Candy Land is an enduring game. My daughter has a copy, I had a copy when I was her age, and if neither of my parents had a copy as children, I’m sure they knew someone who did. It’s not hard to see why the game has stuck around for generations, since it has pretty much anything you can ask for in a game focused at the under-six set. It’s easy to play (draw a card/spin the spinner, move your piece to the corresponding color), it doesn’t require reading, and it’s got the kind of theme that draws in kiddos faster than a Klingon charges to battle. (CANDY!!)
There’s one problem with the game, beloved though it is. Candy Land is boring after a playthrough or two. In other words, if I were heading out on a five-year mission, it would hardly be my first choice for the ship’s game library.
Don’t get me wrong—I think Candy Land is a great first game. The simplicity of its structure makes it a great tool for introducing young children to the concept of playing a board game as a group. Through playing they learn the primary rules of most board and card games: take turns and be honest about the actions you can legally take on your turn. Once your little geekling can handle those basics, then you can start having some real fun with games that involve a little bit of strategy!
So, what are some good games to try? By sheer coincidence, I have two great recommendations. (Since this article would be pretty worthless without suggestions, I’m sure you are totally shocked.) Seriously, though, these games have been played successfully with and, more importantly, enjoyed by my daughter on multiple occasions. They also pass three important tests:
- First, it must be simple enough for a young child to play. If you can’t explain the game to a three-, four-, or five-year-old in five minutes, it may be too complicated.
- Second, the game must not require reading. Geeklings level up at different rates, and while some may choose to put their XP into a written language skill, most wait.
- Third, the game must require the player to do more than simply roll a die (or spin a spinner, draw a card, etc.) and move their piece. The player making decisions must be a part of gameplay.
Robot Turtles is a board game that, according to the box, “introduces basic coding concepts to preschoolers.” If you have fond memories of programming on an Apple IIe using Logo, this game will invoke a sense of nostalgia. If you enjoy playing Robo Rally, this game is a great precursor.
The gameplay concept is basic: each player is attempting to get their turtle from point A (the start) to point B (the jewel). Moving the turtle is accomplished by playing cards (each player has their own stash from which to pick), and movement undos are allowed. The board setup is fairly open ended—the game can be made as easy or as complicated as desired. As the savviness of the players increases, a number of obstacles can be placed and the concept of a repeating pattern can be added, making it a game that grows with the player.
In order to play, one responsible person must serve as the game master, laying out the board and handling turtle movement, meaning it isn’t a game that could be played solely by young people. At minimum you need two people (one player and one game master), and at maximum you can have five (four players and one game master). The age recommendation is four and up, though we successfully played very simple setups with our daughter at age three and a half. Now that she’s graduated to more complicated setups at the age of five, her favorite part is getting to melt ice with the blaster.
My First Carcassonne
Like the original Carcassonne, My First Carcassonne is a tile-laying game. In this version, the children of Carcassonne must chase down the sheep that the town releases as a part of a yearly festival. Gameplay involves placing road tiles with children in various colors of dress (red, green, blue, and yellow). When you close a road, all players with a child on that road place a marker. The person who rids themselves of their markers first is the winner, though it is possible for multiple people to win simultaneously.
The game goes fairly quickly, which makes it great for high-energy geeklings who like playing games but lack a long attention span. It also plays well with a mixture of adults and kids and, though we have yet to try it, would likely work with a group of young kids as the only players, as long as all players were clear on the rules.
It’s playable by two to four people and is recommended for four years old and above. Our kidlet received this game as a present for her fourth birthday, and it was an instant hit with her. My First Carcassonne currently serves as our go-to for when we have friends over to play games and aforementioned kidlet wants to be included in one game before bed. This is more of a niche game, so it may be more difficult to find in a physical retail establishment. It is published by Z-Man Games; it is available on Amazon and some information and the rulebook can be found at their website.
Robot Turtles and My First Carcassonne are just two of many items in our preschool-appropriate arsenal of games, but we’re always looking to add more! (After all, where’s the fun in actually being able to close the door on a games cupboard?) What are some of your favorite games to play that work for the whole family?