MindWare educational toys review : Mine Shift

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This review was posted on the Toys are Tools website.

Mine Shift: You’re the Master of Your Domain

Ever play a game that was so fun that even if you lost repeatedly, you didn’t care, you just wanted to play more?

I’m not all that cheery about losing and so I don’t think I’ve ever had this experience but you know what?  Number 1 Son has.    I can’t remember ever seeing him fall in love with a game so fast.  The game is called Mine Shift and just yesterday it was named as one of the five winners for Mensa Select 2012.

I honestly checked the box and examined the pieces up close to see what is this magnetic draw.  But if there was a secret, I couldn’t uncover it.

Actually, you don’t have to look that closely to see the signs of a great game.  There are jewels embedded inside.  No seriously, there really are pictures of pretty jewels embedded within the “walls” of the game board.  When I saw them, I instantly thought of something not present in my life: girls.

I don’t have daughters.  I am one of those women who sees girls’ clothing and become sad that I never get to purchase a pretty dress for my own child.

Despite not having any girls, I have thought a lot about their development way before I even became a mom, as I used to develop job-readiness skill-building programs to help young girls reach their potential when I worked in community-based organizations.

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I even love this box. Super easy to clean up too. They even give you an extra jewel just in case you are like me and tend to lose stuff. photo: Mindware

Introducing Number 5 (No, I didn’t just have a baby)

Thinking about girls and what they need is really all I can do now since I only have boys.  But exploring how girls may experience toys differently is something worth doing as my friends have often told me that it is not easy shopping for toys for their daughters.  After attending the Toy Fair this year and seeing some very promising toys for girls, I knew I had to find some girl testers and Number 5 and her mother were willing to give it a shot.   To read more about Number 5, please click here but in short, Number 5 is a fun-loving active third grader who loves to read Harry Potter and adores her Monster High dolls.

I knew that Number 5 liked playing 2-player strategy games like chess with her dad and so after seeing those jewels and knowing her penchant for pretty things, I lent Mine Shift to Number 5.

educational toys for kids

Do you see what I see? They are so pretty! Boys can marvel and girls can be dazzled.

Girls and Boys Both Like This Strategy Game

I was so happy to hear that she not only liked Mine Shift but loved it.  She beat her mom a few times (sometimes her mom loses on purpose just to allow No. 5 some more time to try out different moves).   In our house, I had no mercy and beat No. 1, eight times in a row (games are quick) and he would still beg for another game.  I just didn’t get it.  What is so addictive?  No. 5’s experience sounded very similar.

To investigate the inner workings of this game further, I asked Susan Schwartz, MAEd, a veteran learning specialist and child development expert and Director of the Child Mind Institute‘s Learning and Diagnostics Center in New York City.   She too, played with one of her students, a 5-year-old girl and remarked how popular it was with girls.  Her first comments about the game were about the design which we both agree it looks and feels great.

educational games for kids

"There is something nice about the way it feels in your hands," said expert child development specialist, Susan Schwartz of the board games squares and the jewels.

The Mystery Behind Mine Shift

Still, I was a dog with a bone. I felt like there was some sort of secret to this game’s success.  I never see my son get beat repeatedly and just come back for more.  Additionally, I have given several toys and games to Number 5 to test and Mine Shift was one of the games that really stood out from the crowd.   What’s in this sauce?

Susan tried to help me by bringing up the game of chess.  “The best players keep playing because they can shift their strategy.”  And this is true of Mine Shift, you can watch the video below to see how each move changes the game.  About Mine Shift, Susan continued, “And you have to keep shifting your strategy and make decisions about how you are going to turn the cards and turning the cards can turn the table on your game.”

What Susan said clarified everything for me as a mom and why I think that these two kids (Numbers 1 and 5) liked the game so much.  Simply put, Mine Shift is a game of non-stop strategic play.  Both Numbers 1 and 5 love movement and have pretty good visual-spatial skills.  You enjoy watching your opponent’s moves as much as you like envisioning your next moves and then carrying out your plan.   It’s like you are watching and playing a football game simultaneously with no breaks.  There is always movement, even if it is only in your mind.

Susan’s student also shared a similar opinion.  Being younger than the recommended age of eight, Susan had her play with just two jewels instead of four and she too was enamored of the movement.  Susan relayed her student’s comments to me, “I like the shapes that you put the cards in.  It was fabulous.  I like when you have to turn the squares.”

Searching for Skills within Mine Shift

Number 5’s mom remarked that there was some luck involved in Mine Shift because you don’t always get the same cards and this could mean that you are off to a bit of a difficult start.  I really like that. That is the one big difference between Mine Shift and other famous two-player games like Chess and Checkers in which the game board never changes.

Susan shared some good news about skill-building even if your game board changes with each game.  “You are building that storehouse of executive thinking, flexibility, planning ahead,” she said, “and you begin to develop a sensibility about the game and you can make things shift.”

I asked Susan to expand on executive skills which she explained were things like flexibility and schematic and strategic thinking.  These sound really good but this idea of executive skills is on my mind lately. (*See bottom for a great link) I often hear friends joke how they need an executive assistant because we are all so busy and not managing to get everything done.  What are we talking about when we speak of executive skills and children?Master Your Domain

“So it means that you are a master of your domain.”  She explained in terms of one having to be  organized, plan ahead, and problem solve.  She also added that these skills were useful in other ways, “in terms of thinking of alternative solutions when you are in thinking in math and science, or thinking about consequences of actions like in social studies and history.”  Wow, cool!   She also listed backpack management as an example of something that needed executive skills and my brain went on high alert.  Wait! Can we play our way to a better-packed backpack?

“If you play 100 times, you’re not going to get better at managing your backpack.”  But then, she gave the good news. “You get better at managing your backpack by practicing thinking ahead.”   And that really is good news because Mine Shift constantly challenges each player to think ahead.

Susan then taught me how to transfer those skills off the game and into your child’s life.  That is, you name those skills.   This makes sense.  When we do something well at work, we are most helped when our boss tells us what exactly we did that made her/him so happy.  Kids are no different.  They deserve to hear it too.

Susan gave me examples of things we could say, “Wow, you had to be strategic.  You had to plan.  You had to cultivate being a good executive and dividing your attention.  Let’s think about those skills when you are needing to do something else.”

educational game

Our favorite time to play 2-player games is after Number 2 goes to sleep. Number 1 will play Mine Shift with me or play chess with his dad. He loves to spin stuff. He's a Ninjago Spinjitsu fanatic.

Note to Self: Don’t Forget… It’s a Game

More significantly, this veteran learning specialist reminded me of a very important ideal that I suppose one might forget when we look at toys and games as tools for developing skills in children.  “I really want to encourage parents and children to play for play’s sake.”  She made me laugh out loud when she told me that she would really NOT want a student or even her own child to say something like, ” ‘Ugh!  What’s the consequence of this? Now you’re going to talk to me about my backpack?'”

And that is good advice indeed. I especially liked her advice on modifying the game for younger kids.  I had wanted Number 2 to get in on this game but it never occurred to me to have him start off with just one jewel.  It might have been suggested in the directions but of course, I lost them.

But lucky me, we have Susan giving good advice and my little guy, who is just five LOVED this game.  We started out with one and then have moved onto two.  He too dislikes losing but with Mine Shift, he still comes back for more.   I actually made these videos (above) after I talked to Susan and I found it difficult to try to name all the good executive skills they practiced as we played along.  I think it was because I couldn’t divide my attention which is something that Susan says is the skill of “multi-tasking.”

So what was I thinking about so much that I couldn’t manage to highlight their good “executive” decisions?   It’s shameful but you should know:  I was too busy trying to win!  So there.  I am a grown-up and I will say it.  I love this game and I have won many times against my kids and have shown little mercy.    As for our copy of Mine Shift that I lent to Number 5?  It’s back at home but I couldn’t dare take this game away from her!  You just can’t do that, especially now that it’s won the Mensa Select Award!  Woo-hoo!  A girl’s gotta have a good Mensa game, does she not?  And so do my kids, and so what can you do…..  I bought a new copy for her family so she can have another chance at beating her mom and possibly her dad next time too.

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