Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Game Night All-Stars (for Kids)

Each month, my wife and I host a game night at the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth. We play games with kids and parents, eat dinner, and try to provide a few hours entertainment for families going through tough times. We've been doing this since August 2012, and enjoy it every bit as much now as we did when we started.

We've developed a short list of games that we bring each month. To make that list, games have to be simple to teach and play, quick enough to finish in the time it takes to eat a meal, and thematically appropriate for kids. 

For those of you used to my reviews of deep hobby games, you might be surprised by some of the games we get to the table. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to create a great experience for the people playing the game, and sometimes the simplest games make the best memories. Here's six games that have been hits during our game nights, for kids and adults alike.

Skip-Bo

Forgive me, Reiner Knizia, Stefan Feld, and Richard Garfield, for leading with a game that has to be the simplest I've ever played. On your turn, you draw five cards, then play them if they're consecutively higher than cards on the board. You can also play cards from a personal deck, one-at-a-time, if possible. The first player to play to play every card from this deck is the winner.

It's as easy as it gets, and sometimes it's exactly the thing to get a kid or parent to sit down and play cards. When we started at the RMH we had the impression that we'd introduce the games we love to all sorts of new people, but that's not the case. In reality, we end up playing the simplest games so that people don't have to leap over the emotional barrier that so many games create.

For interested readers, the history of Skip-Bo is altogether different than I expected. It's worth reading!

Set Jr.

Set is one of my favorite abstract games, and absolutely should be tried by any game lover. Set Jr. is a scaled-down version that removes some of the pressure to play quickly and a level of complexity in matching cards. It's perfect for playing with kids, especially in the 7-10-years-old range when they're intensely curious and open to learning anything.

The rules are easy - make sets by finding cards with matching and/or non-matching characteristics, then announce to the table that you've found a "Set" before anyone else can. My wife and I typically let the kiddos win, though after a few games we'll turn up the heat a bit so they can get the experience of a close game. It's a huge hit every time we get it to the table!

Batman Uno

It's not just Uno, it's BATMAN Uno! From the ranks of traditional American card games comes another game night favorite! Batman Uno is a special version, not just for the awesome art on the cards, but the addition of an extra card, the "Draw 3" that allows the player to pick who draws the cards. It's a fundamental change in a game that otherwise presents very few meaningful choices. Each player plays a single card on their turn (if they can), and the first player to run out of cards is the winner!

Uno is also the easiest game on this list to teach, and the only one that can really be played with kids who can't read or learn complex rules. It's also a fine game to play with folks who don't speak much English (or none), so it bridges communication barriers nicely.

Cardline: Animals

This is a particularly vexing game hidden by absolutely adorable pictures of animals. In Cardline: Animals, players take turns placing cards in the order of the depicted animal's size, weight, or age. It's a fantastic game that adults and kids can play together, often at about the same rate of success. It's not particularly difficult to guess that a tiger weighs more than a frog... but do you know if a horse weighs more than a manta ray? You might be surprised.

If you've got kids under 13, go buy this game right now. It's $13, it comes in a neat tin, and it's one of a great line of similar games from Asmodee and Bombyx. It takes a single sentence to teach, requires only the most basic reading and counting skills, and provides an educational experience inside a light game with awesome pictures of animals!
Parade

Alice and the rest of Wonderland's denizens are having a fantastic parade, but apparently they're all wearing similar costumes. You've been tasked with the direction of the parade, and if the fictional characters see others wearing their costumes, they'll go home. Can you keep the parade going, and make the fewest folks quit early?

Parade gets my award for "Best Production Value in a Simple Card Game" (tied with Diamonds from Stronghold Games). It's absolutely beautiful, with gold inlay on the backs of the cards and gorgeous art of Alice and the host of characters. The box comes with coasters, for the tea party you should be having when you play.

The game itself is pleasantly deep, a challenging game that requires careful planning and strategic play. It's deeper than you'd think by looking at the deck, and well worth owning. I once asked Zev, owner of Z-Man Games (the publisher) if the game was worth buying, and that I'd judge his whole line based on my consideration of his response. He said he stood firmly behind all his products, and as a result of  my love of a Parade, I'm a huge fan of his games!

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule

Fairy, Fairy, place your card
In the center to discard
Flip the cards that match your rhyme
Look for frogs, 'shrooms, moons and shines
Take the cards whose symbols match
Win the game when Goblins catch! 

Not only is this a catchy rhyme, it's also a useful explanation of how to play Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule. This is a marvelous little card game of rhyming and matching, and it's absolutely wonderful to play with reading-age kids and adults of all ages.

More than that, it's got some of the best art I've ever seen in a game, a kid's book, a Disney movie - anywhere. It's absolutely gorgeous, and there's all sorts of wonder to be had just looking through the beautiful pictures while you play. Sadly, this game is out of print now, but if you see a copy and you've got kids with an imagination, buy the game on sight!

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JR Honeycutt is a full-time husband and game-player, and co-host of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter at @JayAhre or at a Friendly Local Game Store in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Some of his reviews are also published in Ravage Magazine or at Tabletop Gaming News