Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Board Games for (Very Little) Kids

If you grew up playing Monopoly and loved (or hated) it, if you're tired of playing the same game over and over again, or if you're looking for a fun family activity, this is the post for you. The difficulty with having a family game night is finding games for everyone, especially if you have kids younger than 5. Since we are avid board gamers, my husband was anxious to introduce our daughter to the world of board games early on. Luckily, there were a number of games made for very young children that we all enjoy playing together. 

Many great games come from Germany, but have distribution all around the world and instructions written in a few languages. If you can't find it in a store near you that carries them, there are a lot of online retailers (including Amazon) that do. My husband's favourite places to order from are Board Game Bliss and Great Boardgames. Haba is one German company that makes a lot of great games for children, especially very young children. 

Orchard was one of the first games our daughter learned to play, and we recently introduced it to our two year old son. Our 5 year old daughter was happy to play with us. If your child knows their colours and can follow basic instructions, they are old enough to play this game. It's also a good beginning came because it's cooperative: everyone wins (or loses) together. The game includes a board, a die, fruit pieces in four colours and shapes (red cherries, blue plums, green apples and yellow pears), 4 baskets and a puzzle board with 9 puzzle pieces.

In Orchard, the objective is to get all the fruit off the board before the crow puzzle is finished. The die has six sides: one for each colour of fruit, as well as a basket and a crow. If you roll one of the colours, you take a fruit of the same colour and put it in a basket. If you roll a basket, you get to take two pieces of fruit. If you roll a crow, you take a crow piece and put it in the puzzle board. Everyone takes a turn rolling the die and removing the fruit or building the crow puzzle depending on what they roll. Once all the fruit pieces are gone, you win! If the crow puzzle is completed before the fruit is gone, you lose. 

Animal Upon Animal
My Very First Animal Upon Animal (there are a few versions of the game, this is the one for toddlers) was one of our daughter's favourites at this age, but our son enjoys knocking the animals over more than trying not to knock it over so it was not a success for him. The nice thing about it is that there are a variety of ways to play, so you can play cooperatively or against one another. The game comes with a die, some animal blocks, some tokens and some boards. The object of the cooperative game is to build your towers before the rabbit gets to the end of his path. You place the two boards (clover and flower) beside each other, and make a path using the tokens. The die has suns, clovers and flowers on the sides. Every time you roll a sun, the rabbit moves to the next token. Every time you roll a flower or a clover, you put an animal of your choice on that board. If there's already an animal there, you have to stack it. Be careful! Don't knock the animals over or you will have to start again. If you can get all the animals stacked up before the rabbit gets to the end of the tokens, you win. 

Our son adores this game, even though he's not really old enough to play it. Our daughter has been able to play it since she was about 4, with help. The object of the game is to be the first one to go around the board. The game comes with 6 different coloured cars, 6 dice with different colours on them, and a board.

Monza Board
The board has a few different tracks, each segmented into different blocks of colour. When it's your turn, you roll all the dice, and move your car along using the colours of the dice to determine which blocks you can go on (they must be adjacent). From the start, if you rolled blue, yellow, green, red, white, purple, you would be able to move all the way to the purple block on the first curve. However, if you didn't roll a white or a blue, you wouldn't be able to advance at all. The first one to make it all the way around the board wins! The nice thing about this game is that although there is some strategy involved, it is mostly luck as to which colours you will roll so it evens the playing field. Even though our son isn't old enough to play it, he likes to play with the cars and will most certainly enjoy playing the game later on. Our daughter still loves it at age 5.

Linus the Little Magician

Another great game company is Drei Magier. One of the games our son really likes right now is Linus the Little Magician.Our daughter still likes this one as well. The object of the game is to get the most tokens. The game comes with 6 different types of circular tokens (some are magnetic and some not) and matching square cardboard cards, as well as a little (magnetic) magician block. On your turn, you turn over a card and use the magician to try to pick up the matching token. If he can pick it up, you keep it. If he can't pick it up, the card goes into the box. Once all the cards are gone, you count how many tokens you have and whomever has the most is the winner. This game is a little like memory, because you have to remember which tokens someone has tried that are not magnetic. You can adjust the difficulty of the game by arranging all the similar tokens together or by giving more than one try to the youngest. If I play with just our son, we both clap when all the cards are gone (he doesn't understand the concept of winning just yet).

If you're interested in board games, my husband highly recommends The Dice Tower. Tom Vasel talks about the games in a lot of detail and since he also has children, he reviews children's games fairly frequently. I will follow this post up with at least two more posts detailing games for (little) kids (age 3-4) and games for kids (age 5+).

For Further Thought:

1) What family activities do you enjoy with your kids?
2) What memories of playing games as a kid do you have?
3) What obstacles might be in your way to starting a family game night? How might you solve them?

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