Over the summer, I read some blogs talking about a new board game, Code Monkey Island. Purporting to integrate basic programming concepts into the game mechanics, kids would essentially be learning how to code while having fun playing. Awesome!
Now admittedly, I don’t know the first thing about programming, but luckily my brother is a software developer at Netflix and could be my expert consultant on the educational aspect of the game. His assessment, after giving their website a basic sniff test, was, “it’s fairly simple but it does cover some core concepts that are needed to understand programming.” Sold! They had just closed a successful Kickstarter campaign but were still accepting pre-orders on their website. A couple months later and I had a gift waiting to be opened on Christmas.
We finally played it a couple days ago and my ten-year-old expert consultant on fun gave the game two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Code Monkey Island is similar to the game Trouble, but without the Pop-o-matic and with alot more complexity. The goal of the game is to be the first to move your tribe of monkeys around the island into the Banana Grove. Instead of rolling dice, you select from Guide Cards to determine your move. To add to the fun, there are Quicksand Tiles to avoid, Boost in a Bottle Cards to give you a variable number of free steps forward, and Fruit Cards that usually bestow beneficial boosts but occasionally throw in unfavorable moves backward. You have to look at the game board as a whole and assess where all the monkeys are on the board in order to determine which Guide Cards can be played and which moves would most benefit your monkey tribe.
Programming logic is applied when you use the Guide Cards.
Condition statements: If any monkey is on a tree, move between 3 and 8 spaces forward.
Loops: Move one of your monkeys past one tree tile at a time UNTIL you have passed 3 tree tiles.
Boolean logic (“true” and “false” values): If at least one of your monkeys is in quicksand, move 10 spaces. Otherwise, move 7 spaces.
Boolean operators (“and”, “or”, “not”): If any monkey is on a tree AND another monkey is on a rock, move between 3 and 12 spaces forward.
Doesn’t make any sense to you? Don’t worry, the game developers wrote an accompanying Explorers Guide that does a fantastic job explaining how the Code Monkey Island game mechanics correspond to a real computer program. How much coding knowledge your kids get out of the game depends on how much they understand the concepts explained in the guide. Maybe they’ll even be inspired to visit online resources like http://code.org, http://codeacademy.com and http://scratch.mit.edu to learn more advanced programming concepts.
As a side note, my brother sent me an interesting article about programming aptitude and how programmers think. When I looked at the sample question, my answer wasn’t even one of the multiple-choice options! My kids, on the other hand, all got the answer right. Am I the only person in my family to be missing the programming aptitude gene!?! Or maybe it’s because my kids have been exposed to the basic programming concepts from a young age, thanks to STEM projects at school and at summer camps.
My takeaway: even if your kids aren’t specifically interested in the programming aspect of Code Monkey Island, as long as they are having fun playing the game, any serendipitous exposure to programming logic constructs can’t hurt them at all.