I bought the game and played it with my kids a year or so ago, but I wasn't sure how mathematical the game was at its core. Other than learning how to recognize, or subitize, the number on each side of the dice, where could I find the math?
Then I bought the companion piece, 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. Some of the games are ridiculous and silly, while others are really interesting mathematical games. Best of all, they all incorporate the most fun and addictive aspect of Tenzi: frantically rolling a ton of multi-colored dice.
How to Play
The core gameplay of Tenzi is ridiculously simple: try to be the first person to get all ten of your dice to the same number. First, you take ten dice and roll them once. Look at your dice and choose the number that you want to roll for, then pick up all the other dice and re-roll them. Continue re-rolling your dice until all ten dice show the same number.
So yeah, it's really fun for kids, but it's not super mathematical. Yet. But check out some of these variations!
Equalzi: Roll four dice and add them together. Then roll your six remaining dice until they add to the same number. I like this variation because your child has to think strategically about which numbers to keep and which to reroll. Let's say the first four dice add to a total of 10. If they roll their other six dice, should they keep a 5? Should they keep a 4? How does that affect their chances of adding to 10 with their other dice?
Less Thanzi: Roll two dice at a time. The total of each pair of dice must be less than the total of the previous pair. In this variation, kids have to quickly compare sets of two numbers, and they have to think strategically about when to keep a pair and when to reroll. If they play the game a few times, they'll probably realize that they should aim for the highest possible pair on their first roll. A pair of 3s on the first roll might seem fine at first, but it actually makes winning the game incredibly difficult!
Addzi: Someone picks a number from ten to sixty. The first person to roll all ten dice so that they add to that number, wins. This is my favorite variation because it involves two phases of mathematical thinking. First, your kids ponder about which numbers are easiest or hardest to roll for. There are over 60 million combinations of dice rolls in Tenzi, and only one of them adds to ten.
Then, they must roll and decide which dice to keep and which to reroll. Each roll is a chance to think and talk about which dice add to which numbers.
By the way, I typically don't play Tenzi as a free-for-all. Otherwise, my 5-year-old would always beat my 3-year-old. Instead, we all roll at the same time and then strategize about the next roll.
These mathematical variations on the game benefit greatly from a little time and space to think, at least for the first several rounds of play. If you pause each round to talk through options, they'll have more opportunities to sharpen their strategic and mathematical thinking.
That said, if your kid really wants to play them as a free-for-all, go for it! You can also play some of the more ridiculous versions of the game, where you make animal noises every time you roll a match. Keep Tenzi fun so your kids keep wanting to play Tenzi.
Dice as a Canvas
Some of the other variations in 77 Ways to Play Tenzi are actually visual patterns that you are supposed to match. Both my kids loved these versions, and I can see why. Did you realize how cool dice can look when they are placed together?
That's the secret benefit of Tenzi: the dice are so visually pleasing, and the patterns are so lovely to look at, that they might just spark your kid's imagination. Check out the rattlesnake my son made below. I asked to take a picture, but he insisted on doing a video so he could explain the parts of his design. If you think he isn't using any mathematical skills while making these designs, you're wrong.