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Board games: King of Tokyo

Board games: King of Tokyo


My little guy has been sick this past weekend, which has meant a lot of board game time. One of our favourites has been out on the table for the past three days: [amazon_link id=”B004U5R5BI” target=”_blank” ]King of Tokyo[/amazon_link].

This is a great sort-of co-op game for 2-6 players. I say sort-of co-op – you are battling each other, but you’re taking turns destroying Tokyo. When you’re in the middle of Tokyo, you take all damage, and when you deal damage, you deal it out to everyone equally.

It’s great fun to be a giant monster like the Kraken (above), or Gigazaur, or one of the others. You get to buy extra add-ons like the extra head, a spiked tail – things like that. The games go quickly, and turns aren’t too long either. My son liked playing this when he was 5, but now that he’s 6, he really, really enjoys it. This game will need parents to play too, but it’s a perfect after-dinner activity. Minimal set-up makes it practical for quick games too.

Watch the Tabletop episode on King of Tokyo to get a sense of the gameplay.


Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

Three Great Problem-solving iPad Games for kids

One of my son’s favourite type of iPad game is the well-designed problem solver. It’s not something he gets jump-up-and-down excited about, but they are the ones with staying power.

Our favourites right now:

Monument Valley

Walk a small girl through an Escher-like landscape, twisting and turning pieces of the structures to reveal new pathways. It really challenges ideas about up and down, directions and perspective. There’s a beautiful soundtrack that draws you in, as well as a flock of mysterious birds that appear throughout the level. Gorgeous game that’s won many awards for good reason. My son has played this one through countless times. Monument Valley game by ustwo


Odd Bot Out

How Martin Magni, the indie developer behind Odd Bot Out, managed to imbue a single block with an eyeball and legs with a personality, I don’t know. But my son loves this one. You walk your block bot around obstacles using switches, cables, other bots, and magnetic blocks to finish each level. The difficulty doesn’t ramp up too quickly, which is a failure of so many of the other problem-solving games we’ve tried, so my 5 year old has been playing this one for weeks. Odd Bot Out by Martin Magni



This one appealed to my five year old right away, in that the whole premise is sneaking around obstacles and distracting monsters by sneezing snot they chase after and eat. That sounds unbelievably disgusting, but somehow the cute animation style makes it hilarious and not all that gross (really). The tinkly, tweepop soundtrack makes a nice change from your average game music too. Where does the problem solving come in? It’s all about bouncing snot off walls at certain angles, planning your route, and patience. Gesundheit! game by Matt Hammill


Board games: Castle Panic

Board games: Castle Panic

castle panic

One of our favourite games at the moment is [amazon_link id=”B002IUFSPM” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Castle Panic[/amazon_link]. It’s a co-operative game, which makes a nice change from straight I-win-you-lose competition. 

You and your fellow players are attempting to defend your castle against marauding monsters who are approaching from all sides, making their way from the forest to your castle walls. There are little stand up pieces to represent castle towers and castle walls that sit in the centre of the board, which is divided into coloured zones and rings. There are no tokens to move every turn, rather each player tries to knock out as many monsters as possible using the cards in their hand: a selection of colour-coded archers, knights and swordsmen. There are some special cards that allow a player to throw monsters back into the forest, tar monsters to keep them from moving forward, and rebuild walls. All monsters move towards the centre, and more monsters are chosen and placed on the board before it’s the next player’s turn. The monsters win if they can knock down all your castle towers. The players win if they defeat all the monsters with at least one castle tower still standing. All the monsters. And there are a 49 of them.

A full game runs about half an hour. Our 4 and a half year old can play his turn without a lot of help from us, despite not being able to read the cards (each one has a picture, and I think he’s starting to recognize the words now too). We let him pick the monsters for each of our turns, which keeps him involved in each turn. Because it’s a co-operative game, there is discussion every turn about who will use what card and when, and trading as well. Each player rolls the die to decide which zone the new monsters will be placed in, and we also let him do these rolls as well. Special monsters that trigger other events, like adding even more monsters or moving all existing monsters in another ring, keep that part of the turn a bit unpredictable. After playing it just about twice a day for a couple of weeks, our son has all the attributes of the special monsters memorized (‘Mummy! The Orc Warlord moves all monsters forward!’), as well as getting excited when the Fortify Wall card comes up.

It’s a good mix of simple game play and unpredictability, making it interesting enough to play again and again. There’s a [amazon_link id=”B009YQGES8″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Wizard’s Tower expansion to the game[/amazon_link] we haven’t tried out yet, too. It’s also one of the cheaper ones out there, retailing for about $35.

The age range on the box suggest 10 and up, but I think a 6 year old would have no trouble playing unaided. Also labelled for 1-6 players, and it really is entertaining for just 2 players. That’s a bit critical, because many of these more interesting board games don’t work very well with fewer than 4 players. This one is an exception.

Watch the Castle Panic episode of Tabletop to get a sense of the gameplay, and because it’s a pretty hilariously accurate representation of most of our own Castle Panic games.

Fireside Games



Why we love board games

Why we love board games

elliot game

You must have figured out by now that I’m a nerd.

I mean, look at my Instagram feed (craft beer, board games), my reading habits, my Pebble watch, and the fact that I buy my son David Tennant-era Doctor Who trousers whenever possible.

It was with some excitement that I realized our son was old enough to play board games with us. Through the generosity of some equally nerdy friends, we’ve borrowed and bought several games lately that have become part of our daily routine.

Some kids love to cut paper, colour, or make crafts. My son will sit and play four rounds of games every morning. This amazed me initially, as he is so physical; previously, unless an activity involved running or wrestling, he was not interested. I also love that playing games works on math, word recognition, motor skills, and social interactions – I mostly wanted to do something with him that didn’t involve me getting any more bruises!

As we head in to this last, seemingly unending stretch of winter, I’m going to be posting a series of reviews of the board games we’ve been playing. My husband and I have gotten back in to playing games in the evening as well. It’s definitely helped clear some brain fog and reassured me that three years of sleep deprivation did not actually turn my mind into oatmeal.

I’m talking about German-style board games mainly, which are along the lines of Settlers of Catan, Civilization, Axis and Allies, Carcassone, Smallworld, and others. You’re building out worlds, developing civilizations, trading resources, playing out wars – that kind of thing. Not Sorry! or Trivial Pursuit or something like that. Often one adult game will run for an hour, or more, depending how long you take to think through your turn. There are small person versions of many of these games, and I’m going to be talking through the ones we’ve been trying, and which ones we’ve loved.

But first, some great resources for finding out about good board games.

Board Game Geek, is, as you can imagine, a deeply overgrown thicket of information. However, one of my favourite elements of this site is their user-generated GeekLists of Netflix genre-type specificity. I found She’s Asleep! Games for Time Poor Adults with Infant(s) an excellent list of quick games for adults. Digging through the forum archives, we also found good advice on new games to try with our 4 year old.

Tabletop is a YouTube show about games produced by Wil Wheaton. I was resistant to sitting through half an hour of watching people play a game, but it’s actually quite good. If you’re not sure how a game works, watching the related episode of Tabletop will give you the best overview possible.

Research is key, because these are not 99¢ apps we’re talking about here, but shelf-space cluttering $40-$80 purchases. We often play at least two or three different games a day, however, both with our son and without. Non-screen time for all of us is a good thing.