Math Game Monday: Four in a Row

“Four in a Row” is free on this website for one week only. It’s an excerpt from Prealgebra & Geometry: Math Games for Middle School, available as an ebook at my bookstore (Thank you for cutting out the middleman!) and in ebook or paperback through many online retailers. Read more about my playful math books here.

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 game gives students plenty of practice multiplying and dividing integers or algebraic expressions as they try to complete their own line or block their opponents.

Four in a Row

Math Concepts: integer multiplication, factors, multiples, algebraic multiplication.

Players: two players or two teams.

Equipment: printed or homemade gameboard, colored markers or a set of matching tokens for each player, two paperclips or other small tokens to mark the factors.

Set-Up

The FREE 68-page printable (pdf) Prealgebra & Geometry Printables file features hundred charts, coordinate grids, assorted graph paper, and all the game boards for the Math You Can Play: Prealgebra & Geometry book. Including three ways to play Four in a Row, and a blank board for making your own game.

Choose a Four in a Row gameboard for the players to share. Or have students work together to create their own gameboard:

  • On a blank sheet of paper, draw a 6 × 6 array of squares.
  • In the space below the array, each student writes four factors. Factors may be positive or negative and may include fractions, decimals, or even algebraic variables.
  • Then take turns writing the product of any two factors into one gameboard square. A few duplicates won’t ruin the game, but try to avoid writing a product that’s already been used.

When all the squares are full, you’re ready to play. You may want to slip your gameboard into a clear page protector or laminate it for playing with dry-erase markers.

The free download file offers a variety of gameboards. Choose the difficulty level that best fits your students.

How to Play

The first player places a paperclip on any factor at the bottom of the board.

The second player places the other clip on a factor — the same or different — and then marks the product of those two numbers by coloring the square or placing a token.

On each succeeding turn, a player shifts one paperclip to a new number and then marks the product of those two factors. If both players agree there are no possible moves, the player whose turn it is makes a fresh start by changing both clips.

Whichever player marks four (or more) squares in a row — horizontally, vertically, or diagonally — wins the game. The squares must touch each other at edges or corners, with no gaps.

If neither player connects four, then the player who has the most sets of three in a row wins.

Variation

Pathways: One player “owns” the top and bottom of the gameboard, while the other player claims the right and left sides. The first player who can mark a path of squares across the board (top to bottom for one, side to side for the other) wins the game. The pathway squares must all connect by sharing a side or corner.

History

I first saw this type of four-in-a-row game in 1987 on the old Square One TV show. The basic integers gameboard comes from John Golden’s “Integer Games” blog post. Bill Lombard and Brad Fulton published the challenge gameboards in Simply Great Math Activities: Algebra Readiness.

The Pathways variation — which is a cross with the strategy game Hex — comes from Marilyn Burns’s Math Blog.

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