Not to sound too old, but I’m jealous of the board games available for kids growing up these days. There will always be the mainstays such as Snakes & Ladders, Sorry! and Candy Land, but there are more and more designer board games being released for younger players that help teach aspects of strategy, risk and probability while still being quite fun to play. I’d like to write about some of the games that I’ve been playing with my kids (ages 8 and 6 at this time), compare them to some larger or more grown up games and go over our experiences playing them with younger players.
Sushi Go! (BGG)
Image originally from https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2077273/sushi-go
Sushi Go! is a relatively simple card drafting game featuring just the 10 cards shown in the image above. The game lasts 3 rounds, during which players choose one card from their hand to keep, then pass the rest of their hand to the next player. After all players have selected their cards, they are revealed and the process repeats. After 3 cards have been drafted by each player, the remaining cards are discarded and new hands are drawn. This will repeat 3 times in total, so each player will end the game with 9 cards in front of them which will then be scored so that a winner can be determined.
By a fairly large margin, Sushi Go! has been the favourite to play with my kids. They love the adorable artwork and the gameplay is simple enough that we can knock out a game or two any time we have a half hour to spare. The scoring is fairly straight-forward as well, with each card indicating how they score at the end of the game, most of which are worth points depending on the number you have (Tempura are worth 5 points if you have 2 of them, Pudding is worth 6 points to the player who has the most but -6 points to the player with the fewest), Maki Rolls display a number of icons at the top of each card, ranging from 1 to 3 and the player who has the highest number is awarded 6 points, etc…).
When it comes to playing, I try to reinforce to my kids the basic ideas of probability (how many cards are left in the game and what will help you get the most points?) and strategy (is anyone else chasing Maki Rolls or Pudding? if the answer is no, do you have space to grab just one for quick points?). It also has some very basic math in it (multiplication by 3s as well as very basic addition and subtraction), which my 8 year old is always proud to show off her knowledge of. Down the road, it is my hope that the gameplay they learn through Sushi Go! will lead into them having interest in other games with a drafting mechanic, be it Seasons, 7 Wonders or Splendor.
Roll For It! (BGG)
Image originally from https://boardgamegeek.com/image/1807047/roll-it
Despite only picking this up yesterday, we’ve already played Roll for It! almost as much as any of the other games on this list. The concept is incredibly simple, reveal 3 cards from the deck then each player rolls their 6 dice and chooses whether or not they wish to assign matching dice faces to any of the cards. Once all of the dice faces showing on the card have been matched by a single player, they take that card to count towards their point total and a new card is revealed. If any players have dice assigned to a card, but not enough to claim it, those dice remain locked onto the card until they roll the remaining faces, or another player beats them to the punch.
This game is incredibly simple, but in only a short time it has become our favourite push-your-luck game. Full games typically only take about 10 minutes, but it’s engaging the whole way through, both for me and the kids. Technically speaking, there’s not much in terms of strategy to the game, you don’t get rerolls or any ways to modify the values of the dice you roll, but there’s an element of risk analysis that I find engaging, as do my kids. I’ve been reinforcing this idea of risk analysis (you can put your 3 4’s onto that 15 point card, or you could 2 of them along with a 6 onto this 10 point card and score it immediately, it’s not worth as many points but which do you think is better?) as well as probability (you only have 3 dice left, are you sure you want to lock 2 of them to that card now and then hope you can roll the last number, or keep all 3 ready for your next turn?).
We’ve already played King of Tokyo a number of times, so the kids are no strangers to dice rolling and trying to determine the best course of action, but Roll for It! plays in a fraction of the time and is far more portable. I wouldn’t be surprised that playing this game would lead into my kids having an interest in other dice-based games, such as the fantastic Castles of Burgundy or Stone Age.
Image originally from https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/669244/carcassonne
By no means a new game, Carcassonne has nonetheless been one of our gaming staples at home. We slightly house-rule the game to make scoring more simple for the kids, but that is limited to not using Farmers as a scoring mechanic, just Roads, Cities and Cloisters. For kids who love Lego (and Minecraft for that matter), the idea of building something unique and different every game is great for them, even if they do have to be occasionally reminded that helping each other finish off cities isn’t always the best strategic decision.
Carcassonne is a strange game to recommend in this capacity, as it’s a long-standing strategic (not to mention highly competitive) game, but it’s still one that we get a great deal of enjoyment out of if we have roughly an hour to spare and the kids are in the mood. Playing this game does take quite a bit longer than any other on this list, but on those occasions where the kids are in the right mood and request it, there’s a level of engagement that none of the others have provided to this point. The game has helped the kids with the concept of long-term planning, building up large cities over time and scoring a large number of points has been one of the gaming highs we’ve experienced so far, as has some moments of strategic planning for the end-of-game scoring when the idea has clicked for them that they probably won’t get to fully finish the Cloister or City they were hoping to, so they need to make the best of an unfavourable situation.
In time, I hope to introduce the Farmers as a scoring mechanic for them, which I think will stretch out the longevity of the game just by itself, and then after that there are a plethora of expansions available to add more to an already great game. As they get older and become interested in more complex game mechanics, I hope to introduce them to other games with a tile-building mechanic, namely Ginkgopolis or Keyflower.
Image originally from https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/292597/tsuro
Last, but not least, Tsuro is an abstract game that my family enjoys in fits and starts. This is not a reflection on the game so much as it is an issue with the frequently unavoidable conflict that can arise in the game through laying tiles that result in other players being knocked off the board and eliminated. When we do play, it’s typically a rush of several games in a row over the course of an hour or two before the kids get their fill and wish to do something else.
Of all the games mentioned, Tsuro is the only game that I debated including. Overall, the game is enjoyable but the abstract nature mixed with player elimination has caused some friction that hasn’t come up in any of our other games. Aside from trying to teach my kids to approach problems from different angles (in the case of this game, from different sides of their tiles), it’s also been a good way to teach them how to lose gracefully. Of all the games listed, this is the only one that doesn’t count points and instead ends with a last-person-standing, and as such as probably been more of a challenge for them to learn, but I think the lessons they have picked up from playing have been some of the most valuable.
In terms of leading into other games, I’m honestly not sure what may follow Tsuro as time goes on, it may just be a case where we’ll continue to play this game as the gameplay is already a great combination of strategic and luck-based. The concept of route-building may lead into a more refined idea of that mechanic, such as Ticket to Ride or possibly even Power Grid, although that’s probably still several years off.
The above are only some of the games that we’ve played together as a family, some others have included Kingdom Builder, King of Tokyo and Love Letter, I’ve selected the above as they are the ones that I most frequently get requests to play. We’ve had our fair share of frustration playing too, particularly with longer games such as Settlers of Catan, but by and large the experiences we’ve had playing games together has more than outweighed this. Sharing this gaming hobby with my kids (and I emphasise sharing, not forcing – I do not and would never force my kids to play a game if they did not want to) has been a great experience and one that I hope will continue for many years.