As we roll along in second grade strategic thinking, we have learned several new games. First, we played the game Blokus.
Blokus is a two- to- four- player game where each player is assigned a color and 21 game pieces in that color in different geometric shapes. The goal of the game is to put as many of your pieces on the board as possible. The trick is that all of your pieces need to touch one another, but only at the corners — none of the sides may touch sides of pieces of the same color, and none of the pieces may be free-floating.
True Blokus-devotees know the official names for the pieces, so I provided the kids with a cheat sheet to help them learn the names:
We then discussed strategy. I gave the kids the following strategic tips:
- Play toward the center. Since you want to cover as much of the board as possible, start by claiming as much of the board as you can by placing your pieces in a line angling toward the center.
- Play your biggest pieces first. You should play a five-square piece if you can, unless you have a strategic reason why a smaller piece makes more sense (and usually you don’t have such a reason).
- Block your opponent from moving into your territory.
- Save your one-square piece for as long as you can, and use it to jump into another area if at all possible.
Then I set them loose to play. One of the great things about Blokus is that it’s often easy to see who is winning just by glancing at the board from across the room. It’s easy to tell who is working toward the center, and who is playing their biggest pieces first. Kids who play Blokus with their pieces all in a pile clearly aren’t paying attention to what they have or thinking about their next move(s).
The kids were divided about the game. Many of them loved it, but an almost equal number were frustrated and found it more difficult than they expected. They forgot to try to anticipate their opponents’ moves and were upset when the moves they planned to make wound up blocked. It was a good lesson in considering not just your strategic moves but the moves of your opponents as well.
The next week, we learned to play Othello (also sometimes known as Reversi).
Othello is a game played with colored chips. One player uses the white chips and one player uses the black chips. To make a move, you need to flank at least one of your opponent’s chips with two of your own. The chip(s) you have flanked then turn to your color.
We were focusing on a strategy we called “lose to win.” At the beginning of the game, players are often tempted to flip as many pieces of possible. They see that their color is dominating the board and feel assured that they will win. In reality, the best strategy is to focus on making sure you have multiple moves available to you. To do so, it usually makes the most sense to make small moves (where you flip only one or two pieces) rather than bigger moves (where you flip multiple pieces). I could hear the kids muttering “small moves, small moves” as they played.
When playing Othello, the corners are crucial because they are stable (they cannot be flipped to another color). We were also trying to pay attention to the corners and making sure not to make moves that allowed our opponents to capture the corners.
The following week, we learned to play Qwirkle (which most students were already familiar with). Qwirkle is a game of color and shapes. Players try to build shape lines, made up of all one shape in the six available colors, or color lines, made up of all six of the available shapes in one color. Lines build off each other in a grid. A complete line is called a Qwirkle, and playing a piece to create a Qwirkle earns a player a six-point bonus.
The kids sometimes had trouble making sure pieces had at least one element in common with all of the adjacent pieces, or remembering that Qwirkle lines are complete and no further tiles can be added to those lines. Overall, though, they picked the rules up quickly and had a great time playing.
You can play Qwirkle online here.
Today, we played Izzi, a deceptively simple puzzle game. Izzi consists of a set of 64 black-and-white patterned tiles. The object of the game is to create an 8 by 8 square using all of the tiles. This is much more difficult than it sounds! We started off playing “Mini Izzi,” using 8 tiles to make a series of shapes (a line, a diamond, a fish). Then the kids worked in groups to attempt the large square. No group finished, but many of them came very close!