Ages: 6 and up
Cost: ~$25 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Addition, spatial reasoning
Questions to Ask:
Which of the three pieces could you buy? Where could you place it?
What do you think my next move will be? How can you stop me?
Sometimes I am deeply grateful that my son is just as interested in board games as I am. Other times, I feel like I've created a monster.
The kid wakes up at 6am on the weekends and jumps on my bed, waking me up with "Chess?"
"You know, I'm probably going to need a second to wake up before we launch into any games."
"Ok, so then after you have coffee we can play?"
Clearly he understands the concept of checkmate.
All of that to say, my son's most recent obsession was the game Patchwork, which I got him for Hanukkah. It's a great game for us to play, since it's specifically designed for two players and has enough strategy to keep me guessing. We've probably played it between 15 and 20 times in the past month, and I'm still happy to play whenever he wants.
As long as I've had my coffee.
How to Play
In Patchwork, both players are trying to create a 9x9 quilt, using pieces of fabric that are shaped like Tetris or Blokus pieces. You buy these pieces using buttons, which are the currency of the game. The quilting theme, which struck me as a bit silly at first, ends up working well, especially since the artwork in the game is so lovely to look at.
Players can only choose from three pieces at a time, and there is no hidden information in the game. So do you buy the piece that is perfect for your own quilt, or do you buy a different piece just to disrupt your opponent's plan?
At the end of the game, players add up their total buttons, then forfeit two buttons for every blank space left on their quilt. This scoring system means that you can play the game in two ways, either trying to amass as many buttons as possible, or trying to completely cover your quilt and hope your opponent forfeits enough buttons for you to win.
If this sounds intriguing and you want a more detailed overview, check out this quick tutorial.
Where's the Math?
A lot of the math in Patchwork involves managing your resources, which are buttons and space on the quilt. You start the game with only five buttons, so immediately you need to think about how to gain more.
The easiest way is to purchase pieces that have blue buttons printed on them. If you have any of these pieces on your quilt, they act as a sort of engine to generate more buttons as you pass certain points on the board. Then you can use those new buttons to buy more pieces with more buttons and so on.
The problem is, if you focus all your energy on amassing buttons, you'll end the game with a quilt that contains a bunch of buttons and a bunch of blank spaces. Each blank space subtracts two points from your total, so you may find yourself ahead the entire game only to lose in the final tally.
Speaking of counting buttons, my son is obsessed with holding onto the piece that represents twenty buttons, so he tries to get it whenever he can. Each turn, he is counting his buttons and exchanging them for higher denominations, like a grown-up tired of his wallet being stuffed with $1 bills. So each turn, he's counting, adding, and learning how different denominations of buttons (or money) actually work.
The other mathematical skill that Patchwork highlights is my old favorite, spatial reasoning. More than almost any game I've played, I find myself mentally toying with options for where to place upcoming pieces. Since the board is fairly small and I can only choose from three pieces on each turn, I often find myself trying to choose between two suboptimal pieces, deciding which one gives me the most flexibility for future turns when I'll have better options.
Questions to Ask
The easiest questions to ask every turn are "Which of these three pieces can you afford to buy this turn? Where would you place them?" These questions help your child look at their board, their buttons, and the three pieces they can choose and determine which one best suits their plan.
As the game winds toward its end, there are fewer and fewer pieces remaining, and fewer spots where they can be played on each board. I like to ask "Which of the remaining pieces will fit on your board? Which ones will fit on my board?" If your child can identify the pieces that each person is playing for, she can choose wisely (or block your choices, which shows even deeper strategic thinking).
Speaking of which, I always like to get my kids thinking about their opponent's strategy along with their own. Very often, kids (and adults) can get a tunnel vision about their own plans and goals in a game, not realizing that they could get stymied by a clever opponent's plan! Asking "What do you think my next move will be, and how can you stop me?" is a nice way to interrupt that tunnel vision and get your child to step back and evaluate the game as a whole.
Patchwork is not one of those games like Prime Climb or Guess Who that is built around a specific mathematical idea. Instead it is a game that infuses every decision with a different mathematical idea, weaving together disparate math topics into a larger, cohesive whole. Like some sort of quilt or something...