I have been thinking about how games and puzzles can help teach concepts and strengthen a person’s thought patterns for specific types of problem solving. However, there are literally thousands of games available across a multitude of forms, whether they are card, board, or computer-based games. The large number of options can make it challenging to even know when one might be particularly well suited to helping you train your mind for a type of design project. Discussion forums, like this one can collect lessons learned and make you aware of games or puzzles that others have found useful in exercising their minds – as well as being entertaining.

I have a handful of games that I could suggest, but I will start by offering only one recommendation in the hopes that other people will share their finds and thoughts about when and why the recommendation would be worthwhile to someone else.

For anyone that needs to do deep thinking while taking into account a wide range of conditions from a system perspective, I recommend checking out the ancient game of Go. It is a perfect knowledge game played between two players, and it has a ranking or handicap system that makes it possible for two players that are of slightly different strengths to play a challenging game for both players. Rather than explaining the specifics of the game here, I would instead like to focus on what the game forces you to do in order to play competently.

The rules are very simple – each player alternates turns placing a stone on a grid board. The goal of the game is to surround and capture the most territory. The grid is of sufficient size (19x19 points) that your moves have both a short term and a long term impact. Understanding the subtlety and depth of the long term impact of your moves grows in richness with experience and practice – not unlike designing a system in such a way as to avoid shooting yourself in the foot during troubleshooting. If you are too cautious, your opponent will capture too much of the board for your excellent long term planning to matter. If you play too aggressively – such as to capture as much territory as directly or as quickly as possible, you risk trying to defend what you have laid a claim to with a structure that is too weak to withstand any stress from your opponent.

The more I play Go, the easier I am able to see how the relationships between decisions and trade-offs affect how well the game – or a project – will turn out. Being able to find an adequate balance between building a strong structure and progressing forward at an appropriate pace is a constant exercise in being able to read your environment and adjusting to changing conditions.

I would recommend Go to anyone that needs to consider the system level impacts of their design decisions. Do you have a game you would recommend for embedded developers? If so, what is it and why might an embedded developer be interested in trying it out?

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