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Gaming with 2-year-old

Max Lampinen
Finland
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after some busy years...
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I have 2-year-old son and one of my favorite things to do with him is playing games. Here are some tips for other boardgamegeeks and their small geeks.

I think most important rules are that you have to be patient, don't attempt too hard games too soon and don't force your child to play! I bought first game for my son when he was just 1,5 years old. Nope. Don't do that. And I also made mistake of purchasing couple that he still can't play, won't advertise those either.. We have some 5+ games we play, but most of the times it's best to believe the packages. Anyway when he turned 2 we did start playing quite a bit of games, I'll tell about those.

5 first games we got (that were succesful):
First Orchard
Educational: You learn most of basic gaming concepts.
Fun: My son loves it when crow eats fruits. We let it eat them from basket if we win too. It's ok game for adult player too.

This is the game we started with. For 6 months or so it was pretty much only game we played. Not every day or anything, first we took it out maybe every 2 weeks or so, and once he got it, weekly or so. Nowadays it's the safest choice, a game we can play without almost any problems. It's a co-op game where you throw dice with colours and crow in it: with colour you can play fruit of that colour in basket, when you get crow, crow moves towards the orchard to end the game. Very nice components and you learn many gaming basics with ease (dice, colours, turns, winning/losing - even though my son always wants the crow to win).

Snail's Pace Race
Educational: Some basic gaming concepts and racing.
Fun: Not really. But you don't constantly have to remind your child what to do either.

This is way worse game than First Orchard, but racing is pretty imporant mechanic in some boardgames for older children, so it's good to start learning it too (First Orchard doesn't have any racing aspects). Throw dice, move snails. It's easy game to find. There are lots of versions of this game, we have a random supermarket one that has fish instead of snails. I was reluctant to have it in our collection at first, but I've come to realize that children do need games like this, even if they are "bad".

Here, Fishy, Fishy!
Educational: Colours, dexterity.
Fun: Yes. Occasionally it's honestly fun for adult too.

My son loves this game. You get to fish stuff with magnet rod. It's kinda close to a toy. But you also learn colours. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this over First Orchard for its educational aspects, but at least my son finds this one way more fun. Like Snails Pace there are cheaper versions of this too, but Haba is easily the best to be honest.

Memory
Educational: Yes.
Fun: My son doesn't really enjoy it, but suggests it every now and then based on car artwork alone.

Memory is surprisingly hard game. But you can teach it to 2-year-old easily. We have version with like 20 different cars in it, so we don't even turn the pictures upside down yet. It's difficult enough.

Villa Paletti
Educational: Depends on your rules. Can be.
Fun: Often.

This used to be in our adult collection.. It won Spiel des Jahres ages ago. But now my son owns it. Pretty much everyone I know plays this with one variant or another. So it's just logical to create a variant for children. It scales well to all ages that way. Even if you just take turns building it, it will teach patience. And when it falls down, you can laugh. No need to take losing seriously, that's the lesson of Villa Paletti.


Next steps:
Richard Scarry's Busytown: Eye found it! Game
Educational: Everything you can hope for really.
Fun: I have to constantly remind my son what to do, but he loves the game so much anyway. Searching for items is fun for adult too!

This is the best children's game for 2-3-year-old I've seen so far. If you were to buy only two of them, I'd get this and My First Orchard. This one is co-op too. You spin and results are: move 1-4, pigs eat food (if they eat everything, you lose) or draw a card and find that item from huge board. (So it combines racing, My First Orchard and Memory, great next step) I was reluctant to try this one yet, as the box says 3+ but turns out my son loves this game. Sometimes he can't focus the whole game, but that's part of being a child really... Great great game anyway.

Formula 1 Grand Prix
Educational: Counting
Fun: My son suggest this game very often, but it's not his favorite. He just likes the cars I think. For adult it's very average experience

We have this, but any other basic racing game is fine. My son loves cars, so this theme is good for us. Throw dice, count, move. Simple as that. (This game also has pit stop rules and stuff like that, but we just left it out) 2,5-year-old can count the pips of dice already. My son hates to count 4-6 though, so this is good for practicing that (as big roll is good, which rewards him for making the effort to count high).

Gulo Gulo
Educational: Colours, dexterity, keeping many rules in mind
Fun: It's bit hard for my son, but we often have fun with dexterity part.

This is the latest game we've started learning. Like Eye Found It, it has lots of aspects from those 5 first games, but combined, so I feel it's a good next step too (even though box says 5+). The dexterity part is of course the main draw here. You got to take proper egg from basket, without dropping the stick. Fun game, we've played it 5 times now, and my son almost gets it.

Tac Tac Jack
Educational: Nope. Some strategy, but with 2-year-old not really.
Fun: Fun for both of us.

This is one of my sons favorites.. I actually bought this for my adult collection (I love dexterity games, like my favorite Riff Raff), but as my son was helping me unpack it (as he often gets to do with new games) I had a sudden thought of trying it out with him. We did, and he pretty much got it right away. We don't actually count points, but he understands that minus points are bad and chopping the bark is good. It's one of his favorite games now, and I moved it to his collection. I think it's better as childrens game anyway, to be honest.

We've also been learning Richard Scarry's Busytown: Busy, Busy Airport Game
Educational: You learn to keep lots of small rules in your head, which is a nice skill, but otherwise not really
Fun: Can't tell yet. For adult it's average. My son doesn't fully get it yet, but I suspect he'll love it when he does.


..but it's bit too hard. It has fun aspect where you get to place the flight destinations around the room though. It's not nearly as good as the other Richard Scarry game, which inspired me to buy this, but I'm sure it will be a hit later. The components are A+.


For Christmas I've bought my son Monza (it's bit more advanced racing game, even though it has colours instead of pips - it should teach planning, plus it's Haba game so it looks great), Loopin' Louie (heard lots of good about this, and my son loves funny games like this, should be a hit) and my personal favorite:Mein erster Spieleschatz. I found it accidentally when browsing amazon.de for Haba games. It has 10 games for 3-6-year olds in one package. Components look awesome and it should be good bang for buck. I'll write another report when my son turns 3 next year and tell how we liked these games. If you have suggestions for games we could play, let me know!
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