Let’s talk about games.
I just wrapped up an incredibly awesome weekend at GenCon, one of (if not the) largest gaming conventions in the world. I’ve been an attendee for the last five shows, and I love it – not only do I get to play tons of new games, but I get to see what’s new and what’s coming. This is always interesting to me personally, but recently it’s also become seriously interesting on a professional level; I’m bringing in gaming on a much larger scale to my library, with the whole-hearted support of my supervising staff, so attending the show this year got me SUPER excited to introduce some new stuff to our patrons.
At the show, I was chatting with a friend of mine who mentioned he’s been enjoying my write-ups of the teen programs we’ve done for summer reading. I thanked him, and we got to talking about his niece, who’s 10 years old and just starting to discover games more complex than Candyland (she’s also started reading a bunch of new comics – I feel like this girl is going to be cooler than me when she grows up). My friend mused about what some good choices would be for her, that would be complex enough to be interesting but not too long or crunchy.
After much thought, I’ve picked five games that I think are excellent choices for the tween gamer set. I settled on some basic parameters, based on my understanding of this age group: generally simple but not easy, with shorter play times (average about 90 minutes), 2-5 players, and fun themes. I’ve also tried to include a wide variety of kinds of board games. Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything great!
1. Forbidden Island
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 30 minutes
Suggested Ages 8+
This was the first title that popped into my mind. It’s a fairly simple cooperative game, where you work as a team to recover artifacts and escape a landscape that becomes more treacherous by the turn: the waters rise as you hunt for artifacts and shore up barricades. Players take on different roles with different skills that help the group, and the group wins when all artifacts are recovered and everyone escapes from the helicopter pad. You lose if too much of the board sinks under the water. The board is made of tiles with different locations on them, and artifacts are recovered by drawing cards and collecting four of a kind. The thematic sequel, Forbidden Desert, is largely the same but with a few mechanical variations that make it worthwhile to own both versions.
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 45 minutes
Suggested Ages 8+
Cutest board game ever (or at least in the top five). In this game players are cultivating plots of bamboo by irrigating them, while satisfying the appetite of the Emperor’s Panda who wanders the board. Players draw cards with different objectives on them (growing bamboo to certain heights, collecting segments of different colors, etc.) and collect points when they complete objectives. Colorful, cute, and a good introduction to resource management.
3. Mice & Mystics
1-4 Players, but best with 3-4; Playing time est. 90-120 minutes (includes ongoing play)
Suggested Ages 9+
Mice & Mystics is a good way to test the RPG waters with a kid – it’s a little bit board game, a little bit role play, and a lot of fun. Unlike a lot of games of this type, there is no gamemaster; players all take the roles of mice in an adventure party (they didn’t start life as mice, but the story is a very strong element of the game so no spoilers here!). Major party roles are represented, with cleric, warrior, wizard and rogue, as well as a few extras, being options. Players work as a party to fight rats, bugs, and the occasional cats, collect loot, and accomplish missions. If you’ve played Wrath of Ashardalon, it’s similar in feel, but a little simpler mechanically.
2-8 Players, Playing time est. 60 minutes
Suggested Ages 10+
Originally I had a paragraph here about the game Labyrinth, which I still think is a brilliant game that belongs in every library, but the more I thought about it the more I decided I wanted to include something that was a little more complex, a little more unusual. RoboRally is a great game that flexes your spacial reasoning by using the best device possible – frantic robots in an abandoned factory. Players navigate their robots with cards that have movement printed on them, trying to hit multiple checkpoints on the board. The tricky bit is that the board and the other players are all ALSO moving and changing, and sometimes what you think is the perfect path ends up being an explosive disaster.
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 60 minutes
Suggested Ages 11+
I sat on this one for a long time before making a decision (hence the delay on me actually publishing this post). I wanted this list to be representative of games of all kinds, so I wanted to make sure I included a card game of some kind on here. I got stuck because I don’t actually play that many card games! I got some great ideas from fellow gamers, but not many I had experience with, and I wanted to be able to personally recommend something I had experience with (and I’m sorry, but while some of you might have gotten started playing Magic: The Gathering at this age, I can’t in good conscious include something with such a high monetary commitment attached to it).
I’m going with Gloom for lots of reasons – it’s a great storytelling game, which lets the players spin as detailed a story as they want to…or no story at all. It’s very flexible in terms of how much players want to engage with the stories that they tell with their cards (each person has a family that they try to make as miserable as possible by playing different event cards; you can play happy cards on other people to sabotage them, and the person with the saddest family at the end wins). It’s a fun, hilarious, intuitive game (the cards have transparent spots to show how many points they’re earning just by stacking them).
I struggled a little bit with this list – was I picking games that were too basic? Too simple? Was it a boring list? And yes, these games are easy to play – but what it ultimately came down to was, they’re good games. These are all games that I would and have played myself; with the exception of Labyrinth, they’re games I have in my own home library (and that’s just because my mom won’t let me take her copy). These are all great ways to introduce a kid to games outside of what they might normally be exposed to, but they’re also great family-play games and great for kids who already know they love to game. In short: these are good games. I hope you get a chance to enjoy them!