For some the digital world means playing games. But for others it means learning what makes the digital world function — which is to say the programming that underlies it all. ThinkFun’s approach is to combine both by creating board games that are actually programming exercises for ages 8 and up. Each of the 3 board games making up the //CODE Programming Series promotes learning through a format where real pieces are manipulated — there’s no apps to run or video screens to look at. Just a series of 40 challenges, each designed to teach coding.
The first of the series is called On The Brink. As the programmer, you must guide the robot along a path from start to finish. The colored paths repressing the challenges must be assembled in the correct sequence in order for the robot to be able to do its job correctly. What is being constructed are “procedures” that, in order to be done correctly, require forward thinking and problem solving. Levels go from beginner to advanced.
Robot Repair, the second of the three, teaches “Boolean Logic,” which is a form of algebra reducing all values to either “true” or “false.” This game aids in preparing children for STEM learning through reactivating a set of robots. As the robots have been disassembled, the purpose here is to deduce how to get all the parts back to where they should be.
The final one, Rover Control, goes beyond the Earth as two Rover land crafts have been sent to explore the planet Mars. But as they must travel on color paths and the dust storms or Mars have rendered them bereft of color, critical thinking skills are required. The challenges introduce “decision points,” “loops” and “increment instructions” as the Rovers make their way — these computational skills are embedded into the game so as to make for a fun time and not a “eat your broccoli because it’s good for you” experience.
While an online version of Robot Repair is available, the value of being able to physically touch, use and hold these “board game” can’t be understated. It’s not just that they teach coding in a fun way that is accessible to young people, but they also promote the real-world, which is to say reality by not succumbing to the lure of a pure-digital experience. That alone makes the //CODE Programming Series games valuable. And with a price of $14.99 each, it’s also fair to say that getting all three is accessible to pretty much anyone.