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The Big List of Board Games that Inspire Mathematical Thinking

These board games incorporate math in unique and fun ways!

By Calli Welsch April 4, 2017

When a board game is presented as a math game, I am always eager to try it out!

Unfortunately, in many cases I find the math in these games are too straightforward with cards of math problems for players to solve, or numbered spaces to count. These games are usually far from fun, only allowing kids to practice math facts or formulas. They lack the opportunity for the player to choose from different actions, strategize or even plan ahead.

The math in board games doesn't have to be so straightforward! Math is not just about numbers and formulas, and games is one way we can experience the beauty of math all around us.

There are many fun board games that integrate deeper mathematical thinking into the gameplay. These games help students develop skills such as multi-step problem-solving, spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, resource management and much more.

Here's my list of go-to board games for engaging students in math through games. I've arranged them loosely by recommend ages, but many of these games play great whether your students are six years old or seventeen years old (for example, Tsuro).

Math Board Games for Early Learners

Achi

Achi is a game played by the Asante people of Ghana that is similiar to tic-tac-toe. However, where tic-tac-toe ends when all the pieces have been placed, Achi continues as players move their pieces to adjacent spaces until a 3-in-a-row is formed. Download the free printable board game from MIND Research Institute!

Number of players: 2

Recommended ages: 6+

Time to play: Less than 5 minutes (but you'll want to play several games)

Math connections: Achi is structured to naturally lead to questions that can be resolved through logic and deduction. 

 

 

Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles is a quick, fun and fast game which teaches programming fundamentals. The older kid, or adult, as the "turtle mover" provides informative feedback by moving the players' turtles according to the actions each player chose. Another neat thing about this game is that you can start simple and in the next games add elements to make it more challenging. 

Number of players: 2-5

Recommended ages: 4+

Time to play: 10+ minutes

Math connections: rotation, multi-step problem solving, computational thinking.

 

Qwirkle

Qwirkle is a sequence creation game. Players play a sequence of tiles that match in either shape or color to score points. This game is very quick to learn and play! 

Number of players: 2-4

Recommended ages: 5+

Time to play: 15 minutes

Math connections: Shape identification, counting, addition.

 math board games for kindergartners qwirkle

Qwirkle (Cube version shown) is great for practicing shape identification!

 

Ice Cool

Ice Cool combines two of my favorite things: penguins and geometry. Players flick their penguin piece across the board and through doorways to collect fish, or chase other players. Students develop fine motor skills as well as an understanding of angles as they manuver their piece around the board.

Number of players: 2-4

Recommended ages: 6+

Time to play: 

Math connections: geometry, measurement, counting.

 

Tsuro

In Tsuro, players take turns placing tiles, which create paths for the player to follow, some of which may lead off of the board. The object of the game is to be the last player on the board. No two tiles are alike, which is in itself a great math question. "Place a tile and follow the path" is an easy enough concept for younger players to understand, and older players will be able to strategize about which card to play and where to move on the board to control more of the space. 

Number of players: 2-8

Recommended ages: 6+

Time to play: 20 minutes

Math connections: Multi-step problem solving, spatial reasoning, patterns, graph theory.

math board game tsuro

Tsuro is a tile-placement game in which players can develop spatial reasoning as they visualize how their piece will move along the paths.

Math Board Games for Kids 8+

Dara

This centuries-old game is traditionally played by the Dakarkari people in what is now the Sokota State region of Nigeria. Players take turns placing their pieces on the board, then move pieces in an attempt to form rows of three. When a player forms a row of three, they get to remove one of the opponent's pieces. Download the free printable board game from MIND Research Institute!

Number of players: 2

Recommended ages: 8+

Time to play: 20 minutes

Math connections: Dara is an ancestor of chess, sharing a focus on deductive reasoning and multi-step problem solving.

 

 

Suspend

Players add notched wire pieces to build a shifting sculpture that appears to always be just hanging in balance. There are multiple ways to play, making it great for a range of ages. This game is simple but exciting, because at any move the whole structure could collapse!

Number of players: 1+

Recommended ages: 8+

Time to play: 15+ minutes

Math connections: Symmetry, equal parts, physics.

 
Ticket to Ride

Players build train tracks across the United States, attempting to complete their unique tasks for bonus points. The strategy is in choosing which routes to take, jugding which bonus cards to target and reacting to how your opponents place.

Number of players: 2-4

Recommended ages: 8+

Time to play: 60 minutes

Math connections: Multi-step problem solving, resource management.

math board games for kids ticket to ride

Ticket to Ride develops planning skills as players must think ahead on how to complete their objectives.

Laser Khet 2.0

Khet is similiar to a laser version of chess, where players must rotate and move mirror pieces and blocking pieces to get their laser beam to hit the other player's pharoh while protecting their own pharoh. When players move or rotate a piece, they end their turn by pressing their laser beam. The informative feedback helps players determine their next moves.

Number of players: 2

Recommended ages: 8+

Time to play: 20+ minutes

Math connections: Rotation, angles, reflection and refraction as well as multi-step problem solving.

Khet fun math board gamesKhet Tip: Use a piece of white paper to see where the laser goes when it doesn't hit a piece.

 

Math Board Games for Middle School and High School Students

Ricochet Robots

In Ricochet Robots, players must figure out how to get the robot to a particular spot on the board in the lowest number of moves compared to your opponents. Once someone thinks they have a solution, they say the number of moves they will use. The timer starts for the rest of the players to say their number if they think they have a solution with fewer moves. There are multiple solutions to every problem, and every game is different. This game also helps build working memory, as you must visualize your solution and remember it even while others try out their own solutions. There's also an online version of Ricochet Robots, but it is a solo version.

Number of players: 2+

Recommended ages: 9+

Time to play: 3-5 minutes per round (you can limit the number of rounds)

Math connections: Patterns, algorithms, working memory.

 

Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space

Not only is Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space a fun theme that students will enjoy, it really tests your students' abilities to think logically. Each player has their own map and dry erase marker, choosing where they will move on the map then drawing a card that determines if they state their location or lie about their location to the group. Depending on if they are a human or alien, the player must escape or prevent escape to win. If students are listening and tracking, they can absolutely deduce where the other players are located on the map! A print and play version is available for a small fee.

Number of players: 2-8

Recommended ages: 12+

Time to play: 20-45 minutes

Math connections: logic, pattern recognition, deduction.

 educational math board games

Players hide their movements while trying to deduce and track where other players are moving.

 
Splendor

Splendor is a turn-based strategy game. Players collect gems and cards each turn, generating combinations that garner them extra points. After one player hits a certain amount of points, the player with the most points at the end of the round wins.

Number of players: 2-4

Recommended ages: 12+

Time to play: 40-60 minutes

Math connections: resource management, multi-step problem-solving.

 

 
Five Tribes

Five Tribes is an updated and expanded version of Mancala. Players move colored meeples (board game pieces) in a similar fashion to Mancala, picking up a group and dropping one meeple at a time as they move around the board, then performing an action on their final space. There are many ways to gain points in this game, including claiming spaces, gaining abilities, and collecting resources. Players also have an opportunity to bid to go first, which allows players to risk a certain amount of points to gain possibly more points. 

Number of players: 3-4

Recommended ages: 12+

Time to play: 60-90 minutes

Math connections: spatial reasoning, resource management, multi-step problem-solving.

board games with math five tribesFive Tribes helps players think through several move options as they visualize possible moves.

I hope this list helps you get started building your own library of math board games and help faciliatate tons of interesting math discussions! Did I miss any of your favorite board games? Please let me know on twitter!

Are your students ready to take the next step and design their own unique math game? Enter the K-12 Game-a-thon by July1!

 Learn More About Game-a-thon

Calli Welsch is a digital media analyst at MIND Research Institute. She loves playing board games and editing their rules, which she often talks about on twitter @CalliWelsch.

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