I’m not actually much of a family game player myself. I make an effort, and sometimes I enjoy the conversation and the kid-watching, but it’s a rare family game that I enjoy for the game itself. Set is the exception. It’s a visual-spatial pattern-recognition game that taps into mathematical intuitiveness. There’s no strategy. It’s difficult to explain what constitutes a Set to people who are language-based learners. Often the people who are Set whizzes are people who can’t for the life of them explain in words what a set is.
(My succinct but oblique verbal explanation: Every card has four attributes. A set is a group of three cards about which it cannot be said that there are precisely two cards with some particular attribute. You can check it out at the game’s website.)
Anyway, tonight Fiona wanted to play a big family game in the worst way. No one else really wanted to play. As she’s been ‘cryish’1 lately, I offered to play a game with her. I was delighted when she chose Set. Then I remembered that she’s only five and she probably wouldn’t understand what defines a set. Oh well, we gave it a whirl anyway.
When Sophie was 6 she gradually got the knack of Set by playing with the purple cards only. That was one less attribute to fuss about, and the patterns became more apparent. With Fiona I tried a different tactic. Once I found a set amongst twelve face-up cards, I’d pull two out of three of the set out and show them to Fiona. Then I’d challenge her to find the third member of that set. She did amazingly well. Before long she was eagerly seeking to find her own sets, and managed to successfully identify a couple.
1cryish [krahy-ish] adj. Of a fragile emotional state characterized by episodes of sobbing initiated by trivial triggers, particularly when due to as-yet-undeclared developmental reorganization of psyche or intellect.