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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.


Gus on the Go giveaway

Gus on the Go giveaway

gusonthego splash screen

You lucky people! After seeing how much we loved their language app, the generous developers behind Gus on the Go have offered 5 apps to give away to my readers. You can pick which language you’d like too. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada, US and UK, and you can pick iOS or Android.

Go forth and enter!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


App review: Gus on the Go French

App review: Gus on the Go French


Language vocabulary apps – it sounds like a chore just thinking about them, let alone suggesting my son should try one. Memories of boring lists illustrated with dated line drawings pop up in my mind.

The other day, however, I woke up from a nap (bliss!) and I was body tackled by my 4 year old, asking me whether I knew the word for watermelon in French. And, well, no, I didn’t.


Hang on, he didn’t know any French when I fell asleep. What happened?

Apparently, my husband had downloaded Gus on the Go for French on our iPad.

Through a combination of picture matching, repetition, and games, Gus on the Go covers an amazing amount of vocabulary. In that hour I had been sleeping, Elliot picked up 30 or more words, and the next day another 20. The third day he skipped all the instructional elements and went straight to the games – there was hardly any loss of knowledge at all. I know this is an example of preschoolers being little sponges, but it amazed me.

The process is this: your child touches simple illustrations, organized into sets like home, animals, food, transportation, etc and hears the words spoken by a native language speaker. Once they’ve completed some simple matching quizzes, the games are unlocked. To be honest, these are more matching images to the spoken words, but in the guise of helping Gus the owl fly up a tree, helping a horse win a race, capturing the right objects with bubbles, and that sort of thing. Getting most of the matches correct wins a trophy and unlocks more games.


Even though children progress through different vocabulary sections, the games still throw in a few from sections they’ve already completed. So when they’re capturing numbers with bubbles after hearing the French words, a cow will appear, or a pair of shoes, to keep their knowledge of the previous sections fresh.

The best children’s apps are navigable by a little person from the start, and Gus on the Go is right up there. He pops it open and is deep in learning new words within a minute. It’s been incredibly well designed, both in the speed of forward progress and navigation. My son chooses it quite often all on his own, which is an impressive badge of approval. He loves to show off his skill with the app to all his friends and family.

I checked out the developer’s website when I was writing this review, and they have a lovely selection of free language printables for downloading including number flashcards, mix-and-match clothing vocabulary blocks, zoo animal fortune teller, and a transportation wheel.

Incredibly, Gus on the Go is available for 22 languages: French, German, Cantonese, Spanish and more, on both iOS and Android. For only $3.99, this is an incredible deal for a solid language app. Suggested age range: 2-6 years.



Playdough impressions game

Playdough impressions game

playdough titles

We stumbled on this game by mistake, but it occupied my 4 year old for an hour – I don’t think he’s wanted to play any game for an hour before! Make your own play dough or use store-bought, it doesn’t matter. I also love that this game just uses things you have lying around, there’s no fancy equipment. In fact, all you need is play dough and some things to press into it, like chopsticks, utensils, lego, small figures, toy cars – that kind of thing.


Shape the play dough into a large pancake, about an inch thick.

All other players close their eyes, while the first player picks two objects and makes impressions of them in the play dough.

When they’re finished, they ask everyone to guess which objects made the shapes – players are encouraged to try making impressions with objects to see what looks like the original.

You can either leave all the possible objects on the table, or for older children, put away the objects and have them guess with no help.


App review: Endless Reader

App review: Endless Reader

endless reader

One of our favourite apps last year was Endless Alphabet, a well-made game that managed to make spelling both funny and interesting. Good quality animation and silly sounds together with creative word choices (‘humungous’, ‘bellow’) kept my son coming back to play.

We were thrilled to find a new app from Originator, Endless Reader.

Using a similar format, Endless Reader gets children to pull the letters into order, each one making its phonetic sound, as in Endless Alphabet. This app goes one further, however, and offers a sentence to assemble as well. The word the child has just spelled is waiting to be put in the right place, as is two or three other words. These ones are ‘sight words’ – like the, and, is and to – that are hard to sound out phonetically, don’t have meanings that are easy to illustrate in picture form, and come up often. The goal is for the child to recognize these words by their shape, and learn how they work in context.

Once the sentence is complete, the narrator reads the sentence and the monsters act it out. There is a repeat button, and my son often watches the animations two or three times after completing a sentence.

endless reader 2

This all sounds quite simple, but what sets it apart is the quality of both the narration and animation. The whimsical monsters are perfect – funny, a bit weird, and incredibly flexible. The voice acting is professional and clear. I’m disappointed so many app developers are unwilling to pay for proper voice overs; it is so frustrating to listen to badly read stories or even mispronounced words in what is ostensibly an education app. That’s one of the reasons the Endless apps are such a joy – the narrator sounds like she would be great fun to play with.

The initial app is free, with packs of additional new words costing $2.99. Download Endless Reader from the App Store.