In a maneuver years in the making, Dale Yu’s kids have gotten older and I went out and got some of my own, younger ones in order to replace his reigning title of kid game reviewer. (Dale, have your kids started yelling at people to get off your lawn, yet?) As the new self-proclaimed kid game reviewer here at Opinionated Gamers, and drawing on somewhat recent activities I’ve been working on over at GamingWithChildren.com (more of a videogame site), I thought I’d take a moment and share my thoughts on a few recent kid game titles. When I talk about kid games, I’ll be focusing on games that are targeted at the 8 and under market (although my own kids aren’t near the high end yet). After 8, you can start to bring in many “grown-up” games depending on the skill and enthusiasm of the gamer. With that out of the way, and the disclaimer that many of these were sent to me for review, I’ll move on to some of the kid’s games I’ve looked at in the past half year or so presented roughly in order of preference. (If you want to know more about kids games from father back in time, let me know and I’ll see about leading up an OG retrospective on kid games.)
Shiver-stone Castle: The Card Game (HABA) 4+ yrs
My favorite kid title this past year is the card version of Shiver-Stone Castle by HABA and is one of their titles now being distributed in the USA. This game has two decks of cards. One consists of a set of individual cartoon characters such as a spider, teddy bear, knight, or a bat; the other deck contains a small scene with some of the characters spread around (some are even partially hiding behind others.) One player reveals the scene card for a short period of time, and then flips it back face-down. Players then take turns choosing from the character cards, picking any character they remember being displayed on the briefly viewed scene. Once everyone has chosen all the characters they wish, the scene is flipped back over and scored. Players gain one point for correct selections and lose a point for each incorrectly chosen character. Games are played to a selected point total that is tracked using cute little wooden ghost markers and the backs of some of the scene cards. This small little game easily fits into a purse (or large pocket) and provides a nice twist on memory games for a wide age range. I even enjoy playing it with my son (on the low end of the recommended age range) and we simply ignore most of the scoring.
Rating: I like it.
That’s It (Goliath Games) 6+ yrs
Half game, half activity, That’s It is a fancy sort of 20 questions game. Two players each insert a board into a grid of windows. Each player has the same game board selected from four themes: world flags, people of the world, animals, and transportation. Players secretly select one image from their grid and then take turns asking yes/no questions about their opponent’s picture (Does it have wheels? Does it contain red? etc…) Players can “shut” windows to pictures to remember which ones have already been eliminated as possibilities. The winner is the first player to correctly name their opponent’s image. The game boards are pretty nifty looking although they tend to be fairly large, rattle-y pieces of plastic but the game is sound and quite portable. I consider it a nice diversion while on longer car rides, etc… Listed at 6+ years, I’ve played several games with my 4 year old with little problems. Not something I’d normally pull out on an adult game night but a pretty good time for hanging with my eldest or occupying him during travel.
Rating: I like it.
Rory’s Story Cubes (GameWright)
Rory’s Story Cubes fit in a pocket and make a nice diversion while waiting at a table in a restaurant. This is not a game, it is nothing more than a small box containing nine dice displaying 54 different symbols like a wand, a rainbow, a fish, a keyhole, or a building. Players roll the dice and then make up stories containing the pictures displayed. One player can tell the entire story or the dice can be divided up and each player has to bring the pictures they roll into the story. The idea works to get kids’ (and adults’) imaginations running and occupy some downtime. While there isn’t really any “game” here, this is still a fun creative tool for anyone hoping to foster some more imaginative play.
Rating: I like it.
Mummy’s Treasure (HABA) 5+ yrs
Mummy’s Treasure surprised me with its simplicity and elegance, raising it up into the category of passable grown-up filler game and a pretty decent kid game. The basic idea is a cross between Yahtzee and Fits. On a player’s turn, they roll the five provided dice up to three times while trying to match symbols with one of six stacks of treasure tiles. The stacks range in size from 1 to 4 squares (each square displaying one of six colored tokens to match the sides of the dice) and come in various shapes. Roll a combination of dice that match a stack and you may claim it and put it on your game board. Fill your board completely and you win the game. Tactics come into play while rolling since the four-symbol tokens are obviously more valuable (you only get one token per turn and filling four squares of your board is better than filling less.) However, do you risk rolling poorly and only scoring a single square tile (or worse – no tile) on a turn? Once your board begins to fill up, players naturally gravitate towards particular shapes that best fir their board but that restricts what they need to roll even further. The age recommendation of 5+ is pretty dead on, as my eldest doesn’t quite have the patience to learn the strategy of the title, but I expect with another year or two under his belt he will take a liking to it. Everyone (kids, especially) like to roll dice and the mild options to push one’s luck are welcome. While there are more interesting dice games available, this hits a nice sweet spot of being accessible for younger kids while retaining a modicum of decision-making and strategy for grown-ups.
Rating: I like it.
Glide: Tabletop Shuffleboard (Zabazoo) 6+
Glide is an attempt to make a decent shuffleboard-like dexterity game for an inexpensive price. In a traditional carom/curling/shuffleboard manner, players take turns sliding little caroms down a 4 foot long board attempting to have them rest inside the inner rings of a target. While the price is right (about $25 at Amazon at the moment), there are a few caveats for its use with younger kids. The board and pieces look fairly nice, they aren’t exactly sturdy. This is especially important since the board comes in two long pieces which fit together. Ding or dent where they join and it can make a significant effect on the game. Handle the game with care, and it should be fine. One of the most interesting things about the game is the included “Glide Accelerator Powder” which is a tiny jar of round “sand” granules which, when sparingly shaken over the playing surface, significantly reduces friction. I was quite impressed by how well the carom pieces would glide down the board when the Accelerator Powder was present. However, this means you have a decent amount of essentially sand all over your board which needs to be cleaned up (hopefully without spilling all over the carpet.) With the fragile nature of the board and the danger of sand mishaps I would caution anyone from playing the game with younger kids (despite the 6+ age recommendation.) However, with older kids and adults who are able to take care of the game and avoid making a mess with the sand, this is a pretty decent dexterity game for the price.
Moo & Baa (HABA) 3-8 yrs
Moo & Baa is a game about searching for wooden animal shapes in a cloth bag. A player starts with a game board with slots for frogs, cows, and sheep and must find the two of each type in their own color. However, rather than simply digging through a single bag, there are three cloth bags in total along with one set of blue (neutral) animals to keep things interesting. Several variations on the game can be played, and I do like the memory aspect that arises as players try to watch which bag contains specific animals of their color. In many ways, the game reminds me of the excellent “Go Away Monster” but as a competitive game (Go Away Monster is a co-op) and lacking the fun of finding and throwing away any “monster” tiles. (Sorry blue animals, just not the same appeal….) In all, I’d prefer to play Go Away Monster over Moo & Baa despite the better components of this HABA title.
Mimic Memo (HABA) 3+ yrs
Mimic Memo is primarily two copies of a set of 16 cards showing various animals making faces. The cards are used to play a few different memory games, based around player copying or predicting cards by making the faces shown on a card. (There is even a cheap little mirror card to practice.) The game is a funny idea with merit, but I found several of the cards too similar in expression to be told apart. When playing with my eldest, we only used a subset of cards (the game even suggests using 8 for some games, so I just picked the 8 faces I felt were the most distinguishable). While memory is a fine game, and making faces can be fairly fun, sixteen different facial expressions were a bit much for young players. With older players, I fear the game would suffer from a lack of depth. Thus, Mimic Memo is caught between two less than ideal situations: interesting enough for younger players but a bit difficult to pull off, or playable by older players but not unique enough to stand out of the crowded memory-game field. Mimic Memo stands up best when thought of as an “educational toy” where parents and children can play together to practice facial expressions in order to discuss and learn how to interpret them.
Rating: Not for me…
Mad Mouse (Goliath Games) 3+ yrs
Take a motorized mouse, and challenge people to chase after it with little plastic rods with a hoop on the end, trying to catch the mouse by hooking its tail. It’s a great idea, until you put kids into the mix. Sure, you need a really short carpet or hard surface for the mouse to bob and weave on, but excited kids just start chasing and whacking the rat with plenty of gusto. So much gusto, that the poor little mouse is “caught” in unnatural ways more often than not. While kids a bit older (maybe 5+?) might be able to restrain themselves to properly finesse catching the mouse as the rules direct, giving this simple game too many restrictions limits most of what it brings to the table (or floor in this case.)
Rating: Not for me…
Hexenduell (HABA) (Witches’ Duel) 5+ yrs
In true HABA form, this game is a glorious production. It comes with a big game board comprised of four sections. Each section is constructed of two layers, so that part of the upper layer can be removed to make a large, circular playing area. There are also a set of four big “charms” to indicate player color that are to be worn during the game. To start, gems of the four player colors are placed around the edge of the board. Players then take turns pushing a wooden broom figure around the board with a wooden Witch figure by way of magnets. The goal is to push the broom with the witch so that the broom moves gems of your own color into the center of the playing area. Meanwhile, the other players frantically take turns rolling dice until they roll a “Time” symbol on one side of a six sided die. When enough Time symbols are rolled, the control of the witch figure is passed to the next player and the game resumes (with more broom pushing and die rolling.) I wanted to like this game, the colors were fantastic and I’m always a fan of magnets, but I simply can’t get past the game’s difficulty. Yes, this kid game is too hard for me. The official rules state that the witch cannot be lifted off the board (or even moved off the inner, lower board surface. However, since the broom itself is perfectly round it is very difficult to steer any of your gems and if you happen to get any of your gems pushed up against the “wall” of the sunken area, it is nigh impossible to get them back out again in any reasonable amount of time. Steering the broom when it is near the wall is simply too hard since the witch also bumps up against the wall and restricts how you can move the broom. In the end, I think the game could be saved if some house rules were developed to help things out, but since my own kids (admittedly just under the suggested age range) are too young to get much out of the game (well, the eldest did love putting on ALL the player charm necklaces) I don’t think I’ll be spending the time necessary to develop a preferred house rule set.
Rating: Not for me…
So, what are your favorite games? Have some (new or old) that I’ve overlooked? Leave a comment below, I’m always game to check out a few more. I (and my kids) will thank you…