Child’s Play II: Milles Bornes

When I got tired of playing Maya Madness, I introduced #1 to the classic French card game Mille Bornes. In this game, the object is to drive a race car 1000 miles (Mille Bornes is French for “Thousand Boundary-Stones”), in increments of 25, 50, 75, 100, and 200 miles. But (unlike Maya Madness), you can’t just lay down your additions uninhibited; there are a number of cards which control your (or your opponent’s) ability to drive. They have very intuitive meanings that are easy for children to pick up, like green light, red light, speed limit, right of way, flat tire, spare tire, puncture-proof tire, etc.

Rightquarters.png off, you can probably see that this game teaches addition by quarters (which is good for money-learning too). The point is to require children to keep track of their own mileage (I guess you could make them keep track of yours too, but then the game would too obviously be an educational exercise!). It might be helpful to let children refer to the diagram to the right. It might also be helpful to relate that diagram to a clock, so they can learn the common principle of 75 + 50 = 125, and 3:45 + :30 = 4:15.

The game also requires some addition strategy, similar to Maya Madness: near 1000 miles, you have to recognize whether you have the cards necessary to sum to exactly 1000, and formulate a plan in case you don’t (“I’m at 900, and I only have a 75 in my hand — do I have time to wait to see whether I draw a 100, or should I play my 75 now and gamble that I can draw a 25?)

Milles Bornes also introduces the element of sportsmanship. With Maya Madness, there is no room for competitiveness, because the game doesn’t include the element of harming your opponent. But in Milles Bornes, you hinder your opponent’s progress by giving them flat tires, accidents, stop signs, speed limits, empty gas tanks — frankly, it can get quite frustrating if you are unable to progress through because you spend the whole game trying to pick a green light or something (especially if the other guy is discarding green lights all over the place, and keeps slapping new red lights down!). Your child will undoubtedly have no qualms about slapping an Empty Tank on you every chance they get, and hopefully you are mature enough to demonstrate good sportsmanship for them. But in the beginning, you might want to go light on the mean play, and gradually step it up to full competitiveness as they grow able to regulate their attitudes. Do not provoke your children to anger!

Now the full rules of Mille Bornes include a lot of complexity that is not really necessary for playing with a child. Here is how I watered down the actual rules:

  • No points, just miles. Thus no safe driving, no shutout, no first to finish, no bonuses for safety cards. Just first to 1000 miles wins.
  • Thus, one hand = one game; no multi-hand, first to 5000 points.
  • No Coup Fourres: if you have a safety card, you don’t need to hoard it, waiting to ambush a hazard card and play before picking, etc. Just play your safety card when you get it, and take another turn.
  • Or don’t take an extra turn with safety cards, if it’s too much to remember.
  • You might consider removing Speed Limit and End of Limit cards from the deck, as they don’t add much to the game.

If you simplify the game this way, I think you’ll find that you (and your kid(s)) will still have at least 90% of the fun of the full game. You can always add back the extra rules when they’re older.

7 Responses

  1. I remember some Milles Bornes games :)

  2. I used to love playing Milles Bornes with Tony and my brother Paul as kids. Of course the real reason for wanting to go over to your house was the legos.

  3. I don’t remember that at all! Mostly I remember us over at your house, with endless trivial pursuit, Rook, and speed-chess.

  4. You are a bit older than I am, but good call on the trivial pursuit. I remember seeing the adults play and thinking, “I hope I can be smart enough to play trivial pursuit one day.” I am proud to say that i am now quite skilled at the game which tests your knowledge of meaningless drivel. my rook game is very rusty and I am hopelessly impatient, even for speed chess.

  5. I played Mille Bournes with my children when they were younger. It did help them learn basic math.

  6. Hey Craig — good to see you over the weekend, and good to see you around these parts!

    Indeed, Mille Bournes is a rockin math game. It’s so good, I might never get around to writing my next planned post in this series, about Yahtzee!

  7. Oh, I don’t play Yahtzee — you see, my significant other is a (pardon the poem) “Yahtzee Nazi”. She takes no prisoners when she’s playing. Ask her, she’ll tell ya!

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