I was able to attend GenCon for a couple days this year. As a gamer with children (and a writer for GamerDad.com) I have a special place in my heart for games I can play with my kids. The following are some of the kid-friendly titles that grabbed my attention as I cruised the dealer hall. They are not all going to hold the attention of an adult, but a surprising number work well as a quick-playing game for grown-ups.
Disclaimer: Games are listed by publisher, but that is getting to be a fairly nebulous thing as more and more companies are bought up by others. I do my best to record correct information about every game, but I can easily make mistakes. Figure any mistakes to be my own, you can play the game of correcting me in the comments below.
Walking the floor, I could not help but notice Brain Games’ booth and their demo of Ice Cool. I had seen the game played in the hallways of the convention and it had piqued my interest. It is a flicking game where one player is the hall monitor and the others play penguins roaming around the school.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the game is the way the boxes are nested so that a large playing area can be built from pieces that are held in a much smaller box. During a round, the penguin players try to flick their pieces through the doorways between each room. After passing through a doorway, that player gains a victory point card and their fish marker is removed from above the door to remind everyone they have used that door. Meanwhile, the hall monitor is trying to flick their piece so that it hits one of the other players. If they come into contact, the hall monitor steals one of that player’s ID cards. I believe the round ends when one player passes through all the doors. Players get points from their victory point cards, and all players gain 1 point for each ID card they own. (Thus, players who don’t lose either of their ID cards gain two points.) The hall monitor job is then passed to the next player and another round is played. The game ends when all players have had a turn at hall monitor. The pieces’ shape provide interesting behavior when flicked. The low center of mass makes them “wobble” which, when hit softly, significantly affects their path. Flicking gently to one side will make the token wobble off to that side in a curve, something a good player will want to master to turn corners through doorways. Flicking the top of the piece can make it “hop” a bit, in case one wants to make a little jump. Two factors make it an attractive game for me. First, the pieces allow for a nice degree of finesse, rewarding players who can get the hang of their motion. Second, because of the clips connecting the nested boxes, the playing area is a very satisfying size even though it fits into a reasonable sized box.
Days of Wonder
With kids versions of Catan and Carcassone, it was only a matter of time before someone put together a kids version of Ticket to Ride. Targeted at 6 and up, Ticket to Ride: First Journey simplifies the game by removing victory points and the train card tableau. Train cards are simply kept in a single deck and players draw two off the top at a time. Players start with two tickets which are replaced whenever one is completed. The first player to complete six tickets wins the game. If it is no longer possible for a player to complete a ticket, they may skip their turn in order to discard both their tickets and draw two new ones.
In order to make the game more friendly, the board (and tickets) have icons as well as names and the physical train pieces are about twice as large as a normal Ticket to Ride game.
In Tiger Stripes, players are young tigers sent out by their mothers to find their stripes. Players have a playing board representing their tiger that is slowly filled up with stripes throughout the game. Player draw a card on their turn, ether a Stalk card, Explore card, or Adventure card. Stalk cards give a player stripes (usually one or two) but sometimes has a small negative effect instead. Explore cards give players based on the number of gems at the bottom of the card. However, these card can sometimes be stolen by another player during the game. The Adventure cards typically give bonus points at the end of the game. For example, the Stalk cards display an animal in addition to a number of stripes and an adventure card might give bonus points for claiming three Stalk cards displaying monkeys, etc… At the end of the game (when someone finishes their stripes), players lose points for any missing stripes and add in their bonus points for gems and adventure cards. Highest point value wins, of course. I like the playing boards as they seemed thick and sturdy enough to stand up to younger players.
As far as kids games go, I spent a pile of time working my way through the HABA booth. HABA USA has been slowly bringing over older HABA titles from Germany as well as importing newer titles, so they always have quite a few new-for-USA titles around. Here are a few I glanced through.
In Go Cuckoo!, 2 to 5 players remove (up to 3) sticks from the tube until they find a stick with the same color on both ends. If successful, the player may then “lay” one of their eggs into the central “nest” of the game (they don’t have to.) If a player causes an egg to fall into the bottom of the can, they must take an egg from the player with the most eggs. The first player to get rid of all their eggs wins the game.
ROX is a speed game of color counting. Several point cards are revealed (1 less than the number of players) and then players race to chain together six cards. The first player to finish grabs the highest point card, stopping the game. The other point cards are then distributed to players in 2nd and 3rd place, based on the length of their chain. The idea of the game is to grab cards from a central pile and put them in the correct order. Players are looking to find the color of the most common stone on the outside edge of the card. A player will then grab a card of that color (in the background) and start looking for the most common color on its outside edge. In this way, players attempt to chain 6 cards together. When players finish, the backside of the cards are speckled with red dots with a hidden symbol in the middle representing the type of stone in the majority on the front side of the card. A handy little red-tinted window (“magic eye”) can then be used to quickly check players’ cards for accuracy. The symbol on the back of a card should always match the symbol in the center of the next card in line.
Think of Logic Labyrinth as a sort of speed Carcassonne. A die is rolled, and players are given that many cards with which to construct a maze of connecting paths. This is not straightforward, as roads on the sides of cards do not always match up. If a genie is rolled on the die, players must make connecting paths, but the cards used must also make a pattern (an “L” for example.) If a player gets “stuck” in putting their paths together, they can replace a card with one from the central pile.
HABA has some grey toy-type mechanisms in some of their games, and Splish Splash Catapult uses a tiny wooden see-saw piece to launch cardboard chips onto a circle filled with round animal tokens. Landing on a token (I’m pretty sure) grants that player that token. Landing on a token of a color that matches your pieces (green chip landing on a green circle, for example) will give the token and allow a player to take back all their previously launched chips (normally, you don’t get them back after a launch.)
Mix & Match Robbers has a central figure made out of three stacks of cards (blue – top, yellow – middle, and green – bottom.) A die is rolled and that color card is flipped over to change the appearance of the central figure. Players then search for and slap their hand on the card on outside that exactly matches the middle figure, winning that card. Play continues on with another roll of the die. The player with the most “slapped” cards at the end of the game, wins.
In The Heroes of Kaskaria, players attempt to move their Dragon token or their Cliff Runner token to the middle of the board. Players start with a hand of cards and they play cards in groups of matching suits to move their tokens forward. This is harder than it looks because there are many, many suits (colors.) Thus, play is a balance between drawing up cards to collect big sets or playing them to make sure one’s tokens are not left behind. When one player (Dragon or Cliff Runner) reaches the middle the game ends. That player get 2 bonus gold (points) and then points are awarded to the leading tokens on each side (with 2nd and 3rd places also receiving gold.) Some cards provide gold instead of a color, so that is also added to a player’s score. Thus, being first to the middle doesn’t guarantee winning the game, if it was at the cost of moving your second token along.
Magic Feathers has players blowing a feather onto a layout of tiles.
Land the feather on a tile and you get to pick it up. There are two copies of each tile and when the second tile is claimed, the first tile is also stolen from its previous owner. Thus, it is the second tile that is the important one. When you claim a pair, you get the blocker token. This protects a singleton tile from being stolen from you. However, you may soon lose the blocker token when someone else completes a different pair.
I was immediately reminded of Pretty Pretty Princess when I saw Princess Mina. Here, individual cardboard “beads” for a memory match game. Match a pair of tokens and you get to “score” them by adding them to your necklace.
Hana Honeybee is an extremely simple game, bordering on just an activity. Aimed at the 2+ age group, players roll a die and then take a flower of the matching color. This can either be done by having all the flowers exposed (good for just recognizing color), or having them upside down for a memory aspect. In any case, the “gimmick” of the game is the beehive. If you put a token in the hive slot with the flower side up, it will always “flip over” to show its honey side when it comes out the bottom. Thus, the flowers you gather turn into honey.
Karuba (sorry, no photo) is a bingo-esque game where players race to build the most efficient path between your adventurers and your temples. Everyone starts with their own board and sets of tiles. Players agree where adventurers and temples are placed around the outside. One player then calls out a tile and everyone finds that tile and adds it to their board wherever they wish. The tiles have paths on display and the goal is to build one’s board so that every adventurer links up to a templer at the other end of the path. One caveat that often gets new players is that the tiles are NOT rotatable. They have numbers (for identification) and numbers have to remain in an upright position. It looks like a reasonably fun family game and I can see how it might have been chosen as a 2016 SdJ nominee.
Demo games of Adventure Land (sorry, no photo) were always going on and I had to dash out before I could get a rundown on the game. I may be wrong but I think it was available overseas but may have only recently been available in the US. There’s a little bit of luck (in dice based combat) and timing of when to dash out for rewards. There are three scenarios, in increasing complexity, so it seems to span from kids game (simplest) to lightweight family game (most complex.)
Pegasus Spiele is reinvigorating its line of kids games. New and old games are now approximately all the same square size adn they are color coded for recommended age. Green game boxes are for players 3 years and older, Blue is 4+, yellow is 5+, and the red game boxes are for 6+. I don’t have photos of the classic Viva Topo!, but I highly recommend the game. It is in a blue box (thus 4+) and is a great game of pushing one’s luck and playing the odds. Players take turns rolling a die and moving one of their mice around the circle. One can hop out of the circle at any corner and score (depending on how far you went) pieces of cheese. However, the die often causes a cat token to move around the circle as well. If the cat catches up to one of your mice (which it eventually will do, it speeds up over time) then you lose that mouse token. As a parent, I enjoy the game as kids can play the game with no help, but yet if I’m playing I feel as if I’m making some actual decisions.
Bouncing Bunnies is a simple (green box, so 3+ yrs) game where players roll a die and move bunnies into and out of color coded spots… not much to see here. Cool little bunny pieces, of course, and some color matching for the young ones.
Who doesn’t love a game with magnets? In Ladybug Costume Party (blue – 4+), players move around a large flower board. Ladybugs start with only one color spots but want to exchange them with the other players. The petals on the board have two spaces. If two bugs land on the same petal, their “noses” are checked. If the magnets attract (see photo) they can exchange spots, if they repel (as in the top of the photo) then they can’t. This gives the game a bit of a memory and logic aspect, as two bugs that repel would both attract with a third one.
Zoowaboo (yellow – 5+) reminded me of the classic Animal upon Animal. In this case, players are trying to fill up a raft on the game board by filling it with wooden animals lying down. Players then start to bid if they think they can add another animal to the board without spilling over the raft. If all but one person passes, they win that round if they can squeeze one more animal into the mess.
Piratissimo (red – 6+) is a game about looting islands and ships. Players sail their ships around a loop, trying to get back to their starting island to drop off treasure. Landing on locations gives a player more loot. Other players can attempt to land on each other in order to steal, or even give, loot. Giving another player loot can be useful as a ship will sink if it gets too much loot. Thankfully, there are shortcuts on the board which can be used (for a small gold fee) to try to cut back home without having to travel the whole circle. Meanwhile there is also a thunderstorm chasing ships around the board, giving players another thing to consider.
Bookworm is NOT in the kid’s game line (it’s a brown box!) Players have a hand of letter cards and flip up a topic card revealing three different topics (easy, medium, hard from top to bottom.) Players then use their letter cards to name something within the topic that starts with the letter card in their hand. If a player can’t answer then they can opt to change the topic. The game can also be played in speed mode with everyone playing their cards as fast as they can.
We’ll end this kid’s roundup with a few kid-friendly games from Z-Man. Most people are already aware of Flick em Up, a fun little disc flicking game with a western theme. The Flick em Up: Red Rock Tomahawk expansion was on display. The expansion brings in indian (native american?) characters that can hide in terrain and use the mountain area. Their shape makes them just a bit harder to hit (so I’m told) and they can use a hatchet (Tomahawk) that is top-heavy to flick. I was hoping to see the new version of Flick em Up designed for wider distribution (cheaper, made without the fancy wooden pieces) but they were not showing them at the show (so I was told.)
Meanwhile, Junk Art (also rather kid-friendly) was being shown in style, with several of the standard “extra large” versions on demo table. The idea is that players are artists making a world tour (of 3 locations picked from a set of 10.) Players then use their pieces to make towers to satisfy the requirements on the card. For example, players may need to build the highest building possible or maybe have requirements of which pieces should be located where. When time is up the “art” is compared and fans (points) are awarded according to the city cards. Players also gain bonus fans if their structure has same-color pieces touching. While the game is a race, there isn’t any penalty for objects falling, you just have to grab them and put them back up. In addition to a sort of free-form fight for pieces, the game can also be played by drafting one’s pieces from a deck of cards representing the pieces. (Note that I think the game is published by Pretzel Games, but it was shown in the Z-Man booth and it was discussed in my meeting with Z-man PR… to top it off, Z-Man is being acquired by Asmodee and so, feel free to give the game whatever publisher name you want…)
Thanks for tuning in! These games are all kid-friendly, some targeted at the very young. Thankfully, the majority contain actual decisions, giving parents something to do. A few even serve well for lightweight fun for adults, you just need to be slightly young at heart. Tomorrow, we start drinking from the fire hose of photos I’ve saved just for you…
Thank you so much for writing about kid’s games. This is a great summary for a category that doesn’t get a lot of attention in our industry.
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Thanks for the summary. As a new father I am starting to think more about how I will be able to begin sharing board games with my son and this is a great place to start.