Last fall I wrote about a board game Kickstarter project that aimed to teach programming skills to very young kids. Robot Turtles, designed by Dan Shapiro while he was on leave from Google, seemed like a cross between the classic programming language Logo and the classic board game RoboRally, and fans flocked to it in droves. Shapiro’s “side project” ended up pulling in over $600k in pledges from 13,765 backers. When Shapiro started the project, he didn’t know if anyone besides himself would be interested in his game, and he figured he would just ship out the Kickstarter rewards, and then head back to his day job at Google.
But with the huge demand for the game (Maker Shed sold out 1,500 copies in 8 hours before Christmas), Shapiro is eager to get Robot Turtles into the hands of more parents and kids, though he didn’t feel up to the task of handling things like retail sales and logistics. That’s where ThinkFun stepped in.
ThinkFun, the makers of a lot of fantastic games and puzzles that are both educational and fun, is partnering with Shapiro to put Robot Turtles in retail stores. They’re taking pre-orders now with an anticipated shipping date of June this year: the price is $24.99, and pre-orders also get a free expansion pack that includes 12 pre-set frog favorite cards, 32 bonus collectible jewel tokens, and 10 adventure quests.
Here’s what I’ve been able to gather: the ThinkFun edition of the game has slightly snazzier graphics (the same turtles but nicer backgrounds and even gold foil), a better box divider design that will hold everything in place (the Kickstarter version just lumps everything together), and the “bug” card has been replaced by a bug tile that you slap when you make a mistake, since it seemed that a lot of kids had trouble with the concept of a card.
In the bonus expansion pack, the “adventure quests” are pre-made mazes in varying levels of difficulties, to make it easier for parents to get started without having to design their own mazes or look them up online. The collectible jewel tokens are mostly to add a degree of achievements—they give kids something to collect, but (as far as I know) don’t actually change the nature of gameplay. Finally, the frog favorite cards are a way to ease into the “function frog” ability in the game, which is a little trickier for some kids (and parents).
This news might come as a surprise to backers of the original Kickstarter—remember, at the time Shapiro wasn’t sure if Robot Turtles would exist beyond fulfilling Kickstarter rewards and a few extra copies. The Kickstarter version cost $29, though there were a lot of additional rewards you could add on at the time. The ThinkFun version sounds like it will be more polished and costs less (well, plus shipping). That makes sense, though—ThinkFun is an established company that produces puzzles and toys and board games, and Shapiro was a guy figuring all this out as the campaign progressed.
But that’s one of the tricky things about Kickstarter: you don’t know if the same product will end up priced less than what you paid (although many board game projects now offer the Kickstarter version at a discount from the planned retail). On the other hand, without all those backers Robot Turtles probably wouldn’t have been made at all. I suppose if you’re upset about having your Kickstarter copy, you could probably still sell it on eBay for a profit. On the other hand, the bug card lets you play the “Galapagos” rules for experienced gamers.
At any rate, if you’ve got younger kids and you like the idea of teaching programming concepts with a board game, you should definitely take a look at Robot Turtles. The pre-order sounds like a good deal, and ThinkFun generally does a good job with its products. But don’t wait too long if you’re interested in the expansion pack: I’ve been informed that there are only 5,000 being made in this first print run, and they won’t be automatically included when the game hits store shelves this summer.