Subscribe to the MIND Research Institute Blog

English language learner achievement whitepaper
Join the Conversation

The Big List of Board Games that Inspire Mathematical Thinking

These board games incorporate math in unique and fun ways!

By Calli Welsch May 17, 2016

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 through 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!

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. 

 

 

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.

 

 

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: 9+

Time to Play: 20+ minutes

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, patterns, graph theory.

 

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!

  Enter the Game-a-thon Now

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.

More Articles by Calli Welsch
English language learner achievement whitepaper
Play ST Math
Math Minds

Featured Video

Watch Video
MIND Research Institute: Leading the Learning Revolution
Join the Conversation