It’s no secret that I love board games. The last time I wrote about board games here, I got a question on my facebook page (Have you liked the facebook page? It’s a great way to keep up to date on new posts!) about what games would be good for a very small child. Since we’re now fully into the holiday shopping season, I thought I would pass along a few more thoughts on what would games would make a great gift for someone in your life.
AGE 3 & UNDER
It’s hard for children much younger than 3 or 4 to really get into games. Ability to understand and follow rules, take turns, and stay engaged for the entire length of the game all make it difficult for kids this young to really get it. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t mean that you have to resort to Candyland (which frankly isn’t a game anyway) either! I recommend something light, easy, and that has value as a toy, even if playing as a game doesn’t appeal to the child at first: Animal Upon Animal, designed by Klaus Miltenberger. In Animal Upon Animal, players build a pyramid of animals, stacking them on top of each other, ala Jenga. Great fun, and your kids will love the animals.
At this age, kids should be able to handle more complex rule systems and stay involved with a game longer. However, I don’t want to leave the land of toys quite yet, so here I will recommend Pitchcar/Pitchcar Mini, designed by Jean du Poel. Better yet, if you can still find a copy of Cars 2 Sorry Sliders, go for it. It’s substantially the same game, but at a fraction of the retail of either Pitchcar game, even at full price. I picked up a copy on clearance last week at a Toys R Us (Cars 2 the movie did come out 2.5 years ago after all), so move fast if you want to go that direction! For more information on Pitchcar, I recommend reading the review I wrote about a month ago. In short though, it’s a fantastically fun game where players race around a track by flicking small “cars” on their turn. Kids this age particularly seem to love it (I picked up a copy of Cars 2 Sorry Sliderslast week and Sam’s 7 year old cousin couldn’t get enough of it!), even though people of all ages will enjoy playing.
Now this is a great age for board gaming! This age group should be able to handle the complexity of most “gateway” or “casual” games, like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, or Pandemic. If you don’t already have those, they’re all great choices that no modern game collection should be without. However, I want to veer a little off the beaten path here and recommend Zooloretto, designed by Michael Schacht. Zooloretto is a great game and 2007 Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year, one of the highest awards given for board game design excellence) winner, about running your own zoo. Kids love the animals, and its light enough they will get it and enjoy it, but interesting enough adults won’t be bored.
This is the point when your options become very wide open. These kids should be able to handle most things, and are really ready for some complex interplay between game mechanics. I can’t think of a better choice than Dominion, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. Dominion, another Spiel des Jahres winner (2009), is all about building a medieval kingdom. However, while the game can be enjoyed on a fairly simple level, a well planned strategy will always win out. At this age, most kids should be able to handle the game (it is also incredibly easy to explain), and will enjoy diving deep into the many strategies available.
Again, anybody this age should be able to handle virtually any game, and some will be interested in playing the highly complex games of the world. However, by and large they will be more interested in playing light “party” style games with other people. To that end, I recommend 2 different games: Zombie Dice, designed by Steve Jackson, and Wits & Wagers: Party, designed by Dominic Crapuchettes. I don’t really know why, but zombies seem to be the pop culture flavor of the year, and Zombie Dice will suit your zombie fans perfectly. A fairly simple dice game where players play a zombie who, unsurprisingly, wants to eat brains and not get shotgunned. Roll dice hoping you get brains, but stop and “bank” your brains before you roll 3 shotguns. It’s fun, simple, can be played by any number of people, and leads to great moments when someone defies incredible odds as they roll the dice.
Wits & Wagers: Party is a new version of the modern party game classic Wits & Wagers. Really, either game would be a great choice, but the party version is designed to be simpler and easier to jump into, and without the vegas style betting system the original has. Both games feature number related questions where all players write down a guess, like in many trivia games. However, then players guess who actually wrote down the closest answer, so it really doesn’t matter if you know the answers or not–you can win simply by knowing who does know the answer. It’s another game that large numbers of people can pick up and play quickly, and your kids and their friends will love as much as you.
Of course, I may have missed some other great games that would make equally good gifts for someone in your life–or you might have a special case and you’re looking for some more insight into great games for your family. If so, write a comment! Let me know what I missed or what else you might be looking for.