Friday, April 07, 2006

Getting Childish With Ward-O

One of the guys I'm doing GeekSpeak with is Ward Batty, who I first met at Gulf Games. (I don't remember which Gulf Games, but I'm guessing it was #5 in Chattanooga.) Ward is not only an avid gamer but also the co-publisher of Comic Shop News. (So, Ward, what's the newest bit of nihilistic weirdness coming from the pen of Alan Moore?)

Ward's latest "publishing" venture is a weekly syndicated newspaper about board games called The Game Table. (If you like what you see, you can write your local newspaper & ask them to start using Ward's column.)

A couple of weeks ago, Ward interviewed me via e-mail about children's games... and he did a great job of quoting me accurately & in context. (This doesn't always happen, sadly.) You can read the whole article at Getting Childish with "Fluff Daddy".

Ward had asked me to comment a bit on the games I listed for him... and I procrastinated too long to have that stuff included in the actual article. So, for the faithful readers of my blog, you get blessed with my commentary! (Lucky you!)

First games:

Cranium Cariboo Look, Cranium (the adult trivia/charades/clay game) may be popular but that doesn't make it a good game. Thankfully, the children's games from the folks at Cranium are much better games. Cariboo is a simple recognition game, built with cool little doors to unlock and a treasure chest that "magically" opens when you find the last "jewel". This is not the world's greatest game, but it is a great "first" game.

Cranium Hullabaloo Hullabaloo is Twister for preschoolers, with one very important twist... the game is run by a relentlessly cheerful electronic device that keeps things moving, adds in extra challenges & music, and - most importantly - allows a group of younger kids to play without an adult supervising the entire time. (I'm not advocating only buying games that can babysit your children... I think everyone should play games with their kids. But I also like kids getting to play something on their own & the pride that comes from "doing it themselves.")

Ages 4-6:

Akaba (Haba) This delightful game skews to the older end of this range (age 5-6) but it's definitely worth checking out. It's a racing game with a very easy memory element. The "hook" for the game is that you move your magic carpet pieces by blowing them across the board with a squeeze puffer. (It looks a bit like the nasal aspirator we used on my boys when they were babies.) It's fun with mixed groups of adults & kids - but it might be a bit daunting for younger children to set up & play on their own.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande) You're going to notice that I put a lot of memory games on this list - part of the reason for that is that memory games help kids level the playing field with adults. The renamed Chicken Cha Cha Cha (the original name in German - Zicke Zacke Huhnerkacke - roughly translates at "hip hip chickens***", which has always struck me as an odd name for a kid's game) is a very tough memory game with stunning wooden pieces. (So much so that when I was inteviewed by the Fresno Bee about gaming, I pulled Chicken Cha Cha Cha out as an example... and it ended up in the story!) There's also an expansion for the game (Zicke Zacke Entenkacke) which has only been published in Germany - it adds 2 ducks (so 5 or 6 players can play) + wooden piles of doo-doo for each player for an interesting game variant.)

Gulo Gulo (Rio Grande) The same company that produced Chicken Cha Cha Cha also published this beautiful game of stealing wooden vulture eggs from a slick wooden bowl. This entry has a couple of points in it's favor for playing with younger children. First, the eggs are easier to pick up with smaller fingers, which means that kids have a built-in advantage over adults. And second, the game system makes it easy to catch up when you're behind, which means no one is really "out of it" until the very end of the game. (Note: this game works well with groups of adults as well.)

Dish It Up! (Gamewright) Yet another memory game, but with a delightful twist. You don't have to match the pieces to each other - instead, you have to match the pictures on your orders... because you're a waiter or waitress in a diner working for tips. Like many of the Gamewright games, there's a great sense of story as well as clean gameplay.

Eureka (Gamewright) You may believe that all I play with my son is memory games... some days, that's not far from the truth. Here's another great one that's actually a pretty decent exploration game with a memory element. Players are reptile gold hunters who move around the grid of tiles at the roll of a die, searching for four different gold claims. The artwork is fun - and there's plenty of chances to make smart plays.

Midnight Party (Ravensburger) Possibly one of the best "large group" (6-8 people) board games around - and made doubly better because it works so darn well with combined groups of adults & kids. Hugo is holding a birthday party and loves to play hide & seek - only Hugo is a ghost! This dice game reminds me of the old joke about the two guys running from an angry grizzly bear. One stops & grabs some running shoes out of his backpack. The other guy says, "What you are doing? You can't outrun the bear!" To which the first guy replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."

My First Uno (wide variety of licensing tie-ins) I hate "adult" Uno. What a freakish waste of time. Amazingly, though, My First Uno is a stripped down & quicker version of Uno that is not a bad little game to teach kids basic hand management. No, it's not the best game available, but it's actually kind of fun to play. (And fast - which increases the fun.)

Ages 7-9 (For boys):

Heroscape (Hasbro) I really hate to recommend this wonderful game... because it has a BUNCH of available expansions, which means you could easily spend $200+ putting a set together. (And, of course, there are more cool expansions coming this year, including ice terrain, more figures, & a 100 piece castle.) Heroscape is the ultimate blending of board game & miniatures game... and, in slick move that allows them to make lots of cool figures, a great blending of genres, as all the characters are warriors sucked through time & space into the world of Heroscape. So, you've got Matrix guys & Braveheart & dragons & robots & kung fu monks & gorillas with guns... yep, it's the ultimate boy game. (And while kids can start with this one at 7-8 years old, there's enough going on that you keep playing it well into your adult years. Or, in my case, when you're 41!)

Star Wars Attacktix (Hasbro) Sorry - another collectible game which is a giant money pit. But, gosh, this is fun to play. It's Star Wars battles with figures that twist and/or shoot missles to knock each other over. A friend described it as "the best kid toy for adults ever."

Ages 7-9 (For boys & girls):

Eiertanz (Haba) In English, this means Egg Dance. Don't be fooled - this is a modern take on the old classic Funny Bones involving rubber & wooden eggs. Great party goofiness!

Igloo Pop (Rio Grande) Finally, a speed game with a dumb theme (giant Eskimo shaking igloos with children inside them, listening for fish sticks) but great game play.

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