I love playing clever puzzle games with friends and for years my go to company has been ThinkFun. They've just released a title with the claim of "teaching the basics of computer programming without a computer". The designer of Code Master is an ex NASA virtual reality simulations programmer named Mark Engelberg and I think he's hit his mark.
Like most of ThinkFun's games, it comes with an ingenious, well-ramped set of levels that teaches new mechanics as you go. Even though the later levels are driving me batty, the "Huzzah!" moments encourage me to keep playing long after I should have gone to bed.
You play the role of an adventurer who needs to collect gems on each level before escaping through a Portal. To aid you in your quest you'll need to "write a program" that moves your hero across the map.
To write the program you'll need to order a random set of movement tokens that allows your avatar to travel on appropriately colored paths.
For the level shown above, you're movement tokens are 1 red, 1 blue and 2 greens and must be placed in the following order to make it from start to finish.
This particular level may seem simple but believe me – the game ramps to insane levels of difficulty!
Early on you'll be introduced to special paths that only allow your Avatar to move in the direction the arrows are pointing and Loop paths that bring your Avatar back to his current position.
In the intermediate levels, you'll meet up with conditions that teach how if-then statements work in coding. This is where the game gets hairy.
I had a great time playing it with my 9 year old Nephew this past Christmas. As long as I was there to keep him on track he had a great time with it and felt like a mini-genius the entire time.
The lone con – The only thing with the game I'd like changed is the material of the Avatar and Portal's bases. These pieces are gigantic and the fact that they have to occupy the same space at times makes it impossible to keep track of what lies beneath them.
If ThinkFun does another run of this game and the bases are redesigned to be transparent, the game will be perfect.
The many pros – Code Master is a clever and beautifully designed game that will make anyone feel smarter for having played it.
Like many puzzle games, you have the safety net of an answer booklet to bail you out when the going gets too tough.
There is no doubt in my mind that Code Master will inspire a new breed of game programmers and I hope that my Nephew will be one of them.