but does the work of a Game Master and the various locks found in a live escape room. If players are stuck then hints are given or if a sound is required for a puzzle then the app provides it. It adds a layer of ambient immersion to the puzzles that an analog-only escape room board game would not be able to provide. The one downside is that the need for an app makes the game impossible to play without a device.

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The Formula and Squeak & Sausage rooms are exceptional. The puzzles are creative and intuitive without being completely obvious. They make excellent use of the app in interesting ways. Overall they have just the right kind of outside the box thinking. Unfortunately, The Island of Doctor Goorse left much to be desired. This third installment splits the party, and the puzzles feel obtuse. While the party is split, puzzles need to be simpler due to the party’s brain power being divided. Even when reunited though, some of the solutions were baffling. While we highly recommend the series, you may want to pass over The Island of Doctor Goorse.

If mobile devices are not an issue, then the Unlock series may be the best escape room game for schools and libraries.

 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

Escape Room the Game

Title: Escape Room the Game
Publisher: Spin Master MSRP: $39.99
Recommended ages: 16+
Time: 60 minutes
Reset: Not without printing or using page protectors & dry erase
Players:  3 - 5
Recommended Players: 3 - 4
App Required: No

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Escape Room the Game easily has some of the most unusual technology of any tabletop escape room experience. When you open the box the first thing you will notice is a giant plastic mechanism with codes and ciphers stamped into the side, a bunch of strange plastic keys, and several bags - each one containing their own scenario. These elements makes Escape Room the Game truly unique and worth exploring.

That this box contains not just one but four different rooms is pretty amazing for the modest price of $40. When you add in the custom plastic keys and the “Chrono Decoder,” you know you’re in for a different kind of experience. The countdown timer adds tension, while sliding the keys into place and checking to see if you’ve found the right answer adds a physical element that sometimes feels lacking in other escape room products. 

The hint system is utilizes red filter technology and players are allowed to look at hints after enough time has passed. We ended up looking at hints even if we didn’t feel like we were behind, and on at least one occasion the hints caused us more trouble than they helped. Overall it’s a great system, but it doesn’t always work.

When it works, the Chrono Decoder is a great prop that also tells you when to look at hints. Escape Room the Game has expansion packs that utilize the Chrono Decoder provided in the base box. The themes are nice, but fairly standard for escape rooms.

Sometimes the Chrono Decoder doesn’t accept the correct keys, which penalizes you time and stalls out the game play. A couple of the puzzles are very poorly designed. It’s no good for more than four players and, except for the Nuclear Countdown room, is best with three.

As much as our group enjoyed Escape Room the Game I can’t recommend it wholeheartedly. It is in turns rage-inducingly frustrating and stunningly brilliant. The Prison Break isn’t a great starting scenario and the Temple of the Aztec is the worst of the lot.  (Aztec felt like it needed a couple of extra components that were removed at the last minute.) The best scenario in the starting box set is the Nuclear Countdown room; just make sure you have a charged cell phone ready when you play it.

 

Article by Donald Dennis & Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

CT Games: Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar

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Ages: 3+
Requires Batteries: 4 AA
Single Player
Publisher: Fisher-Price
Price: $49.99

Code-A-Pillar is an electric Caterpillar toy where children plug in segments labeled with commands into the main Caterpillar body and then watch as it carries out each command one by one down the line.

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Code-A-Pillar teaches the basic framework of Coding, inputting commands and the machine following them. The tactile nature and durability of this toy makes it very approachable for young age groups and perfect for experimental play. Users can also create extra challenges for themselves through creating obstacle courses or just trying to get Code-A-Pillars from a start point to a specific endpoint.

Code-A-Pillar is adorable. It’s too cute not to touch and play around with as our teens and patrons can attest. It’s also very durable and has safeguards in place to keep it from breaking, such as a bump sensor that keeps it from running itself into objects. There is also a large variety of different parts that can be purchased to expand what commands Code-A-Pillar is capable of, such as a pack of silly sounds or extra movement with 180 Degree turns and Repeat Action blocks.

Code-A-Pillar is pricey at $49.99 MSRP and availability is limited. It requires 4AA batteries (which are included). Code-A-Pillar is loud and there’s no way to turn down the sound without taking it apart , which may be a big concern if you work with children sensitive to loud noises.

Code-A-Pillar is a fantastic and sturdy introductory toy to programmed movement for young age groups. It’s great for programs of its own if you can afford multiples or do workstations and as supplementary to existing programs such as storytime. While pricey our Code-A-Pillars see a lot of play, and there are a number of venues that sell them at a discount.

 

Article by Stephanie Frey
Stephanie Frey can be found roaming Twitter. She can also be found selling goodies on Society6
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

CT Games: Turing Tumble

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Ages: 8+
Requires Batteries: No
Single player
Publisher: Turing Tumble LLC
Price: $64.95


Turing Tumble is an introduction to computational thinking that was born on Kickstarter. It consists of a white board on a stand, a ton of red and blue marbles, a small plastic key, and six kinds of ramps and bits. The basic idea is that players place the ramps and bits on the board to program a path for the marbles from the top of the board down to the bottom. The key is used to help determine which color marble falls first. It’s easy to learn, challenging to master, and really fun once you’ve got the hang of it.

The game also comes with a 100-page booklet that serves as instructions,  provides challenges, and tells the story of Alia, the girl on the box cover, as she explores an alien maze and makes an unexpected friend. It helps that the booklet is broken up like an RPG campaign or a video game: Alia’s story is the ‘cinematic’ scene between levels.

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Turing Tumble is really good at introducing players to things like pattern recognition, designing based on trial and error, and breaking up big problems into smaller, sequential ones. It’s meant for players 8 and up and runs best as a single-player game, but I’ve seen smaller children trying it out under supervision and it can also be played with a group.

Its main flaw is that the marbles are small, easy to lose, and can be difficult to collect and put in place. The board doesn’t come with something like a tray to catch them if they bounce free, and gravity can make things a little unpredictable at times. With so many losable pieces and a price tag of $64.95, it may be a little too expensive and breakable for some libraries and schools.

All in all, we recommend Turing Tumble as a fun way to teach kids computational thinking. It’s not too shabby for the adults either.

 

Article by Ben Blythe
Ben can be found on Twitter @FlailingWriter. He's also got a blog on WordPress. And he even reviews things on GoodReads!
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com

Computational Thinking

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In the preface to their Exploring Computational Thinking collection, Google defines computational thinking as a “problem solving process.” Computational thinkers take a problem and break it down into smaller sections, then resolve each section in a particular order t o get a desired outcome. It requires planning, pattern recognition, and learning how to operate within certain boundaries (what you can do, how you can do it, what resources you have on hand, etc.).

It’s worth pausing to note that while there is plenty of overlap, computational thinking is different from the scientific method or critical thinking because of its focus on process and predetermined outcome. It’s sort of like the difference between scientists, academics, and engineers: scientists and academics study, engineers build. Their methods have similar processes but they’re shaped by different goals.

Computational thinking is emerging as a cornerstone in STEM education. As its name implies, it’s a good skill to have in the information age, and tech companies in particular value it for how readily it translates into programming. The same basic approach of breaking down a big problem and finding solutions piece-by-piece can be applied across any curriculum: it’s a core tenet of outlining a paper, solving mathematical equations, building a bot, or drawing a picture.

Now let’s consider what makes board games an ideal tool for teaching computational thinking.

Board games…

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  • …rely a lot on planning your next move (whether it’s competitive like Machi Koro or collaborative like Mechs vs. Minions)
  • …often revolve around recognizing patterns (like spotting which cities will be infected in the next Pandemic outbreak)
  • …require you to operate within certain boundaries (rules of the game, what materials you have to work with, what you’re allowed to know going in, etc.)
  • …often involve breaking a bigger problem down into smaller, more manageable ones (Escape the Room-type games tend to be really good at this)

 

It’s not just newer games that do this! Even old stalwarts like Chess and Monopoly can teach the basics of computational thinking. And lest you think this is all kid stuff: The CIA has been using board games to train its analysts for years. They even have their own version of Pandemic. Other government agencies and private businesses have also realized the value of board games for training and teambuilding, leading to a huge uptick in escape rooms and corporate game libraries.

The important thing is that your library—whether it’s in a school or a secret government base on the moon—has a good stock of board games to choose from. Sure, something like Tsuro is about running your opponents off the board, but the real value of the game is the lessons you learned (and applied) along the way.

 

Article by Ben Blythe
You can find Ben on Twitter @FlailingWriter. He's also got a blog on WordPress. And he even reviews things on GoodReads!
Games in Schools and Libraries is produced in association with Inverse Genius and the Georgetown County Library System.
Games in Schools and Libraries Group on Facebook 
Games in Schools and Libraries Guild at Board Game Geek
Email us: schoolsandlibraries@gmail.com