Patrick Rothfuss in Candyland

A week or so ago, Patrick Rothfuss (an amazing writer) posted a blog entry about playing Candyland with his kid. Feel free to check it out. I’ll wait. Or I’ll just recap the key part below for you.

You might recall Candyland from your childhood with fond memories, probably because you played it while your guidance counselor was giving you candy and getting you to talk about things. What you may not remember is that Candyland isn’t really a game. There are no choices. You draw a card that has a certain color on it, and you move your player token to that color. That’s it.

Rothfuss is an experienced gamer. While he was playing Candyland with his son recently, he decided to create a house rule to make Candyland…well, more of a game. The rule he introduced was that instead of drawing 1 card, each player would draw 2 cards, select 1, and discard the other.

Brilliant idea. But what happened next was even more brilliant.

Rothfuss noticed that with the new rule in place, his son was making choices based on the color he liked more, not on optimal strategy. Which is fine. He’s a kid. So instead of telling his child to start playing the game smarter and trying to win, Rothfuss started talking out loud about the choices HE was making. In Rothfuss’ words:

“Hmmm. If I go to the blue, I go this far. If I take the orange, I go *this* far. I think I’ll take the orange, because it’s farther.”

Just by talking through his turn like that, his kid started catching on to the idea of making choices based on strategy instead of color preference.

I don’t have kids, but I do teach a lot of games. This was a great reminder to me that when I’m teaching a game, I should talk through my turns in the same way that Rothfuss did. There’s no reason for me to keep my strategy to myself when I’m teaching–the whole point of teaching is to bring newcomers into the game.

Over the next few days, I’m hosting an old college friend of mine for what I’m calling GabbyCon 2014. Based on the expected turnout, it’s become a mini game convention of sorts. I look forward to trying Rothfuss’ teaching methods.

When you’re teaching someone, what are some of the tricks you use to help them learn?

5 thoughts on “Patrick Rothfuss in Candyland”

  1. Jamey, wonderful article! I love the idea of modeling the behaviors you want to teach instead of trying to explain them! I am really happy you posted this, because my wife and I have been discussing the idea of using games to teach our kids how to make good decisions. The conversation was sparked by an article written by Jonathan Liu at GeekDad entitled, “Top 10 Reasons to Play Board Games With Your Kids” Thanks for posting these insightful additions!

  2. I have been talking about this a lot lately. Like how in math class you learned to show your work. I think explaining rationale might be the single best piece of career advice I’ve gotten so far. Especially working with clients, explaining why you’re doing something always makes you look smart and shows your value, rather than just executing a task.

    • I think it’s also a big part of why your Kickstarter campaigns work! You are so communicative and educational while being transparent, and people cannot get enough of it.

    • Emma: That’s a great comparison to showing your work in math class. It does seem like people are drawn to that level of transparency, whether it’s for educational reasons or for building trust on Kickstarter.


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