While the exact origin of the word Nim is unknown and has been the center of debates over the years, one thing is known; this simple strategy game has been around for a long time in many different forms. The name was coined by American mathematician Charles L. Bouton in an article he published in 1901, where he explains the game, winning strategies, and some mathematical theories as to how it works. Similar games existed before Bouton’s Nim, such as the Chinese jiǎn-shízi, but none have permeated the world of mathematics quite as heavily.

While the origins aren’t entirely clear cut, the game itself is. The game involves a heap of objects, sometimes called counters, and 2 players. Players take turns nimming (removing) an object or objects from the board. Sometimes there’s a limit to how many you can take each turn, but as you will come to realize there is a lot of customization that can be done. One thing is constant though; you must take at least one object per turn.

There are two different play styles: normal and misère. In short, you either win (normal) or lose (misère) by picking the last piece. Both methods work the same and it really just depends on how you prefer to play.
There are also a few different layouts for the objects as well. You can create a pyramid shape with each row having a different number of objects or you can do a single row. For those of us that like a little chaos, just throw all the objects in the middle and start nimming! When doing the pyramid method, it is generally a rule that you can only take objects from one row at a time, so plan wisely.

You may be wondering what exactly I mean when I say objects, and I mean just that! Nim is an extremely accessible game that can be enjoyed by anyone. You can use a set of matches, marbles, crayons, or even draw it on a piece of paper. If you’re struggling to find enough of one object, just mix-and-match, works just as well.

This is an amazing game to play with the family as it’s quick, accessible, and fun! There’s also a lot of strategy and math that goes along with it, which makes it a great way to introduce new ideas to kids. So next time you are at a family get together looking for something to pass the time, grab some items, and start having fun!


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