For a fun approach to logic and deduction, try two decoding games: Mastermind, by Pressman, andCoda, by Winning Moves Games. In Mastermind, the Codemaker uses color and sequence to create a code that the Codebreaker must solve. The game consists of a plastic playing board with 10 rows of peg holes, four per row, and an 11th row shielded from the Codebreaker’s view. Code pegs in six colors are used to make and break the code. Beside each row is a cluster of four smaller peg holes where the Codemaker evaluates the Codebreaker’s attempts to solve the code by using smaller red and white key pegs.
The Codemaker selects four code pegs of various colors, including two or more pegs of the same color, and arranges them in any order behind the shield. The Codebreaker then selects four code pegs and places them in the first row. The Codemaker places a red key peg next to the row for every colored peg that the Codebreaker gets right and in the correct position, but places a white key peg for every colored peg that is right but in the wrong position. No pegs are placed for wrong colors. The key pegs do not need to be placed in the correct corresponding holes; the Codebreaker must use successive attempts to determine which colors and order of placement are correct. Using these cues, the Codebreaker selects four more code pegs and tries them in another arrangement along the second row of holes. The Codemaker responds again, using the red and white key pegs.
Using deductive reasoning, the Codebreaker has up to ten tries to break the code. The Codemaker scores one point for every row of pegs attempted by the Codebreaker; if the Codebreaker has not solved the code in ten attempts, the Codemaker gets 11 points. The opponents then switch positions and play another round. The player with the most points when the predetermined number of rounds is completed wins.
Recommended for ages 8 to adult, Mastermind is challenging for older children and adults and highly appropriate for gifted elementary and middle school students. The game requires complex logical sequencing decisions, and players develop problem-solving strategies as they play. Mastermind for Kids, available for children 6 and up, includes colored pegs in the shapes of animals and a game board with a mountain to shield the secret code. It features variations on the rules of Mastermind for younger children but allows standard play for older children and adults.
Mastermind is an excellent game conceptually, although the mechanics of play can be tedious. The game board is small and the pegs are difficult to place into and remove from the shielded area; the storage compartments for the pegs are small and difficult to close. Despite these drawbacks, Mastermind comes highly recommended for both fun and skill building.
Coda uses numbered code sequences rather than colored ones. The game consists of a set of white tiles and a set of black tiles, both numbered 0–11. The tiles are placed face down on a hard surface. Each player selects four tiles of any color and stands them in numerical order from left to right so that opponents cannot see the numbers. If a player has two tiles with the same number, the black tile is placed to the left of the white one.
During a turn, a player draws one tile from the remaining tiles on the table and sets it up outside his original tile sequence so that opponents cannot see it. Then the player must point to a specific tile in any opponent’s code and guess its value. If the guess is correct, the opponent must lay the tile flat with the number exposed. The player making the correct guess may choose to make another guess or to insert the tile he drew into its proper numerical position in his own sequence, concealing its value from opponents and making his own code longer and more difficult to crack. If the guess is incorrect, the player making the guess must expose the number he drew and insert it into its correct position in his own sequence.
As play continues, players deduct the numbered sequence of opponents’ tiles by looking at exposed tiles, comparing them to their own tiles, and remembering previous guesses. Play continues until one player with unexposed tiles remains. For more advanced play, two tiles with dashes, considered wild cards, may be used at any point in a player’s code, complicating an opponent’s guesses. Official International CodaTournament Play Rules are available at www.winning-moves.com/rules/coda.htm.
While Coda relies on the same logic and deductive reasoning skills as Mastermind , it uses fewer variables; numerical codes in two colors are less complicated to crack than color combinations involving four of six possible colors. Recommended for ages 8 to adult, Coda is an excellent choice for elementary school children; older children, academically gifted children, and adults may find Mastermind more challenging.
—Sarah Boone, MA
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She teaches at Meredith College.
Both games are available wherever toys are sold.