Dice War: A dice game for addition math facts (plus milkshakes)

October 6, 2010

A new student of mine invented two dice games last week, and I think they’re both fun to play and mathematically relevant. Plus, don’t you want to share when your kids get prolific? So here’s the first.

Dice war is a great game for young kids who are just getting acquainted with “greater than” and “less than,” and the basics of adding. When your kids need more, I’ve included some variations.

However, the kid who invented it was happy to play it even though it was mathematically very easy for him. In the end, remember to let the games be games, and don’t stress about what math ideas the kids are “covering.” Playing and having fun is the best foundation you can lay.

The Game: Dice War

Two players. Both players roll a single die, and whoever gets the highest number gets a point. If they tie, they each bring out their second “war die” and roll the two dice together. Whoever gets the higher sum gets two points. If there’s a second war, add another die and whoever wins gets 3 points (and so on). Play to 10.

Example: I roll a 4, and my opponent rolls a 3. I get a point.
Next turn, we both roll fives, so we war: we each roll two dice.
I get a 2 and a 1, and she gets a 5 and a 6. So she wins 2 points.

Variation 1: Ready for more? Then roll two dice for normal play, and bump it to three when there are ties.

Variation 2: Same as normal, but for more than two players. When two or more people tie for highest roll, just they go on to war.

Variation 3: Instead of getting a single point, you get as many points in any roll as you beat the other person by (there’s that subtraction!). So after the two turns of the example, I would be losing 1 to 8 instead of 1 to 2. This game is better played to a higher number, like 50. This one has the nice feature that a lot of points can be earned back very quickly in a war.

You can, by the way, play any of the variations in conjunction.

Why I like this game

My friend Ian loves milkshakes. He likes the classic things about them, of course: their sweet, ice creamy deliciousness and all that. But what he really likes is that a milkshake is a story. It’s a whole experience.

Say he gets a peanut butter milkshake with oreo cookie mixed in. There’s the basic experience of eating it, which he loves. But the best part is when he reaches the bottom, and all the oreo sediment has gathered there, and the experience changes. It’s got the same natural climax of a narrative. That’s why he loves milkshakes so much.

I feel the same way about Dice War. You’ve got your basic experience of the game: you’re rolling to see who gets the higher number (or sum, if you’re playing variation 1). But then there’s this occasional special moment when you tie, and suddenly the stakes are higher, you’ve got a more complicated operation to perform to see who wins, and things are just more interesting. That’s the oreo crumble at the bottom of the glass.

As always, I hope you play the game with your kids and students, and let me know how it works for you, and what could make it better. And if your kids come up with ideas to tweak this game, or a new game altogether, I’d love to hear about those too!

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