As a child I remember playing Scrabble, Chess, Monopoly (that one never ended well) & my favourite Cluedo (although after having a tantrum my little brother once flushed the lead piping down the toilet and that was the end of that!). But that was about it really, my parents weren’t into games, and although friends of mine sometimes had more exciting games to try, and certainly introduced me to my love of video gaming with their magical machines (MegaDrive & N64 specifically), it took a bit longer for me to get into board gaming. In my twenties however, I met my now husband, and on one particular afternoon, he and my now brother in law, introduced me to a couple of games and I was hooked.
I would say that it was an easy hobby to get hooked on when you were a strapped for cash twenty something, but lets be honest, if you’re going to own some board games, it quickly becomes expensive! However, now with more and more board game café’s popping up all over the place (when I started out in the UK, Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, was one of the only ones we heard about – and remains our favourite when we can get the chance to head down) it’s becoming easier and easier to get together with a group of people and spend, sometimes, several hours, playing a hugely vast array of games. We often pic up a bargain at charity shops or car boot sales too which has helped us grow our collection.
Before & just after we had our first child, we used to hire out a space in a local pub and play a couple of nights a week with friends, even once hosting a charity board games day. However, as our first became a toddler and our second arrived, being able to sit down to a board game for longer than a couple of minutes before the kids were bored and/or tried to eat some of the pieces, became more and more difficult!
So inevitably we were keen to introduce our kids to board gaming so we can play as a family. However, making sure they start off child appropriate with our current collectionwas a bit more difficult! Here in the UK, Superbowl starts at around midnight and so as an annual tradition, a group of us get together in the afternoon and play games before attempting to stay up till the end of the game! (Again, more and more difficult to do once children arrived!) but I digress, the games we played this year, included a three and a half hour Zombicide mission. Not really 2 & 4 year old appropriate! So what could we buy for the kids to enjoy?
Firstly, since our oldest was 2, we’ve been fans of Orchard Toys for their wide selection of games for toddlers and primary age children. Things like colourful versions of Snap and others, that engage children to perform simple tasks like remember where matching cards are, or do basic counting etc. But they’re not quite as engaging for us after the umpteenth time of playing! But having said that, they are really fab for introducing learning as playing with basic board game formats, see www.orchardtoys.com for more information.
However, the three games below are ones that we’ve found are a little bit exciting to play for us whilst still being simple enough for them to play! There are many other options and Junior versions of popular games, but these are three of our favourites.
Uno Junior – admittedly, similarly to Monopoly, expect family clashes as the competitiveness kicks in! But the Junior version of the classic game is very similar to the regular one, but with easier to hold sized cards, and brightly coloured animals for them to be more easily recognizable in the game mechanic. This game is suitable for 3+ but we play it with the 2 year old who pretty much gets it. And it won’t be long before both will be able to play the regular version and we can start throwing down some plus four cards when they least expect it…!
Cluedo Junior – Cluedo was one of my favourites as a child (even after we lost the lead
piping...) and then as an adult I liked similar mechanics such as Mysterium and 221B Baker Street. So I was very excited when I saw a Junior version. The game mechanic is slightly simpler than the usual game, and instead of solving a murder, players have to try and work out, who ate the cake, what they drank it down with and what time they did this. The four year old grasps it completely, the two year old can do so if we play collaboratively, but being able to just cross off corresponding pictures rather than writing notes (and it not being about murder..!) make it a great introductory game & one the kids request to play a lot.
My First Carcassone – Carcassone was the first game I played with my husband and brother in law that taught me that board games didn’t just mean Monopoly and Articulate (although don’t get me wrong, I still love games like Articulate for a gathering or party!) and its relatively easy to learn mechanic always meant we saw it as being one of the first we taught the girls to play. So when we saw there was a child friendly version for players age 4+, we immediately ordered it (our eldest was only three months old so it was a bit pre-emptive but by age 3 we were able to teach her how to play as part of a team with us!). Again, it’s just a simplified version of the regular game. It won the 'Spel van het Jaar' Award (‘Game of the Year’, Europe’s highest accolade for board games) in 2012, the ages 3 – 6 category. By placing tiles you create roads and add your ‘meeples’ to completed roads to claim ownership, with the player who uses all their meeples first, being the winner. Placing the tiles is simple enough and they enjoy creating the little farms and parks as they call them!
There are lots more out there and so there are plenty to choose from, to enable younger ones to start getting involved in board gaming. It won’t be that long I suspect, before they join us in playing Zombicide, Dead of Winter and Elder Sign, and introduce us to others we won’t have heard of! I came to board games quite late on and some of the board games can be quite pricey (although the re-playability of them does make them good value) and even if you’re not aware of one near you; with Googles help you may be surprised at how nearby there is a board games café, where you can go in and try out some new games or play an old favourite. Either way, board gaming is on the up in terms of fashion after being out of favour for quite a few years, whilst their electronic counterparts took centre stage. Which is great for this busy Mum of two, even if it does mean that two tiny versions of myself are already starting to win at my own childhood favourite games!