Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The special children's game post

So, there's been a lot of demand recently in the house for game playing. And what a tangled web of games there is! Since it's a 4-year old and a 2-year old asking, needless to say, the game list is not your typical geeky game list.

Thankfully, we've been feeding them not on the usual roll-and-move games, but on a collection of Cranium and Gamewright games (along with a few Zach kiddie games). These are games that pretty much don't get the lovin' they deserve on BGG, mainly because they aren't targeted at Geeks, but instead at little kids. And they are (mostly) surprisingly great little diversions.

In fact, what I believe is a good benchmark for a small kids game is that it would simply make for a good college drinking game. For the most part.

Anyway, here is a list of kids games that has been seeing a lot of play time, in rough order of preference:

Cariboo (great for the wee little ones)
Balloon Lagoon (fairly entertaining mix of family gambling/dexterity games)
Duck Duck Bruce (fun little press your luck game)
Hullabaloo (Twister-lite)
Chicken Cha Cha Cha (memory game where the kids usually beat the parents)
Gulo Gulo (dexterity game)
Cookin' Cookies (slap the ingredients as fast as you can)
Zooreka (Settlers for kids, more on this later)

I'm not a big fan of the following:
Leaping Lizards, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and, ESPECIALLY Wormy Apples.

I hate Wormy Apples. Both the game and in real life. Spin the spinner and remove the matching worm from your apple. First to get rid of their worms wins, provided you don't fall asleep first.

The one game that sort of surprised me was The Ladybug Game. Yes, it's pretty much a roll-and-move with no thought. But it's a fairly entertaining race game considering that it was created by a 6 year old, with a few wacky aphid-collecting twists. Given the choice between The Ladybug Game and, say, CandyLand, the ladybugs kick CandyLand's butt.

It should be noted that in some cases, some of the rules have been bent a little bit to allow the kids to play the game more easily, and is some cases, less agressively. Also, there are a few other games that right now are being used more as puzzles than games themselves, such as Landlock and Snap!

Snap! is a particularly interesting mechanical marvel in the way the puzzle nubs on tiles ensure that you can only place similarly colored dragon parts next to each other.

Gamewright gets a nod or publishing a series cheap card and tile games that won't put the adults asleep. There's usually just a slight amount of strategy in there to keep things interesting enough.

But really, I can't give enough praise to Cranium Inc. They do a pretty fantastic job of creating pretty fun kiddie game, with great components and simple hooks (Cariboo is a really amazing package that easily attracts 2 year olds and their 15 second attention spans, and is even understandable to them. A feat of epic proportions.)

But I do have a few issues with Zooreka. As the box says, it is designed to be played with someone aged 8 and older. Which maybe is a little old. You do have to be able to read some of the special action cards. Anyway, it plays sort of like a weird, simplified combination of Monopoly and Settlers of Catan. But it seems to me that at that age, you probably are just better off teaching the 8 year old those games instead.

Zooreka involves rolling dice, running around a board, and landing on a space that gives you a special action on that turn. Also, before each player rolls, all players "bet" on what symbol is going to come up on the Resource die. If you guess correctly, you win a resource card of that symbol. Ultimately, you need a large set of certain symbols to buy a zoo display, showing off your favorite animals. Get four zoo displays, and you win.

The biggest problem is that you can only build a zoo display if you land on a Trading Post. Meanwhile you are collecting resources willy-nilly. It can be frustrating sitting around with enough resources to build 4 displays, but never landing on th Trading Post to do it.

Additionally, the Trading Post allows for conversions of your resources. You get a little conversion chart, similar to the shopping card for Settlers of what you can buy. However, I have a little nickpick on the card, which is sort of interesting from a design standpoint. Here, take a look:

Due to the justification, it appears that the trading is a one-way street. One Paw can be traded to get 3 Bananas. Thankfully, they have arrows indicating that the trading post can work the other way, too. However, by justifying it to the left, it creates a certain visual flow that seems to indicate a trade only going one way. I think I would've centered the "math," thereby visually equaling the trade flows. Something more like this:

Anyway, it's a minor nitpick.

Games on the Cheap
In other news, I've added two more games to Games on the Cheap collection: Checkpoint: Berlin, and The Great Lakes Fish-Out.

While everyone that I've taught Werewolf to has had a blast playing it, there are some nagging issues with it, especially when you can't get over 7 people to populate the village. These things include some stuff like "the first lynching" problem, where the villagers really have no information to go on, and there's probably a mathematical proof somewhere that indicates they really DO need to lynch someone anyway. (I referee the game in such that the Villagers can choose not to lynching someone during the day).

Checkpoint: Berlin is an extension of Werewolf, in that there is still two asymmetrical teams vying to win the game. The larger group is trying to smuggle diamonds past the guard at a checkpoint. However, there may be a mole secretly working with the guards within the thieves. There is no attrition of the players that Werewolf has, so everyone is pretty much in the game the whole time (unless the thieves start killing off their own in the hopes of getting rid of the mole). Plus, it doesn't need as many players as Werewolf really needs to make it hum.

The Great Lakes Fish-Out is a rules cleanup of my GDS entry from last year. A fairly quick, simple, and chaotic trick-taking game.

I'm finding coming up with these style of games is pretty fun, in that they aren't these projects that just drag on forever while I try and find the time to work on them (Leviathan, anyone?). These two games also represent me toying around a little bit with the way I've been laying out rules. I'm trying out landscape ratio, with 2 columns, instead of the usual "endless paragraph in portrait" style. This sort of came about from Byrk's Fistful of Football rules.

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