Math Game Monday: The Great Escape

UPDATE: Between extended-family trips and all the winter holidays coming way too fast, my blog is taking a bit of hiatus. I’m putting Math Game Monday on pause for the rest of 2021.

    This game post will stay live until January 2022, giving you plenty of time to try it out. And I encourage you also to explore my holiday math posts:

      Meanwhile, back to one of my favorite Math Game Monday games…

      Many parents remember struggling to learn math. We hope to provide a better experience for our children.

      And one of the best ways for children to enjoy learning is through hands-on play.

      This cooperative game challenges students to use their number skills in escaping from a WWII prisoner of war camp.

      “The Great Escape” is free on this website for one week only. It’s an excerpt from Prealgebra & Geometry: Math Games for Middle School, which is available as an ebook at my publisher’s store (where you get all formats for one low price, and I earn higher no-middleman royalties) or through other online retailers, or by special request through your local library. Read more about my playful math books here.

      The Great Escape

      Math Concepts: multiplication, division, factors and multiples, odd and even, prime numbers, square numbers, cubic numbers.

      Players: two to four (a cooperative game).

      Equipment: printed hundred chart, playing cards (with jokers), pencils or markers.

      The free 50-page PDF Hundred Charts Galore! file features printable 1–100 charts, 0–99 charts, bottom’s-up versions, multiple-chart pages, blank charts, game boards, and more. Choose one of the full-size numbered charts for this game.


      You are a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, captured by the Axis powers during World War II and held in a prisoner-of-war camp. You’re working with your fellow prisoners to escape before the Nazi guards discover your tunnel.

      Print a single hundred chart for players to share. Spread the playing cards face down on the table as a fishing pond.

      How to Play

      First, place the guard towers: Each player draws two number cards. Tens count as zero for this part of the game. If you get a face card or joker, draw again. Arrange your two cards to make a two-digit number. For example, if the cards are 3 and 8, you could make 38 or 83. Place a guard tower on that square by drawing an X with a circle around it. Mix all the cards back into the fishing pond.

      Then players take turns drawing two cards from the fishing pond and marking two number squares — one for the escape tunnel and one for a patrolling Nazi guard — according to the following code:

      • Ace = any odd number
      • 2 = any even number
      • 3–10 = multiple of the card number
      • Jack = prime number
      • Queen = square number (perfect square)
      • King = cubic number (perfect cube)
      • Joker = multiple of one (All whole numbers are a multiple of one, so jokers are wild cards.)

      Choose which of your two cards to use for the escape tunnel and color in a square that matches it. Then find a square that matches the other card and mark it with an X to represent the guard. Once a square is marked, it cannot be used in future turns.

      Each player’s initial escape tunnel square must be on a vertical or horizontal outer edge of the gameboard. The first player may choose any edge. The second player must start on the opposite side of the board from the first. The third chooses either unmarked edge, and the fourth player takes what’s left.

      If you can’t find a square on your edge that matches either of your cards, you must still mark a Nazi guard position.

      After your initial move, you may build a tunnel in any unclaimed square. If one of the players hasn’t made it onto the board, you may mark a square on their edge to let them in.

      If one of your cards has no matching number square, use it for the guard (sleeping on patrol) and the valid card for your tunnel. But if both cards have no match, you lose that turn. For instance, there are only four cubic numbers on the hundred chart. After those are all claimed, kings become “lose a turn” cards.

      Your goal is to dig a tunnel of squares that lets all players escape. Squares must be attached at their sides; squares meeting only at a corner do not count as connected. If the Nazi patrol blocks your path, you lose the game. But if you complete a tunnel that connects all four edges of the board, you win.

      Towers give the Nazi guards a head start, but crafty prisoners can work around them. Which card would you use for your tunnel, and where would you place a guard?


      The Great Escape by Australian journalist and fighter pilot Paul Brickhill is a true story of perseverance, heroism, and tragedy during World War II.

      In the original Great Escape game from Marina Singh’s MathCurious blog, players compete against each other. But in real life, more than six hundred prisoners worked together to construct three tunnels under Stalag Luft III. One tunnel made it through. Seventy-six men escaped before the guards discovered the tunnel, filled it in, and launched a massive manhunt.

      Unfortunately, only three of the escapees made it all the way across Germany to safety. But the project was important, even for those left behind. RAF pilot Jack Lyon explains:

      “It did a lot for morale, particularly for those prisoners who’d been there for a long time. They felt they were able to contribute something, even if they weren’t able to get out. They felt they could help in some way and trust me, in prison camps, morale is very important.”

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