We all know games like Candy Land, Chutes (or Snakes) & Ladders, Sorry, Uno, or Monopoly. We probably played some or all of them in our childhood. Please don’t submit your children to the same fate! These are all outdated games with deep flaws that unfortunately continue to be passed down through generations simply because they’re the only board games people know, so I’m going to do my best to share a few better games that will hopefully fill the same hole these games do, but in a better way.
1. Candy Land/Chutes (Snakes) & Ladders
Candy Land is effectively a variation of Snakes & Ladders, and in many respects, is not a game at all! Snakes & Ladders comes from ancient India where it was a teaching tool–an extremely crude simulation of moral life and the few virtues that give someone an advantage in becoming a good person (the ladders) and many moral failings (the snakes). To be sure, there is far more to Hinduism than this and I have nothing against India in any way, particularly not in the board gaming realm. Far too much of my youth was spent playing chess for that to be an issue!
My problem with this game system lies in the fact that in every version of this game, absolutely no skill or strategy is required–everything is determined by chance via dice, cards, or a spinner. Of course, to many this may seem to be a good feature, since it gives very young children an opportunity to learn about taking turns, sportsmanship, counting, and (in the case of Candy Land) matching colors without overwhelming a child.
Of course, nothing is wrong with any of those goals. They are all important things for everyone to learn as soon as possible. But can’t we do better for our children? Any game will teach turn taking and sportsmanship, and many can teach counting as well. There are countless better options for children, and I’ve talked about a few already on this blog.
Today I’m going to go in a slightly different direction though and recommend a game that just came out last year (2012)–Dino Hunt Dice. Dino Hunt Dice is a reworking of Steve Jackson’s hugely successful Zombie Dice, with rules and a theme that are a bit more family friendly, along with smaller dice that are perfect for little hands. In this light push-your-luck game, players attempt to capture dinos for their zoo by rolling dice and hoping not to have the dinosaur foot icon showing that they’ve been stomped!
Little girl playing Dino Hunt Dice–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com
It’s a lot of fun and any child that can understand the concept of rolling dice safely can play with some guidance from an adult. Older children will be able to pick it up and play completely on their own as well. If you’ve been stuck in the Molasses Swamp for the past 38 turns, you owe it to yourself, and especially your children, to try something new like Dino Hunt Dice.
Recommendation: Dino Hunt Dice, designed by Steve Jackson, published by Steve Jackson Games.
Sorry may be the game I am most disappointed to see people play. Yet another extremely random game, depending on what ruleset is in use ranging from completely random (like Snakes & Ladders) to marginally strategic play, its main result seems to be anger due to the completely unpredictable and uncontrollable results of play. If otherwise reasonable, well-mannered adults can completely lose their cool because they just were hit by ANOTHER bad card, how do you think a child whose emotional life is still developing will handle it?
There is no reason to EVER play this game, because there is no reason to put that kind of ridiculous stress on the valuable family and friend relationships children are still developing. Why not play something everyone can enjoy?
In the past 5 years or so, cooperative board games have become hugely successful, in my opinion largely because they give families and friends the opportunity to work together to overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. In these games players are all working together to beat the game itself. Generally, players can only win in one way whereas the game can win in 2, 3, 4, or even more ways, forcing the players to work hard together in order to keep several bad things at bay while progressing towards their own victory.
Forbidden Island is a fully cooperative game and great for families with even relatively young children. Players must work together to recover 4 valuable treasures from a mysterious island before it completely sinks into the sea. By coordinating their actions and helping each other out, everyone can win together in this exciting game.
5 year old playing Forbidden Island–image courtesy of Boardgamegeek.com
Best of all, this game is readily available at most Barnes & Nobles, Targets, and more at a very good price–probably less than a contentious set for Sorry would cost!
Recommendation: Forbidden Island, designed by Matt Leacock, published by Gamewright Games.
The newest game on this list of bad games, published in 1971, still manifests many of the horribly outdated design features other games on this list have–an infuriating lack of control of a player’s own fate and direct attacks by one player on another without any way to mitigate their effects–resulting in a poor experience for everyone.
It’s a simple card game that can be played virtually anywhere, yet it requires a specialized deck of cards and has very little opportunity for skillful play. I don’t understand how it ever became as popular as it did when so many better options are available to be played with a standard deck of cards!
I’m not sure what I can say about Uno that I haven’t already said about Snakes & Ladders or Sorry, other than that in our entire 6 years of marriage thus far, my wife and I decided to play Uno once and only once. Since we play so many new games, we thought it would be fun to revisit a game from childhood. Thirty minutes, an unfinished game, and several hurt feelings later, we sat on the couch and decided to never play that game again. Furthermore, this happened in the last year or two, when we had become very used to each other and how to play games with each other–this was no newlywed squabble!
There is something about Uno that just lends itself to mean play, and I can’t accept that. Bohnanza on the other hand certainly can be played aggressively, but doesn’t require it, and even with aggressive play can still be ameliorated.
Bohnanza has an unlikely theme: Bean Farming. However, thanks to the whimsical art on the cards, children will have a blast building sets of beans in order to cash in the most points while trading or giving cards to other players. That last part is in fact the key to the game–players must carefully keep all cards in their hands in the order in which they received cards. In order to maximise their sets, they must remove cards from their hands.
2 kids trading bean cards while playing Bohnanza–image courtesy of boardgamegeek.com
Although Bohnanza is more complex than Uno and requires more skill and understanding on the part of children, they can still understand and enjoy the game, and I highly recommend it. It’s been a staple in my family for about 10 years now, and absolutely deserves a place in your home as well.
Recommendation: Bohnanza, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Rio Grande Games.
Monopoly. Almost certainly the most prevalent board game in America, if not the entire English speaking world. The game that defines what a board game is to most Americans. Monopoly, a game rarely played by the printed rules and frequently remembered as interminable anger-fests as players go round the board time after time until everyone finally loses to the player who was clearly going to be the winner an hour or two ago.
Surprisingly, I don’t hate Monopoly, as long as it is actually played by the rules. Even so, it still continues on for too long and I dislike player elimination in a game of this length. However, I can’t completely fault the rules because this is yet another classic game that in origin is a teaching tool.
An early board of The Landlord’s Game–Monopoly’s direct predecessor.
The first incarnation of Monopoly was called “The Landlord’s Game” and was invented by a socialist to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. I suppose it is possible for a game to be a good tool for teaching philosophy or political ideology while also succeeding as a game, but Monopoly does not. Furthermore, it’s frequently boring and unmistakably representative of its age. Gaming has progressed a great deal in the past 80-100 years, and with so many better games in the world, why bother with this clunker?
The difficult part of replacing Monopoly is in finding exactly what it is that draws people to it, other than that it’s just the only game people know. Is it the set-building aspect? Zooloretto is a great alternative. Is it building an economic empire? In my opinion, Acquire is the greatest economic game ever made. Is it the auctions? Play For Sale, High Society, or Ra. Is it traveling around that familiar board and visiting your favorite places? Ticket to Ride does that by putting the board onto a map of America. Maybe you just like racing around the track to get that free $200–Formula D is a fantastic dice rolling racing game.
Acquire in play–image courtesy of boardgamegeek.com
All of the games I listed are excellent games, and could easily replace whatever it is that draws people to Monopoly, and I highly recommend them.
Recommendation: Zooloretto, designed by Michael Schacht, published by Rio Grande Games; Acquire, designed by Sid Sackson, published by Avalon Hill; For Sale, designed by Stefan Dorra, published by Gryphon Games; Ticket to Ride, designed by Alan Moon, published by Days of Wonder; Formula D, designed by Laurent Lavaur & Eric Randall, published by Asmodee.
I’m not saying that the games on this list should not exist. They all have historical value in the history of gaming, and even more so in the history of American pop culture. But please, do yourself (and your children) a favor, and don’t ever play these games again. Visit a local game store and check out some new games–I’m sure you’ll discover some new favorites!