Bored Games (Children’s Edition)

by Steve Bowler on December 31, 2007

in board,nitpicking

My daughter, who is currently only three and a half, is turning out to be a fanatical gamer. She loves watching us play video games (she lacks the motor control for the majority of the games out there still), or playing them if we can find something that suits her, such as a golf game or maybe a driving game.

But mostly she loves playing board games. Candy Candy Land (her title) used to be her favorite, but lately she’s taken to her newest obsession: Hi-Ho Cherry-O. Now, as excited as I am about playing games with my daughter, I have to say I can’t stand either of these two games. Mostly because after about five minutes of study, I realized they’re not games. They’re random self-playing sets wrapped in shiny foil.

Don’t get me wrong, like everyone else on the planet, I have fond memories of Candy Land. The cookie figures, the candy cards, getting a double orange, even landing on the “shortcuts,” they’re all there.  But holy mother of pearl, is it a horrible game. The problem is that there is no game. Each person takes turns randomly drawing a card which advances them one to six spaces (however many colors there are, it’s not even worth the time to look up), or jumps them way ahead or way back if they get a candy card. That’s it. There are shortcuts, and penalty squares, but neither player has any control over any action in the game. There is no strategy. There is no repercussion for actions, inaction, or mistakes. There is no risk taking. The game, quite literally, plays itself.

To make matters worse, it is actually theoretically possible for the game to never end.  It has been said that every time the deck is shuffled, a pre-determined result is made:  a 1-in-3 chance Player A will win, a 1-in-3 chance Player B will win, and a 1-in-3 chance the deck will need to be reshuffled without a winner declared by the final card.  At one point, my wife had to stack the deck after being forced to reshuffle five times because they had exhausted all cards in the deck due to being jumped back towards the starting point with the random candy cards.

So, I was really excited when she got Hi-Ho Cherry-O for Christmas. Finally a new game to play! But as it turns out, it’s really no different in concept to Candy Land. When you boil down the game to its core feature set, each player takes turns spinning a random number generator which tells them how many pieces to put into (or remove from) their basket. I was going to write a small ap that would emulate the game, to see if it could be improved with a couple of rules changes, but stopped when I realized what a colossal waste of time that would be. Because without any element of risk or strategy, it would still be the same result.

And while I’m beating this horse to death, allow me to bag on her other favorite game, Monkey Madness, for a minute.  It’s colorful.  It has a ton of monkeys.  It’s nothing more than a random grab bag.   The idea is one player reaches into a bag and draws out a monkey.  If it’s not your monkey, you take another turn.  If it’s your monkey, it’s the other player’s turn.  Repeat until one player has all of their monkeys on the board.  This is a coin flip game.  They literally marketed, packaged, and sold a game based off of coin flipping, but put it in a shiny wrapper for kids.  I’ve paid close attention to how all of our games boil down, and it is a rare game that doesn’t end with just one piece left in the bag; the final turn being a 50/50 coin toss between the last two colored pieces.  Statistical probability pretty much ensures this outcome.

However, before I go on too long (too late!) about how awful all of these things are, my daughter loves these games, and that’s the whole point. Look, I get it, I’m too old for this shit.  But what I’m wondering here is: Is there room in the market for a children’s game (3+ and up) that has risk or strategy in it? Can we make a game that’s simple enough for them to grasp and entertain, but have just one element of strategy? Is risk/reward too tough of a concept for a three year old to understand? Could a child understand and enjoy even the most rudimentary style rock/paper/scissor level of strategy?

Or does a game like this exist already and I haven’t heard of it?

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