Math Game Monday: Michigan (Boodle)

“Michigan (Boodle)” is free on this website for one week only. It’s an excerpt from Math You Can Play Combo: Number Games for Young Learners, 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 reinforces numerical order and helps children get acquainted with a standard deck of playing cards. But mostly, it’s just plain family fun!

Michigan (Boodle)

Math Concepts: numerical order, sorting by attribute (card suits), standard rank of playing cards (aces high), thinking ahead.

Players: three or more, up to as many as fit around your table.

Equipment: one complete deck of cards (including face cards), plus four boodle cards from a second deck; small prizes to go on the boodle cards. Provide a card holder for young children.


Place the boodle cards (also called pay cards) face up in the middle of the table: ace of hearts, king of clubs, queen of diamonds, jack of spades. If you’d rather, you can make a game board by folding a piece of paper in half both ways to make four sections where you can write a large J, Q, K, or A and draw the appropriate suit symbol.

Put a prize on each pay card, and add another prize each time a new round is dealt. The boodle prizes might be a coin, a piece of candy, a collectible sticker, or anything else that seems appropriate.

Or if you are keeping score with poker chips, then the dealer places two chips on each boodle card (for a total of eight chips), while the other players put one chip on each of the cards — and you must play enough rounds that everyone takes a turn as dealer.

Take the boodle cards from a different deck, not from the deck you are using for the game.

How to Play

Remind everyone that in this game, aces are the highest cards in each suit. The dealer deals out all the cards one at a time, one hand to each player (including himself) and an extra hand called the spare.

It doesn’t matter if some players end up with one more card than the others have. Players may look at their own cards, but the spare hand is left face down, out of play.

The player to the dealer’s left begins by laying down (face up) her lowest card in any suit — it doesn’t have to be the lowest in her hand, just in that suit — and saying its name out loud. Whoever has the next higher card in that suit can play, and then the next, with the players putting their own cards face up on the table in front of them as they say the names.

Continue until no one can play the next higher card (it may be in the spare hand or have been played earlier) or until someone plays the ace to top out that suit.

Then whoever played the last card can start a new run. Like the first player, he may play any suit, but it must be the lowest card he has in that suit.

In the course of play, if you lay down one of the pay cards, you get to claim that boodle prize. Any prize not claimed stays on the boodle, as a bonus for the next hand.

As soon as any player runs out of cards, the play ends. If you are playing for poker chips, then all the other players count their remaining cards and pay that many chips to the player who went out.


Players must change suit when starting a new run. If the person who played the last card cannot change suit, play would pass to the left until someone can. If none of the players has a different suit, then the hand is done and the remaining boodle prizes are left unclaimed.

Play the Spare: Before play begins, the dealer may choose to discard his hand and pick up the spare, but he must decide without peeking at the spare cards. If you are playing for chips, then the dealer may instead sell the spare hand to the highest bidder, who must pay the dealer (in chips) and discard her original hand before picking up the spare.

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