Algebra Board Game

Rekindling the Love of Algebra


There is an immense amount of negativity surrounding mathematics that spreads from parent to child, from teacher to student, and especially among students. If you talk to people about their math experience at school, you will probably hear “I hate math” or “I suck at math.” Students who struggle with math often practice failure as they battle repeatedly with concepts. They start to lose confidence and motivation, which inhibits their future opportunities.


I created a Mayan-themed board game to make algebra less daunting and more fun to learn. Pieces of a time machine were separated and hidden in different locations of a vast Mayan pyramid. The objective is to explore the pyramid and get past traps and monsters by solving algebraic problems to obtain all pieces of the time machine.


Research, Game Design, Playtesting


James Morgan

Alexandra Weiller

Chang Kim

The Root of the Problem

Unqualified teachers

one in three teachers

About 1 out of 3 public middle school math teachers in 2007 either did not major in the subject in college and/or are not certified to teach it.

Unprepared students

one in three teachers

Based on the results of college readiness exams, less than 43% of our graduates are ready to attend a college or university and 85% of incoming Community College Freshmen were put in math remedial classes.

Job Difficulties

one in three teachers

Researchers estimate that by 2020, an estimated 65% of jobs will require at least some post-secondary education or training.

How do students feel about math?


“I prefer a teacher who is gentle, takes questions, explains step-by-step, rather than someone who is aggressive, expects students to know everything, or doesn’t explain.”

Jenny Ko


“I struggled with math in high school and still hates it today. Some teachers and professors pass kids along even when they do poorly.”

Jimmy Estes

Research Methods

The ways I gained more insight

Classroom Observations

Ms. Angel’s Pre–Algebra Class

By observing Ms. Angel’s class I was able to notice that students respond well to number talks. A Number Talk is a classroom discussion about a specific topic that encourages everyone to freely pitch in their ideas and what they know. The teacher writes down everything students say and discusses why it makes sense or does not make sense. This method encourages students to think of a topic in multiple ways.

Ms. Weiller’s Informal Algebra Class

By walking around the classroom, I was able to observe some of the things that students struggle the most on. Many students forgot how to deal with fractions and the need for a common denominator. Negative numbers also caused them to make mistakes. Some students also went about solving an equation in the wrong order—for example multiplying instead of substracting something first. Another common problem is students not reading instructions properly. If instructions are too long, the students will skip it and try to figure out what they need to do without reading instructions.

After observing the class, I was able to have a discussion with Ms. Weiller and she told me that students are good at solving equations by following specific steps. However, when a problem is slightly different, it seems brand new and the student gives up trying to solve it. The most difficult task for a teacher is to find a way to get students to think outside the box and think critically.


Mark Felton, Education & Psychology Professor

We talked about topics such as motivation in a school setting as well as how specific praise can make a much deeper impact than generic praise. We also discussed how math problems can be more engaging depending on how they are presented.

Cheryl Roddick, Advisor Math Education

Dr. Roddick opened my eyes about the Singapore Bar Model, which provides a visual approach to solving algebraic problems.

Stephanie Coopman, Gaming in Everyday Life Professor

I received great insight about how games are beneficial for keeping people motivated and improving. Dr. Coopman also recommended various resources that I looked into, including the book “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal, which I ended up reading.

Susan McClory, Algebra Remediation at SJSU

Mrs. McClory told me all about the math remediation program at SJSU and how it has evolved over the years. She kindly gave me data about student pass rate of remedial algebra classes over the last few years.

Susan Snycerski, Psychology Professor

Dr. Snycerski introduced me to topics such as Piaget’s stages and Hebb’s law to look into. We also talked about reward systems and the impact humor can have in a classroom setting.

Rebecca Vincent, Substitute

We talked extensively about classroom management and adapting to new student groups. Ms. Vincent also shared her opinions about Common Core.


Teaching Methodologies

Flipped Classroom



Managed Use of Technology

Active Learning

Student-Driven Learning

“Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal

I learned that kids are already used to being engaged in video games and that they become more motivated when aspects of their lives are gamified. Staying optimistic in the face of failure is an important emotional strength that we can learn in games and apply in our real lives. A game needs a clear goal and actionable next steps. Cooperative gameplay lifts our mood longer, strengthens friendships, makes us more likely to help someone in real life.

What does the research tell me?

and where do I go from there?

Students Give Up the Battle

Students who struggle with math often practice failure as they battle repeatedly with mathematical concepts. They lose confidence and motivation, which inhibits their future opportunities. My objective is to make algebra less daunting and more fun to learn for students requiring intervention. A game has a way of motivating and immersing a person in a story, making it the perfect medium for my intention.

What are my goals?

  • Immerse students in a story to give them purpose for using algebra.
  • Create a game that’s easy to understand and start playing right away.
  • Encourage or make it imperative for players to collaborate and share knowledge.
  • Make sure the content level provides just enough of a challenge for everyone.

Game Iterations

and testing
First Game Iteration

Through this first iteration I realized that I had different card categories but the algebra problems were all too similar. The game board itself was a little confusing.

The game play overall was fairly monotone and not interesting enough to make the game fun to play. I also needed to make collaboration rules a little more clear.

Second Game Iteration

By playtesting other iterations I realized that some questions were confusing or too difficult while some questions were too easy. I worked with my advisor who is a math teacher to improve the difficulty levels.

I also found out that it was possible for players to avoid answering math questions fairly often. I had to find a way to reward the team for answering questions correctly and motivate them to keep playing.

Introducing 12/21/12

A fun Mayan-themed algebra board game
Board Game Overview

Legend has it that the Mayans invented a way to travel in time. However, pieces of the time machine were separated and hidden in different locations of a vast pyramid. This machine has the potential for greatness as much as darkness. Can your team find all of the pieces before they fall into the wrong hands?


Get past obstacles such as traps and monsters by solving algebraic problems to obtain all pieces of the time machine hidden in each room of the pyramid. Answer incorrectly and the entire team takes a life damage. Take 3 life damages and you lose the game. When your entire team makes it to the last room and answers the last question correctly, you win!

Characters Abilities

Choose a character at the beginning of the game
Each character has a special ability that can be used twice during the game but only once at a time. You may use it at any time in the game whether it is your turn or not.


Reattempt to answer another monster card


Reattempt to answer another trap card


Don't like what you rolled? Reroll the dice

Tech Master

Tech Master
Use a calculator on your or another’s turn


Heal the team by one increment

The Logistics

Game Set Up

  • Place pieces of the time machine in each room.
  • Keep the green, blue, and yellow stacks of cards by the board.
  • Put your character pawns on the start placements marked by an arrow.

How to Play

  • Roll the dice. The numbered die indicated how many spaces you can move. The other die indicates if you encounter a monster or trap.
  • If you land on either of those you must answer a question. Answer it wrong and you lose a life.
  • If you roll a “keep going!” you may roll again.
  • You and your team members must collect each part of the time machine and meet in the middle to collect the last part.
  • Once you do so, you must answer a final question to win the game.

Time Limit

  • You have two minutes to answer a question and another two minutes as necessary to discuss results as a team.
  • Use the provided hourglass timer to time yourselves.

How to Play the Game

Card Types

Trap Question
Monster Question

Final Question

This type of card is answered once everyone reaches the middle room. Answer it incorrectly and you lose a life and must answer another. Answer it correctly and you win the game!

The Game in Action

Final Thoughts


Expansion Packs

My focus for the game was solving equations. However, the premise of this game leaves open the possibility to have different set of cards for different kinds of problems while maintaining the story and gameplay. This would be great for teachers as they teach various topics along the school year.


Further Testing

I was able to playtest my game with various people in both a classroom setting and a more casual setting but I would also like to be able to playtest in different settings such as a testing center to see where this game would best thrive. Testing is the best way to gain feedback to improve a game. With more time for extensive testing I believe this game can be perfected.

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