Families where children don’t realize that a parent can floss a child’s teeth, because who the heck wants to do that? Parents who want to watch Netflix and zone out after a 12 hour work day. Parents who also want to be married, even want to have sex! Parents who still believe the phrase that pays is “Go Play” and enforce it! These are the families I am trying to serve with this post.
Now, I can’t speak for all the Moms of the world (though I have a suspicion I AM speaking for all the Moms of the world), but personally I dreaded those moments when a little voice would say “Mom can we play….” because I knew they’d pick an all-day-sure-to-end-in-tears-no-mother-ever-should-buy-game like, LIFE.The kind of game, that when given at Christmas must instantly be followed up with a cheerful “Wow, won’t that be fun to play at Grandma’s”
Take LIFE. Yes, it teaches marvelous lessons like “use birth control” and “become a investment banker so you can afford a family,” but until the kids are about 12 it’s too complicated to even get started down that road. It doesn’t allow for do-overs and there aren’t really any good ways to cheat to end the game in under a day. Plus they only want it for the cool spinner. Verdict: Skip it. If you find one at a garage sale for a Quarter, then loose the pieces in the trunk on the way home and let them be happy playing with the spinner thingy. (Same with that other old favorite Trouble–it is the pop-o-matic thingy that they want).
It took years of experimenting but we finally settled on a few we could OCCASIONALLY play together without needing a family intervention therapist. Here’s the reason: kids hate to lose, kids cheat, kids hate to follow rules OR kids LOVE to follow rules and that’s even worse. Trust me. I have one of each. One great game we discovered we all really could enjoy was CADOO. This had enough silliness and action to keep even the one-who-shall-not-be-named happy, while not upsetting the rule-abider overly much. What’s not to like about drawing, modeling with clay and acting, right? And, a smart Mom knows she can fiddle with the cards and cheat and get the kid one he’s good at so it stays fun. Plus, you can shorten it in advance by saying “We’ll do X number of cards each and that’s it,” before fixing them with that look. Verdict: Accept it as a gift & drag it out twice or three times a year.
Blokus is one of my all-time favorite games It’s very, very hard to cheat except by hiding game pieces. If you are smart you will KNOW how many pieces are supposed to be there and count them all first–saves a lot of fights and tears. If a piece gets lost in one color, take it away from the other colors and it all stays fair.
Another great aspect of this game is that it takes a little bit of peace and quiet to think through the moves. It’s not about silly, but rather about SMART and that, to my mind at least, is a good thing. We’ve outgrown Cadoo, but Blokus still comes out when we’re desperate to reconnect with each other–and both kids are today college age. Verdict: Worth it.
Apples to Apples Junior was a very, very popular gift one year. It has the right amount of silly–one player is the “judge” and has to decide which is the most appropriate comparison. It doesn’t necessarily come out rational. In fact it’s often hilarious. This another one you can shorten by setting a time limit or a card limit. You used to be able to by printable cards to add to the set words or people that your family would enjoy. Verdict: Worth it.
A few years ago we upgraded to the “grown up” edition. This has a very good effect on developing vocabulary for the SAT–a pleasant side effect. Unless your kids is super, super into reading something other than Harry Potter or vampire books and unless your family is really into politics, this one isn’t necessarily as fun–at least not till late teenage. Verdict: Skip it till high school.
These are the games all three of us played together. I’ve always found that playing one-on-one with a child (usually when the other was on a sleepover) yields the best results. My daughter and I played hours and hours of Mancala and my son and I played an entire war’s worth of Battleship–we’ve even played it on graph paper. Verdict on THOSE two games: Both of those are worth the money and then some.
For myself there is only one game: SCRABBLE. (I also love Words With Friends on my phone). My kids each preferred Boggle for a long time, but they came around in time. Almost no fights when played one-on-one Verdict: Worth it.
Sadly, with all the money spent on games the two we’ve played the most cost next-to-nothing. Crazy 8s requires a deck of cards. We seem able to play that without CPS arriving to investigate.