Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Spring 2012 Games
Ages: 6 & Up
Manufacturer: Maranda Enterprises
Price: $29.99

Abacan doesn't look like a children's game. With a solid, stained wood, it is more reminiscent of an abacus or math tool, and it looks more like a coffee table sculpture. It flies in the face of conventional kid-oriented design. This is not Candy Land.

And yet, within two days, my seven-year-old and I have played more games of Abacan than practically any other game in our house. It's an easy thing to do, because games go very fast, and there is no setup involved. You can start the next game as soon as you finish the first, and setup involves just putting the frame between you and your opponent. We easily played twenty games while eating cereal the first morning, and we would have played much more if it weren't time to head for school!

Each game generally takes less than a minute to play. There are five rows of beads in the triangular frame, consisting of one, three, five, seven, and nine beads in turn. To start the game, you move all the beads over to one side of the abacus. Then, players take turns sliding one, two, or three beads in the same row over to the other side. The player who slides the last bead over loses, so the strategy involves figuring out a way to leave your opponent with a single bead left (and avoiding a situation where he can do the same to you).

It's an extremely simple concept. Kids quickly understand how to play, but the strategies for winning require forethought that can challenge even grown-ups. Adults will certainly have an advantage in this game over kids, but the strategy is simple enough that it prompts some excellent teaching moments for kids. My seven-year-old quickly picked up on the sorts of things you have to watch out for, and was soon shifting from fast, random moves to thoughtful analysis of his later moves.

Abacan is an excellent addition to a coffee or kitchen table.

Barbara Chamberlin   ©2012 Parents' Choice
Barbara Chamberlin researches and develops educational software and media at New Mexico State University's Learning Games Lab. She and her husband have two boys.

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