Monday, September 22, 2014

Robot Turtles

Today Päivi from Sanomat borrowed me the Robot Turtles game.

The idea of this game is that kids "Turtle Masters" play Code Cards that guide their Robot Turtle toward a gem. Everyone who gets to their gem wins. An adult is the Turtle Mover who will move the players' turtles according to the code cards that the kids play. And it has a progressive set of rules where you introduce new features as the players seem to be familiar with the current ones.

After reading the rules I was a bit disappointed. Where's the game? Where's the challenge? But then I took a step back and realized that I had the perspective of a professional programmer who has played a lot of complicated board games like Puerto Rico. This is a game for kids starting from the age of 4 it says on the package. So we gave it a try. Me as the Turtle Mover and my 5 and almost-3 year old girls ad Turtle Masters. 

First we started with the basic rules where there are no obstacles on the board. You play a "forward", "left" or "right" card to move/turn the turtle accordingly. There's about 8 moves to the gem, involving one turn. It was dead easy for the 5 year old coder girl. Even the almost 3-year old wannabe coder girl made it to the gem after several tries. This was enought for her and she went to lay down some stickers instead.

But with the older girl we played some more. Next I put some obstacles on the board and she started planning her route to the gem. She planned the whole route almost instantly and we agreed that we won't play one card at a time. Instead, she wrote the whole program consisting of about 10 cards at once in about 2 minutes. And it turned out correct and was fun. As per game rules, I kept making funny noises for each move of the turtle and we had fun.

We played yet one more round, with a "laser" card that you can use to melt an obstacle made of ice. We also added some obstacles made of rock. The different to the ice obstacles is that you can't melt the rocky ones. This time the route was a bit tougher and she had to try like 4 times before getting the complete and correct program. But she made it and it was fun. I think the earlier coding lessons have paid off. Dunna. Should try with some other 5 year old to verify that assumption.

After the game I asked if it was fun and she said "tosi hauskaa", which means very fun or something like that.

- Do you find this game to be at all like coding?
- Yes, a bit like Turtle Roy
- Is it easier or harder?
- A bit harder
- Really?
- Daddy, this was the first time we played it!
- Do you want to play again?
- No.
- Really?
- I meant I don't want to play again right now.
- But later maybe?
- Sure!

So I guess the game works. And it's a brilliant idea to introduce game features gradually, so that you don't have to memorize too many complex concepts at a time.

And I think it'll be even more fun with 4 kids or so. Gotta try!

Still I have this feeling that we need a more hardcore coding game. With more control structures, memory access and such.