Game on: practising numbers by stealth

In my primary school days, TopTrumps was limited to vehicles.  This tended to mean it was played by knots of boys in the corners of playgrounds. Girls tended to know the name, but not what it was (unless they had brothers who played it too).

TopTrumps has become a bit of a favourite, even for game-players who are late to the party. There are so many types, but they’re not expensive. Four or five pounds will buy you a set – but visit a second-hand shop or a school fair, and you may gain a set for a pound, or even less.

TopTrumps: the choices

For kids, you can be as current, or specific, as you like.  Cars, pets, films, TV shows, cartoon characters…you’ll find all these and more.  There are usually Specials, for sets that tie in with something current, like a film.

For adults, there’s also some nostalgia value. No need to be limited to the kids’ era, when there’s sets for (original) Star Wars, Dr Who, Indiana Jones, and more.

Yes, a certain level of geek awareness probably helps. But there’s also packs with animals, the Royal Wedding of 2009, wrestling…

But what are they, your great-aunt may enquire (if she’s in the same room while you’re playing)?

TopTrumps: the explanation

TopTrumps is a set of playing cards around a theme. There are 30 to a pack. They have the picture for the theme on the back, and on the front, a series of different characters/vehicles/animals etc.

Each character card has (usually) 5 different scores on it.  These may include things like: brains, skill, strength, age, speed, and so on.  Each character will then be assigned a number for each category e.g.

Brains: 20

Skill: 5

Strength: 7

Age: 120

Speed: 12

And so on. As in real life, one character may be better than the other (or ‘trump’ them) if compared on a particular category – but lose if compared on another.

TopTrumps particularly appeals to those who like to compare, and to work out which card is best.  It’s no surprise that it started with vehicles, but most themes will be based around the idea that characters have varying strengths.

The trick is to work out which of your categories you think you are strongest on: and to play that category on the turns when you get to go first.

TopTrumps: under way

Let’s say you’ve got the above scores on your card.  Age looks pretty big, so you play on that. Your opponent has to play on the same category: so if you call age first, they have to give their score on the same category.

A: Age: 120.

B: Age: 75.

A wins – so B has to hand over their card. You put the two used cards at the back of the pack, and your opponent gets to call the category on their next card.

B: Speed: 20.

A: Speed: 12.

B wins, and takes A’s card.

TopTrumps: practising numbers by stealth

The fun of TopTrumps, for an adult playing with a child, is two-fold.  The child is playing on a theme they (hopefully) like, and wants to win.  The adult may feel the same.  But for the adult’s inner educationalist, there’s a further plus point: you both have to read out numbers to take part.

The numbers are also a clue as to whether your child is reading their numbers correctly.  If your range on speed goes up to about 20, and your child suddenly reads off ’91’, it’s a little clue to suggest that they might be misreading ’19’.

TopTrumps: playing a simplified version

To make things easiest for your junior opponent, you may choose to play just on one category.  This can be good if you are playing with e.g. dinosaur cards, where ages of millions of years may be hard to read, but strength (up to 20) is manageable.

Reading also comes into this. So it can be good to choose a category that your child can read e.g. skill. Or you might pick the category at the top of the card (or bottom), so it’s easy to spot each time.

Ideally, you play until one person has all the cards. But if you’ve had enough, you can always stop and count up who’s got the most cards. (30 to a pack – so if you have more than 15, you win.)

TopTrumps: playing over time

Where TopTrumps gets particularly fun is when you play it over time.  You get to know the possible scores for a category, so you know wen you’re likely to win.

For example, playing Horrible Histories TopTrumps, I know that Henry VIII wins on one category – so it’s worth leading with that, particularly if you are losing. Equally, playing original Star Wars TopTrumps, and playing on height, you’re doing well if you have the Wampa.

TopTrumps: our favourites

What packs do we play the most?

Original Star Wars (films IV-VI) is a good one (and highly educational, if you are of a science-fiction persuasion, and think your child may benefit from similar knowledge).

– Dinosaurs: lots of further discussions about carnivores vs herbivores, as well as opportunities to cry ‘Urgh!’ every time you see the picture of the T Rex with a rather bloody mouth.

– Dr Who: similarly educational for classic monsters, and former incarnations of Dr Who. Our junior opponent is not yet into current series Dr Who, but should we explore the back catalogue, it could prove useful. (Plus there’s nothing like monsters to inspire a little light comparison.)

– Indiana Jones: I pulled rank when we found these in a charity shop, and demanded that we buy them.  Junior Companion was less keen to part with a whole pound out of his fund, but has since agreed that it is worth the spend.

This also becomes a way to introduce the Indiana Jones canon before Junior Companion is old enough to be allowed to watch the films. After all, there is a progression of villains for Indy to take on, and a good opportunity to compare the attributes of baddiness.

I’ll stop there.  I think I have sufficiently convinced you of the benefits. It can be played in carparks, on trains, but also in bed (if you’ve had a crafty nap, and need something low impact to entertain Junior Companion while you’re waking up).

Biggest advantages: quick to pack. Easy to close up when you’ve had enough. Fits in Christmas stockings (so we observe). Job done.

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