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Odd Knights

Practice strategic thinking by selecting knights from the round table to join you on your quest.

Ages: 5+
Players: 2
Time: Under 10 Minutes
Type: abstract games
Location: tabletop
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Ages: 5+
Players: 2
Time: Under 10 Minutes
Type: abstract games
Location: tabletop

Instructions

Place an odd number of tokens in a circle. (We used cups.) Nine is a good number to start with. These are the Odd Knights of the Round Table! Then, take turns picking knights to join you on your crusade. Take either 1 knight, or 2 knights who are seated right next to each other. Continue until all knights have been chosen. The player with an odd number of knights at the end wins!

Take turns going first, and try to figure out which player has an advantage.

Odd Knights is a variation of the classic math game, Nim (and so are other BA Playground games, including Anywhere Nim and Bumper Cars).

Don't forget: it's Beast Academy Playground, not Beast Academy Study Hall. Change the rules, be silly, make mistakes, and try again. The Variations and Learning Notes are here for you if you want to dive deeper, but not all of them apply to learners of every age. The most important thing is to have fun.

Variations d

Fewer or More Knights:

Try 7 knights, or 11. Any odd number will work.

Even Knights:

Start with an odd number of knights, but the player who ends up with an even number of knights wins. (This is a useful game to play in trying to figure out a winning strategy for Odd Knights.)

Classroom Tips d

Play Odd Knights when learning about even and odd numbers, or after a test or quiz. Once students know this game (or any of our Abstract Games), they can play them together in pairs or groups if they finish a task early.

Discussion Questions

  • Does it matter who plays first or second?
  • Does it matter if either player starts with one or two knights?
  • Why do we start with an odd number of knights in the circle?
  • Is there always a strategy to win?
  • How does playing with a different number of total knights change the game?

Alignment with Beast Academy Curriculum

  • Level 2, Chapter 9: Odds & Evens
  • Level 2, Chapter 12: Problem Solving
  • Level 3, Chapter 8: Division (students learn Nim in this chapter)
  • Level 4, Chapter 6: Logic

See Variations and Learning Notes for more ideas on how to adapt this activity and incorporate it into your classroom.

Learning Notes d

Even and Odd Numbers:

Odd Knights can be used to explore questions relating to parity (whether a number is even or odd). First, play several rounds of the 9-knight game. Then ask how many of their games ended in a tie. Let kids explain why 9 can't be split into two even or two odd groups. Give them time to notice that, in fact, any odd number of knights would have this property (no ties!). If they haven't already speculated what will happen when starting with an even number of knights, play a few rounds of an 8-knight game. It shouldn't take long to notice why this is a boring game. It always ends in a tie! Can kids explain why an odd + odd = even, even + even = even, but even + odd = odd?

Another interesting question for younger players: After they have taken a single knight, ask them whether they should now try to get an additional even number of knights, or an additional odd number of knights. (Adding 1 to an even number equals an odd number, so after taking 1 knight, a player should try to get an even number of additional knights.)

Or notice that, after taking 2 knights to start the game, a player's goal is to take an additional odd number of knights. (Adding 2 to an odd number equals an odd number.) Since this was also the original goal, taking an even number of knights to start a game basically starts a new game of Odd Knights but with a different starting arrangement and the other player going "first." (This insight is important for the winning strategies described below.)

Problem-Solving:

Older kids can explore the question of which player can be guaranteed a win, and what strategy that player should use. First, play several rounds of the 9-knight game. As you play, ask at which point in the game they are able to tell who will win, and at what point a player is able to control whether they will win or lose.

One way to test your guesses is to use the common problem-solving technique of first looking for a simpler problem to solve. In this case, play several rounds of a 5-knight game (or even a 3-knight) game to determine which player can guarantee a win, Player 1 (P1) or Player 2 (P2).

3-knight game:
If P1 takes 1, P2 takes 1 also, forcing P1 to lose with 2 knights. If P1 takes 2, P2 takes 1 to win. Either way, P2 wins.

5-knight game:
P1 can take 2 to start the game leaving 3 knights, so the 3-knight game above plays out, but with the roles switched. P1 can guarantee a win. (Note that starting the game with 2 knights is basically the same as starting the game with no knights. 2 plus an odd number is still an odd number, so the goal is still to end with an odd number after the initial 2 knights.)

7-knight game:
If P1 takes 2, P2 can take 2 to leave 3 knights, so the 3-knight game plays out with P1 losing.

If P1 takes 1, P2 can take 1 leaving a 3-2 split of knights. Then for the rest of the game, P2 can mirror any moves P1 makes to win. So if P1 takes 1 knight, P2 takes 1 knight. If P1 takes 2, P2 takes 2. In any case, P2 can guarantee a win. (Note that, after each player has taken 1 knight, their goal from that point is to get an additional even number of knights, since 1 plus an even number equals an odd number.)

The game grows in complexity as more knights are added, but kids may notice some basic strategies that they can continue to employ in analyzing larger games: mirroring their opponents moves, or noticing when a game has reduced to a simpler game. In general Odd Knights is winnable by Player 1 with 1, 5, 9, 13, etc. knights, and winnable by Player 2 with 3, 7, 11, etc. knights (though the winning strategies are harder to determine).

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Materials
  • tokens
Learning Goals
  • strategic thinking
  • even/odd numbers
  • counting
Common Core Standards
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Ready to level up?

Keep problem solving with Beast Academy’s full math curriculum for students ages 7–13. Check out our captivating comic book series and immersive online platform.

LEARN MORE

Bring problem-solving to your classroom

Keep your entire class engaged with a full book and online math curriculum, for students ages 7–13. 98% of teachers say they’re satisfied with Beast Academy.

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Image of a BA book