<span data-offset-key="92un5-0-0">T</span>his is a review of On the Brink, a board game that is part of the //CODE series created by Mark Engelberg, a NASA programmer through the company ThinkFun which aims to promote critical thinking skills through board games for all ages.

I was in Barnes & Noble during my visit back home when this board game caught my eye. During some of my mentoring, I had tried to come up with ways to make programming fun and interactive offline and thought that this board game could be exactly what I was looking for. On return to Hong Kong, I had three grueling weeks of quarantine in a hotel in Sai Ying Pun and figured this game could help pass the time.


I’ll go into some detail over the gameplay, but if you want a more in-depth explanation, check out ThinkFun’s website which has more information.
Essentially you have:
  1. A robot that needs to get from ‘start’ to ‘finish’
  2. The challenge board which has a path with different colored tiles
  3. Cards with different procedures on how to move the robot (grey is for easy levels, gold is for the harder levels)
  4. Lastly, a control panel with colors that correspond to the tiles on the challenge board
The control panel is where you can place the cards to create ‘procedures/algorithms’ on how the robot moves when it’s standing on the colored tile. The way you construct each algorithm determines if the robot can successfully reach the finish line.
You can see the simple example below for the easiest challenge – the X card means no extra step
In the above, I needed to put the second ‘Move Forward’ card on the blue panel because the robot will fail its mission if it lands on a white tile since there is no procedure for white. I need it to move forward twice to get on the red, and once on the red, I only need it to move forward once every time the robot lands on the red tile until it gets to the finish line. Also, if I were to put the second ‘Move Forward’ card on the red, then I would move forward twice every time I landed on the red, which would shoot me past the finish line and into robot destruction.
The first few challenges are deceptively easy, it gets progressively harder as you go along. I’ve uploaded a picture of one of the advanced challenges so you’re not lulled into a sense of complacency like I was.

Review of the Game

Total gameplay took between two and a half to three hours from reading instructions to completing the last challenge. A few of the challenges were so simple I was shaking my head in dismay while a few of the harder challenges had me questioning if my logical abilities were below an 8-year-old’s. One complaint I had however was that the first few advanced challenges were actually much simpler than the later intermediate level, so the difficulty didn’t appear to linearly increase.
By the end of the game, I wish there had been more challenges in the booklet, or maybe an ‘extra-challenging’ expansion for us nerds that enjoy a good puzzle. My one piece of advice is if you want to make the gameplay a bit more difficult, hide the part of the challenge booklet that tells you which cards you should use to solve the challenge.


Is it worth it? Depends on how much $15 bucks is relative to your income. If I had bought this while still trying to pay my way through college I would have been sorely disappointed. However, if $15 is less than what you normally spend on lunch then this could be a fun game to while away the time – I was certainly entertained for two to three hours during my quarantine.
Overall I found its value equivalent to a puzzle for a similar price with some foundational programming way-of-thinking incorporated into the gameplay. It doesn’t teach code, but it teaches some of the thought processes which are crucial to software engineering.
I’m glad the box said “Ages 8 to Adult” because I don’t think a child younger than 8 would be able to grasp the logical foresight. My main concern is getting a kid to sit still long enough to play, if you can accomplish that then they are sure on their path to becoming a software engineer!
Overall I found its value equivalent to a puzzle for a similar price with some foundational programming way-of-thinking incorporated into the gameplay

Leave a Reply