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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Games for four-year-olds

[This is a re-post of an entry originally published on 2 February 2012. The post was somehow corrupted, so I am restoring it for accessibility.] 

I was recently asked about games for very young kids.  I haven't looked at games in this age range in a while (since our youngest is eleven), so it was interesting to revisit the gamescape for the booster-seat set.

We still have two in our house that our kids enjoyed back before kindergarten:

Husker Du is essentially Concentration in a kid-friendly format.  The board consists of a number of small round "windows" through which symbols on a single rotating disc are visible.  Game set-up consists of covering the windows with checkers, then rotating the disc so that new symbols are lined up in the windows under the checkers.  Players remove checkers two at a time looking for matching symbols.  If they match, they keep the checkers; if not, the checkers cover the symbols again.  An old standard memory game, always a good parent-child past-time.

Launch Across is a cross between table-top basketball and Connect Four.  Each player has a launcher that propels colored balls against a backboard and down into one of several stacking columns.  The first to get four in a straight line row (horizontal, diagonal, or vertical) wins.  I'm not usually a fan of dexterity games, but this one is entertaining.

A search of the boardgamegeek.com database turned up a number of good options that are still available on the market:
  • "Animal Upon Animal is a simple stacking game, listed for ages 4-99, with 29 cute wooden animals."
  • Kids of Carcassone is a tile-laying game patterned after the phenomenally popular Carcassonne with simpler dynamics but, according to some parent reviews, engaging gameplay.
  • "Viva Topo! is a [roll-and-move] family game that has players balancing risk and rewards as they attempt to outrun the cat and score for cheese. Players attempt to advance their mice to various goals. The further the goal, the more cheese it is worth. Pursuing the mice is the cat that removes the mice from the game should it catch the mice.  Movement is regulated by a die that also moves the cat. Initial cat moves are only 1 space, but become 2 spaces after once around the track, so when the cat speeds up, it's almost all over!"

  • Boo Who? (originally Geistertreppe, now available as Spooky Stairs) has a clever feature in which players' pieces are magnetic and become hidden by "ghost" pieces over the course of the game.  Players try to remember where their pieces are and get them to the top of the castle stairs to win.
  • "Being afraid of monsters is a normal part of growing up.  Go Away Monster! encourages kids to conquer that fear by acting it out and taking control.  It also lets them experience some of the apprehension and excitement in deciding what is real and what is imaginary.  Reach in the bag to find the puzzle pieces that fit your bedroom game board. Try to distinguish between the different puzzle pieces and decide which one feels like the size and shape of a piece you need. If you pull out a monster, don't be scared... You take charge, and the monsters will take off!"
I'd be curious to know what other games have become family favorites among parents of the pre-school generation.


  1. Paul -

    A couple that we like -

    Gulo Gulo - a manual dexterity game about stealing eggs from a little wooden bowl without tipping the "egg alarm" (a stick with a knob on the end, sticking up out of the "eggs"). The kids hae the advantage really, as their littler fingers tend to better at picking out the eggs.

    Der Schwartz Pirat ("The Black Pirate") - This may have one of the best looking game boards in our entire collection, adult or kids games. You have little wooden boats that you "puff" around the board trying to collect treasure, and avoiding the pirate (which you have a chance to control on your turn). The puffer is one of those bulbs you use to suck gunk out a baby's nose.

    "Monster Stomp" - Not very engaging game play, but the kids love using the big plastic shoe to stomp the play-doh monsters.

    "Pitch Car" - flick little wooden disks around a wooden race track. Great fun...but expensive.

    "Lego Heroica" - This is new as of 2011 - and a great introduction to dungeon crawls/miniatures. You get to build the "dungeon" (or dark forest, or haunted caverns) out of Legos, and then have your little lego guys fight their way through monsters to the end. The rules as written aren't the best, but with minor tweaks it turns into a great little game that can be played cooperatively or competitively. There are currently 4 different sets, but they can all be hooked together for one big adventure.

    "Lego Creationary" - This is basically "Pictionary", but where you have to use Legos to build the objects on the card you draw. Deceptively hard to do, especially with just the legos they provide in the box.

    Finally a word about "Kids of Carcassone", which you mentioned, and "Kids of Catan". "Kids of Carcassone" retains some of the game play of "Carcassone" - basically just the road building aspect. But still, there's some strategy involved. "Kids of Catan", on the other hand has absolutely no strategy - it's simply luck of the dice rolls, as much strategy as "Candyland" or "Chutes and Ladders". But, with "Kids of Catan", you do end up with an absolutely fantastic end product...a little 3 dimensional wooden city that the kids build during the course of the game.

  2. Thanks for all the great recommendations, Keith.

    Our youngest got Lego Creationary for Christmas, and I agree, it's a bit of a challenge - in a fun way - to play what amounts to three-dimensional Pictionary with Legos.

  3. I was just reminded of another game in this category - Abandon Ship (designer Reiner Knizia, artist Llyn Hunter, publisher Alderac Entertainment Group). I don't normally think of Reiner K. when I think of kids' games, but this one gets positive reviews from a number of parents.

  4. I just learned of a new game called Matching Lions (designers Acacia and Sonya Justice, artist Sonya Justice, self-published) that looks great for the four-year-old contingent. Its Kickstarter campaign ended successfully last month. Sonya Justice writes,
    'Copies of Matching Lions will be available for purchase in March 2013, after all the original Kickstarter orders have been shipped. The price will be $10 plus shipping. If you would like to be notified when they are available for purchase, please send an email to weird24seven@gmail.com with “Matching Lions” in the subject.'

  5. In her delightful review, Kim Vandenbroucke describes Lemonade Shake Up! (designer Shanon Lyon, publisher Peaceable Kingdom) as "good, quick, family fun that’s easy for the younger gamers to get and still has the pressure of a dice game for parents and older kids to enjoy."