This game offers a motivating context in which children can improve their logical thinking skills. It is a low threshold high ceiling game that is easily accessible but, at the highest level, has the potential to be generalised.
This problem featured in an NRICH Primary webinar in June 2021.
Introduce the game to the class by watching the video all through. Invite learners to ask questions or make comments, and use these to help clarify the rules. You may want to watch all or part of the video again if there are any uncertainties. Give pupils chance to play the game several times in pairs using seven counters or any other objects, so that they get a really good 'feel' for it.
Bring everyone together and explain that you're now going to focus on 'strategy', in other words, ways to win the game. Invite learners to share anything they have noticed so far with sentences such as, "I noticed that when I ..., xxxx happened". Try to value all children's noticings and then use the video again to focus your questioning.
Play the video from the beginning again, but this time pause it after Player 1's second turn (about 37 seconds in). Ask the class what they would do now if they were Player 2. Give everyone the chance to talk to a partner about their ideas, then draw the whole group together again. What do they notice? In fact, it is impossible for Player 2 to win now. Encourage learners to articulate the reasons for this by thinking more than one step ahead, and considering all possibilities, for example "If I took one counter, then the other player would..."; "If I took two counters, then...".
Help the class to understand that if we want to win this game, we need to leave exactly three counters for our opponent to have a turn. Challenge them to consider whether it is possible to be absolutely certain that you will be able to leave three counters. Give them lots more time to play the game and explore their ideas. They may find it helpful to record their moves somehow and you can look out for useful ways to do this amongst the class and share them, as appropriate.
Any pair who thinks they have found a completely water-tight strategy can try it out in a game against you. You may also like the class to think abut how they can record their winning strategy, perhaps in the form of 'Top Tips' for a friend.
This game is a great one to share with families. Having introduced it in class, you can suggest that children teach a family member to play as part of their home learning.
What happens when there are three counters left?
Does it matter who goes first? Why or why not?
How can you win at this game?
You could offer to record a game for children who are struggling, and then you can then look back together at key moments. This might enable you to discuss what each player could have done differently at certain points in the game.
Playing with one pair against another pair means that learners have someone to talk to about their ideas, giving them confidence to play alone.
You can encourage the children to think about 'What if...?' questions, such as 'What happens if you start the game with a different number of counters?'. (A series of key numbers will emerge, as well as some interesting observations about odds, evens and multiples.) The game Got It is identical in structure to Nim-7 and would make a great follow-up task. The game Daisy, another Nim-like game, offers an interesting challenge too.