September 11, 2013 at 11:58 AM
Seattle dad strikes gold with board game that teaches basics of code
Seattle entrepreneur Dan Shapiro thought parents might dig a board game that taught pre-schoolers the basics of coding, and boy was he right. He put it on Kickstarter Sept. 3, and it hit its funding goal in five hours.
Shapiro designed the game, Robot Turtles, for his 4-year-old twins, and took time off his job as CEO of Google Comparison to share it with the world.
“Teaching [my kids] to program a computer is the single greatest superpower I can give them,” Shapiro wrote. “I made Robot Turtles so that my kids could learn programming basics without needing a computer. In fact, they don’t even need to be able to read.”
Shapiro first told me about the game last month, and nothing about its success surprises me. More and more of our world is built in code, and parents, particularly those who work in tech themselves, want their kids to get an early introduction. Shapiro’s game came at just the right time.
The game works like this: Mom or dad assembles a maze on the board of walls and jewels. Each kid picks a turtle as her game piece and plays a card to instruct the parent — in effect, the computer — how to move her turtle to get the jewel. If she makes a mistake, she can say “Undo!” to “debug” it. More advanced play involves meltable ice walls, plays of three or more cards per turn — a program — and, for a challenge, help from a “function frog.”
A boost to the game’s fun factor: “Robot Turtles is a game about bossing around adults,” Shapiro wrote. “Just like programming is about bossing around computers.”
Robot Turtles has so far raised $207,000, far more than its initial $25,000 goal. Shapiro will spend the next couple months making sure that everyone who orders the game by Sept. 27, when the Kickstarter campaign ends, can get it delivered by Christmas.
Shapiro’s son made this face when Shapiro told him about the game’s skyrocket success. “I felt the way my son looked,” Shapiro said.