Quick Look: CoderMindz
Designer: Aadit Mehta and Aadit Mehta
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 15-30 min.
From the publisher:
Welcome to the World of Bots! It's the year 2045. An Artificial Neural Network has been created. Bo, Mo, Po, and Jo need to be trained. Once trained they can help recognize images.
But here's the twist - in a world full of bots, you are still the Master Mind. Train the bots with the Code Cards and help them infer the images. Pick one of the 4 set of images: robo-animals, neural dataset digits, robo-edibles, and robo-vehicles. There are 6 levels that teach Artificial Intelligence concepts on top of coding concepts.
The idea is easy - play a board game, train bots with code, and learn AI - all in a fun and exciting Neural Adventure!
This copy of CoderMindz was provided to me for the purposes of this review, but the opinions here are my own.
Overview and Theme:
CoderMindz is an educational game, designed to teach kids some coding and programming basics while letting them have fun along the way. Interestingly, this game was developed by a 9-year-old and her older brother! We always enjoy trying games created by kids.
The game's story has you working as a Master Mind to teach and control Bots in the Neural Network, training them to get from one side of the grid to the other, and then teaching them how to stop and pick up pieces of images along the way.
Components and Setup:
CoderMindz includes a game board, 4 adorable wooden Bot tokens, 4 decks of cards (color-coded, one per Bot), 16 image tokens (4 per Bot), a die, and the rule book. The rule book includes setup and play instructions for 6 different Levels of play:
1.1 Basic Training
1.2 Advanced Training
2.1 Inference Image Recognition
2.2 Adaptive Learning Image Recognition
3.1 Basic Autonomous
3.2 Advanced Autonomous
Your setup will mostly consist of checking to make sure you have the appropriate cards for your level, and adding image pieces if appropriate. It's helpful to have each player sit behind their Bot's start space, as that makes moving in specific directions (left, right, forward, backward) easier.
Game Play and Mechanics:
The basic gameplay of CoderMindz uses a set of cards, played to move your Bot in certain ways. The goal is to get from your Start space to your End space first, picking up image pieces along the way in the games after Level 1.
The basic cards explored in Level 1.1 include:
Move Any 1 (includes backward and diagonally)
Move Any 2 (includes backward and diagonally)
ZAP (sends a Bot in your line of sight back to Start)
These cards are easy to understand and include both a diagram showing the motion and a line of code showing how that movement would be written. Starting kids with the Level 1.1 Basic Training game is pretty quick and easy: on your turn, you roll the die, draw that many cards, and use those cards in whatever order you like to move your Bot on the grid. In order to finish Level 1.1, you need to ZAP another Bot once, and make your way to your End space before any other player.
This Level plays in a way that would feel familiar to kids who have already played roll-and-move or flip-and-move games like Chutes and Ladders or Sorry.
After the kids are comfortable with the basic code cards, they can move up to Level 1.2 Advanced Training. You'll add in the advanced code cards, including:
Conditionals (If Right is Safe or Not Blocked, Move Right; Else Move Left)
Loops (While Left is Not Safe or Not Blocked, Move Left)
Functions (Draw 3 new cards to create a function)
Again, these advanced code cards include the code that would be used to program such a maneuver. These take a little explaining to kids who aren't familiar with the idea of If/Then/Else Conditionals or While Loops, but they're not difficult to master.
Advanced Training plays in the same way as Basic Training, but here each time you roll the die, you can choose to have one of your draws be from the Advanced code card pile. You still need to ZAP another Bot, and you still need to be the first to End.
In the Image Recognition levels (Level 2.1 and Level 2.2), you will each start out with two halves of one image placed anywhere on the board by your opponent. As you use the cards to maneuver your Bot around the board, you have to stop and pick up the two halves of your image before making your way to End. You're not learning new concepts here, but applying them in a longer game with more steps you have to take before reaching your goal.
The Autonomous levels (Level 3.1 and Level 3.2) are interesting in that each player must draw cards and add them to a growing face down pile in the order in which they'd like to use them, rather than moving their Bot each turn. When you think you have planned all the steps to get your Bot to the end, you announce that, and flip your Code pile over to let it run. If it works, and your Bot gets to the end, you win--but if it doesn't work, you must debug your code and try again.
I found the Autonomous levels the best at letting the kids work on long-term planning skills (and short-term memory, as they had to remember where their Bot was from turn to turn).
We liked the clean styling of CoderMindz and the cute wooden Bots named Bo, Mo, Po, and Jo! My daughter liked the different images that each Bot could pick up in the later levels.
The rulebook is well laid out with lots of illustrations and a helpful FAQ in the back. I appreciate that the game is tiered into 6 different levels to allow kids to ease into the game and master one set of ideas before moving on to the next.
My daughter and her friends felt like the game was too plainly educational and didn't quite hit the right balance for them between teaching skills and telling an engaging story or having interesting mechanics. They did say they would rather play CoderMindz than work on coding worksheets, so it is definitely a fun educational tool; it's just not a game that my daughter would choose to play for fun outside of our gameschooling hours.
Players Who Like:
Families who want to introduce some coding concepts through a game are clearly the target audience for CoderMindz--if your family also enjoys Robot Turtles or Potato Pirates, you'll probably enjoy CoderMindz.
Clean, clear, and well-laid-out, CoderMindz is good at what it sets out to do--teaching basic coding concepts to young kids through a fun activity.