Need some fun and challenging games for spring break? Visual thinking games may be the answer. Dozens are available, but I have chosen for evaluation some of the more unique and challenging ones.
Visual Brainstorms: The Smart Thinking Game and Visual Brainstorms 2, by Binary Arts Corporation, are my top choices. The Visual Brainstorm sets combine subtle visual clues with written brainteasers to stimulate increasingly complex problem-solving skills. Each set contains 100 colorful, humorously illustrated question cards and a short narrative of verbal clues. To solve the riddle, players must integrate the verbal and visual data and apply logic and critical-thinking skills. They study maps and mazes, trace loops and tangles, decode messages, apply principles of physics and geometry, and study 3-D optical illusions in pursuit of the answers. Each card clearly explains and illustrates the answer on the back and contains a bonus question, which tests visual recall or knowledge of related subject matter, such as specialized vocabulary; geographic, literary, and historical allusions; mathematical equations; and scientific principles.
Cards in the Visual Brainstorm sets are categorized as easy, hard, and very hard, and the games are well suited for older elementary and middle school students, including gifted students. Children can enjoy the game independently or play in pairs or on teams, an ideal approach for including younger children in a family activity.
For children as young as six, I recommend SET: The Family Game of Visual Perception, by SET Enterprises. Each SET card in the deck has four features: symbol, color, number, and shading. Players study a group of twelve cards laid face up on the table and try to identify a set of three cards in which the four features are either the same or different on each card. Dozens of combinations are possible, but the game requires careful visual discrimination of all four features at the same time. The player who correctly identifies the most sets when all 78 cards have been laid out is the winner. Young children will need to be shown what constitutes a set, but independent play may follow one or two introductory sessions. Solitary play is also possible. A winner of 12 “Best Game” awards, SET has been recognized by Mensa, Omni magazine, Games magazine, the Detroit News, the Canadian Toy Testing Council, Dr. Toy, and the Parents Choice Awards.
Also from SET Enterprises is XACTIKA, a card game for older children. Like SET, XACTIKA uses symbols and visual cues as players bid and take tricks based on point values and symbol patterns. Though some visual discrimination is necessary, the game is little more than an ordinary card game and does not fully engage critical-thinking skills or logical reasoning.
More fun than educational is Switch: The Game of Ups and Downs, by Out of the Box Publishing. Switchconsists of a deck of cards, each containing one of eight numbers (1–8) and one of eight letters (A–H), and a die with plus, minus, and equals symbols. After hands are dealt, one player turns a card from the deck face up and rolls the die. Players race to play the next card from their hands, determined by the symbol on the die. Blink: The World’s Fastest Game, by the same company, uses a similar format, with shapes, colors, and numbers, though no die is involved. Both games are simply addition or subtraction and matching games and are appropriate for children ages 6 to 9.
—Sarah Boone, M.A.
Sarah Boone holds a master’s in teaching and certification in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.