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Critical Thinking Software Reviews

Strategy Challenges Around the World - Collection 1
from Edmark

For Ages 8 to adult

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Critical Thinking / Problem Solving software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of the PC and Mac versions.


Reviewed on:
PowerMac 6100/60 with 16MB and 2XCD
Pentium90 with 24MB and a 2XCD

Content
Why would anyone even think of buying computer versions of board games that have been around for 3000 years? Well, consider the advantages of never losing any of the pieces, never being unable to play because no one else is around, never arguing about the rules, or never complaining about mismatches in ability! And for those of you who think computerized board games must be boring, think about how many times you've played Microsoft's Solitaire...

Childrens software screenshot

Edmark's Strategy Challenges Collection 1 consists of three games that should be familiar to most kids (and their parents), although perhaps by different names. What makes a collection of games 'educational'? In the case of this program, the games themselves present classic spatial reasoning and what/if analysis challenges.

The most well-known of the three games, is called Go-Moku in Edmark's version. Our kid reviewers recognized the game as "5-across," a puzzle frequently found on the back side of children's menus in family restaurants. In this game, two players (or one against the computer) take turns placing their chips on a board, trying to get five in a column, row, or diagonal before the other player succeeds. At the easiest levels, it is possible to sneak something by the computer - but at harder levels, the player must create multi-dimensional win solutions to beat the program.

Mancala is an ancient game played in many agriculatural societies. We had previously encountered this game in Microsoft's How the Leopard Got His Spots, and felt it offered excellent practice in developing plan-ahead skills. This version is even better, offering greater flexibility in setting difficulty levels, and in accessing advice.

Nine Men's Morris is perhaps the least well-known of the games. In this game, the players take turns placing their chips on the intersections of lines in three concentric squares. Once all the chips are placed, they may be slid to any open, adjoining intersection. The object of the game is to place three chips in a row, which entitles the player to remove any opponent's chip. A seemingly simple game, this one is made more difficult by the computer's inability to become bored or frustrated with repeated moves.

Ease of Install / Use
The program installed without difficulty on our reviewers' PCs, although some testers reported having to set their video displays to 640x480 resolution. The program runs directly from the CD on the Macintosh - no installation required.

Methodology
All of the games include the ability for the user to set the difficulty level, a strategy coach, a history of the game, and video clips drawing analogies to real-world problem-solving strategies. They also offer a simple but very useful learning tool - an undo button. This allows a player who is confronting a losing scenario to back up to the point where a better move could have been made.

Proxy Parent Value
Proxy parent value is SuperKids' measure of how well a program captures and maintains a child's interest. Strategy Challenges Volume 1 doesn't have the glitz and instant appeal of some of the other programs we've reviewed in this category, but our reviewers - parents and kids alike - agreed that it has legs. "My kids may not choose it day after day, but they certainly will come back to it frequently, and over a period of many years," was the type of comment it elicited.

Best for...
This program is best suited for the type of child who likes to play solitary games - and one who is challenged to gain mastery of a game. Given the clarity of instructions, and broad range of difficulty levels, our reviewers believe Strategy Challenges 1 would also be appropriate for some children as young as five or six.

Bottom-Line
This is a great 'rainy day' type of program. Although the games on the program also exist as conventional board games, the computer version offers an always willing opponent - and you don't have to worry about losing any of the pieces!

Educational Value = 4/5, Kid appeal = 4/5, Parent Friendly = 5/5

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Critical Thinking / Problem Solving software titles, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of the PC and Mac versions.



Children's Software System Requirements


PC

Macintosh
Operating System Win 3.1 or Win95 System 7.0.1 or higher
CPU Type and Speed 486/33 or faster 68030/25 or faster
Hard Drive Space 5 MB none
Memory (RAM) 8 MB 8 MB
Graphics SVGA, 640x480x256 colors 13" color or larger
CD-ROM Speed 2X or faster 2X or faster
Audio Windows-compatible sound card n/a
Other Needs


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