Wednesday, March 19, 2008


When I'm trying to decide if a particular game is a good game to play with young kids, there are a few things I'm looking for:

1) Simple rules - If it's too complex, then they'll just start making up their own rules.

2) Players affect outcome - I'm not too big on games where everything you do in your turn is determined by a card, die, or spinner. Kids are smarter than that! Give them some choices! Allow them to evaluate between good plays and bad plays. Let them build skills (like flicking ants into pants) that they can improve at if they want to.

3) Is actually a GAME! - A lot of games out there have fancy components, but end up being more of a toy than a game (I remember building MouseTrap a bunch when I was little, but can't remember actually playing a single game of it)

4) Is fun - This one is hard to figure out just by looking at the game. I think the only way you can tell if it's fun is if you actually try it out.

Anyhow, if you look down the game section at Target or Toys R Us, there are a bunch of games marketed towards kids that don't fit my 'good kid game' criteria. There are a few that I like (Guess Who, Don't Break the Ice, Zingo), but not a whole lot. However, if you go to online boardgame sellers, you have a few more options. Here is one that has been a hit with my kids.

Max is a simple boardgame that has a cat, Max, chasing small animals around a board. The players control the animals. Their job is to get them around the board to their homes before Max catches them. Max moves around the board a bit faster than the animals, but there are shortcuts on the path to help them out, as well as special cat treats that will force Max to go back to the beginning. Now, the interesting thing is that this is a cooperative game. There are only 3 animals (a bird, a squirrel, and a mouse), but several players can play. On your turn, you roll 2 dice. You move Max 1 space for each black dot that comes up. You also move any animal 1 space for every green dot that comes up. This is different than the majority of kids games. In most games, one kid would be the mouse and another kid would be the bird. In Max, any player can move any animal on their turn. And they're all working together to get all of them home safely.

The cooperative aspect is a really nice feature. When I play the game with my kids, I'm not pitted against them. Instead, we're working together towards a common goal (this is a nice change of pace when you have competitive siblings playing together).

The game also provides for some decision making. Which animal should I move? Should I use one of the limited cat treat now or save them for later?

I introduced this to my 3 year old a little while ago, and he loves it. When we finish a game, he immediately wants to play another. Now I love playing with my kids. But sometimes, they'll ask me to play something with them which is a lot of fun for them but not very interesting for me. Which is why I get so happy when LilKat2 asks me for a game of Max. We both have a great time playing it together.

This game does have one downside though. It is not a very well made game. The board is very basic and doesn't have very interesting artwork. The pieces are just thin cardboard punchouts. I think that I would like to go to a craft store and buy little wooden figures for the different animals in the game and use those instead. That would be a significant improvement.

But you know what? Even with the cheap pieces, my kids have had a great time with this game. At $10 it seems a little expensive for what you get. But with how much fun we've had playing it, I think we've more than got our money's worth.

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