Grades 3-8
45 min
Computer Science

Use your top secret skills to stop the computer virus and save the world!

Get set for a pulse-pounding escapade that needs your heroics!

A wicked game developer has seized digital control, but fear not – YOU hold the key.

Your Mission: #GAMECLOVER 🔥 Your assignment: Craft an epic analog board game to train our heroes. They’re storming a remote castle to halt chaos, deactivate a rogue computer, and rescue the world!

More Thrills Await! Don’t miss #SpyKidsArmageddon, igniting Netflix on Sept. 22. Action, twists, and a hero’s journey like no other!

Step up, embrace adventure, and let’s save our world together. 🛡️🌎

These simple supplies are all you’ll need for this activity:




Cardstock or cardboard

Crayons or markers

Dice or a game spinner

Game pieces (such as small toys, coins, beads, or checkers)

Awesome! Thanks for joining the mission! Your first job is to understand some cool problem-solving ideas: pattern spotting (pattern recognition), breaking down problems (decomposition), simplifying complex stuff (abstraction), and thinking step by step (algorithmic thinking). Once you’ve got these skills down, it’s time to use them to create your very own game. Ready to start the adventure? Let’s go!

Get your computational thinking cap on
  • Problem Solving is about more than just getting the right answer, it’s about getting curious, exploring different solutions, and when there are several good paths forward, deciding on the way that works best.
  • Decomposition involves breaking down a large, complex problem into smaller, manageable parts. By focusing on each part individually, you can devise the best strategies and overcome any challenges more effectively.
  • Abstraction involves simplifying complex problems by focusing on important details and ignoring irrelevant ones. Concentrate on the obstacles that directly impact your progress and use your resources to overcome them.
  • An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure that can be used to solve problems.
  • Pattern recognition involves identifying recurring sequences in data to categorize or use them effectively. For example, reference the binary code table shown here to decipher the secret password.

Did you know?

Computer scientists and programmers use the computational thinking principles of pattern recognition, decomposition, abstraction, and algorithmic thinking in their work.

You’ll use these same skills as you design your analog game.

Gather game-making supplies.

Gather the supplies you will need to make your analog game, such as scissors, cardstock or cardboard, crayons or markers, game pieces, and dice or a game spinner.

Ask and answer the following game-design questions:
  • What is the ultimate goal or challenge of the game?
  • How can I keep the focus on the end goal or challenge of the game?
  • How do I want the players to interact? Consider: How do you want the players to engage with the game and each other?
  • Ask yourself, will I create a competitive game, where players are competing to be the first to reach the goal, or will I create a cooperative game, where players work together?
Set Design Parameter #1: Crack the code with pattern recognition.

In game design, a “design parameter” is like a special rule or a guideline that game creators use to make a game more fun and interesting.

The first design parameter in our game design is to crack the code with pattern recognition, which you learned about in Step 1. Pattern recognition can be a fun and exciting element in gameplay.

  • Maps
  • Passwords
  • Secret pathways
  • Codes
  • Mysterious languages

What pattern recognition task will you use in your game?

Did you know?

A secret code used to send messages is called a cipher. Ciphers have been used throughout the ages to send and receive secret messages. The first cipher we know of was used in ancient Greece around 400 BC to send and receive military messages.

If you want to know more about ciphers, here is an activity you can complete.

Set Design Parameter #2: Chart a course with obstacles.

Make sure your game design includes each component:

A Course
In your analog game, you’ll design a course on the game board for players to navigate. This course will represent the journey from the starting point to the final destination. The destination could be a castle, secret base, hidden treasure, or anything else you imagine.

This path should be filled with obstacles that challenge players to think on their feet. Perhaps they need to cross a treacherous river, sneak past a dragon, scale a mountain, or travel during the night without alerting the enemy.

Tools and Strategies
Provide players with tools or strategies to overcome these obstacles. For example, players could earn ‘stealth cards’ to bypass the dragon or ‘climbing gear’ to scale the mountain. The possibilities are endless!

As you plan the course, think about these questions:

  • What obstacles will you include in the game?
  • How will players navigate the course?
  • Will players roll dice, choose a card, or use a spinner to determine the next steps?
Set Design Parameter #3: Use decomposition to break down problems into parts.

As you design your game, use decomposition to break the project into manageable pieces. This means that you will look at all of the parts of your game, break your game design into different parts or problems to solve, and then bring those parts together to create a whole game.

How are you going to break down your game design process?

Set Design Parameter #4: Use abstraction to determine what’s important.

Your board game should include a challenge in which players use abstraction to filter out excess information to focus on what’s truly important. Players need to understand that not all information or options presented to them are relevant or crucial to their success.

For instance, your game could feature a Room of Mysteries, where players encounter various objects or information. Not all of it will be useful. They might find a magic sword, a map fragment, a goblin’s riddle, or an ancient book. However, only one or two of these items might help them advance in the game, while the others serve as distractions.

What abstraction tasks will your game include?

Set Design Parameter #5: Develop game rules using algorithms.

Your board game should be guided by rules that are, in essence, algorithms. These rules define the sequence of play, how to move, when to draw cards, and how to win the game. By incorporating algorithms into your game, you’re teaching players to think logically, follow sequences, and understand the importance of order and procedure.

What game rules and elements will you include in your game?

Did you know?

Internet websites often use algorithms to decide what advertisements will be shown based on previous searches and clicks. Some people find these algorithms to be helpful, but others feel that the data collection is an invasion of privacy.

Design your game and make a prototype.

Using paper cardstock or cardboard, start with a basic version of your game by making a prototype. Create and refine the rules as you go. Remember to include the elements needed for play, such as game pieces, dice, or playing cards. Don’t worry, this is a test version and doesn’t have to be perfect.

Once you have made a prototype, or a test version of your game, you have created your first iteration! An iteration is a version of a project or design. Software designers often go through many iterations, improving the product each time, before they arrive at the version released to the public.

Did you know?

Many companies, such as those that make your favorite phone or smartwatch, create new iterations of their products each year to improve design and features and sell new products.

Test your game.

It’s important to test your board game. This will help you understand whether the game flows smoothly, if it’s engaging and fun, and if it effectively imparts the skills and concepts you intended.

Who can help you test the game? Ask your family, friends, or even your fellow agents! Explain the rules to them and let them play. Remember, as a game designer, your job during this step is to observe, learn, and gather feedback to improve the game in the next iteration.

Take a moment to reflect on what you’ve learned today.


Was it difficult to include all of the design parameters? Which parameter was the most challenging to include?


Is there another kind of game that you would like to create? What design parameters would you include?


How can design parameters help you with other projects or tasks?


Where else do you use iterative design? Do you revise things you write, or change the way you do a project?

Here are some additional activities you can do on your own to further explore game design and computational thinking.

  • Design Expansion Packs: Your game is complete, but that doesn’t mean it can’t grow. Think about designing expansion packs that can add new elements or challenges to your game. This will help you explore more game mechanics and further develop your design skills.
  • Play Other Board Games: One of the best ways to understand game design is to play a lot of games! Try different types of board games and take note of the game mechanics you like and dislike. This can inspire you to add new elements to your own game.
  • Learn a Programming Language: If you enjoyed using computational thinking in this mission, why not take it a step further and learn a programming language? There are many free resources online that offer interactive courses for beginners.
  • Create a Digital Version of Your Game: Try creating a digital version of your board game using simple game development tools. This can give you a better understanding of how computational thinking concepts apply in a digital environment.

Many careers use computational thinking and the iterative process. Here are some examples.

  • Software Engineers work in many fields, creating software to meet the design parameters of their clients and customers. They may create software for medical companies or for the purposes of security, data collection, and analysis.
  • Game Designers are software engineers who focus on creating computer games.
  • Network Engineers create and design computer networks. It may take various iterations to design a new network to transfer and communicate data.
  • Board Game Designers create analog games, including board games, card games, and dice games.

Did you enjoy this activity?

No endorsement by 4-H is implied or intended. 4-H is the youth development program for our nation’s Cooperative Extension system.