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Subject: Good Games for Youngsters, All in One Box rss

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Randy Cox
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This is a continuation of my recent dabblings into Family Pastime games. We have ordered over 20 of these co-operative games and I'll be reviewing them as we get them played. The majority of their games are for younger children, but their line of about 100 games stretches from age 3 all the way to adults.

Manufacturer age range: 4 to 7
Manufacturer players: 1 to 12
Price (on-line): $10.45
Fairplay Games time: 20 minutes

Early Years is not a single game--it's four different sets of cards (thin tiles, more accurately) and most of the games can be played with different sets of rules, thus making for a dozen or so games in the box.

Components: Don't expect HABA components here. You're paying only ten bucks, after all. What you get are four sheets of die-cut, unpunched full color cards (each with 35 cards). Each card is about an inch and a half or so square, so they're not big cards. You have to gently separate them before the first game. Also, you get four plastic baggies to put the different card sets in. Which brings up a point--Family Pastime games always include little baggies and rubber bands to take care of storing the game after you punch it. Nice touch.

You also get four sets of rules (one for each of the sets of cards). Some card sets come with multiple rule sets to cover varying degrees of complexity.

Rules: Each set of rules is very short and understandable. As a rule, the younger the audience, the better Family Pastimes writes the rules. Therefore, these are good rules.

Play: There are actually four games in the set (not including variants). We have played two and I've read the rules for the others.

Animal Train is a good game for the very young. Our three-year-old likes it and his five-year-old sister tolerates it well. Each card shows either half of an animal (back end of a rhino or front of a kangaroo, e.g.) OR part of a locomotive (there are four parts to the engine). The engine cards are the timing mechanism. Players take turns drawing two cards and placing them face up on the table. If any animal pairs are observed (both halves of the elephant, e.g.), then the player takes those two and puts them together and adds them to the line of completed animals.

The "train" part is due to the fact that each animal is standing on a flatbed rail car. So you're building a train of animals as you go. When locomotive cards are drawn, they are placed at the front of the train. When the fourth locomotive piece is drawn, the train is complete and leaves the station with how ever many animals are attached at the back. Play again to see if you get more or fewer animals on the next train. Takes about 10 minutes and, no, there is no strategy. It's just a fun train building exercise for the kiddies. I give it at least an 8.

Story Time is a story telling game a la Once Upon a Time, only a lot quicker and much more fun. Because it's cooperative, there is no "stealing" the story line or such, as in OUaT. There are two types of cards, challenges and tools. Take all the challenges and shuffle them and place seven face down in a line. At the start of the line, add the "Once Upon a Time" card and at the end of the line, place the treasure card and the "The End" card. That's a 10-card story line with 3 of the cards face-up.

Take the tool cards and deal out 12, distributed as evenly as possible amongst all players. You might as well put them all face up at this time. In turn, a player turns up the next challenge (e.g. a dark forest or a castle bridge to pass) and then the group figures out a way to logically get past the challenge with one or more of the items on hand. Any player's item can be used by the on-turn player. That player then extends the story, explaining how we get past the obstacle ("The monk with a lantern led us through the dark forest and we parted company with him"). Then it's the next player's turn. There is no hand replenishment.

Eventually, you get to the treasure card and need to use one of your tools to open it ("...and we used the hatchet to break the lock on the treasure, opened it, and found our treasure. The end.").

This game is quick (10 minutes or so) and our kids love it. I might give it a 10 based on how much our three-year-old loves to play it. The down side is that there are only 35 cards, split between tools and challenges, so each game is similar to the prior one and our kids tend to use similar solutions that have worked in the past. So while it would be nice to have 100 or more cards, the kids might just like it because of the comfort level of knowing how they'll approach some of the situations.

It is fun to see how kids come up with solutions. For instance, our daughter's solution to getting through the dark night was to carry the bunny with us. See, it's light colored and reflects moonlight. We altered this to make it a magical, glowing bunny.

I have e-mailed Faimly Pastimes to see if they have a full version of this game with more cards. The closest they have is Not An Island which has a science fiction theme, so that won't work for a few years.

Alphabet Soup is a game about letters. Each tile has two letters on it and, like Animal Train, the idea is to connect a line of consonants in order and a line of vowels in order. There are other options which surely are more fun than the base game, but I haven't yet investigated them.

Fuzzy Math is much like Alphabet Soup and Animal Train, only with numbers. Again, there are other ways to play (adding in mathematical symbols to make equations, e.g.) and both Alphabet Soup and Fuzzy Math can be played in a dominoes fashion. So there is potential here, I just haven't looked into it enough yet.

Verdict: For 10 bucks, just Animal Train and Story Time makes it worth owning for us. I don't know how much use it will be two years down the road, but for now it's hitting the table a lot. Recommended.

The curmudgeon has spoken, so be the word.
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