Mastermind is a great game for introducing or encouraging logical reasoning. One player picks four colored pegs and hides them on the end of the board. The other players uses educated guesses to figure out “the code” of colored pegs. There are six colors to pick from. One the code breaker guesses, the code maker places tiny black and white pegs off to the side. A black peg means you have a correct color in the correct position. A white peg means you have a correct color in your guess, but it’s not in the correct position.
Officially it’s a two player game. I sometimes play it with my twins and we take turns guessing. This works because they don’t have to wait so long for their turn, but it also helps me model good guessing. I will talk out loud as I formulate my reasoning. “I put a red peg in the first hole last time and there were none in the right place. I will try the red peg in the second hole this time.”
To make Mastermind easier for young children you can limit the colors of pegs. It’s easier to figure out a code of four or five colors instead of six. You can also make the tiny black and white key pegs correspond to the positions on the board. In this way the young child can quickly figure out which pegs are wrong. This helps them figure out the game in a less frustrating way. Once they understand you can go back to the official rules. Mastermind also makes a Kids Edition with jungle animal pegs.
To make Mastermind harder, you can allow blank code holes. This is essentially having seven color choices instead of six. You can also allow repeats of colors. If you allow unlimited repeats it really makes the game hard. The game makers also make an Advanced Edition that allows for five code pegs and twelve guesses.
It’s a fairly quick game to play. Games usually last us around five to seven minutes. I feel good that our brains are having to work and that we are having fun, too.
The only drawback of Mastermind is all the very tiny pegs. It’s easy to spill and lose them. For a similar game done with pencil and paper, see “Bulls and Cows”.
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