Turning My Kids Into Gamers, a Status Report
Fisherking
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Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Well, it's happening. Last night at the 4th of July fireworks, when I told my family I brought Coloretto along to pass the time, they cheered. Then my 9 year old created a special space away from the gathering to make sure we could game in peace. Then my 7 year old said he remembered when he learned the game, staying up late when we were at Grandma and Grandpa's house last year. Then my 5 year old came over, stepped on the cards that were out, but wanted to learn and play.

This event has too many good points to mention. Basically, it means they love gaming! It also means I am hardly ever hard up to find players! This year has been a key gaming year for us, and I wanted to document (in general) the path we took to get here.

Here are some basic things I believe about being a gaming dad:
1. I am not into using "my Kid can play this game" as a proof of their intelligence nor my parenting skills. In general, I prefer to wait until my child is good and ready to learn the game, including good reading skills if necessary, and the math skills required by the game.
2. I don't care if my kids learn something educational per se while playing a game, but I do expect them to use critical thinking (with guidance as needed), try to do the reading and math on their own, pay attention to the game, and finish it if they start it. (we are working on those last two points)

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1. Board Game: Go Away Monster! [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:2011]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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STATUS: Big Hit.

So, the first step in playing games with my kids was finding kids games to play. We've had mixed success with these orders. This one, however, was a total success!

I cannot say enough good things about this game. Sure, it is not really a game so much as an activity, what with no winning conditions. The main thing is: my kids each loved to play it when they were 3-5. My youngest (now 5) still asks for it regularly.

Comments from the kids:
"I like that you throw things" - 5 year old (we make sure to vigorously get rid of those monsters. it's a wonder i still have all the pieces)
"I liked choosing the different patterns of your room and stuff that matched with it." - 9 year old (interior decorator even as a 3 year old)
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2. Board Game: Gulo Gulo [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:636]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit

Everything they say about this game is true. There is actual strategy if you want it, and the dexterity part balances perfectly, giving smaller hands an advantage. As the parent, you have to work hard to win the game, instead of holding back. My kids loved it, though we don't play too often anymore. (Losing one of the 2 purple eggs was a bit of a problem.)

"I liked trying to get the egg without knocking over the alarm." - 9 year old

"...that you get to steal eggs." 7 year old

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3. Board Game: Incan Gold [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:519]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit.

"The gem game" as we call it. This was probably the first "non kids game" we played. It's been very amusing to see the kids personalities revealed through this game. One will tend to be brash and push their luck through all kinds of situations where us parents want to say "get out, you fool!" and another will get 2 gems and run back to their camp even without a single disaster pulled.

Still, this has helped them work through some strategy, as they try to self-correct their tendencies when they realize it didn't work. They enjoy the math involved in this game, dividing up the treasure equally and then turning in the "1"s for "5"s, etc. Plus, they really like the bits.

Stick the cards and the gems in a little bag, and this is an easy portable game for all sorts of vacations.

"I like the bad guys in it." 7 year old
"I hate it. I am scared the whole time." 38 year old wife
"It was good but we hardly ever play it."
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4. Board Game: Chicken Cha Cha Cha [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1035]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Kids like it, I don't.

Following up on Gulo Gulo, this seemed like the obvious next game. The bits and the artwork are great. I mean, I am pretty happy just to have multicolored wooden chickens in the house. A game is a bonus.

All 3 kids enjoy playing the game and will ask for it. I am not overly thrilled with playing it, however, for 2 reasons. One, while some say the memory balances out because their kids seem to have an ability to memorize the cards better than the adults, I haven't seen that in my family. I am not really some super memorization person (while my kids can memorize Bible verses, piano songs, and spelling words easily, it seems), but in this game, I find it pretty trivial to memorize the cards. Invariably, I could win this game if I tried...so I have to decided if I try hard or go easy and "forget." I am neither a "my kids must win to feel good" person nor a "I will play my hardest no matter what" Dad. I don't always make the optimal move, but I do try to win. Gulo Gulo is much better balanced for kids vs. adults in my mind.

Secondly, my kids take losing this game very hard. There is something about getting jumped by your sister's chicken and having her pull your feather out that upsets them. Now, learning to lose is a big part of playing games, and it is not just this game that causes tears when losing, but this one really seems to have a "take that" nature, especially since otherwise it is a good game for pretty small kids.

"I get tired of it." 7 year old
"OK." 9 year old
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5. Board Game: Giro Galoppo [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:1785]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: eh.

When this game is on the shelf, and when it is being set up, my kids love it. It looks so cool, being able to choose a horse and a rider is cool, having your own cards with symbols is cool. But when the game starts, the game gets a big "eh". I mean, the mechanics are elegant and smooth, the game progresses nicely, but it loses something and I haven't figured out why yet. Maybe the mechanics of playing cards doesn't feel like the horse race we were hoping to play. Maybe it's the dwindling choices as your cards run out and you get farther behind. Maybe it's the chaos of playing a card and having someone else's card mess you up. . Instead of fun, it seems to lead to frustration.

"It's interesting. I want to play it today. " 7 year old
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6. Board Game: Animal Upon Animal [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:577]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Non-official playing

I really like the idea of the game, as written in the rules, for Animal Upon Animal. I like how you don't just lose right out if you knock the stack over. I like how the dice let you have some variety on your turn. However, this game is too hard! I got this for my youngest daughter. She loves to get it out and play it...but never as a game, just as a stacking exercise. "Now you put a snake on Dad," "now I will put a penguin." etc. It's actually quite fun and game-like, but if we ever try to play the game, we never get more than 3-4 animals and the pile falls. Again, a game that leads to frustration and upset feelings instead of fun.
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7. Board Game: Der schwarze Pirat [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1849]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: A Mistake.

I couldn't wait to get my son (the 7 year old) this pirate game. It. Looks. Awesome. Blowing your boat around? Collecting treasures? I was amazed at this game.

But the game just doesn't work, and it's shame. I don't mean the mechanics. The mechanics of the game are OK, but seem a bit dull. But the blowing of the ships with the bellows doesn't work. My kids aren't strong enough to squeeze the bellows to get good movement. Or they flinch as they squeeze, knocking down things on the board. Then on my turn, I squeeze the bellows hard enough to blow my ship over. I guess that means it is balanced, but it turns out that none of us move, and the game takes forever.

My kids WANT to love this game. Like Giro Galoppo, they love the idea of the game, but I dread playing it!

"It's very good. I like it." 7 year old
"The blower didn't work and we only played it once." 9 year old (that's not true, I remember trying it at least 3 times before I gave up)
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8. Board Game: The Magic Labyrinth [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:652]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: TBD. but i think bad.

This is my most recent "kid's game" purchase. It could turn out to be a fun game, but I think I have officially decided to stop buy kids games. Really, Gulo Gulo is the only kids game with a gimmick that really works. The rest are neat ideas that don't actually make for fun gaming.

In this case, the idea is amazing. A whole new memorization game, and it just has this awesome aura around it. However, the game play itself is problematic. Drawing the chit out of the bag, there is almost always a player with a decided advantage--either right next to it, on it, or very close. Everyone else groans, and even though they give it a try, the person close to the icon ends up with the point. So, it's a lot of hooha where really it comes down to "who was closer to 5 of the pulled icons first?"

In the end, it seems that my kids, while they can't put it in words, know that these "kids games" don't work as well as a game. They are interesting diversions, but they don't compare to "Daddy's games."

"I don't really like it. I get bored of it." 7 year old
"It's a really good game." 9 year old
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9. Board Game: Hey, That's My Fish! [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:473]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Well-liked

For some reason, I think this was the very first game I played with my eldest, way back when she was 4 or so. I had read something about it being good for kids, and I was going on a hotel vacation where we'd be spending a lot of time sitting around, so I got it to try out. She got the mechanics of it pretty well the first time. For some reason later plays, she couldn't figure out how to make straight lines, and I ended up giving up for awhile. Still, it comes out now and then, all 3 kids know it and like it. They get the strategy of "grab the fish," they are getting the idea of avoiding being trapped, but they can't plan far enough ahead to stop it or to trap others.

"It's really fun because you can trap yourself. I like when other people trap themselves and I win. I like the three-ers" 7 year old
"OK I guess. I like getting fish." 9 year old
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10. Board Game: Coloretto [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:373]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Hit.

Well, playing this game inspired this list. My kids do like playing it, but I wouldn't put it as a huge hit because they don't ask to play. When I bring it with me on a trip and pull it out, they are happy to play it.

The best thing about this game is seeing when my kids make a really clever decision, placing a card on just the right pile to make someone else have to make a tough choice. They (the 9 year old and 7 year old) did this to me a few times in our last game, and they managed to tie for the win while I came in a distant 4th. It was great because I gave them virtually no pointers, but they managed to set themselves up while foiling me again and again. (and it wasn't a "let's get Dad!" it was making good choices that just happened to always put me in a bad situation!)

"I like collecting different color chameleons and if you have too many, uh oh, you lose a point." 9 year old
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11. Board Game: Zooloretto [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:438] [Average Rating:6.90 Unranked]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: 7 year old--favorite. 9 year old...frustrated.

I figured for all the coolness of Coloretto (one of my favorite games), I really should get Zooloretto. For myself, I never wanted it because I like the streamlined play of Coloretto. But I figured this put a kid-friendly theme onto a game they liked to play already.

My son really likes this game, and could play it a lot. The problem is, he frustrates the family with his style of play and no one wants to play it with him. In Coloretto, he can make some good choices. In Zooloretto, getting baby animals is just too irresistible to him. He will choose any pile he can to get male and females and get his baby. This usually means taking trucks with just 1 thing on them. (He won his first time playing with some well-timed babies). So, he doesn't play to win points, he plays to get baby animals. My daughter can't stand this...and my wife and I find it amusing but hard to play with. We are all foiled in getting baby animals, but still one of us usually wins. It's hard to describe, but let's just say it causes problems because while he is doing completely legitimate moves (so I can't really tell him to stop or that it is not allowed), it frustrates others. So it doesn't get brought to the table often.

"It's really fun. It's cute when the babies come. I don't like it when I have to put animals in the barn." 7 year old
"Not one of my favorite games but very cute when the babies are born. I like Coloretto better." 9 year old
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12. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:84]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: BIG HIT

Definitely a favorite of my son. And my nephew, who asked for Ticket to Ride Europe for Christmas (as an 8 year old). I don't think my son has won a game yet, but he loves to play and he can come pretty close.

The biggest problem with this game is that to play it "best" you need to be able to plan ahead a bit. Collect colors you want along your whole route. My kids can only really keep track a single link at a time. "Ok, now I need 4 red. There are no red. What do I do?" Once they get the set they need, they play it immediately. Repeat. It's not so much that they can't handle strategy, there is just a little much going on in terms of learning geography and seeing the different possible paths for them to take it all in. Still, I love the decisions the game forces them to make, and trying to get them to see the big picture. In other words, they fully grasp the mechanics (I'd say at age 6), but they still haven't seen the strategy.

"I like that we have to get to the different states in the USA" 7 year old (what parent wouldn't want to get this game after hearing that? awesome!)

"Me too" 9 year old
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13. Board Game: Sorry! Sliders [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1067]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: I might it more than them!

This is one of my favorite games. Maybe because I haven't been able to afford Crokinole, so this is my substitute. Still, I love the feel of the playing pieces and how they glide. So smooth. Like butta. I also like that there is some strategic play. The kids won't ask for it much. I wonder why that is? I will have to ask them...

"It's really fun it's much funner than Sorry. Well, if we were doing a graph chart, I would vote for Sorry." 7 year old (I'm confused)
"I like it but it's not one of my favorites. I like Sorry." 9 year old.
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14. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:165]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: 9 year old favorite. Others not interested yet.

Like many, Settlers was my gateway game and for most of my extended family (and friends) the only boardgame they need to play. I still like it quite a bit, but I'd rather try something different when I sit down to play. Still, it's basically a requirement, and a joyous one, to teach this to the kids. So far, 9 year old knows it and does quite well with it. She started when she was 7. She'll play that wholly-unrelated-to-Settlers game on AsoBrain against grandma over the Internet from time to time. I ask child #2 from time to time if he wants to learn it, and he is in no rush to do so. Of any game, this is one where I am starting to feel like I will have to force, err, strongly urge him. Maybe this summer when we visit Grandma and Grandpa, since they'll definitely want to play.
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15. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:30] [Average Rating:7.77 Unranked]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: liked by the 9 year old. Others not interested yet.

After Settlers was a success, we encouraged our eldest to learn this to, and it has led to a good number of fun 3 player games. She hasn't mastered the strategy yet, just picking cards that look interesting (she loves to attack.)and maybe I don't help things by throwing in a bunch of new cards so often. She is less frustrated when she loses this one than others, because she knows she hasn't quite unlocked it in her brain yet. Again, kid #2 shows a little interest in learning it "some day" but is in no rush.
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16. Board Game: Small World [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:110] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit!

My wife is an amazing gamer and can usually beat me in most games. But she has 0 interest in fantasy and 0 interest in attacking/war games. So I didn't get Small World for quite some time. But I do play games with high school students quite a bit, and I realized this game would be right up their alley. I was right about that. Once I got the game, I realized it was very easy to teach, and so when my 2 older kids asked to learn to play, I was happy to teach them. Thank goodness I did! This has been the biggest surprise hit with them. It took a few games to get over being attacked and losing, but now they understand that it is part of the game and kinda fun, actually. They love all the races, and usually make the mistake of paying huge sums of money to get the "coolest" race they are interested in. When 7-year-old asked why he wasn't winning, I explained how many points he was wasting. Now, he almost always take the first choice. He's also beat me straight up (3 player games) the last two games we've played. I do give tips of things to consider, and explain how a particular combo might be better than another, but both kids make their own minds up and love playing.


"I like choosing different monsters and attacking with them." 9 year old

"I like the different characters that you have." 7 year old
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17. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:335]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: OK for 9 year old.

I am sure that my 7 year old could learn this...maybe even the 5 year old. But thinking about the above games and then my kids reaction to this makes me realize how much my son loves Days of Wonder games! They really do have the best combo of bits, themes, and mechanics for my family. A simple little card game like this just doesn't draw them to the table asking "can we play Daddy's games?" So while my 9 year old learned the game and says she likes it, it's a rare game to play.
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18. Board Game: For Sale [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:220]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Above Average.

See above comments on this little card game, except add in 1 note: the kids love the art and the idea of getting houses. So this one gets a bit of a notch up on No Thanks in terms of their desire to play. Instead of "OK, dad, I guess I'll play" it's more like "Oh yeah, that's a fun one!"
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19. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:19]
Fisherking
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Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: 7 year old thumbs up, 9 year old thumbs down

I am in the camp that believes this game to be a great game but very hard to teach. I teach many games to many groups of people, and I just have a dickens of a time with this one! I haven't gotten a nice concise organized way to do it. I think because once it starts, it is hard to ask questions, things just start moving and everyone panics. And if I try to explain all the details, groups like my family will grow bored and just want to start playing.

So that was one strike. The other strike is military, which causes conflicts (just as it should, I guess). Lots of moaning when they lose military. And the overall strategy of what cards to look for, how to use the Wonder to form a plan, what cards are in what ages...these things are too above them yet. For some reason the 7 year old doesn't mind all that and thinks it is a cool game. It frustrates the eldest.
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20. Board Game: Carcassonne [Average Rating:7.44 Overall Rank:107] [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: eh.

Once the kids had Ticket to Ride and Settlers out, I thought I would give this one a shot. I don't know...it got one play and no requests for another try. I was surprised as I was hoping for great things. They seem to like puzzles. Mostly, they seemed stressed out at getting the right pieces to close their plans, and then frustrated when they didn't draw just the right piece. We'll definitely try again in the future.
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21. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:281]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit!

Just a few months ago I remembered Bohnanza, one of the first games I bought years ago. We just don't play it often as we fall victim to the cult of the new. But I took it on a trip with me, and the people who played it really liked it, and I realized duh, I should teach it to my kids.
It went over very well, especially with the 5 year old! We play with cards face up and I help manage them a bit and I progress the phases of their turns, but they make the trades, plantings and harvesting themselves, and they really dig it. The youngest is so proud to make trades and to plant the right things. It's been amazing to see her take to this game. She even won it on try #3! She will often take the deck of cards and play little made up bean games by herself, too.
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22. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:50]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit

Another new order for me. I had played it only once in a game group but I knew then it was a good game and some day I'd have to own it. Finally got around to it. My wife and I played 2 player and she really liked it, and wanted to play it with the (older 2) kids. Their reaction was surprising to me. There is a good amount going on but they seemed to get almost everything in the game, mechanically. Everything except the cards. They liked the idea of "you have people, the people need to eat, they want to have babies, they want to get resources and build huts." I think thematically, they didn't understand why in the world their people would want some cards. So at the end of the game when my wife and I lapped them, they were actually mad at me for not helping them understand the cards. (Writing this makes me realize I will introduce them thematically, showing them the "technology" and the "leaders" their tribes want). Despite all this, they both professed to love the game once they weren't mad for losing in a sneaky way. My 9 year old said "this is exactly the kind of game that I like."


"I like trying to survive, feeding my people, and getting houses. I like surviving games." - 9 year old

"I like all the things you can get: the wood, brickitudes, stones, and gold." - 7 year old (we decided to call bricks brickitudes...it just sounds cool.)
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23. Board Game: Forbidden Island [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:407]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: Big Hit!

A new game. We tried Pandemic (a favorite 2 player for my wife and I) with kids #1 and 2, and they really liked the idea of the game but didn't really get it. For some reason, I missed the boat on Forbidden Island, just kind of hearing "just like Pandemic" without hearing "no, a family version of Pandemic!" Once I realized this, I was excited.

I can't say enough good things here. It's really a brilliant reimagining of Pandemic. I was afraid it would just be watered down (har har) Pandemic, but instead it is a smooth, elegant streamlining of an already great game. I love how the mechanics play out: the 3 Water rising cards but the need to reshuffle. The island tiles and cards coming out of the game when they sink...these things make it into a truly tricky and hard game while making it family friendly.
Meanwhile, my kids LOVE the bits. The art and the names of the Island pieces just add this entire aura of story and adventure to the game. When it's over, they sat their and talked about it like they had just seen a classic action movie. (I keep thinking of Princess Bride, probably because of those cliffs). They like how they get a "special power" that only they can use. And the treasures are amazing. It took 1 play for them to grasp the importance of sharing cards rather than hording treasures for themselves. And while my wife and I definitely coach and suggest, we do try to let them take the 3 actions they decide on once we've discussed it.

I am so happy with this game!

"I like the people's different powers and trying to get the treasures. It's an awesome game." 9 year old

"I like how the islands disappear and flood and how we try to save them. It's very cool." 7 year old
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24. Board Game: Mystery Express [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:1042]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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STATUS: A beloved game we never play

I had high hopes for this game. And I will say that I like playing it. The funny thing about this game is that all 3 of my kids are just mesmorized by the idea of it. A murder on a train? You find the killer? They are just dying to play it. And yet, they haven't been able to really play it yet. It's just a bit too complicated for some reason. They can't remember what the different rooms are for, they can't keep track of the cards they have shown each round, and they need help filling out the tracking sheet. So it just doesn't work. Someday it will, and they can't wait for that. Some combination of not being able to handle it yet, mixed with the mystery element, mixed with the train theme, has put this game in their minds as "the ultimate game I cannot wait to play." It's quite funny.
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25. Board Game: Railways of the World [Average Rating:7.72 Overall Rank:54]
Fisherking
United States
Hawthorne
New Jersey
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Status: THE FUTURE?

I just know that my son is going to love learning the "next step" in Railroad games, and I think he might be almost ready to learn this. I hope so...this is my favorite game and I need some more players! I already wrote a comment about my inherent sexism in the next entry below, but I am course very happy and excited to play this with my daughters too. But Son has always had a thing about trains, train sets, and Daddy's train games, so I know he will love it when I deem him ready for this.

I'm not in a rush to get to it, as the play time is long and they will get antsy. Perhaps I will start them out on a short version where we only empty 5 cities or so. Still, I think I am a year away.
 
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