As a full-time Geek Dad, one of my goals is to raise the boys as gamers. The eldest is six-and-a-half and the youngest will be five in May, so the age gap is small enough to allow them to play games together. If the Easter break has been anything to go by, I am succeeding in my goal.
Here are the top six games helping me turn my boys into gaming geeks.
This local company specializes in simple games for children, with bright colours and clever themes. These are not specifically educational games, but many teach useful lessons.
As with anything, there are some games which appeal to me less. The boys enjoy playing anything with their parents, but as a Geek Dad I can see little merit in a few Orchard games.
Below, I expand on what I think are the best of the crop, and the most popular. However, other highlights for the boys include Beast Quest “top Trumps”, the Magic: the Gathering pick up pairs set I made and an annoying plastic 3D Snakes & Ladders which falls apart even as we play.
One Banana, Two Banana
This is a brilliant risk-management game I shall want to keep playing when the boys are grown. It balances luck with Player agency, and sees a lot of play.
Pop to the Shops
Pop to the Shops is a great game for teaching children simple maths and showing them how retail works. Players both run a shop and go on errands to buy items from the other shops on the board. The first one to fill their basket wins.
This game does not see as much play as the boys would like, as it is complicated to set up and is a long game. However, if the boys can remain focused, they learn a lot about money and how shops work. I also add in a little roleplaying, as we act out the transactions in each shop.
Magic Cauldron requires Players to solve simple maths equations, or number sentences as the boys call them. If Players are right, then they add an ingredient to their cauldron. The first Player with a full cauldron wins.
The boys adore this game for the clever game pieces. The tiles with the maths equations have a special coating on the reverse which becomes transparent when warm. The answer to the equation is hidden beneath this coating, so every time a Player “solves” an equation, they need to check their answer by revealing this hidden number.
The boys find this “magic” process endlessly fascinating. Youngest likes to rub the tiles on his tummy to reveal the hidden number, which is very cute. The boys have developed all sorts of rituals on how to lay out the pieces to this game, or how to reveal the hidden number.
As a game, this is one of Orchard’s weaker offerings. The boys always want me to help them find the “right” answer, so the winner is always the Player who goes first. However, Magic Cauldron has helped them greatly with their maths, so it deserves a place on this list.
I remember this Ludo-variant from my own childhood, although the dice rolling technology has progressed. We also have a traditional Ludo game, but Frustration has a much shorter track around the board, which thankfully speeds up the game.
This is really an update of a classic childhood game, but the updates are enough to keep the boys interested. So long as I can keep them from hitting the dice flippers too hard, they will stay engaged with Frustration. Youngest is notorious in our family for ALWAYS winning this game.
I have added the house rule of always starting the game with a man out, otherwise Frustration is just too, uh, frustrating. Yet, the shorter track makes it much faster than a standard game of Ludo.
The Peter Rabbit Radish Board Game
This game is a close tie-in to the Beatrix Potter book, as Players raid Mr McGregor’s garden for a selection of vegetables. The first Player to collect all four vegetables, and avoid Mr McGregor, is the winner.
As a Geek Dad, there is a lot to like in this game. The mechanics are clever, especially the way that Mr McGregor moves clockwise around the outer board every turn. Players roll one die, then move both Mr McGregor and their rabbit the number rolled. If he catches a rabbit, then the rabbit loses all collected vegetables, and returns home. In a four Player game, he moves very fast. This is simple, but effective.
Furthermore, there is a lot of freedom in this game. Players can move their rabbits in either direction around the inner or outer track of the board. The vegetables can only be collected on the outer track, but there is an inner track where the rabbits are safe from Mr McGregor.
The movement, and the search for a set of four vegetable cards, is a lot closer to the style of European boardgames than is typical for a children’s game. This freeform game strikes me as a good training ground for more geeky games.
This is such a clever game, about wizards searching for treasure in a labyrinth. Yes, even the theme of Labyrinth paves the way for D&D. Players have a pile of treasure cards they need to find. The inspired part is how most of the board is made up of loose tiles, which can slide to rearrange the labyrinth. Before a Player can move, they must push a column or row of tiles to change the layout, and then travel through the shifting labyrinth. The requirement to visualize how the labyrinth will look after a new tile has been added gives this game a strong puzzle element.
The boys like the way the game board moves, and seem to enjoy the physicality of playing. Yet, they are also learning some valuable planning skills. Both of them are very good, and need little help to win.
We play a lot of boardgames at the moment, but these favourites are helping turn the boys into gaming geeks. Simply playing any game is a good start, but these ones have strong lessons for a future gamer.
Which boardgames did you enjoy as a child? Do you know any games I should be introducing to the boys? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Something for the Weekend next week: Trollbabe Relationships part 2.