What’s this all about?
Playing Cosmic Encounter at the 2014 Game Camp. Still a massive hit.
I’ve been running game camps for kids for a little under a decade now, and a big portion of what success I’ve had with them is due to adding board games to a mostly miniatures-based program. Board games, especially designer board games (or Family Board Games, or Hobby Board games, take your pick..) fill up the gaps in a program where I’m setting up some big miniatures game and need to keep kids occupied for an hour or more on one side of the room.
I’m going to start recording the board games we use at Camp to keep kids engaged and having fun, and the reasons why I choose them. I envision this piece to be an ongoing narrative that I update on a semi-regular (quarterly) basis. There’s just too many to try to create an all encompassing list; once I’ve compiled a few, I’ll move this up to a page tab.
Let’s get started with my FALL of 2014 Recommendations if you are looking to find games that will play well with a group of kids from about 11 to 18 years in age, with a few hours to kill here and there. I’ll try to do another one in January 2015.
It’s no small secret that Cosmic Encounter is my favorite board game of all time. I’ve mentioned it a few times here and there. What was a surprise was just how readily younger kids take to this game. There’s something about the Nomic quality of the changing Alien powers, the component mix from FFG, and the generally silly atmosphere. I would recommend the FFG version over all others, for the artwork alone, but also the range of choices that add to the customization. I think CE’s easy to perceive goal, plus ever-changing nature, makes it far more accessible to younger children than I gave it credit for before.
Get Bit was a charming little surprise I discovered through Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web show. It’s a simple positional race game not unlike GMT’s earlier Formula Motor Racing (which is another great candidate for a kid’s camp, but I’d play it with Matchbox cards). Players put their cute plastic robots in a line in the water, followed by a shark with a taste for robots. Single number cards (from a finite hand of cards) are played that move the robots around in order. The last robot in line gets “chomped” and loses a limb. When he loses all limbs, he’s out. It’s no suprise WHY kids like this– it’s all about cartoon violence, of course, but there’s also some great decision making and strategy implied in the card play. Immensely popular.
Tsuro is another one of those great discoveries that came into my radar through the Tabletop show. I knew it existed, and I knew that it had been out since 2006, but I had never played it. I already had Metro by Queen Games, which reminds me of it quite a bit. Essentially this is a path-finding puzzle style game where the players try to keep their dragons on the maze-like path built by placing tiles. It’s simple and easy to pick up, and very visual. The theme is a little more exciting than Metro (which is about streetcars), so I would recommend Tsuro over Metro.
It’s a little too easy to call The Resistance “a Werewolf/Mafia variant” but people often do. Certain elements are very similar to Werewolf, to be sure– such as the day/night turn and turn-based mechanics. However, the addition of the cards and the “going on a mission” theme really gives this humble little game a great framework that (I think) forces the players into using deductive logic much more than Werewolf ever will. Werewolf games can devolve into silliness rather quickly– which is why I don’t recommend them that highly for younger kids, they might take accusations too seriously and have their feelings hurt. The Resistance takes a similar riff and adds the cards and mission element on top of it, which tends to distance the younger players from the J’accuse! flavor of Werewolf. Notes to adults: don’t even attempt to run this if you don’t have at least six committed players, and do NOT take the sixth spot yourself. You’ll need to be in charge for the first game, anyway.
Code 777 is a modern reworking of Mastermind (in some respects). It is a good design for 2-5 players, and I suspect 4 is optimal. Each player has a Scrabble style rack with three tiles on it– tiles are a certain color and number, or have a certain symbol behind them. The players have a grasp of certain facts– there are only so many of this tile, or so many of that tile, or so many blue tiles, etc. etc. Cards are played with questions on them that help the players deduce their own sequences. That’s right, their own– the tiles face outward; so the other players know only what every player except themselves are displaying. The players can glean a lot of knowledge to make deductions with from what they see in every tile rack except their own. Code 777 is a much older design (from 1985 at least, and maybe older) but has recently been reprinted by Stronghold Games. This is a great game for problem solving and deductive logic; it never fails to keep kids engaged.
Room 25 is a great maze style game where the maze starts built and flipped over and gradually is revealed by the player’s tokens exploring the map through trial and (often) deadly error; the players assume a set series of roles (six, maximum) which are quite colorful but functionally identical (sadly; I think this could be improved upon in an expansion). The game can be played cooperatively (boo!) or semi-treacherously (yay!) where some of the players have hidden traitor roles. The theme of the game is very similar to a series of Canadian Horror/SF films called Cube/Hypercube etc. Players have a limited series of actions, two per turn, which either affect their own player token or the token of whomever is on the current tile with them. Room 25’s goofy imagery and characters, the changeable map, added to a soupçon of treachery makes this game a perennial favorite with younger teenagers.
ROLL THROUGH THE AGES
Roll through the Ages is the game that got me started on the notion of adding board games to the miniature-heavy events I was running for camp. For some reason, over the years, I have had my share of children who suffer from Asperger syndrome and even high functioning Austism. These are special cases– they want to be engaged but they sometimes can’t engage at the same level as other children. Sometimes they quickly grow bored of the main activity. I was in such a bind several years ago and on a whim, I pulled a copy of Roll Through The Ages, which I had bought that week on an enthusiastic recommendation from Tom Vasel. RTTA is a great game– you are really playing yourself more than an opponent, so there isn’t a lot of social interaction to stress a kid out, and lots of challenges and decisions to make as you try to score high by rolling for civilization advantages and building great works. It’s an elegant little dice game with great chunky components. Anyway, to get back to my story, I had an Asperegers’ kid. He was bored and being disruptive. I handed him Roll Through The Ages and explained very quickly how to play it. It took him all of 5 minutes to figure it out (all of my kids are smart!). He was entranced. He played RTTA non-stop, for the rest of the week. I had half a pad of score pads after he was done. I didn’t care, he was happy as a clam and said it was his best camp that Summer. Go figure! It was the success of this desperate experiment in board gaming (totally unplanned, I just happened to have it with me that day) that led me to include board games as a regular part of the curriculum.
ZOMBIE DICE/MARTIAN DICE/NINJA DICE/LUCHADOR DICE/CTHULHU DICE…
This is a catchall for games that are all somewhat thematically similar, play fast and easy, and feature a series of specialized, thematic highly colorful dice that interact with each other in a specific way.
The granddaddy is Zombie Dice, where the players are playing the roles of the Zombies in a Zombie movie, looking for brains; there is also a very similar game where the players are playing the role of the Aliens in a UFO invasion called Martian dice. You can play a Ninja on a special mission in Ninja Dice, Re-theme Zombie Dice with Hunting Dinosaurs and you have Dino Hunt Dice, and finally play a game of re-themed Put and Take with Cthulhu Dice. The mechanics differ from game to game, but they all are rich in theme, very colorful, very simple and resolve and play very quickly. This kind of game handles 3-4 kids comfortably. The up side is they are all very affordable and you can probably buy all of them if you have a large crowd of kids. Maybe even throw a dice game tournament, who knows?
I could go on and on with this post but I think I’m going to limit these to about 8-10 at a time so I don’t feel rushed. The games in this posting have all been played at kid’s camps and although some games have failed to garner support, these have all done pretty well since I started. I hope you find these suggestions useful