Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Introduce Kids to Gaming with Gamewright

Looking to introduce younger children to the entertaining pastime of board and card games? Check out the offerings at Gamewright, a company that specializes in creating engaging games for kids and adults.
During the holidays game aficionados like myself often face the challenge of finding games to entice younger generations into the hobby. While my own son is a bit too young for even the most basic games right now (Kids of Catan is a bit too pricey for his first try at gaming), my nephews are in the prime of the “Age 8+” game category; finding anything for an even younger audience often becomes an endless and fruitless quest beyond memory games, Candy Land, and other kiddie fare at the local toy department. A good game for young kids should not only catch their interest and have enjoyable gameplay but also come at an affordable price tag so nobody feels bad if they toss the game aside, often a challenge for those of us immersed in the world of high-quality board games in the $25+ range.
Enter Gamewright, a Massachusetts company that’s been producing quality games for all ages for since 1994. Their game categories begin at age 3+ and move up from there, with substantial game selection at each age level and price points below $20.
Many of the lower age games focus on basic skills -- counting, spatial relations, cooperation, fine motor skills, color, shape, and set identification, matching, math -- all with interesting themes to engage younger players. Some themes even help confront typical childhood challenges, like fear of monsters in Go Away Monster! These games aren’t heavy strategic fare but they’re ideal platforms for parents to interact with children in a game-oriented play setting; they help foster an enjoyment of games clever parents can parlay into a future game-related hobby.
The offerings for older kids (10 and up) and adults range from light-hearted party-style games to serious, cutting edge board games.
Here are four Gamewright titles I’ve either played or heard about that seem perfect in both gameplay and price range for kids’ holiday gifts (or even gifts for creative adults):
Who Would Win? ($9.99, age 10+): Two players draw a card with the name of a real or fictitious “celebrity,” then convince a third player judge why their notable person would win a randomly drawn contest: for instance, who would win a figure skating contest, Darth Vader or William Shakespeare? An ideal party game for those who enjoy debating who was the better captain, Kirk or Picard, but with a wonderfully silly edge.
Rory’s Story Cubes ($7.99, age 8+): Part game part creative exercise, Rory’s Story Cubes consists of nine oversized (20mm) dice with a different line-art picture on each face. Roll them and use the simple icons in numerous ways to weave a short tale using any of several suggestions for solo or group play. The pictures include mundane items like a fish, house, question mark, and flower as well as more esoteric ones like a pyramid, alien face, and kid with monster shadow. Creative roleplaying gamemasters might even find ways to use them in devising off-the-cuff scenarios, encounters, and characters.
Knock Your Blocks Off ($15.99, age 8+): Each round players build castle-themed “structures” by matching the sides of six cubes they roll along set pattern rules. Then they have the chance to topple each others’ buildings using a special demolition die that determines how players attack. They gain victory points by completing structures first, spotting flaws in other players’ structure patterns, and successfully attacking and defending other structures. This seemingly simple game combines pattern recognition and manual dexterity.
Forbidden Island ($17.99, age 10+): A fantastic game for both kids and adults, this cooperative game comes from designer Matt Leacock, who also created the similarly cooperative yet far darker-themed Pandemic. The game sends the players as a team to a rapidly sinking island to retrieve four fabled treasures; each turn they must choose among several actions, including moving, “shoring up” flooded tiles about to sink, trading resource cards, and grabbing the treasure. The high-quality components include a plastic figurine for each of the four treasures, island location tiles with full-color original illustrations, location cards, treasure cards, pawns, and a flood meter. I’ve played Forbidden Island several times at the local library’s teen gaming event and, though it seems complex at first, quickly spirals into a suspenseful experience in cooperative gaming.
Alas, some of my favorite Gamewright games remain out of print, including Egyptian-oriented Mummy Rummy, the classic Honor of the Samurai, and the King Arthur-themed Quests of the Round Table.
Most Gamewright titles have garnered a host of official accolades, including Dr. Toy’s Top 100 Children’s Products and Games, Parent’s Choice awards, and Mensa Select honors. Online support remains limited to offering PDF downloads of most game rules (with no discussion forums or other resources beyond game marketing pages), but this enables parents or other potential players to get a feel for a game’s rules and components before buying the product.
Frequent Hobby Games Recce readers know my love for Gamewright and its Gamewright GameNight program that combines promoting family games with raising money for local school organizations. The company is not simply family oriented but community minded.
Friendly Local Gaming Store Deals
This holiday season don’t forget to check out your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) and the deals it offers this holiday season -- special discounts some stores frequently give throughout the year. Your FLGS is the best place to browse, try, and talk about games. It’s a good resource for game bargains, ideas for new games to play with younger children, recommendations for other age-appropriate games, and making special orders (thus avoiding the shipping charge with many online sales). Store discounts vary; some offer good sales during the holiday season to lure customers, but many offer discounts year-round through frequent sales, customer loyalty programs, or special orders. (Your mileage may vary; check with your local store for specifics on customer reward programs, discounts, and special orders.) For instance, my FLGS -- Game Vault in Fredericksburg, VA -- is running an after-Thanksgiving sale of 20% off most merchandise (through December 10), and has had all board games at 20% off since this past summer. Special orders usually arrive in-store in about a week or so, and, if the merchandise isn’t already eligible for an existing discount, it automatically gets a 10% “we don’t have to put it on the shelf” discount! Having extremely friendly, knowledgeable staff helps, too.