Board games are great gifts and wonderful devices for friends and family to connect. This year, we have reviewed 20 + different games and I've singled out several favorites to recommend. Please note that most of these recommended items are review copies which were provided to me without cost. The exceptions are Mastermind and Appletters, which I purchased for my family.
My review “board”, if you'll excuse the pun, consisted of myself and a small horde of gifted children ages 4-14. Players were asked to evaluate games for a number of factors, and rate them on a scale of 1-10. This year's clear winner was Run Wild. This card game looks suspiciously like Uno, and does share some similarities with that game, but also is a bit like Rummy. The action is fast and furious, and our testers gave this one a high fun rating across the board. Young gifted children may be able to understand the rules, but could possibly become frustrated if the competition is too fast for them. One four year old game tester was happy to play nonetheless, but she might have enjoyed the game even more if she played with agemates as opposed to tweens and teens. Run Wild is one of many cool games from Out of the Box. Playing cards come in a handy metal tin which is extremely compact and portable. It's a great size for throwing into a backpack or suitcase, and a full game can be played in about 20 minutes. It is fast and easy to learn, and takes no time to set up.
Other top games include:
Niagara is a very unique new game from Rio Grande games. This game has very cool props, and the gameboard fits over the box top and bottom to form the “waterfall” that gem collecting players have to do their best to avoid. Niagara does require 15 minutes or so to learn the game and set up the fairly elaborate board and props. The objective is to get your tiny wooden canoes into the river and collect as many plastic “gems” as possible. Those closest to the falls are most valuable, but can lure you too close to the edge! Players loved the novelty factor, and also the fact that they could “steal” gems from other players in certain circumstances.
Word on the Street is recommended by the manufacturer for ages 12 plus, but we found that kids as young as eight could be competitive players. The game board is a “street” that has alphabet letter tiles placed along its center. Players form two teams and take turns coming up with words to fit categories on preprinted cards. An example is,“a river” or “something in a garden”. Every time a letter is used, it is moved one space closer to being bumped off the road into a team's “win” pile. Teams must work fast, as the timer runs out after just thirty seconds! A winning word often has sets of double letters, such as “Mississippi” or “wheelbarrow”.
Chicken Cha Cha Cha is a card game/board game hybrid. The game plays similar to memory, but players have to follow a path and find particular pictures on face-down cards. The playing pieces are whimsical wooden chickens, and our four year old tester rated this game as a ten. She said, “I really the chickens and I really like collecting tail feathers!” These wooden “feathers” are won from other players. This is a fun game for gifted kids ages 2+.
Mastermind is an old favorite that has recently been rediscovered at my house. It is a two player game that requires logic and strategy. Code breaker and code maker face off and each position requires skill and careful attention to detail. A junior version exists with fewer options, and these pegs are shaped into animals rather than just plain colored domes.
Bananagrams fans may be excited to learn that the Bananagram folks have devised two new spinoff games. One involves a pear, and another an apple. We tried the apple game, which is called Appletters. Letter tiles are used to spell out words, and players take turns adding to the first or last letter of the “word snake”. The object is to get rid of all your letters first. This is another simple game, easy to pick up and take with you on a moment's notice, and very easy to get started playing. I have to say, I love the click of the faux ivory tiles, and the cute cloth apple packaging.
All of these games are great gifts for game lovers who enjoy a new challenge.