Because Science Is Awesome | Games, Gamers, & Gaming | May 15, 2013

Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is experiencing a resurgence, and libraries are hopping on board in a big way.

Eight libraries were lucky enough to be chosen to host the amazing DiscoverTech: Engineers Make a World of Difference exhibit (my former library, Wayne County Public Library, NC, is one of them!). This exhibit allows visitors to explore the creative and collaborative design process by which engineers arrive at practical solutions to problems. Since it comes with a grant of $1,000 for related public programming, there’s been an upsurge of interest in science-related programming, including games.

Games are a fun, nonintimidating way of introducing math and science concepts to people of all ages, since all games, from the most intense first-person shooter to the simplest card game, are built on the mathematical principles of probability and logic. Plus, some games, like the board game Yikerz, incorporate more advanced science and reward players’ knowledge of scientific theory and principles.

Yikerz’s playing pieces are magnets, and players attempt to position their magnets so that they’ll be attracted by those of other players. The winner is the first person to end a turn with no magnets of their own left. It may sound simple, but this game challenges players’ dexterity, patience, and knowledge of physics.

Opposites attract

Players begin by placing four triangular play mats on their play surface in any of more than 20 configurations. Any number of play areas can be created; the game’s instructions include some, with several more possible. There are a number of ways to randomize the play field; players can agree on a pattern, or take turns placing each mat. The only rule is that each mat must connect to at least one other mat somehow (you can’t simply place the mats in a scattered pattern around the table).

Next, players divide the magnets evenly. There are 20 magnets in the game, and the instructions are vague as to how to divide them; generally, the more pieces each players has, the more challenging the game becomes, as there are more pieces on the board (although there will never be more than 20). One hopes there will be expansions that offer more play mats and more magnets with which to play.

Players take turns placing a magnet on one of the game mats. Each piece must be touching a mat—it is not allowed to lean on the edge of the mat (if it hangs over the edge, that’s fine, but it cannot touch the table). If, when placing a magnet—or anytime before the player’s turn is over—a magnet on the board connects with any other magnet, then the person whose turn it is must take all of the magnets that link together and add them to their pool of magnets. This is true even if several small groupings of magnets form.

A player’s turn is over either as soon as the next player begins or when ten seconds has passed since they moved their hand from their piece. If a player successfully ends a turn and has no magnets in their pool, they win! Games can be played in any number of ways; winners can score points for each magnet each other player has in their pool, for example, and everyone plays until a set score has been achieved. With games lasting less than 20 minutes, it might be a good idea to experiment with multiple scoring systems to extend them and give each gamer a chance to experience the game in full; keeping games brief, though, would be ideal for fast-paced game days. Lines will be short, and it’s a very tense game to watch!

Like threading a needle…

Yikerz is highly skill-based and favors those with keen observation skills; a working knowledge of how magnets work wouldn’t go amiss. The slightest tremble of a piece can signal the start of a big chain reaction that has a gamer losing the lead, and knowing the range of each magnet can help gamers set up traps for the other players, forcing them to set their pieces dangerously close to others.

Likewise, with a steady hand and lots of practice, players can manipulate the magnets to their advantage. They can continue to move their piece as long as they keep their hand on the one they are placing. This allows them to move the pieces carefully around the board until they are positioned in a way that repels a magnet, which can get bothersome pieces out of the way or create a better trap; just know that by doing so, the gamer risks setting off a chain reaction or knocking a piece off the board, and that’s nothing but a bad thing.

Yikerz, which is recommended for ages 14 and up, is a fun game with simple rules, whose complexity comes from the scientific phenomenon it uses as its primary mechanic. Games are tense, advantages shift quickly, the buzz and snap of magnets clumping together is a tremendously satisfying effect, and methodical players who aren’t afraid to take risks are rewarded. In 2010 MENSA selected this as one of its favorite games, which is always a mark of quality for a game. Give Yikerz a go as part of a STEM program at your library, or simply buy it as an addition to your gaming collection.

Until next time, when we look at a role-playing game that laughs in your face when you decide it’s time to go to sleep, keep telling yourself: just one more level!

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

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