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Games for Children and Families, Part 1

My nephew is old enough to start playing board games, so we have been exploring child- and family-friendly games* with him. While he is on the cusp of games that can be played by both children and adults, his sister is still firmly in the Candy Land age range.

We've had a great time trying out these games with him. There are so many high-quality board games for the younger set these days! A vast improvement over the luck-only games I grew up with.

My First Carcassonne

Children's Game
We started with My First Carcassonne. While he's old enough for regular Carcassonne, I opted for the younger edition so that his sister would be able to play if she wanted. I'm actually glad I went with the younger edition; when we tried moving him to the base set, he lost interest because it took too long. But he took to the children's version immediately. He picked up the strategy on his own. He taught his parents to play. It's short enough to hold his attention, and simple enough to play with his sister.

Aquarius

Family Game
Around this time we also introduced him to Aquarius. It's really good for developing spatial skills. He keeps wanting to match the elements without looking at the orientation of the cards first, so it's a great teaching opportunity. We really like the balance of luck and strategy. The random changes in Aquarius (like in Fluxx) disrupt his strategy and force him to be adaptable. (He is not adaptable by nature.)

Catan Junior

Children's Game
He ditched Carcassonne entirely, however, after we got him Catan Junior. He loves Catan Junior. Mr. Short Attention Span still managed to play over half a dozen games in one day. (His mother was determined to win at least once. I appear to have created not one, but two monsters. Go me?) Catan Junior is really well designed. We recently had an event where there were several children, aged four through seven, and they all found a way to engage happily (albeit loudly) with the game. I do incorporate one rule from regular Catan that is apparently not in the rules for Junior­­—trading with people (not just the stock). This way they learn to negotiate with each other, which is an added level of strategy. Catan Junior is great for developing spatial thinking, long-term strategy, resource management, and negotiation.

Monster Factory

Family Game
We are also quite fond of Monster Factory. What is fantastic about Monster Factory is that it works just as well for younger kids who aren't paying attention to scoring or "winning"—building a funny monster is its own reward. For the older kids (and adults!), there is spatial thinking, math skills, and some strategy (whether to place a tile on your own monster or someone else's monster). We give several monstrous thumbs up to Monster Factory.

Mermaid Island

Children's Game
I also feel the need to toss out a plug for a game that, sadly, we are unable to sell here at Pandemonium at the moment as it has limited distributors. However, it's the first game that the niece has loved as much as the nephew has, and that is a major achievement!

Mermaid Island is a cooperative game that reminds me of classic Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders, but with actual (entry-level) strategy rather than just being luck-based. It is a great introduction to cooperative gaming, with frequent negotiation. If you are looking for a gift for preschool-aged kids who are just starting to play board games, this is a significant improvement over Candy Land while still being age-appropriate.

We have several more games we are eager to try with them. I guess I know what I'm buying them for the holidays…

* For the purposes of these blog posts, I am defining children's games as games that are truly geared toward younger children who will outgrow them. As wonderfully designed as some of these are, they can only hold adult interest for so long. Family games, however, are games that can be played by the whole family, whether that family has children or not.