Tanya Khovanova's Toy Reviews:

Fun Math

In the same spirit as my Fun Math book reviews page, I have collected numerous toys over the years that are both fun and educational — not boring, intentionally "educational" junk, but toys and games that truly develop the mind.

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I also love ballroom dancing and have a page of reviews of dance movies and dance exercise DVDs.

Ages 8 - 10

Thinkfun Visual Brainstorms

With math problems on the one side and solutions on the other, these cards have several things going for them. The problems are pitched just right: they aren't trivial or too hard, and they teach worthwhile things. The cards themselves are colorful and artistic. Each card presents just one problem. And best of all, every kid I gave them to liked them.

Ages 8+

SET Game

Set is an excellent game. It does not really teach anything specific, but it forces you to accelerate your brain while you're having great fun! I use this game in my work with kids to discuss number theory, set theory, combinatorics and linear algebra.

Ages 7+

Rush Hour

An excellent puzzle game. Simple and colorful enough at the low levels to be interesting even for young children, at its most difficult levels, Rush Hour is challenging for adults. Because it's necessary to look ahead to find the solution, it develops planning skills. This game also has lots of equally interesting expansions and variants: Rush Hour Game - Blister Pack 2, Thinkfun Railroad Rush Hour, Thinkfun Safari Rush Hour, Thinkfun Rush Hour Jr.

Thinkfun Hoppers

This is a reasonably colorful and cute version of the standard peg solitaire. Said Solitaire is an especially valuable game to play, because it requires planning and strategy in order to win.

Starting from 10 years old


Fluxx is a very unusual game. The cards in the game create new rules, so that both the rules and the winning goals change all of the time. It is unclear how to strategize in this game. However, I'm amazed by kids who have developed strategies and ideas that allow them to win more often than a random player.

Starting from 10 years old

Settlers of Catan. Up to 4 players. (Takes 1 - 1.5 hours)

Settlers of Catan is a fascinating board game. One of my sons played it in his dorm every day for four years. You simply don't get tired of this game. Winners in this game not only understand strategy and reasoning, but also have amazing persuasive powers. This game especially appeals to those who want to feel power over other people. The rules are easy, but not too easy: when I first played this game, I did so without using the development cards. I found it a bit difficult to grasp all the strategy ideas otherwise. There is an expansion set that you can buy separately that allows you to play this game with up to six players.

Starting from 10 years old

Ticket to Ride Europe Up to 5 players. (Takes 1 - 1.5 hours)

Ticket to Ride Europe is my favorite board game. The rules are easier than those of Settlers of Catan, for there is no trading. The development of the game depends on an initial ticket distribution. Certain strategies work sometimes, but not at other times. You have to adjust your strategy to other peoples' moves.

Another interesting version of this game is called Ticket to Ride Marklin. This version is crueler: you are working hard to build a road for your expensive ticket and other players may swiftly block you. In addition, you have no safety backing from station houses. This game also takes a little bit more time.

For high school children preparing for math and programming competitions, and for adults

Ricochet Robots. (Can be played with any number of players. Can be stopped at any time.)

While Ricochet Robots only requires seconds to learn, it also demands extreme brain processing power to play. Essentially, you have to calculate the shortest path algorithm in your head. One powerful player might intimidate a whole group, but at the same time, it is great practice for rusty brains.

Last revised March 2009