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Archive for the ‘Boardgames with Children’ Category

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Though pretty much all my recent posts are related to computer gaming, I have in fact been playing and enjoying some boardgames recently also.  Today I want to post about a small, light game I picked up specifically to play with my kids that has turned into a pretty good investment.

Coloretto was first published by Rio Grande games in 2003 and the basic drafting mechanic in it has since spawned a whole series of games including Aquaretto and Zooloretto and their many expansions.  Zooloretto is a great game that I have owned for years and enjoy as a light game that is often acceptable to non-gamers due to the fun theme and simple mechanics.  Coloretto I somehow missed until seeing it on a list of recommended kids games recently, but it is an even simpler and more accessible game that has the benefit of being playable by even younger players (my older kids are 6 and 4).

Components

The game comes in a very small, portable box and consists of 88 cards; 63 cards of chameleons in sets of colors, 3 “wild card” chameleons that match all colors, 10 “+2 points” cards, and 12 other utility cards (last round card, stack cards, scoring summary cards).  The chameleon card art is vibrant and the lizards on their various colored backgrounds are quite cute.  The utility cards are clear and easy to understand with nice colors.

The art on the +2 point cards are a bit abstract, showing some kind of sky background, and perhaps my only complaint as they don’t contribute to an already pretty thin theme; not that it detracts from gameplay, but a weak theme can make it a tad harder to draw new people in.  I’ve taken to calling them “lizard food” so that the kids understand you just always want them.

Gameplay

I want to make an effort in my boardgame reviews not to let my review devolve into a full-scale rules explanation, but in this case the rules are so simple I’m gonna pretty much cover them completely.

Each player starts the game with a lizard card of a different color.  The remaining lizard color cards and +2 bonus cards are shuffled into a common deck, and a number of stack cards are placed in the center equal to the number of players.  Each around, players rotate taking turns in which the player either (more…)

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Another all-time classic, Hi-Ho Cherry-O was first published in 1960 so its over 50 years old and pretty well-known.  Hi-Ho Cherry-O is another one of those games that seems to be sold just about everywhere and is common to receive as a gift from well-meaning friends or grandparents.  I picked up my copy at Target when it was on sale for $8; a major selling factor for me at the time was the nice plastic case it came in.  I had seen the game before, a long while ago, and I knew it involved counting but I didn’t remember much else about it.  I think the version I have is a little cheaper than some of the previous versions, so take that into account when I discuss components; for example my version didn’t come with individual buckets or colored cherries.

Components

My copy of the game is in a plastic bookshelf case with a lid that slides off.  Inside is a vacuum formed thin plastic insert, which has a spinner in the middle and four depressions with art to look like baskets to hold cherries, one for each player.  It also comes with 4 very cheap and likely warped cardstock trees, each with 10 holes punched in it to hold cherries.  And finally the cherries themselves, which are actually fine quality though small enough to easily lose.

Story/Setting

Pretty basic, each player starts with 10 cherries on their tree and the objective is to pick them all and put them in your basket.  First player to pick 10 cherries wins.  It’s a simple theme but not incredibly exciting.  The artwork is colorful and certainly a draw for young children, but it turns out the game drags on incredibly long so kids can easily lose interest.

Mechanics

Like Candy Land, this is another game where no player decisions are involved.  Every turn each player spins the spinner, with seven possible outcomes.  Four outcomes allow you to pick 1, 2, 3, or 4 cherries from your tree and put them in your basket.  Two outcomes take 2 cherries from your basket and put them back on your tree.  The seventh outcome causes you to put ALL cherries from your basket back on your tree, thus resetting the game for that player.  And that’s pretty much it.  There are no numbers on the spinner, its all done graphically.

Developmental Opportunities

The one positive part of the game is the counting involved.  Picking the correct number of cherries off the tree and putting them in the basket is a nice little counting exercise.  Ensuring the correct number is picked also requires kids to understand, follow, and enforce the rules.  However, the numbers only go up to 4 so this is pretty early-level stuff.  Once your kid can easily count to four and demonstrates the ability to spin and pick the correct number, this game basically has nothing else to offer you other than sportsmanship practice.  Since negative outcomes are frequent (3/7 of the time) this game does offer lots of opportunities to work on responding positively to negative circumstances.  And of course there is the all-important taking turns.

Overall Recommendation

As you can tell, I’m just not a big fan of this game.  If you follow the rules in the box the game progresses far too slowly, and with some bad luck can literally take forever.  By my own rough calculations the game takes roughly 30-40 turns to finish on average, which is a LONG time for a very young child to stay engaged with spinning the spinner and picking cherries, especially considering the turns may not go quickly if the child is having any kind of difficulty.  My other problem is the spinner itself.

I’ve come to hate spinners in kids games; I realize they are very easy and cheap to fabricate, but they are problematic for so many reasons.  It takes practice and coordination to give a cheap spinner a good spin, and it can be very difficult for young kids to do it right; if they are young enough to appreciate this game, they are probably young enough to have problems with the spinner.  The pointer constantly end up on the large borders between outcomes, meaning you have to decide where to point it.  Worst of all, they are easy to manipulate and it becomes very tempting to young kids to try to cheat with them.  I realize it probably sounds like I’m taking this way too seriously; it’s just a simple kids game right, who cares?  I think the problem I have is that spinners encourage all sorts of bad practices regarding manipulating outcomes, either by the parent or kid, regarding where the spinner ends up.  Once a kid realizes how easy the outcome is to manipulate, they will start to look for opportunities to do this elsewhere in other games, especially other games with spinners.  Dice don’t really have this problem, which is why I enjoy dice much more and I think dice teach much better gaming practices than spinners.

Ok now that I’m done ranting about spinners, what’s the final word?  I have modified the rules of this game so that all three negative outcomes take only 1 cherry back off.  This way the game goes by much more quickly.  The counting is a nice exercise and was probably helpful to my daughter early on.  So its not a complete loss.  However, I don’t know how many times my daughter pulled this one off the shelf due to its colorful art only to lose interest quickly in the boring repetitive gameplay or get frustrated with how difficult it is to spin the spinner.

Fun Fact

The small plastic cherries in this game are so easy to lose the game comes with a form to order replacements.

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I’m going to kick off this intermittent series with the well-known classic, Candyland.  Believe it or not, Candy Land was first published in 1949 so this venerable title is over 60 years old and easily one of the best known and most recognizable family games.  It’s also a very common gift so if you have young kids you may end up with a copy whether you like it or not.

I’m going to structure these posts like so:

– Component quality

– Story/Setting

– Mechanics

– Developmental Opportunities

– Overall recommendation

So here we go…

Components

I’m specifically reviewing the “My First Games” edition.  Candyland has had about a zillion editions, but the common mass-market editions are all designed around a very low price point so don’t expect too much in terms of quality.   However, it’s passable enough.  The box art is very colorful and evocative, obviously designed to appeal to both parents and kids.  The board is mounted and the art is good.  The cards are simplistic and are a paper stock that should hold up to a moderate amount of wear and tear but can easily be bent.  My daughter has a hard time taking a card off the top of the pile so often I need to help her or make it so the top card is sticking over the edge of the pile.  The player pawns are little plastic colored gingerbread men, which is odd since in the art the player characters are clearly young children, but whatever.

Story/Setting

The game is a simple race along a one dimensional track to be the first person to Candy Castle… very straightforward and easy to explain.  The super-colorful board covered in candy imagery is easy to get kids excited about because, hey, kids love candy right?  There is a villain in the form of Lord Licorice, who has laid traps on three of the squares.  More on that later.

Mechanics

All player actions in Candy Land are 100% determined by a random card draw.  Almost all cards have 1 or 2 colored squares, which allow the player to travel forward to the first or second square of that color.  The net result is about equal to a 2D6 roll on average.  However, a few cards (6 out of 64 cards) have icons for special locations on the map; these force the player to travel to those icons, which means all progress they have made up to that point is completely pointless, though obviously a 3 year old won’t recognize this.  These can result in huge swings of player movement, including sending a player very far back towards the beginning.  The game rules offer an alternate method of play where you can’t be sent backwards by those cards, which helps prevent the disappointment and speeds the game up.  There are also several squares which have paths leading to other parts of the board, so that if you end on these squares you get bonus movement.  Kind of fun and thematic.  There are also 3 space with crossed licorice, meaning if you land on these squares you lose one turn.  Now I remember as a kid Candy Land being a lot meaner; if you got stuck on those squares, you lost every turn where you didn’t draw that color… so they’ve really toned it down quite a bit, which is fine I guess though it means these squares have only minimal impact on the game anymore.  However, my daughter cautions me not to land on them on a regular basis, so apparently they still have the desired effect.

Developmental Opportunities

Since there are no player decisions, each turn the player is just executing what the card tells them.  All movement is color based so this is a great game to work on colors with.  While there is technically no counting required (which is presumably why the color scheme is used in the first place) you can still teach your child to count the number of spaces they move if you like.  Turns flow very quickly but can also get little monotonous so its important to point out the various landmarks on the board your child is passing through to help keep them interested.  Drawing an icon always leads to great excitement, but you have to decide if you want to allow the icons to send players backwards.  That’s how we play it right now and it works pretty well, sometimes I explain it to my daughter as “oh, the Candy Cane guy wants you to come back and visit him” so that she isn’t too saddened.  Since there is a clear winner/loser, this is also a great game to work on sportsmanship with.  My method is to carefully congratulate the winner and then allow the loser to also come to the castle to share in the candy… it’s always a delicate balance as you don’t want to make winning meaningless, but there is lots of story to work with in this game.

Overall Recommendation

Since if you have young kids you are going to likely end up with a copy of Candy Land anyways, you might as well make the best of it.  It’s actually very well adapted to the 3 year old development level.  If you are still working on colors this is a great way to practice those.  The biggest downside is the repetitive and sometimes boring turns, so its important to make the most of the exciting events that do occur; keeping your kid interested may require a little more work than some games but I think the payoff is good.  Best of all, this is a great game to work sportsmanship into the story at the end so don’t miss that opportunity.

Fun Fact

My daughter actually beat me 5 times in a row when we first played this, which is pretty amazing when you consider it.  What can I say, she’s a natural.

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My 3 year old daughter is off to a great start as a boardgamer.  She already has her own game collection of 7-8 games and loves playing long sessions with me, often playing multiple games.  Usually as soon as we finish a game she wants to either play it again or run and get a different one from her room.  I think this is great; gaming at that age has a huge amount of positive developmental benefits.  Think about all the things you can use a board game to teach a 3 year old:

1.  Taking turns.

It is incredibly important for a 3 year old to understand the concept of taking turns, and games are a great way to do this.  It helps that turns in games targeted at young children tend to be very quick.  A kid who can learn to take turns learns patience and respect for order which helps improve behavior and self control.

2.  Sharing.

After all, everyone is playing the same game together, sharing many components.  Setting up and taking the game down together also provides a nice opportunity for cooperation.  Even deciding which game to play can be an opportunity to work on sharing and selfless behavior.

3.  Counting.

Almost every young child game involves some form of counting, often counting spaces on a board for movement or something similar.  Depending on the game there may be other opportunities to work on counting and simple arithmetic.  Since kids learn counting and numbers far better in an applied environment, games are a great way to work on this.

4.  Sportsmanship.

Winning and losing a boardgame provides a great opportunity to teach your 3 year old about correct behavior in sportsmanship situations.  Ultimately, the goal is to help them appreciate that the game is about the experience and fun of playing together, not who wins or loses.  Ideally they can learn to appreciate that trying to win makes the game more fun, but not linger over who won or lost.  It can be tempting to let your child win all the time, but its important to recognize that when your child loses you can show them how a proper winner should behave.

5.  Spatial Awareness.

This applies especially well to boardgames.  Being able to look at a board and understand the game situation, i.e. understand where they are, where other players are, and where key features is similar in many ways to reading a map.

6.  Shapes, colors, letters.

Again, depending on the game there may be many opportunities to work on various useful skills that 3 year olds need to master, often without them realizing they are even in a learning environment.

7.  Simulation/Storytelling.

Most games have some sort of story involved, so the kids can understand what they are trying to do.  Even if the story in a game is non-existent or weak, its easy to embellish it to make the game more exciting.  Turning the game into a story also helps them appreciate the game as an experience, rather than purely as a win/lose contest.

Bottom Line

The KEY here is to recognize the benefits and spend time playing a game with your kid.  Often kids will get boardgames as gifts from well-meaning friends and family, but like many toys, if you don’t take the time to show them how to play with them they will likely just sit on a shelf in a closet somewhere.

Now, certainly all games for young children are not created equal… some are much better than others in terms of design and development opportunities.  I will be writing a few more short posts about specific games that I like or don’t like to play with my daughter that might perhaps help another parent to find games to play with their young child.  Even if you don’t have young children, chances are you know someone who does and perhaps this can help inform your gift buying.

Perhaps most important of all, boardgaming as a hobby, which I believe has many more positive impacts on society than negative, is dependent on raising the next generation to appreciate boardgames.  So by teaching your young child to appreciate boardgames and the value of the constructive shared experience they can provide you are making a small investment in the future of our society, even if your child doesn’t grow up to be much of a boardgame hobbyist themselves.

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