What game(s) do you recommend?

Thursday, June 30th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

I have been thinking about how games and puzzles can help teach concepts and strengthen a person’s thought patterns for specific types of problem solving. However, there are literally thousands of games available across a multitude of forms, whether they are card, board, or computer-based games. The large number of options can make it challenging to even know when one might be particularly well suited to helping you train your mind for a type of design project. Discussion forums, like this one can collect lessons learned and make you aware of games or puzzles that others have found useful in exercising their minds – as well as being entertaining.

I have a handful of games that I could suggest, but I will start by offering only one recommendation in the hopes that other people will share their finds and thoughts about when and why the recommendation would be worthwhile to someone else.

For anyone that needs to do deep thinking while taking into account a wide range of conditions from a system perspective, I recommend checking out the ancient game of Go. It is a perfect knowledge game played between two players, and it has a ranking or handicap system that makes it possible for two players that are of slightly different strengths to play a challenging game for both players. Rather than explaining the specifics of the game here, I would instead like to focus on what the game forces you to do in order to play competently.

The rules are very simple – each player alternates turns placing a stone on a grid board. The goal of the game is to surround and capture the most territory. The grid is of sufficient size (19×19 points) that your moves have both a short term and a long term impact. Understanding the subtlety and depth of the long term impact of your moves grows in richness with experience and practice – not unlike designing a system in such a way as to avoid shooting yourself in the foot during troubleshooting. If you are too cautious, your opponent will capture too much of the board for your excellent long term planning to matter. If you play too aggressively – such as to capture as much territory as directly or as quickly as possible, you risk trying to defend what you have laid a claim to with a structure that is too weak to withstand any stress from your opponent.

The more I play Go, the easier I am able to see how the relationships between decisions and trade-offs affect how well the game – or a project – will turn out. Being able to find an adequate balance between building a strong structure and progressing forward at an appropriate pace is a constant exercise in being able to read your environment and adjusting to changing conditions.

I would recommend Go to anyone that needs to consider the system level impacts of their design decisions. Do you have a game you would recommend for embedded developers? If so, what is it and why might an embedded developer be interested in trying it out?


8 Responses to “What game(s) do you recommend?”

  1. Jon Titus says:

    There’s a “guess-the-colors” game I used to play as a kit that taught logical thinking. You can find something similar on the Web at http://www.gamesforthebrain.com/game/guesscolors/. My kids had a “binary” puzzle that had a slider with seven or eight moving pieces that required a strategy to move into the proper position so the slider would leave a frame. Wish I could remember it’s name. “Scotland Yard” is worthy of attention as a game that teaches strategy and encourages reasoning. This is the Milton Bradley edition. –Jon

  2. D.S. @ LI says:

    For brain games and brain training you can check out Luminosity: http://www.lumosity.com/ . These are simpler shorter games but designed to strengthen the brain.

  3. Eduardo says:

    I play go a lot and LOVE it. I first knew about it in college when I saw the movie Pi (also very recommended – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0138704/). I now have an iPhone app called SmartGo Pro that’s designed to improve your game by giving you incrementally more complex games and exercises, a real mind stimulator!

  4. M.C. @ LI says:

    I never though about playing go or chess to improve my developers capabilities, that is a really good idea you have and that will maybe help me to see solutions to some problems that I have never though about.
    I will look for luminosity, thank you for the link. I think there are a lot of applications like that available, I already saw one on Android for sure.

    I am not a fan of those games but do you think some strategic games like the famous computer game Starcraft would help to improve one’s capabilities? In this game you have to raise an army to fight against another player. You have to make a choice of what unit to build, how to place them during the fight, when to attack…everything has to be done in real time. I think it would help the developer in finding a good solution fast.

  5. J.K. @ LI says:

    I’ve known some really good chess players who worked as programmers, and lots of programmers who play chess. I don’t see much correlation between skill levels on both sides. Likewise for the few serious go playing programmers I know, or even checkers players. Being smart helps with both, but the best in each don’t turn out to be the best at both.

    Once, at a job fair very long ago in Cambridge MA, one company (CCA?) had chess boards set up and was willing to make an immediate job offer to anyone who could beat one of their programmers.

  6. L.M. @ LI says:

    I find pretty much any real world game helps in the development process. Taking a mental break without zoning out is a valuable distraction. I find Scrabble and Boggle to be great for spatial relationships, even though they’re not traditional math games. Of course you can manipulate the triple word scores and calculate the point system and all, but they’re primarily right brain. And every team I’ve ever worked with has had a chess board on standby: two or four of us would always have a side game going on.

  7. K.P. @ LI says:

    Hmmm…I didn’t think I had any answer, but I turned it around and thought about what games I play that I would consider to be exercising that part of my brain/ability.
    I very much like the spate of Physics based electronics games at the moment. The well known ones are of course Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Blow Up, etc. Personally I find that they combine the puzzle aspect with the forward thinking of action/reaction…but they also make you quickly think about the relationship between things and consequences.
    Not traditional games like Go or Chess, but there is long term strategy, speed, relation and consequence.

  8. N.M. @ LI says:

    i play a small portable computer chess player(Kasparov plus), whenever i have free time. it seems to help me with software strategies too!

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