Game Review: CODE Programming Game Series
In honor of National Computer Science Education Week, which begins December 4th, thousands of schools and millions of students will participate in the Hour of Code, the world’s largest learning event. Whether or not your child’s school is joining in, there’s no better time for kids to start learning computer programming, or coding.
While online programming tutorials get most of the attention, “unplugged” games can be a great way to introduce or reinforce programming concepts. ThinkFun’s Code Programming Game Series offers three different robot-themed games designed to teach kids fundamental coding concepts. The games were designed by Mark Engelberg, a scientist and researcher who worked at NASA before making the jump to brainy board games. Each game includes 40 singleplayer challenges that get progressively more difficult.
My 11-year-old daughter, Julia, played the games and provided her thoughts along with my own. I explained the instructions for each and provided help and encouragement, as needed.
Game #1: On the Brink
In this game, you guide a robot along a path from the start to the finish line. Players use movement cards to determine how the robot moves with each step.
Randy: This game is a fun way to teach kids about algorithms, instructions that are followed in a specific order. Each block on the robot’s path triggers a two-step procedure, similar to the way a computer program can execute the same code repeatedly using subroutines.
Julia: This game reminds me a lot of Code.org’s Hour of Code maze tutorials. It’s the basic code for moving something step by step. I think this game is pretty cool.
Game #2: Rover Control
In Rover Control, players guide a robot from start to finish by drawing segments between nodes on a terrain map using dry-erase markers.
Randy: At first, this game seems to be teaching the same concepts as On The Brink. But, as you progress into intermediate and advanced levels, it introduces new programming concepts like loops and decision points (similar to if/then statements in programming).
Julia: I like it. It starts out easy, but gets a lot harder as you go along.
Game #3: Robot Repair
Robot Repair requires players to place “power cells” onto a circuit-like game board to power up certain wires while leaving others unpowered. Players have to evaluate conditions on the board to determine whether the outcome is true or false using logical operators (AND, OR, NOT and others). This type of logic is commonly used to program computers and design circuits.
Randy: Robot Repair teaches concepts that you’d expect to see in an electrical engineering textbook, not a board game. Yet, the game does a great job of making these real-world concepts approachable and easy to understand.
Julia: This game was my favorite. It really pushed my brain to the limit, but was a lot of fun, too.
The CODE Programming Game Series games are available at Target (MSRP $14.99) and at select online retailers. The games were provided for free for the purposes of this review.
Randy Lynn is a Ridgeland father of two, an advertising creative director and the co-founder of Kids Code Mississippi, an advocacy initiative to promote K-12 computer science education.