Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Okay, I'm going crazy posting, I know! 

I want to first mention that the recipe here for Rosemary Maple Popcorn is so insanely addictive, and would make such an amazing holiday gift, that I practically want to guarantee it. Not that I know how that would work exactly. But seriously. Please try it.

And next up, because you spoke and I listened (I'm talking to you, Jed), here is Recommended Games Part II: The Younger Years. I do understand that you are not all quite ready for The Strategy, and that you have younger children in the house still (sigh), and that Sorry and Guess Who from the previous edition of Recommended Games really might not fulfill all your gaming needs. (I'm assuming you have Uno already. And a deck of cards.) Plus, we had such a good time reminiscing about our favorite old games (some of which we still play). I spared you Mousetrap, despite my children's hearty nostalgia for it, because it is simply to significant a pain in the ass to deal with. It just is. But these are all great, in their own special ways:

Harvest Time
If the idea of a "cooperative board game," makes you want to weep with boredom, well. . . weep away. But we got this game when Ben was very small and very panicky over the idea of "winning games." We played it hundreds of times then, and hundreds more times when Birdy was the same age, with the same panic (and we still play it when our littlest friends are over). It's a sweet little game where you work together to get the harvest in before winter comes--but I'm warning you: you have to put out a lot--a lot of drama and enthusiasm and suspensified horror--or else it is deadly dull. When it's over, you can offer each other the products of your harvest ("Who wants a jar of my famous carrot pickles?") even though you won't find this detail in the rules.

This is a sweet little German tile game, where you roll the dice and race to spot the dwarf dressed in that same trio of colors. It's pretty and simple, and also Birdy always called it "Gorvin Dice," which we loved for no particular reason. "Dwarf" turns out to be a tricky word for her, given that just yesterday she asked if it was only his helpers, or of Santa himself was a "dorf." That website seems to have lots of lovely little German games. For instance, Orchard, which looks to be a pleasanter version of this old favorite:

This was another favorite of the early years, and we played and played until I poked a hole in my head with a fork and my liquefied brain dripped out onto the floor. Did I ever tell you how once, when I was doing some consulting for Hasbro, they showed me all their games, and when we got to this one, I announced, "Oh! Hi Hi Boring-O! Believe me, I've played it." Always a class act. Still, this game is all about the little plastic cherries. That's, like, the most exciting thing ever, and so your small children will love it.
Now this, on the other hand, is an unboring game. It is similar to--but easier than--the regular version of Mastermind, and it requires the same process-of-elimination strategy. It is probably the first strategy game we ever played with either kids, and they loved it mostly because the pieces are shaped like animals and the colors are great.

Slamwich is like a fancified version of that old you-snooze-you-lose card game Slap Jack. But the sandwich theme is lots of fun, and the game cards doubled for Ben and Birdy as the makings of a sandwich shop, that they ran almost continuously from their pretend kitchen. That was actually kind of a long time ago, which makes me feel a little melancholy.

Sleeping Queens
I love Gamewright games (Rat-a-tat Cat is another good one, as is Zeus on the Loose) and this one might be the one we played the most when the kids were younger. It's got a little bit of memory, a little bit of strategy, some silliness, and great art. Plus, it only takes about 20 minutes to play, which makes it good for those useless little windows of time that my life seems to be pocked with.

Mancala is a beautiful, beautifully simple game that grows with kids: they can play it before they understand about strategy, but they will play it differently after. Plus, the glass pieces are so pretty, as is the wooden board, and it all has such a lovely, classic feel to it--like it could be a million years ago, and there you are in your cave playing mancala. If you know what I mean. Obviously, don't get this if anyone in your house will be tempted to put the marbles in their mouth or nose.

Speaking of classics: right? Oh, Jenga. Michael and I used to babysit kids in Santa Cruz, for whom "Jenga!" was their all-purpose exclamatory swear. And boy did we play a lot of Jenga with them. It's a totally physical game--you need some dexterity, a little bit of a steady hand and common sense--but it's not a heavy strategy one or anything. And it's fun for everyone when all the pieces fall down (Ben and I played just last week at a family gathering, and it was as much fun as ever.) Plus, the pieces double as great, all-purpose building blocks, and get tons of use.

Pick-Up Sticks
Speaking of classic dexterity games. . . we have this exact set, and love it. And the only thing I would say about this game is that very young children can become incredibly frustrated when other very young children insist that this or that stick moved some imperceptible amount. What I'm saying is: I think an adult needs to play to keep things humming along peacefully, and this works for me, since I love pick-up sticks and happen to be incredibly good at it (kidding, though not about liking it)--but if you're looking to lock your kids alone in a room with a game, don't make it this one.

Squeezed Out
Aka Booby Trap. This is a lovely version of this game, and looks very much like my childhood one that I still have and that, in fact, Ben and I just played, given that he's home sick today. You try to extract pieces without the spring moving, and if you pick a truly bad one, then they all fly up, and it's very exciting. Again, not for the extremely faint of heart (it was too much for Ben until he was about 5 or so), given the suspense factor and the possibility of losing somewhat dramatically.

Speaking of the suspense factor: we spent years playing Operation with the batteries removed, as it was simply too nerve-wracking for the kids to anticipate the awful buzz of their own clumsiness. But later, when they were maybe 8 and 5--or 7 and 4--they played a ton, and enjoyed it. We have the Homer Simpson edition (I'm not sure why, and it appears to be $90 now!), and the buzz is accompanied by "Doh!" along with other classic Homeric exclamations, which is a good or bad thing, depending. If dexterity completely eludes your child still, maybe hold off on this one (or remove the batteries).

As always, please chime in in the comments about your own favorites--or if you have questions.



  1. Catherine,

    I just got caught up on your posts. Sorry i missed the contest, but great ideas! Question, how long do you think the popcorn would last for? How far in advance can I make it for presents? Thanks!

  2. Even with the batteries out i just can't get into Operation. But I love Jenga!! And I think I will get Sleeping Queens for J as a gift! Love these posts!

  3. Teafortwo4:25 PM

    I love our copy of Hi Ho Cherry-O. It's from my husband's childhood. And, may I say that the brussels sprouts recipe ROCKS! That pretty much all I had for lunch Saturday. A plate of luscious sprouts. I'm making them tomorrow to take to our next door neighbors' for the last night of Chanukah. Oh, and I made your latke recipe for last night, when my friend and her daughters came over to decorate my Christmas tree (an annual event). She hadn't planned to make any this year, and was touched that I made them for her.

  4. Anonymous8:52 PM

    Gawd, how I love your posts! Keep em coming! I look EVERY DAY to see if you maybe added another one. You make me laugh. :oD

  5. A word for Hisss, a great game that worked really well for my boys (still does, at ages 5 & 7). No reading required--you pull a card and try to build snakes by matching colors. I'm sure there are official rules about the winner has the most or the longest or the whateverest snakes but my kids just love making them. So do all their friends who come over. Love the game. And can't wait to try the popcorn and am not sure if I hope my kids like it or not.

  6. Literally just made your Salted Caramel Popcorn recipe this weekend! Ate it all instead of giving it for gifts. Must make more! And I'll try this new version, too!!

  7. My younger sister and I used to play Perfection, which has the suspense/pieces flying about aspect I am imagining Squeezed Out to have. We also played a lot of bingo. For whatever reason, we had several versions (we didn't have kid versions). We also played a board game where the dice were enclosed in a dome in the middle. I remember that we enjoyed it, but I don't remember what it's called.

    Thanks for sharing these. I'm so tired of looking at all the same games at the stores and not wanting to buy any. (I *did* recently find Blokus at Goodwill. We haven't played it yet, but my daughter loves making designs with the shapes.)

  8. Oh, my sister and I also loved to play a game where you got big plastic credit cards to buy things like refrigerators and washing machines. I don't even know what the point of it was, but we played it a lot.

  9. Okay, the dome/dice game is Trouble (looking at it online, I'm not sure why we liked it). The shopping game is Bargain Hunter.

    Mainly, we liked making up our own games to play with existing boards and pieces. That's probably incentive enough to own a wide variety of games, as my daughter does the same. (We "played" Clue the other day: basically playing house with the pieces. When I was younger, I played boarding school with our Clue board.)

    I might stop commenting now. :)

  10. Mancala looks beautiful, and I'll have to store it away in my memory for when my kids get a little older.

    One game that my girls love playing is Rapelli (a quick Google search shows me that it's available from Timberdoodles.com). The actual rules of the game are a bit tricky for my youngest daughter, so we make up our own. It's easy, fun, and no small parts to worry about.

  11. Elena8:19 AM

    Dear Catherine,
    I actually have a question about hunters and gatherers game. Do the game pieces themselves have language on them? Or can I get the Russian version (since I can translate the rules myself) and still have my family play it? I am the only one who can speak Russian, so I would not want to get the game if there are game cards that have writing on them. Thank you,


  12. Just ordered Zooloretto and Ticket to Ride as Christmas presents for myself... I always try to buy one new board game a year and was so happy to have recommendations!!!

    Thank you!

  13. For young ones, I highly recommend the Curious George Discovery Beach game...and not just because FamilyFun honored it with a Toy of the Year Award ;-) My two boys (4 & 5) love it, and it's fun for mom & dad as well. Plus, everyone looooves the Tidal Wave!

  14. Thank you, guys, for the feedback and recommendations. Keep them coming. . .

    Erin, I think maybe 4 days max for storing the popcorn (I've put it in the mail, but sent it priority.)

    v: Perfection *still* scares Ben and Birdy.

    And Elena, as long as someone can read the rules, there is no writing or reading involved in the game itself.

  15. And CAMP! Seriously-- you guys would love it-- like a trivia pursuit with wildlife, and with different question levels-- our 2.5 year old can play and so can my 41 year old husband!
    PS- The popcorn? Just made it to my ultimate solstice gift giving list-- right up there with your GRANOLA. Honest to Pete-- you are like a lil' elf in my ear:)

  16. PS-- why do kids have to grow up so fast? I mean, I know that's the whole point and all...but when you are all done and your little one is about to be three and your biggest about to be 12....sniff, sniff. I've missed your words...glad my self-imposed no-blog-time has gone by the wayside (as has no chocolate, no iced-coffee in working glass cups...ahem...your fault on that one)...:)

  17. I highly recommend CAMP for young and old. If your family loves the outdoors, animals, nature- you will love this game. It's sorta like Trivia Pursuit, but each question has a series of questions you read depending on the age of the person. Best game I've ever bought!

  18. My almost-four-year-old and I like Cranium Cariboo. The object is the find one of six rubber balls hidden behind little doors. When you line all six up in their little tray, they open a treasure chest.You draw cards which have a number letter or color on them and use a key to open a door with one of the corresponding features. Out of all our games (and we have quite a collection) this is his favorite.

  19. Cheryl11:00 AM

    Love your writing (became a fan with Wondertime magazine a few years ago) and thoroughly enjoy your blog. Several of my best, most-requested recipes have come from you - most recently that amazing Maple-Rosemary Popcorn!!! I read about it Friday and made it first thing Saturday morning. Everybody loved it and it's going to be the gift I give to everybody this year, along with the regular Salted Caramel Popcorn that I got everybody hooked on last year.

    As for board games... love them! Family game night was such a big deal in my house growing up - and it gave me plenty of activities later in college that may or may not have been accompanied by a tasty beverage or two. (Tourrette Boggle, where each word had to be exclaimed in a funny accent and used as inappropriately as possible, was a huge favorite.)

    I strongly recommend the card-based game, Guillotine. It is small enough for traveling, super-easy to play, and hilarious. It is based on the French Revoluton and the artwork is great: cartoony and clever with historical references and a slightly twisted (but not too inappropriate) sense of humor. It is no more complicated than collecting a card at the front of a line, but each player has the ability to play "action" cards (ie. reverse, skip, move a card, etc.) to rearrange the line in a way that will score him or her more points and possibly screw over somebody else. Point value is based on how unpopular that character was to the French masses, so Marie Antoinette is one of the highest scorers but the Hero of the People earns negative points. The card that makes it all worthwhile and that will totally buy in Ben and Birdy is the Piss Boy, shown carrying a big splashy bucket of ... yep. He's only worth one point but never fails to prompt silly giggling. Although it's not part of the official rules, we always try to manipulate the line in order give the Piss Boy away to someone else. There's always a great deal of humor when he's in line as everybody tries to avoid getting stuck with that card. It is such a fun, funny game and if anyone wants to up the educational value, it can be a starting point for a discussion on the French Revolution and the uprising of the lower class. (If you want, be super-nerdy and connect it to Les Miserables or compare it to the increasing separation of the classes in our own society, especially during this economic downturn.) But we like it for the silly pictures. And the Piss Boy. Definitely the Piss Boy.

  20. Just gave SET and RUSH HOUR JR. as game gifts, they are really good thinking games. Thanks for the game roundup!

  21. Thank you, Catherine!

    My wonderful wife is now terribly jealous that I've gotten a "shout-out" on your blog -- she is a big fan of your writing and read your book repeatedly throughout her last pregnancy (hasn't grabbed it yet this time, but we're just entering the second trimester...). Thank you for the game ideas--Santa might be bringing Hi-Ho Cherry-o and Slamwich next week! And lots more to follow...excellent.

  22. My kids *loved* Cariboo when they were preschoolers. It was the first game that they would play on their own, without adult help. Now, at age 6 and 8, they love Set (as do the adults in the family).

  23. Anonymous7:30 PM

    Dear Catherine
    So I read this post and went back to find the salty caramel corn recipe - made it tonight and bagged up 15 bags for family and friends, and right after dinner opened the first bag to start feeding my new salty caramel corn addiction! You are a bad bad woman! Thank you so much for a delicious recipe. Happy Christmas to you and yours xoxo

  24. Shauna11:55 AM

    Along the lines of Harvest Time... our kids love playing the cooperative game "Max". The players have to help the creatures (squirrel, bird...) get safely to their homes in the tree before Max the cat catches them.

    An aside - thanks Catherine for this blog, I always enjoy it!

  25. Sarah2:49 PM

    I second the recommendations for so many of these games: Hisss, SET, Slamwich, Mancala, etc. To the list (of games for younger kids), I'd add Yikerz, a game with a configurable board and magnetic pieces that you have to place strategically in order to avoid them all joining together.