Hi Ho Cherry-O has been around since the 1960s. While I have heard some talk about it as one of the standards they grew up with, I had never heard of it. We bought it for our 3 year old and have played it mostly with 2 players, and sometimes with 3.
The goal of Hi Ho Cherry-O is to be the first to pick all ten cherries from your tree. On their turn, players spin a spinner and see which number of cherries it lands on. The player then picks that many cherries from their tree and puts them into his basket.
Along with cherries, the spinner also has some penalty spaces which require you to take cherries from your basket and put them back on your tree. Landing on a dog or a bird means losing two cherries, and landing on the spilled basket means taking all the cherries from your basket and putting them all back on the tree.
Like Candy Land and other games meant for 3 year olds, there are no decisions to be made by the players. Players spin the spinner and react to it. While this type of game would be boring for older children, 3 year olds have a good time with this, as their brains are busy learning other aspects of game playing like taking turns and counting.
The game comes with a spinner and a raised board made of cardboard that has the cherry trees. Each tree has holes in it, which allows the plastic cherries to sit without sliding around. The board also fits the plastic baskets used for putting the collected cherries in. The board, basket, and spinner all work pretty well and are of decent quality for a children's game.
My problem comes with the plastic cherries. Oh sure, it's a bit goofy that the orange cherries are called oranges, the green cherries are called apples, and the blue cherries are called blueberries but they're all shaped like cherries (nevermind the fact that blueberries don't grow in trees), but that's not the issue.
My concern with the cherries is that they are very small, and very round. As with many families, our 3 year old who plays the game is not the only child in the house. These cherries are very dangerous for a baby or young toddler (the box even warns of a choking hazard). Even without a baby in the house, it is very easy for these cherries to get spilled, roll, and get lost. This is a problem we just don't have for the most part with other games targeted at the same age group. Given this, we have had to keep this game out of reach unless supervised by Mommy or Daddy, and is part of the reason this doesn't hit the table more often.
I have discovered that far too many children's games suffer from what I call "the Infinity Problem", that is that the game can theoretically go on forever. Hi Ho Cherry-O is one of the worst offenders in this area. The problem is with the penalty spaces on the spinner. The dog and the bird are annoying, in that they cause you to lose 1 or 2 cherries, making you feel like you are going backwards. But the worst is the spilled basket which causes you to lose everything. There is nothing preventing this from happening over and over and over.
At the risk of overanalyzing and of losing my readers, I did a bit of mathematical analysis. I'll keep it brief. There are 3 penalty spaces on the spinner, out of 7 total spaces. That's a 3 out of 7 chance of losing cherries. Sound bad? It gets worse. If I got it right, mathematically the spilled basket has an expected value of losing 4.5 cherries on average. Putting this together with the other spaces on the board, this means the expected number of cherries each spin is 0.21! This means on average it will take you 5 turns to get 1 cherry, or 50 turns to get all 10. Again, this is on average, meaning it could take longer.
See the Home Variants section for some ways to fix this.
Losing one or two cherries doesn't seem to cause too much frustration, but losing all your cherries does. Imagine you have picked nine of your ten cherries and the spinner lands on the spilled basket, causing you to start all over. This just seems like too much to deal with, especially for a 3 year old. Consequently we never play with the rule that the spilled basked causes you to lose everything (see Home Variants).
The game comes with a co-op variant involving a 9 piece puzzle of a bird. The goal is for the players to work together to pick all cherries off the board before the bird puzzle is completed. Every time the spinner lands on the bird space, you assemble one piece of the puzzle instead of losing a cherry. We have tried this and found it doesn't work for us. First of all our 3 year old gets very excited by the puzzle and wants to assemble it. We tell him that we don't want to put the puzzle together and that just made him upset. He would cry "I want the bird, I want the bird"! We tried a variant on the variant where we let him assemble the puzzle first, and spinning a bird would require the player to take a piece away from the puzzle. This worked OK, but then we ran into problems with taking cherries off the trees. In the standard game, one of the things kids learn is that you only take cherries from your own tree, never someone else's. In the co-op game you can take cherries from any tree. This was very confusing. The gameplay seems to work, but the way the components work doesn't fit elegantly with the rules learned in the standard game, so it fails as a whole.
With several children's games I have found that I have had to tweak them to make the game fit our needs better. In this case, I found the original game unplayable due to the level of frustration and the fact that the game seemingly goes on forever.
The biggest barrier to the enjoyment of this game is by far the harsh penalty spaces on the spinner such as the spilled basket space that causes you to lose all your cherries. The way we play at home is that we change the values of the penalty spaces on the spinner.
Dog = Lose 1 Cherry
Bird = Lose 1 Cherry
Spilled Basket = Lose 2 Cherries
I haven't played this variant myself, but
has created a variant that also eliminates the losing everything problem, and also adds some player interaction: adjusting Hi Ho Cherry O so that it actually terminates. Looks to me like children just turning 3 might be a little young for this variant, but that older children (high side of 3 and up) would probably like it. Also keep in mind this variant involves taking cherries from other players, so this could be more conflict than some children may be able to handle. I think as long as Mommy and Daddy try to make sure everyone is losing cherries equally, this variant could be a great way to teach kids about conflict in games.
I help designers improve their games.
Game Learning Skills
It seems so simple, but the concept of taking turns is not easy for a 3 year old. Like many games, this game helps children understand how to take turns.
Spinning a spinner
This was the first game we introduced that involved a spinner. Nowadays the spinner is not as popular as it once was, so I suppose this is a less valueable skill for growing a young game player to know. However learning to spin the spinner involved exercising some motor skills like learning where to put your fingers, and how to spin the pointer without just turning it.
The game is great for 3 year olds who are mastering their counting. Each time the spinner lands on a cherry space, the player must count the number of cherries on the space and then count the same number of cherries from their tree.
This is true of most games, but it's a very important skill. In Hi Ho Cherry-O everyone has an equal chance of winning. So there is lots of opportunity to watch Mommy and Daddy win and lose. Watching Mommy or Daddy win without grandstanding, and lose without making a scene goes a long way to teaching the little one that it's only a game, and paves the way for when they get older.
Hi Ho Cherry-O has some good elements to it, but they are outweighed by its problems. The penalty spaces are too harsh which can make the game take forever and can be frustrating. The co-op variant sounded interesting, but upon playing it, it didn't work. I don't often say things like "Has anyone playtested this?" but with this game, the out of the box rules really felt like they hadn't been. The very small cherry pieces can easily get lost and can be dangerous for very small children. These problems can be fixed with some house rules and parental supervision, but even so the game just feels OK and doesn't hit the table very often. There are better games out there.
Hey Dooof...nice job.
I was wondering if you could geekmail me your thoughts on the expected value of 0.21 per spin. 6 of the wheel spots are easy...its that darn 7th lose them all...
One of my first BBG reviews was about Hi Ho Cherry-O, and I wrote:
It doesn't take long to see the problem. The winner could win in four spins. You could also play until the Earth crashes into the Sun, or until your young child finds something (anything) else to do. Making a house rule that limits or eliminates putting cherrys back on the tree could still make for a long game.
By request, here's how I calculated the expected value of cherries per spin. I am a little unsure about the way I handled the spilled basket space, so I welcome any corrections.
The spinner has 7 spaces and there is an equal chance of spinning each one, so expected value will be the average value V of each space.
V(1Cherry) = 1
V(2Cherries) = 2
V(3Cherries) = 3
V(4Cherries) = 4
V(Bird) = -2
V(Dog) = -2
That's the easy part. Now to figure out V(Basket).
When you spin a basket you lose all your cherries. This means you could lose 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9 cherries (if you had 10 you would have won already). Assuming you have an equal distribution of cherry losses, V(Basket) is the average of these.
V(Basket) = (0 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9) / 10 = -45/10 = -4.5
Putting this together then
E(Spin) = (V(1C) + V(2C) + V(3C) + V(4C) + V(Bird) + V(Dog) + V(Basket)) / 7
= (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 - 2 - 2 - 4.5) / 7
= 1.5 / 7
By contrast using the same calculation method my home variant has an expected value of 0.86, so the game ends on average in 12 turns instead of 50.
Yikes... this is way too much math for a children's game review
I both love and hate this game.
I hate it because I've yet to win against my 3 and 4 year olds.
I love it because it's the first game I got to see my 3 year old Hulk smash and run away screaming at after losing a bucket full of cherries.