Is the Game Mathematical?
Strategy Games of the World consists of the strategy games Nine Men's Morris, which originated with the Vikings and is played in many regions throughout the world, Mancala, versions of which are played in Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific, and Go-Moku, from Asia. All three are based on well-known board games. Typically, children develop their strategies for these games over time, as they play repeatedly and discuss the games with others. This program includes several features designed to help children more directly focus on and improve their game-playing strategies.
Effective strategies for these games involve skills that are important in mathematics, science, and other disciplines: planning and predicting several moves ahead, anticipating opponents' moves, reasoning about logical consequences, and keeping track of and visualizing a sometimes complex series of events ("What will the board look like if I make this move? Will I put any of my pieces in danger? Will I block my opponent's path? What is my opponent likely to do next-and then what will the board look like?"). Each game also provides experiences with additional mathematics: Nine Menšs Morris involves graph and network theory, which play a role in many branches of computer science and engineering; Mancala involves counting, comparing, and mental computation; and Go-Moku involves finding and reasoning about two-dimensional visual patterns.
The three games in this program each have relatively simple rules and a clear goal, but nonetheless offer substantial challenge. Although children can have the computer explain the game rules, many will find it easiest to initially work with a peer or adult to learn how to play. As with many games, it's often easiest to learn by playing with someone who can elaborate on explanations if needed and answer questions.
For each game, children can choose from three different computer partners, each of whom offers a different level of challenge. Within each level, children can further adjust the difficulty of the game. Alternatively, they can match wits with a human opponent, using the computer as an on-line game board.
As they play, children have the option of receiving help from a character serving as the "strategy coach." Some of this information is quite general, and children may have difficulty seeing how it relates to decisions they face about next moves. For instance, the strategy coach offers the advice that you have the advantage if your opponent can't figure out what you're planning to do-perhaps true, but not necessarily something that children can readily make use of to determine a next move. Although some of the advice is more specific to a given game (e.g., a hint in Mancala about the importance of looking out for possible captures an opponent could make), it is only sometimes relevant to the particular situation that the player is facing at the moment.
The "undo" and "redo" buttons, which erase (or re-instate) previous moves, are also designed to help children can improve their strategies. This feature enables children to try out alternative moves. It can be an effective learning tool for those who want to (and are ready to) analyze a game in detail, particularly if an adult is available to help them think through different options. Many children, however, will simply want to play the game, and may not be eager to take the time to stop to analyze and re-do moves.
Another strategy support feature is a series of short video clips of adults explaining how they use strategies in their professional and everyday lives. An on-screen "button" offering an opportunity to view one of these clips pops up about once in every game. Occupations of these adults vary widely. They include firefighter, sculptor, basketball coach, nurse, and glass blower. While adults might find these clips very interesting, children may well not want to interrupt their game play to view them. Furthermore, there may be little connection between the strategies that children are using in the game and the strategy discussed in the video. For instance, a child playing Go-Moku viewed a video in which a stay-at-home dad explained how he discovered which foods his child was allergic to by a careful process of eliminating just one food at a time and then observing the results. Eliminating and testing in this manner would not have been effective in this particular game.
Children can also view information about the history of the game and the cultures in which it is played. As with the videos, while this information is well-presented and informative, it may at times seem irrelevant to children eager to play the games.
Is the Game Equitable?
In a research study in which children chose from a variety of educational CD-ROM games, Strategy Games of the World was popular with children of both genders. Excellent graphics and the fun of the three games were cited as particularly appealing features.
This program is a great choice for a range children because there are many options for how the games can be played. Children can decide on the level of challenge, whether or not to receive advice, and whether to play with a human or computer opponent They can even choose among several game variations, some of which are quite challenging. Therešs no violence, time pressure, or hand-eye coordination in the program- features that many girls tend to avoid. For each game, one computer opponent is female, one is male, and one is an animal. Opponents represent the area of the world in which the game originates.
Is It a Good Game?
This program has the potential to offer substantial engagement and challenge over time. As children's skills and game knowledge develop, they can return to the program again and again to play at higher levels of challenge and to explore new and more difficult variations.
Strategy Games of the World offers computer-based versions of non-computer games. The computer can offer some advantages, as well as potential disadvantages. One advantage is simply that the computer provides someone to play with at an appropriate level of challenge. For some children, the strategy advisors and the "undo" feature are also part of the appeal of this program; for others these features may seem a distraction from the excitement of the game. For some, the computer can serve as a motivating medium for playing educational games, for others, "real" game boards and game pieces are more inviting.
Whether children play against a computer or human opponent, discussions with others can help them reflect on and develop their strategies. If children are playing these games on the computer with a human opponent, they can talk about best moves and good strategies. If they are playing alone with the computer, they can benefit from the occasional presence of an adult to ask them about strategies, offer relevant hints, and to help them use the strategy support features that the program offers.
For information on a related CD-ROM, see Strategy Challenges 2: In the Wild.