Family Game Night seems like a weeknight staple in the United States, but it can be a little difficult when you have a five and three year old. We still find time to get in a game every now and then though, as they are finally getting old enough to understand the rules and develop a seemingly coherent strategy. Coming from an avid board and miniatures gamer, it is good to see my girls get into the hobby, and it is great to have another activity we can do as a family.
As I have said before, I enjoy gaming. Board games. Puzzles. Dungeons & Dragons. Miniatures. Wargames. I have played almost all of it. But things change when you have a family, so I spend far less time rolling polyhedral dice and much more time putting Don’t Break the Ice back together. And I would not have it any other way. As I always tell them, “I like my starships, but I love my girls.”
Candyland was the first game that we ever played together. Elaina did not really understand the rules at that time, but loved the colors and the different candy zones. Not really any skill involved, but we still loved it. It got even better once Gabriella got old enough to play, as I was now down to only winning a third of the time (statistically). An excellent starter for your little ones, except they will absolutely get a little upset when you win (by chance). They are about to outgrow it, but it will always be in our memories as on of the first games we played together.
After their mother left, I had to start taking them to the game store with me. While this certainly limited my time in the store (and therefore my purchases), the girls got exposed to all kinds of new children’s games. So we started stocking up. Reef was the first game that the girls picked out. You play as brightly colored fish trying to get your school from one side of the reef to the other while trying to dodge sharks along the way. You roll two dice when it is your turn, and sometimes you get to move your fish, sometimes your opponent’s fish, and sometimes a shark. A little more strategy is involved in this game, but the girls still understand it and can usually beat me (through collusion; they use the sharks to gang up on me and eat my fish). And they love rolling dice. It is a fun game that I highly recommend picking up.
They have received several matching games from either myself or their grandparents over the years. They have Disney Princesses, Frozen, Doc McStuffins, and Fancy Nancy (and I just bought Gabriella a Dr. Seuss set for her birthday). This helps build their memory skills, but Elaina is simply better at this game than I am. I have a pretty good memory, but nothing compared to my oldest. Right now, Gabbs is just happy to be playing, but between us, they usually beat me pretty bad.
The only problem with this game is that you can misplace the tiles pretty easily. Nothing more disappointing than searching for a match for ten minutes, only to realize that there is only one of that particular card. Great game that you should have mutiple versions of in your collection.
The next games that we got were Connect 4 and Trouble. The girls love playing Connect 4 (not in any way correct, mind you), but are not big fans of Trouble. For starters, they do not like that it takes rolling a one or a six to get one of your game pieces out of the starting area. We have had games where it has taken one or both of the girls a few minutes to start actually moving their pieces, so it can start off a little slow. Secondly, they really do not like it when their playing piece gets knocked back to their starting area. They know that it is part of the game, but that does not make it any more fun. Just really frustrating to them. In fact, I do not think that we have ever actually finished a game of Trouble. So Connect 4, yes; Trouble, no (or at least until they are older).
One day when we were in the game store, I notice these dice with pictures on them called Story Cubes. I figured that we could use them every now and then instead of reading a book at night, with me and/or the girls using the dice to make up our own stories. And the girls loved them. Yes, Gabby tells some pretty basic tales (her favorite is to start out with “So, there’s a bad man…”) and the stories almost always feature a princess (dice pictures or not), but the girls have a lot of fun with them. It helps them build creativity, expand their imagination, and improve their memory, just through rolling some dice and talking. The girls love these so much that we actually own all the sets, including the Adventure Time (never seen it) and Doctor Who (they are too young to see it) sets. One of the best game purchases for them.
Jenga is right up there with Don’t Break the Ice. Unless you want to spend most of your “playing” time putting the game back to the starting setup, I would not recommend this game for your little ones.
The owner at Gabi’s Olympic Cards & Comics finally introduced my girls to Haba games, which is a game company that makes games specifically for younger children. My girls immediately fell in love. Games that were for their skill level, most of which involved animals (so you know Gabriella was happy). We almost own too many of these games, but the girls love them so much, I just keep buying them. And since all of them require a little skill and a little luck (almost all of them involve rolling dice or drawing random tiles), we can actually have fairly competitive games.
The game that Elaina is playing above is called Animal Upon Animal, and as you can see, it requires both intelligence and hand-eye coordination to win. And we play Haba games more than any of the others. Rabbit Rally (Gabby’s favorite). Crazy Corral. Tiny Park (my favorite). And Dancing Eggs (Elaina’s favorite). We like them all, and if you cannot tell, I recommend all of them. So far, we have not found a bad game in the bunch.
Puzzles. Both girls love them and are very good at them. And we have puzzles for all ages, just to keep them trying to improve. The other day I figured we would go big, so I dumped out our 1000 piece Disneyland puzzle for us to work on. Surprisingly, Elaina did amazing at it. She helped me separate the borders and the characters, before starting to put them together herself. I was very proud of her helping me with her first “big kid” puzzle.
Completely out of the blue, Elaina tells me that she started playing chess at school and that she wanted a chess set. I brought out my wooden travel chess set from deployment for her to use. While she liked it, she really wanted her own set. Punk. We ended up picking out one of those 10-in-1 game sets, which included chess, checkers, backgammon, etc. While Elaina is still learning chess strategy, she is absolutely crushing poor Gabbs at checkers (she practices at school). While it makes me somewhat sad that they are getting into more adult games (because the Haba games are fun), it does give me hope that one day they could show interest in one of my games…
I was just happy to find her moving my starships around one morning, and I think she was just happy that I was letting her (without worrying that she would break them). Anyways, it is definitely a start. I hope that you enjoyed hearing about our gaming experiences. While it is not necessarily for everyone, gaming has certainly gotten my girls to share more and by more interactive with other children, and it certainly helps expand their minds by developing strategy. It is a great family hobby, one that I hope we continue and that they one day pass on to their children. Thanks again for checking in on us, and in the words of Jim Pruitt of WebDM, “May the dice ever roll in your favor.”