Monday, September 21, 2009

Kid Games You Can Find (Without Much Work)

One of my readers (hi, Paul!) left this comment earlier today on one of the MIA game reviews:
Mark, your lists are great and very helpful,. How about a list of good games that you can actually go to a local store and pick up instead of purchasing them by mail order via Germany or somewhere else? Just a thought.
I decided to respond here with a blog post rather than confine my answer to the comments section... as I think this is a really good question. However, there are a couple of problems with answering it.

#1 - What do you mean by "local store"?

Most folks buy games at their local "big box" store - Wal-Mart, Target, K-Mart, etc. Your average American has easy access to these kinds of stores - but while the prices are good, the selection is pretty slim. You can find some of the better Gamewright card games along with both the good & bad Cranium games for kids (Cariboo & Hullabaloo = good, Squawkbox games = bad). Of course they stock the Hasbro games, which have a few neat items (the newest version of Risk, Sorry! Sliders, the Bop It! toy/game, etc.) but a whole lot more of the "themed versions of classic games" kind of thing.

If you live in a larger city or nearby suburbs, you probably have an upscale toy store in your area. Depending on who runs the store, they are likely to stock Ravensburger, Haba & Selecta games, along with the full Gamewright line. Prices are usually retail (or higher, depending on their overhead), however.

Again, in larger cities or suburbs, you may have access to a store that sells board & card games. Those stores will almost certainly stock Rio Grande Games (who publishes or distributes a number of kid games in addition to the more gamer-oriented heart of their line). They are less likely to stock games you can find in the "big box" stores as they can't compete on price.

With all that said, it's important to note that really good, well-stocked game stores and upscale toy stores with a wide variety of board & card games are a rarity. Here in Fresno (a town of nearly 500,000 people), there are only two game stores and neither of them does a good job of stocking kid games. There are a couple of high-end toy stores that will order Haba games for me, but they don't typically stock them.

#2 - What's the problem with online shopping/mail order?

I understand the whole "buy local/keep the tax revenue local" emphasis - but if there isn't anyone local who stocks that item, it's not like I was going to make the purchase here in the first place.

But maybe that's not your problem with what you call "mail order." Maybe you're worrying since so many of these games have foreign-sounding names that the only way to get them is from across the Atlantic.

First, all of the Haba & Selecta games are multi-lingual. They do not have text on the pieces or board and they come with rulebooks printed in multiple languages - thankfully for those of us with English as our native tongue, it's always in there. Ravensburger games printed with an English name have English rules & components included.

Second, I don't order very much directly from Germany any longer... while it was once quite lucrative (thanks to a strong dollar & the overseas ability to not pay the VAT) to buy games from Germany, that situation has changed. As well, many of the really good German games are now re-published in English, thanks to Rio Grande, Mayfair & a host of other companies.

I do order from a number of different online retailers here in the U.S.
  • is owned by Haba USA and has an excellent stock of Haba products (toys as well as games)... they also have some great clearance deals if you keep your eyes peeled. (NOTE: I have an agreement with Haba USA where they provide me with games to review - possible conflict of interest disclosure.)
  • does a great job of stocking older & odd kid games, but they can sometimes be a bit pricey... they do have great clearance sales if you get on their mailing list.
  • has historically had a good selection of classy kid games
  • also has a good selection
  • has the best customer service in the business as well as a good selection of kid games

I have done business multiple times with all of these folks & recommend them without reservation.

So, you asked about a list...

I combed through the Kid Games 100 to come up with a list of games that are (a) in print, and (b) available for purchase at your local store (with the caveat that YOUR local store may not carry them.) I've divided the list into four groups (by type of store) and added some notes to some of the games.

Game Stores
  • Au Backe!/By Golly - By Golly is the new version of this great little memory game published by Rio Grande
  • Chateau Roquefort - the most gamer-y of the Kid Games 100, also published by Rio Grande
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha - gorgeous memory game published by Rio Grande
  • Gulo Gulo - classic family dexterity game published by Rio Grande
  • Gumball Rally - an American design published by Z-Man Games

Upscale Toy Stores

  • Cat & Mouse - a Ravensburger "square box" game.
  • Chuck-It Chicken - another Ravensburger "square box" game.
  • Enchanted Forest - this is an older Ravensburger game - it's seen print under a variey of themes (including Wizard of Oz!)
  • Giro Galoppo - a great Selecta game that was imported by Rio Grande.
  • Hop Hop Hurray! - Ravensburger game that's as big a hit with adults as with kids.
  • Jungle Treasure - Haba medium box game of speed & dexterity.
  • Klondike - Haba big box game of dexterity & bluffing.
  • Pirates on the High Seas - Ravensburger game with a HUGE box - and incredible components.
  • Sherlock - now published by Playroom - great little memory card game.
  • Smuggler's Island - Haba big box "delivery" game.
  • Strong Stuff - the Goldsieber version is OOP, but this nifty dexterity game has been republished by Haba and is shipping to the U.S. as I type
  • The Black Pirate - Haba big box game - lots of fun.
  • The Ladybug's Costume Party - classic Selecta cooperative game imported by Rio Grande
  • Turbulento - another Selecta game... may be tougher to find.
  • Twiddle Turtle - Haba long box with amazing wooden turtles.
  • Viva Topo - Selecta game that should be easiest to find.
Book Stores
  • Corsaro is a German game that was reprinted in Klutz Books' The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World... again, a full disclosure moment: I was one of the consultants on this book. (I don't actually see any more money from it but I do like to pump the sales as much as possible. You can read more about my experiences with the book in my post Klutz & Konsulting.)


  • Balloon Lagoon - There's been a number of editions of this one by Cranium - all of them have a lot of early elementary age goodness in 'em.
  • Duck Duck Bruce - My only frustration with this game is the lower quality cards - but the gameplay itself is delightful. I think I paid $5 at Target for this Gamewright reprint of a an older German card game.
  • Hula Hippos - Another Gamewright reprint of a German game (this time from Haba).
  • Hullabaloo - Twister for the preschool set - I'd shoot for the non-DVD version. Published by Cranium.
  • Operation Rescue Kit - a nice re-imagining of the classic game from Hasbro - comes in a plastic case & with a timer/scorekeeping mini-computer, which makes the game MUCH more fun.
  • Scene-It Disney - two editions exist - both are good.
  • Thing-a-ma-bots - another Gamewright card game.
  • Yahtzee Junior - again, lots of editions of this dice game. Great introductory game from Hasbro. (We have Toy Story, but the edition doesn't really matter - choose one your kid enjoys!)
  • Zingo! - Bingo for the younger set... ThinkFun did a nice job on this one.

Final Note

In the process of researching this post, I found a new blog about board games that speaks to Paul's question: The Game Aisle by Kim Vandenbroucke.


Kim Vandenbroucke said...

Thanks for the shout out! I just recently started and I've gotten a couple of similar questions and I thought your answer was great.

Something for all of your readers to remember is that some of the online retailers are "Mom & Pop stores" so when you make a purchase you're supporting a small game store and not a big box store. Paying rent for a storefront (plus all the other misc. overhead) cuts into the amount they can put into inventory, so I think an online store is a better option. The other big plus is that independent stores will ALWAYS carry a far better selection than any big box store ever could. Big box stores are looking for games that are going to sell large volumes, whereas some of the best games out there take a couple years to become popular and will never reach "spectacular" numbers in any given year. Small game stores must seek out fun games that aren't carried in the big box retailers so they can be competitive. Which is great for us - lots more games to choose from!

To add to your list, I also like (online only retailer) and (a small chain in Washington.) Also don't forget bookstores like Barnes and Noble - they insist on carrying items that aren't found in big box stores or unique versions of the games that are.

Happy gaming!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Kim, thanks for leaving the comment!

I'll echo Kim's positive word for the "Mom & Pop" nature of many online retailers... for example, the Samuelson family (that runs is a homeschooling family - the kids actually help with the business!

Kim's also right about selection - via the online stores, you have a MUCH better chance of finding odd & wonderful stuff. On occassion, the buyers for Target stock some offbeat things (which is cool) but it doesn't happen very often.

Barnes & Noble is another good suggestion... and their after-Christmas sales (mid to late January) can yield some real finds.

BTW, Kim - you may have convinced me to pick up Big PayDay for my boys... the "build-the-board" thing sounds cool and I loved it when I was 8-9 years olds. :-)

Kim Vandenbroucke said...

Great! Hope you enjoy it - the changing board feature definitely made the game better.

Anonymous said...

Toys R Us has a much better selection than walmart or target and is probably more common than a game store or high end toy store.

It's still not great.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

True about Toys'R'Us... but their selection is not substantially different than a Super Wal-Mart or a well-stocked Target.