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Toy Fair and the Rising Quality of Games Aimed at Small Kids

March 11, 2012

My last post for toy fair is about games for kids, but not necessarily about kids’ games. What I mean is that there is a growing trend of board games that are aimed at kids, but maintain a level of quality to keep college students and adults engaged. I first really encountered this with Gamewright’s “Forbidden Island”, up until I played it, I never expected to see a Gamewright game on my shelf next to Dominion and Puerto Rico; in my eyes they were a kids’ game company.

At toyfair, there were a great many games of similar caliber. A particular company, Haywire, had a lot of interesting games. Chupacabre, forexample, was one of my favorites from the expo; you roll custom dice, group animals into defensive packs, and use any chupacabres to attack opponents. A game that is easy for kids to learn the basics—roll, group, eat—but the decision making process can have a lot of strategic elements to it. The subtle tactics involved, gave the game a feeling of depth that is seldom found in strictly children’s’ games .Plus it’s an easy game to give a kid a handicap if they need it.

Likewise The Artist J and I found a great math game with a built in “handicap” mechanic. I was on the lookout for math games because the boss is looking to get more. I wasn’t excited about it, but that changed as we found some very clever games. Number Ninjas, again by Haywire, is a pretty legitimate game; you roll dice, move your ninja, lay traps, and navigate the board to get artifacts to then get to the end game temple thing. A simple game, but no more so than some simpler designer games, and simple mechanics work well with a complex strategic games. What was most interesting about it, however, was that you used different dice depending on your math level (addition and subtraction for ninja novices, multiplication and division for ninja masters) and elements of the game required you to solve a word problem from a deck of cards. The incentive to learn multiplication to become a master ninja seems a powerful motivation tool, but also allows the game to balance well with different age groups.

An old school math game would be something like Candyland with numbers, and dull as hell. Yet math is something intrinsic to all board games, it doesn’t have to be dry or dull, just simple and straightforward. Number Ninjas doesn’t dumb down a good game and add math, it builds a solid simple game around math as the major mechanic.

Chupacabre and Number Ninjas aren’t necessarily games that all hardcore gamers should own (they won’t satisfy the same itch as Carcassonne or BSG), but they are games that gamers can play with kids and be just as engaged as they are. If you’re playing something you don’t enjoy with a kid, the connection between the two of you isn’t going to be half as strong as it would be if you’re both on the same level of involvement. It’s good for the kid for you to be playing somewhere near the top of your game, and it’s good for us that we can top dreading when the kid pulls out a box and wants to play. It’s good for companies to see this and start making games we can all enjoy.

One Comment
  1. ThydayTat permalink

    Your site is very helpful…
    Thank you…

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