A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season. I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December. These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child. For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here. And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.
RollerCoaster Challenge is another fabulous product from ThinkFun. I’m pretty sure the company doesn’t need any PR from me, as this game has won numerous awards in the last year, including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award and Toy of the Year Finalist. I’ve seen it recommended on numerous gift guides – especially ones that are related to S.T.E.M. products. But all of those accolades may not have reached the audience who reads this blog, so I want to make sure RollerCoaster Challenge gets included in my list, too.
I’m going to start with getting one negative out of the way – pretty much the only negative about this game. There are a lot of pieces in this game. As a parent and a teacher, I get kind of nervous about games dependent on numerous parts. Easy to lose, painful to step on, difficult to store. However, the pieces are what make this game so entertaining. It reminds me a bit of the game Mousetrap that I used to play as a kid. The fun is in putting the pieces together just the right way. (I never actually played Mousetrap, just assembled the bazillion parts.)
RollerCoaster Challenge is a 1-player game that is suitable for ages 6 and up. Of course, the number of players and the best age group varies in real life. Most of ThinkFun’s solitaire games work well with 2 or 3 people collaborating to solve the challenges, and this one is no exception. As for age range, I refer you to the above paragraph. If your 6-year-old (or 10-year-old, for that matter) has a problem with leaving Legos all over your house, you may want to think twice about this purchase – or be proactive with a plan for keeping the pieces contained.
The game comes with Challenge cards, scaffolded perfectly to increase the difficulty slightly on each challenge. The cards tell you which pieces to use to build your roller coaster: tracks, posts, and tunnels. The diagram shows you certain locations, and then the player(s) must figure out where to place the rest in order to make a working roller coaster track. When completed, you can put the small plastic coaster attached to a ball bearing (included) at the top of the track and let it go. Watch it swiftly glide down the track to its end-point, and cheer! (My students added the last instruction, and adhered to it faithfully at the conclusion of each challenge.)
Of course, there is no law against designing roller coaster tracks of your own imagination. In fact, ThinkFun encourages this by offering a free online “Create Your Own RollerCoaster Challenge Card” link. You start with a solution, then the challenge, and can share the whole thing on social media or print it when finished.
My 3rd grade students love this game. If I had let them, they probably would have played it for hours. Their spatial reasoning skills are far superior to mine, and they could identify where to place the posts and tracks with little effort on the Beginning challenges. Once we reached the next level, it took them a bit longer to solve (which is exactly what I like to see), but they persevered happily.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that RollerCoaster Challenge is well worth the anxiety of keeping “track” of numerous pieces. I definitely recommend it for budding engineers and problem solvers!