7 games for 7 algebra concepts

March 10, 2013 at 11:51 pm Leave a comment

Talking with other people about games really helps to get some perspective and to get me thinking. Reading the “Game Design Concepts” blog has also been very helpful. Ian Schreiber makes the important point that sometimes setting constraints on the design of a game can actually help in making the many design choices involved. So, and in the spirit of rapid prototyping, here are 7 game concepts. See if you can spot a common theme.


Singleplayer. Beginning with simple levels, the player has to find the right length for caissons to balance a lintel-like oil rig. If they find the wrong value, the rig topples, maybe with a satisfying boom. There are given units and a picture of the two sides of the pilings. Concept: 2x + 3 = 4x – 5.


Single player or multiplayer kinesthetic version. Given a time distance graph, try to program a robot, perhaps traveling down a pipeline, to match the graph. If it’s not possible, explain why. Or act out the graph, using a proximity sensor. Concept: is this graph a function?


Multiplayer or timed singleplayer. Two numbers flash on a screen under two columns, x and y, and then fade. No pair of numbers will be shown a third time until all pairs are shown at least once. When a player sees a pair for the third time, she yells out “Piezo!”, gives the domain and range and states if it’s a function. Concept: given input-output find domain and range and if the relation is a function.

Plug ‘n Chug

Singleplayer or multiplayer. The player(s) get a list of functions down the left side of the page with two input values for each one. Most of the page has a graph with a train tracks winding down through it. Players decide which of the two values puts the output between the rails of the track. Concept: Evaluate a function.


Singleplayer. The player tries to keep his plane, or maybe a ship into harbor, on course. For example, given an input of 6, the needed correction is 14 to keep on course toward 20 and an input of -2 needs a correction of 22. At higher levels, an input could get multiplied before the correction, which could also have a multiplier effect. Concept: recognize and graph linear functions.

Pinning it Down

2 player. One player is black, the other green. Each turn the two players draw cards of their colors. A black card might be a coal mine or oil field while a green card might be a wind farm or new biofuel. Players use first, second, and third order effects to calculate marginal profits. Black will have relatively low first order costs but higher second and third order costs (i.e., pollution).Green will be reversed. Players try to play cards that make it more difficult for the other player to get a final marginal profit. Concept: find the slope from a table or graph.

Prove It!

2 or 3 players. Two arrays of cards with numbers are laid out, face-down. On a player’s turn she turns over one card from each array. If she thinks the right hand number times m + b (given at the beginning of play) equals the number from the left array, she keeps the pair. If not, she turns them back over. Other players can challenge, saying “prove it!” If the number pair does not work, the challenger keeps the pair. If the challenge is unsuccessful, the challenged player takes another turn. Concept: Graph each line given slope and y-intercept or write the equation of a line from the graph.


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Rapid prototyping

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