10 great visual perception games

Here is my list of 10 great visual perception games. These are all games for at least two players, played at speed. They are about having fast eyes and fast reactions. Many can also be played solo, setting challenges for yourself (in contrast to abstract strategy board games, which require an opponent). Nearly all are easy to buy online. They are suitable for children and adults. Several come in small boxes so are great for packing for a journey. They would make a great present for someone who you know enjoys playing games.

If you buy one of these games there is no financial gain for me. Please share this page if you found it helpful.

Here they are, in reverse order:

10 – Rainbow Rush / Rainbow Rage

Rainbow Rage

Look at a rainbow card, be the first to spot which two colours have swapped places and gain matching coloured pieces. The winner is the first to collect every colour and build their own rainbow.

Pros:
Great for familiarising children with the colours of the rainbow;
Great for practising pattern recognition;
A harder set of cards is included for a greater challenge;
Children enjoy handling the pieces and building their stick;
The pieces are pentagonal, which is my favourite shape!

Cons:
I was going to question why the rainbow looks so angry and whether this puts anyone off buying this game. I was going to suggest Rainbow Race as a better name. Now I have seen that the game has been renamed Rainbow Rush and the rainbow face is now … happier, but still ever so slightly threatening.

 

9 – Avocado Smash!

Avocado Smash

A variation on Snap where the winner is the first player to get rid of all their cards.  If a card matches a number said out loud then that is a smash. The last player to react takes all the cards in that round.

Pros:
Nice thick cards which are a good size for small hands;
Interesting box;
A good next step for children who have mastered Snap (or families who are sick of it).

Cons:
It takes a while to read through and understand the instructions;
As with any game which involves slamming down hands there is the potential for scratches and arguments: you might want to have an adult present to adjudicate.

 

8 – Swish

Swish

Swishes are made by stacking at least two cards so that every ball swishes into a hoop of the same colour. The player with the most swishes at the end is the winner.

Pros:
Nice carry bag;
Having to rotate and flip the cards over in your mind before you can pick them up is a great mental exercise.

Cons:
Having to rotate and flip the cards over in your mind can be really tricky for younger children, so is best played with age 8+. A junior version is available, but I have not played it;
The cards can be tricky to pick up from a hard surface (consider a baize or plain tablecloth);
No proper instructions in the box (but I found them easily online);
The box is a bit over-packaged.

 

7 – Blink

Blink

Match a card in your hand to either one of two discard piles, matching by shape, quantity or colour. The winner is the first to empty their draw pile.

Pros:
Easy to explain and start playing;
The cards are well designed and easy to distinguish;
A nice variation is available for three players.

Cons:
Whenever cards are dealt there is always an element of luck involved, which the purists may not like;
The piles can easily become untidy and confusing, and you may have to pause the game to tidy them up.

 

6 – Dobble / Spot It!

Dobble Spot It

Be the first to find the one symbol which is on two cards. The size and positioning of the symbols varies between cards, making the matches difficult to spot. Every card has eight symbols on it; every card is unique; whichever two cards are in play it can be guaranteed that they will have one symbol in common. Spot It! is aimed at younger children as each card has six symbols, so it should be easier to find the match.

Pros:
Easy to explain and start playing;
Several variations on the instruction leaflet to prolong your interest.

Cons:
Hard to think of one, which helps explain why this game is so popular. This game involves a lot of visual scanning but not enough problem solving to make it higher up this list.

 

5 – The Genius Square

Genious Square

The seven dice are rolled and both players put a blocker in the corresponding grid reference. The players then race to be the first to fill every empty space with their nine differently shaped pieces. There are 62,208 possible combinations, often with multiple solutions. Whatever the grid looks like there will be a solution.

Pros:
Easy to explain and start playing;
Great for practising shape and space recognition;
Nice tactile wooden game pieces (the grooves between each square are a winner);
If your child plays Tetris on their phone this game is a great next step and subtle way of introducing the pleasures of non-electronic games;
The unique dice could be useful if you enjoy inventing your own games.

Cons:
This game involves a lot of problem solving – if the contestants have very different abilities this will quickly be exposed, and it is hard to see how the game could be levelled up (perhaps the weaker player could be given a 20 second head start). 

 

4 – Set

Set

Be the first to identify a set, which consists of three cards in which each individual feature is either all the same or all different. The player with the most sets at the end is the winner.

Pros:
Provides a real test of your ability to spot patterns while remembering the four different features (colour, shape, quantity and shading);
A game which rewards persistence and practice as you will get better at it;
No limit to the number of players;
The cards are easy to distinguish from each other;
If you enjoy Maths and want to deepen your understanding there is a book you can buy;
Possibly the most satisfying game of the 10 to play solo, especially when you know there is a lot of depth to it.

Cons:
Not easy to explain to younger children: many will find it hard to make their first set. A junior version is available, but I have not played it. Consider an activity where you ask the children to arrange the cards on a large table, looking for patterns and groupings, to get them familiar with the deck. Then start the game, perhaps with 15 cards not 12 as the odds are very much in favour of there being a set when 15 cards are available.

 

3 – Ghost Blitz

Ghost Blitz

Five wooden objects are placed in the middle of the table. There are two different types of card: if you see one object on the card in its original colour then grab it; if neither object on the card is in its original colour then grab the object whose shape and colour are both not on the card. The winner is the player with the most cards at the end.

Pros:
The mental processing skills involved in eliminating the incorrect object and identifying the correct one are a great work out for the brain;
If you really love this game there are four different versions available to buy (plus a junior version).

Cons:
My mouse’s tail has come loose;
On some of the cards the green object looks more olive than green, which can be off-putting when the game focuses highly on colour;
The potential for scratches and arguments over who grabbed the object first – you might prefer to go off who shouts it out first.

 

2 – Rubik’s Race

Rubik's Race

Shake the scrambler and it forms a 3×3 pattern of different coloured cubes. Slide the tiles to become the first to match your central 3×3 area with the scrambler’s pattern. If only I had a £1 for every time someone tells me there is a piece missing!

Pros:
A proper test of your ability to manipulate objects at speed and work out the quickest way of getting the tile where you want it;
The satisfaction of slamming down the frame when you have completed your pattern.

Cons:
The cubes don’t always sit nicely in the scrambler;
The board can be a little tricky to assemble;
As with Genius Square above the problem solving element will expose players of very different abilities.

 

1 – Space Faces

Space Faces

The colours! The artwork! The sound of the shaker in my ear! The thump in my chest as I race to find the alien first! Do I feel sheepish about recommending a game which is only available second hand and is hard to find? Not at all: if you find one (or befriend someone who owns a copy) you will not be disappointed. The prolific Ivan Moscovich invented this game in the early 1980s. It involves identifying the correct alien from 120 different choices. There is an updated version called ‘Robot Face Race’: a lot has changed but the concept is the same.

Pros:
It’s about aliens;
Very easy to explain and start playing;
A great workout for the brain, involving memory, concentration, colour and pattern recognition, visual scanning and strategic planning. For me this game strikes the perfect balance between being easy to understand but hard to master.

Cons:
The shaker is rather loud and sometimes the colours need persuading to drop into their hole.

So there you have it: my list is complete. Please share this page if you found it helpful.
If you remember playing Space Faces in the 1980s, do get in touch.

Building a Sierpinski tetrahedron at the Curious Minds Club (St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, 14 February 2020)

I started this week’s session of the Curious Minds Club with some geometric snacks. First up were some nachos. I asked the children what type of triangle the nacho is. We talked about the Isosceles triangle last week, but none of them remembered. I wrote it on the whiteboard this week, to aid their learning.

Next up were some snacks I made, using cocktail sticks and midget gems:

Tetrahedron snacks

I told the children they could eat one if they could name the shape. One boy said triangle-based pyramid. I said this was correct, but that this shape has two names. I gave a hint about the first letter, and a girl very proudly said tetrahedron. I then handed one round to everybody, but made them all say tetrahedron first.

I explained that this week’s activity was to build Sierpinski’s tetrahedron, a three dimensional version of Sierpinski’s triangle. I showed them one part of it I had made using the generic version of Geomag that we used recently to build the Platonic Solids. I asked them to use just one colour to make the first part, then repeat this with a different colour. I got them to work in teams to add their four parts together to make a two layered Sierpinski tetrahedron. It involved removing some of the vertices, which the children worked out.

Two cousins (Y2 and Y4) made this (there was not enough dark blue to complete one part):

 

A boy and girl in Y6 made this:

 

For the rest of the session some children used the wooden pattern blocks to complete some more pattern boards. Others played Dotty Dinosaurs, a game about shapes. I asked two children to test a new game I have invented, with the working title of Plato’s Polyhedral Dice Game. Each child had five dice in the shape of the five Platonic Solids, and a dice cup. They had to race to complete tasks, such as roll five odd numbers. They seemed to enjoy it, although there was not enough time to get detailed feedback.

At the end of the session, because it was the last week of this half-term, I gave each child a gift to take home. I made these 2020 Rhombohedron calendars at home. I was testing different methods of attaching the parts of the net: PVA glue, glue dots, magnets. The winner was …. glue dots! The pdf is here.

 

I took all of the Sierpinski tetrahedrons the children had made home with me. I wanted to see if I could make one with three layers. I rearranged the parts, added two of my own, and came up with this, photographed from different angles:

 

 

Building some Platonic Solids to take home at the Curious Minds Club (St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, 7 February 2020)

This week at the Curious Minds Club the children built models of the Platonic Solids to take home. In the previous two weeks I had given the children Polydron Frameworks and what I call a generic version of Geomag to make the Platonic Solids. These materials are expensive and I took them home at the end of the sessions. I wanted to give the children an opportunity to make models they could take home with them.

The materials I used were simple: plastic drinking straws and pipe cleaners. (I did ponder the ethics of plastic straws, as they are due to be banned in the UK in 2020; my conclusion was that I should use up the ones that currently exist before switching to paper). Feel free to contact me for details of the construction method. Once I showed the children how to build the models they took to it quickly. They enjoyed commenting on what the models looked like as they went along. When they were building a cube: “it looks like a laptop” and “I have made a table”.

Here are all five Platonic Solids that I made. (The session overran and there was no time to take photos of the children’s models). I think they look good in black. See how the pipe cleaners form the vertex:

20200213_111535

Here is each one by itself:

20200213_11180120200213_11181820200213_11175120200213_11195120200213_111844

They all look good …. until you get to the Dodecahedron above. This was a real struggle. My first attempt is below. The edge length is 75mm, the same as the others. It was hard to make every face look like a regular pentagon.

20200213_112133

I thought I would try making each edge half the length (75mm to 37mm) to see if this was easier. This is how it looked during construction:

The end result is below. It was the best I could manage. I manipulated a lot of the vertices by switching the pipe cleaners around. It goes concave in places but the whole thing should be convex.

20200213_111844

My conclusion is that drinking straws and pipe cleaners are a cheap and easy building material for building the Platonic Solids, if you can tolerate an imperfect Dodecahedron.

I also made a whole set using neon straws, but I don’t think they look as good as the black. You can see some gaps between the pipe cleaners inside the straws.

20200213_112115

A glimpse of a famous number sequence amongst shapes in two and three dimensions

I run an after school club at a primary school on the Isle of Wight. I call it the Curious Minds Club, and my purpose is to show the children that Maths is not just about numbers, it is also about shape and space. In the first term I introduced the children to topology and knot theory. This term we are exploring shapes in two and three dimensions of space.

The first activity was to use wooden pattern blocks to find the three shapes which tile a two dimensional plane by themselves. It didn’t take the children long to find out how to make the equilateral triangle, square and hexagon do this. Using the same blocks plus some shapes I cut out of heavy card (the octagon and dodecagon) I gave the children a vertex configuration for each of the eight semi-regular tessellations and asked them to fit the shapes together around the vertex, then extend out in all directions (given the limitations of the size of the table, the number of children competing for the number of tiles and the length of the session, we were unable to approach infinity).

Y6 girl tessellation 3 12 12
The 3,12,12 by a girl in Year 6.

Y6 boy tessellation 3 3 4 3 4
The 3,3,4,3,4 by a boy in Year 6.

Further sessions involved using Polydron Frameworks to build the Platonic Solids; next up are the Archimedean Solids. Between them the children made this set of Platonic Solids:

Set Platonic 31 Jan 2020

As part of my preparation for the sessions I drew this table of vertex configurations as I had not seen one elsewhere:

Table for blog

 

I then simplified my table by counting the number in each category:

2 dimensions 3 dimensions
Regular 3 5
Semi-regular 8 13

I thought it was interesting that if you add 3 + 5 you get the 8, and if you 5 + 8 you get the 13. It only took me a few seconds to realise I was looking at an early part of the Fibonacci sequence:

1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55

I was not expecting this link to the Fibonacci sequence, and I am not claiming it is very meaningful, but I put it out there for others to notice and perhaps enjoy.

It is worth noting (but not being too concerned) that of the 8 semi-regular tessellations in two dimensions, one (3,3,3,3,6) is chiral i.e. it exists in two different forms. Of the 13 Archimedean Solids, two are chiral – the Snub Cube and Snub Dodecahedron.

The faces of a Dodecahedron are pentagons. Linking each vertex inside produces a pentagram and a smaller pentagon. Repeating this process on the smaller pentagon produces lines, some of which can be traced to produce the two shapes of Roger Penrose’s P2 tiling, known as kite and dart. For both kite and dart, the ratio of the length of the long side to the length of the short side is Phi (the golden ratio). The area of the kite divided by the area of the dart is also Phi. Phi is in fact all over the pentagon. We can approximate to Phi by dividing a value in the Fibonacci sequence by the value preceding it (89/55 is appealing). In a future session I intend to ask the children to find the two shapes that make P2 inside a pentagon, then give them a set of P2 tiles and ask them to create their own aperiodic tiling.

pentagon-154320_1280

While the National Curriculum includes cubes and other three dimensional shapes in its geometry section there is no specific mention of the Platonic Solids, let alone the Archimedean Solids. Some of the children in my club knew they had made a triangle-based pyramid, but had no idea it is also called the Tetrahedron. I wanted to give the children an opportunity to use materials to explore shapes and space and hold these beautiful objects in their hands.