Many a parent has used traditional card games like Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Rummy and Pinochle to teach and reinforce basic math concepts in a relaxed family environment. Modern trading card games (TCGs) like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering create opportunities for this kind of learning along with logic and strategy skills that lead to hours, sometimes years, of math fun in a peer-centered environment.
Yu-Gi-Oh!, a hit when my children were young, continues to be the world’s most popular TCG. On any given day the playground and lunchroom of our local elementary school were filled with kids shuffling decks of the distinctive brown and gold cards. The game uses quick, simple addition and subtraction within an immersive role-playing environment and, in a wonderful example of a non-electronic version of gamification, players practice and hone mental math skills while they compete.
I love how the game encourages peer interaction and learning. Instead of setting aside time to actively learn with an adult mentor or teacher, TCGs provide opportunities for kids to gain math knowledge and dexterity by working, make that playing, with their friends.
The gist of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG is simply reducing your opponent’s Life Points (LP) to zero by utilizing any of the different types of cards (Monster, Spell, or Trap). Drawing influences from Japanese and other ancient mythologies, the Monster Cards each had two primary components: an Attack (ATK) and defense (DEF) value. The easiest way to annihilate your opponent’s LP was to attack with your Monsters. If an opponent had no Monster cards of her own on the playing field, your Monster could attack her LP directly, and that Monster’s ATK points would be subtracted from their LP.
For example, say my Mystic Tomato (which has 1400 ATK and 1100 DEF) attacked an open opponent – they’d lose 1400 LP (the amount of starting LP is determined pre-game, and is most commonly set at 2000, 4000, or 8000). In order to not lose the game, the opposing player can set Monsters of his own, in either Attack or Defense position. The game requires a lot of mental math! A savvy player not only keeps track of her score, but is checking her opponent’s numbers the entire time as well.
In order to win the game a child needs to have a good strategy (logic), the cards to back up that strategy and a good grasp of simple addition and subtraction in a fast paced game environment. Unlike electronic games, with TCGs all the math takes place in the players’ heads.
As a parent I loved when my kids were engaged in “unplugged” activities like TCGs. There’s something endearing about grubby little hands reaching into pockets for a worn rubber-banded deck. The social interaction and game play alone were worth the investment. What was less obvious to me at the time was the lessons in strategy, logic and math the kids were teaching themselves on their imaginary battlefields.