Header AD

South of the Sahara: A Review of 3 Strategic Story-Games

Quick Look: MathMINDS Games: South of the Sahara

Designers: Brandon Smith and Calli Wright
Artist: Jules Zafra
Publisher: MIND Research Institute
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 7+
Playing Time: 10-30 min.

From the publisher:

MathMINDs Games are storybook board games that combine math, history and literacy in a highly connected experience. Through each story, youʼll learn and play games as you explore real events from the game's country of origin.

Achi is a historical game played in Ghana that is very similar to Tic-tac-toe. Add in a connection to the magic square from ancient China and you have the recipe for a storybook board game that shows how math connects different cultures around the world!

The four unique species of butterflies found on Mt. Mabu in Mozambique inspired a four-player version of Gulugufe, traditionally a two-player game. Play with the concept of negation as you flip your caterpillar pieces and strategically move them across the board to capture opponents.

Lemurs, the national animal of Madagascar, show you how to move the pieces in Fanorona, a two-player game from the country. Add in the lemurs’ ages and you can use the mathematical concept of comparison to strategically knock off opponents’ pieces.

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

I received a copy of South of the Sahara for the purposes of this review; all opinions here are mine or those of my math-loving family and friends.


Overview and Theme:

MathMINDS: South of the Sahara is an amazing anthology collection for kids and families that contains three abstract games with roots in Africa and ties to interesting topics in math.

Components and Setup:

Each of the three games in South of the Sahara (Achi, Gulugufe, and Fanorona) comes with lovely wooden pieces, a sturdy board, and a storybook that entertains and teaches you while showing you how to play the game at various levels.

The storybooks are the heart of South of the Sahara and they are just delightful: a story unfolds that explains the roots of the game as well as how to play. You'll read about how a turtle connects to tic-tac-toe, how caterpillars can walk on both sides of a branch, and how lemurs are like dominoes.

At the end of each book, parents will find even more information about the game's historical and cultural roots and about the math that's involved.

Game Play and Mechanics:

Achi is a game that's similar to tic-tac-toe, and comes with a two-sided board (one side has a squared-off pattern and the other is more organic like a turtle shell) and four pieces of each color. Kids and parents read together about the game and the magic square and play through different versions of the game, building skills and strategy as they go.

The kids who have played Achi with me loved it as a starting point. Tic tac toe was already familiar to most of them and so they could jump right into the first game without too much discussion. The only new aspect is that each player only has 4 pieces, so if no one wins and all pieces are on the board, you continue to take turns by sliding your pieces until someone wins.

The story of Achi continues with an irregular playing board and stories of turtles and magic squares! The game becomes more complex as you add numbers into the mix.

Gulugufe is a game of jumping and capturing based on caterpillars turning into butterflies. It also has a two-sided board (one side for two players and the other side for four) and nine cylinders of each color, marked 1 on one end and -1 on the other. You'll learn about the way that caterpillars crawl along the branch and bump each other out of the tree and how caterpillars can't bump a caterpillar from the other side of the branch.

Gulugufe starts out without worrying about the sign of the numbers--just position yourself so you can jump another player's caterpillar, and try to bump them all out of the tree.

As you become comfortable with the strategy and the movement of this game, you'll be ready to add the idea that caterpillars with a positive value are on the tops of the branches, and caterpillars with a negative value are on the bottoms. You can only bump a caterpillar on the same side of the branch as yours, so instead of moving a caterpillar, you can spend a turn to flip one instead.

Fanorona is a game of pushing and pulling that stretches to include some general number sense (less than, same as, more than) as well as stories about lemurs and pancakes. The double-sided board allows for different setups for two players using the purple and yellow hex pieces.

The storybook for Fanorona was definitely the best loved! Who wouldn't want to read about how lemurs push each other over like dominoes or trip each other with their tales? It takes a little more involved explanation to show kids how these movements translate onto the gameboard.

Fanorona has the highest learning curve but it is the most satisfying in the end (isn't that true with so many things?). One of the wonderful bits of strategy to learn is that a lemur who successfully pushes or pulls another lemur can continue its turn if the same lemur can make another move. I have truly enjoyed watching kids puzzle over the board to try to find combos before they move--this game especially has some amazing depth.

The next step is to turn your pieces over so that they each show a number. The rule is that on a single turn, your lemur can only knock down lemurs that are younger (have a lower number) or older (a higher number) but not both! This lends extra challenge to the game and really helps build a good number sense.

The Good:

I don't have enough good things to say about MathMINDS: South of the Sahara! As a gamer, a parent, and a teacher, I feel this hits the most amazing notes.

The games are based on traditional abstract games from Africa, and given a mathematical twist.

The storybooks help kids learn the rules in a more natural way (who will forget that a lemur can only trip one other lemur with its tail, but could push down a whole row of lemurs like dominoes?).

The mathematical skills presented here are so different from what you usually find in a "math game" for this age group, and they really help expand thinking skills and draw mathematical concepts into the real world.

The Bad:

The only concern that I have is that possibly the pieces for Gulugufe, cylinders in red, green, blue, and yellow, may not be colorblind-friendly. I noticed and appreciated that the pieces for Achi are not only different colors but also different shapes, so they can be easily differentiated.

Players Who Like:

MathMINDS: South of the Sahara is an amazing game for gameschoolers and all families and groups with young kids. It's good for kids who enjoy abstract games from Tic Tac Toe to Checkers to those peg-solitaire games at the restaurant. It's great for kids who like to sink their teeth into a logic or strategy game like Rush Hour or Chess, too.

Final Thoughts:

In case I haven't been clear, let me say: I'm over the moon for South of the Sahara! The thoughtfulness of the creators shines through from the storybooks to the chunky wooden pieces to the levels of play that introduce topics in bite sized steps, allowing kids to develop their own strategy naturally.

I think South of the Sahara is a must-have for any families with young kids!

Check out South of the Sahara on:


About the Author:

My name is Alexa: I'm a life-long game player and homeschooling mom to two awesome kids. I've loved board games since my early days playing Scrabble and Gin Rummy with my grandmother, and life only got more interesting when I married a Battletech enthusiast and fellow game lover. We've played games with our kids since they were small, and I helped start a thriving homeschool co-op where we have weekly sessions of board games with kids.  In a family with kids raised on Catan and Pandemic, life is sure to be fun! You may run into me on Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and other social media as MamaGames. Be sure to say hi!
South of the Sahara: A Review of 3 Strategic Story-Games South of the Sahara: A Review of 3 Strategic Story-Games Reviewed by MamaGames - Alexa C. on May 04, 2020 Rating: 5

No comments