Eric Johnson

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Googler’s Programming Board Game for Kids Meets Kickstarter Goal in Five Hours

Most of the time, teaching computer skills to children requires the use of a computer. But a new board game that conveys programming concepts without a screen rocketed through Kickstarter yesterday, securing its $25,000 minimum goal from hundreds of backers in just five hours.

At the time of this writing, it has raised nearly $66,000 and counting.

The game is Robot Turtles, and it hinges on a key conceit: Parents play the game alongside their kids, and act as human computers in the absence of a real one.

The kids who play Robot Turtles, called “turtle masters,” get to boss around their parents, the “turtle movers,” in order to get their turtle characters through a maze on the game board. They can only talk to the turtle movers, though, in the form of simple object-oriented programming commands.

So, instead of saying things like “go over there,” the turtle masters have to puzzle out the right combination of commands based on the educational programming language Logo,* which famously uses turtles as its default object shape. Logo was the first programming language learned by Robot Turtles’ creator, Dan Shapiro.

Shapiro is currently on leave from his job as CEO of Google Comparison, the unit within Google responsible for comparison-shopping products for cars, insurance and credit cards. He said he’s “more surprised than anyone” at how quickly the project took off on Kickstarter. Before launching the project yesterday, he demoed a prototype of the game to about 24 people, a far cry from the current tally of 1,575 backers.

A copy of the game costs early backers $29, and other backers $40 or more, with options for special rewards such as a collector’s edition. After the Kickstarter campaign ends, Shapiro has no plans to continue making and selling the game, calling it a “passion project” rather than the start of a bigger initiative.

What about selling the game rights to a traditional publisher? Shapiro hasn’t ruled it out completely, but said he found a lot of existing board games incompatible with his idea because they’re not made specifically for parents and kids to play together.

* If you’ve never seen Logo before and want to check it out, free tutorials like this one abound online. Logo was also my first programming language, and I still remember it fondly.

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