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A Geek List for 4 year olds – or - How to grow your very own game player -
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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A Geek List for 4 year olds – or - How to grow your very own game player -
the next list in a continuing series.

It all started with my other list: A Geek List for 2 and 3 year olds – or - How to grow your very own game player.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/17793

Pre-school age children are developing in leaps and bounds. In their fourth year of age your “little prince” or “little princess” should be quite adept at counting from 1 to 20 (and up to 100 with a little help from you.) They can recognize most if not all of the letters (a-z, A-Z) and numbers (0-9) and should be learning how to write upper case and lower case as well. They are not yet up to reading, but they may be able to recognize and copy words or groups of words like “Oma” and “Opa” and/or “Mommy” and “Daddy”. Typically they can write their first name. They are developing some rudimentary mathematical concepts i.e 7 is more than 6; 10 is less than 12; if I have three and I take two more that means I now have (counting fingers) 1-2-3-4-five!

If that’s the case, then it’s time to throw away, trade away, or safely store away in plastic, moisture-proof totes those baby-ish games that you played with them all those many weeks ago. It’s time to move up to a whole new set of games and gaming challenges!

Having learned much about gaming in general over the last few months, what follows is a list of those games that I tried with my four year old daughter (and at times some of her friends and cousins).

This is a list of what worked and what didn’t and possibly ‘why’.
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1. Board Game: Viva Topo! [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:1263]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Viva Topo! – This game is a home run – at least for me it is. OK, so it’s not exactly the brain burner that Die Macher is, but I really like playing this game – especially with three or four players, although it also works well with two. This is not my daughter’s number one game but it is in her top 5 games of all time. It’s from Selecta so the components are top notch and ‘chunky’ and made of wood. Viva Topo is much more than a roll and move game: it is a great risk-management game (a.k.a. risk-reward, a.k.a. press your luck game) for the little ones. There are several different strategies that one can successfully employ. My daughter will typically get all of her mice in play and then push one all the way around the board to cheese paradise and collect one whole cheese wheel - much to the demise of the rest of her mice. I use more of a ‘herd’ mentality and carefully get all of my mice to safety in the corners where I collect more of the smaller wedges of cheese. Sometime I win; sometimes I lose. We both highly recommend this game.

See my review for more info.

.
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1318792#1318792

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2. Board Game: Gulo Gulo [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:626]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Gulo Gulo – Arguably the vanguard game for Zoch Verlag – Gulo Gulo is by far my daughter’s favorite game of all time. I would have made this the first on this list except for the fact that I fear Gulo Gulo may suffer from over-exposure. We are easily over 50 plays and my daughter wins more than her fair share of the time, but not all of the time. Gulo gulo offers a good mix of dexterity, skill, and luck and is played on a modular board. This is the game where she learned how to lose gracefully. Sure, there were a few tearful outbursts after losing to me – but now, whenever it looks inevitable that I’m about to win, her bottom lip hardly quivers as she announces: “It’s OK if I don’t win this time.” She also learned to never give up. The game has an excellent catch-up mechanism – so “it’s not over, until it’s over” to quote the very wise and curmudgeonly Yogi Berra. Finally, this game taught her how to win gracefully. I always get a smile, a high-five, and a ‘nice game, dad’ after she plucks the purple egg from the nest.

See my review for more info.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1286840#1286840

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3. Board Game: Junior Labyrinth [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:6293]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Junior Labyrinth – This is definitely in her top five favorite games of all time. Her six-year old cousin loves it too. Shift the maze and move your piece towards the treasure depicted on the token. The components are nothing flashy which makes this a surprise hit; while the game features a modular board, a shifting board actually, except for the four player tokens the components are virtually two-dimensional and should lie flat on the table. I think it’s the challenge of puzzle solving and the ever-shifting maze that kids love.

See my review for more info.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1350064#1350064

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4. Board Game: Pick Picknic [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:1028]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Pick Picknic (Hick Hack in Gackelwack) – Surprise, surprise! This is a huge game in a tiny box (with the typical wacky artwork) from Zoch Verlag. Pick Picknic is a game that works for adults as well as four-year olds, and is well suited to play in a mixed group of kids and adults. A four year old requires virtually no rule modifications – the only change we implemented is with the final scoring; but regardless of the scoring, this is a great simultaneous action selection game with a rock-paper-scissors mechanism that a four year old can easily grasp. And it’s highly portable. Probably the best value on this list.

See my review for more info.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1350218#1350218

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5. Board Game: Animal Upon Animal [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:578]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Animal Upon Animal (Tier auf Tier) – The animal stacking game from HABA. Next to Gulo Gulo, this is one of the best dexterity/stacking games on this list. The pieces are large and colorful; the rules are fairly easy to learn; and the game keeps everyone involved. On their turn each player first rolls a six-sided die with symbols indicating a particular action to be taken (i.e. stack two animals, pick an animal from your supply and hand it to another player to stack, etc.) This makes the game a bit more interesting than simply taking turns stacking animals. Tier auf Tier has proven to be a popular game for two through four players. A flat, level, stable playing surface is required. We both give Tier auf Tier a ‘thumbs up’.

See my review for more info.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1352637#1352637
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6. Board Game: Crafty Badger [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:8521]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Crafty Badger, The (Frechdachs) – I’m not very fond of this game. Just when you thought HABA couldn’t miss – along came the Crafty Badger. It’s a simple roll and move game that is easy to learn; and one that I quickly found to be tedious, repetitious, repetitive, and repetitious. The coin shaped card board tokens representing socks, shirts, pants, and caps make for disappointing bits; and the suitcases which could have been made from recycled Altoid tins totally blew it for me. For a company that usually has quality components Frechdachs seems cheap. On the other hand, my daughter is amused by the tins and doesn’t seem to mind the tedium of rolling and moving, and opening and closing, and adding and removing tokens. I was glad she didn’t ask for it any more often than she did. She likes the game. It’s just me that doesn’t.
 
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7. Board Game: Galloping Pigs [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:4921]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Galloping Pigs – This is a fun party game that fits in your pocket. Next to a simple deck of cards, this is the smallest game I own. Three sets of cards make for the track, the racing, and the scoring. Five little piggies make up the bits that race around the board. This game does require a small rules change to make the hand management easier for four year olds such that they can be competitive against older players, but that doesn’t take away from the fun; and the rules change need only be applied to the junior players. My daughter loves to collect those food cards and often requests this game. It works well for two through four players. I broke it out at a Christening reception once and had eight kids of various ages playing in teams of two. Everyone liked it.
 
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8. Board Game: Rüsselbande [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:4414]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Russelbande – Drei Magier Spiele weighs in with a winner. The trick is learning the ‘dice rolling rules’ which are not very complicated, the next trick is learning the ‘piggy back rules’ which are equally simple. We recently incorporated the ‘add a piece of track to the end rule’. This is a fun roll and move racing game to play with the kids. Not so good with only two players though. I will take this one out when we have 4 or 5 players. The game can host up to seven little players/piggies! – I can only imagine the fun and mayhem. We both like this game as do her cousins.
 
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9. Board Game: Chicken Cha Cha Cha [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1034]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Chicken Cha, Cha, Cha (Zicke Zacke Hühnerkacke) – This Zoch Verlag game didn’t quite live up to expectations. It is basically a memory game with some great bits: the four wooden chickens – with removable tail feathers are visually appealing and seem to promise more than the game has to offer. The artwork is top-notch, and the egg-shaped tiles that make up the track only add to the visual appeal. This is one of the more fun memory games we’ve played, but doesn’t seem to work well with only two players. For the price it didn’t seem to garner enough table time – but I have to admit we are not big fans of memory-type games. Overall it is not a big hit with us, but if your child enjoys memory games then give Chicken Cha, Cha, Cha a try – or check out its more economical cousin Au Backe (below).
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10. Board Game: Halli Galli Junior [Average Rating:5.64 Overall Rank:8193]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Halli Galli Junior – Oh, yeah! Cards with clowns and a bell to ring. Halli Galli Junior gets a lot of requests. This game is a fun matching and action/reaction game that works well with two, three, or four players. Take turns flipping over the cards, when you see a match - act fast - and be the first to ring the bell. Great fun.

See my review for more info.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1352615#1352615

 
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11. Board Game: Monkey Madness [Average Rating:5.30 Overall Rank:9600]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Monkey Madness – This isn’t as much a game as it is an exercise for a probability math class. HOWEVER, kids love it. The best thing about this game is that you don’t have to play it with kids – a group of four year olds can play together all by themselves – it’s even suitable for three year olds. They love reaching into the bag and pulling out the plastic monkeys. I bought this game on a whim because it was cheap – and after all, it IS a Knizia – and I am glad I did. Brilliant, mindless, fun. Not recommended for sober adults.

I have a satiric review out there for Monkey Madness.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1277320#1277320

 
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12. Board Game: The Princess and the Pea [Average Rating:5.32 Overall Rank:9573]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Sleepy Princess and the Pea (Erbsenprinzessin) – Another dud by HABA. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the toy store. This is yet another dexterity/stacking game – but with cute, soft, fluffy components: little pillows and blankets sewn and stuffed like real bedding to be stack up in ‘Princess and the Pea’ fashion. Note: a small cardboard bed and a green pea are included. The bed isn’t very durable and the pea is prone to getting lost. For all the theme and bits – the game play leaves a lot to be desired. My daughter didn’t like it – not even the aforementioned components could keep her interest. For a great dexterity/stacking game see Tier auf Tier (above); but skip this one.
 
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13. Board Game: Hisss [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:6832]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Hisss – An entertaining and simple card game (color matching) whereby you match colors to make snakes. Didn’t draw a lot of interest from my daughter (probably from the lack of interesting bits – it’s strictly cards), but Yia-Yia likes to play it with her. You need a fairly large surface area to play. Not bad.
 
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14. Board Game: The Kids of Catan [Average Rating:5.31 Overall Rank:10479]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Kids of Catan – The single most hugely disappointing game on this list. The bits are fantastic, the board/box inventive, the turntable ingenious, but maybe I expected too much? I don’t know what happened. We played a few turns, collected a few resources, constructed a few buildings, and she said, ‘Daddy, can we put this game away?’ I pulled it out again a month later – same result. What is most puzzling is that she loves to draw houses with crayons/markers, and she loves to build houses with her LEGO. So how could she not be interested in Kids of Catan? I don’t know. It’s a fairly simple roll and move game creatively deployed and packaged. I liked it as a children’s game – though it is strictly for kids. I should note that we only played it 2-player, though I don’t know that it would be any more interesting with more. [sigh].
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15. Board Game: Maskenball der Käfer [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:3360]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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The Ladybug's Costume Party (Maskenball der Käfer) – The magnets in the nose of the Lady Bugs provide for attraction or repulsion and prove to be a fascinating mechanic for children. The set-up is a bit tedious what with all the little ‘lady bug spots’ but the theme and artwork make for a very cheery game. The flaw in the game is the close attention that has to be paid when the lady bugs exchange spots (someone has to ensure that the wrong colors are not selected for exchange). The spinner and the ant pawns all seem to make the game work, but at least one adult has to play this with children otherwise the game will bog down and/or the tiny pieces will get lost (to their credit Selecta provides extra ‘spots’). This isn’t the best game that Selecta has to offer and is quite pricey, but I have no regrets adding it to our collection. It’s a clever little pattern recognition game with a memory component built-in, but perhaps it’s a bit too clever for a children’s game? Regardless, my daughter always has fun playing – even if we don’t make it all the way to the end – which is OK when you’re playing a cooperative play game.
 
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16. Board Game: Max [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:2837]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Max – It was shortly after her fourth birthday when we tried to play Max for the first time; unfortunately I couldn’t get her interested in the game – made by Family Pastimes. I blamed the components: It’s too flat; no chunky bits; no brilliant artwork. It sat on the shelf for the better part of a year. When I took the pictures for this geeklist, we attempted to play Max again. My daughter did not recall ever playing it before. As it turns out – a lot of the problem we had on our first attempt was my misinterpreting the rules – in particular, the set-up. The critters start on the ‘stump’ – duh! I didn’t see a ‘stump’ so I started the critters in their ‘home’ or ‘finish’ position. Thus the game made no sense to me and didn’t exactly thrill my daughter. Getting the rules correct and the added 8 months of cognitive development by both father and daughter proved to me that Max is a fun game worth adding to our collection. And it is very affordable too! It’s a basic roll and move game with a twist. The players have to decide when to use the four available snacks – to send Max back to his home and prolong the life of the woodland critters – which adds a risk management aspect to the game. Max is a cooperative play game and is rated for 1 to 8 players – making it unique in that respect. Fortunately, we gave this game a second chance! We both like Max.
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17. Board Game: Monte Rolla [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:8153]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Monte Rolla – This must be the ‘Edsel’ for Selecta. A thick board folded in half – sloping down on two sides to form a sort of ‘mountain’ and a handful of marbles. (Oh, and a six-sided die). No chunky wooden bits. (What up wit dat, Selecta?) My daughter found it difficult to follow the path up and down the hill sides. She didn’t quite get it and often miscounted the ‘spaces’ especially when crossing the rivers. As an adult, I found the concept interesting – the marbles, the sloped board, and the carved channels that the marbles might roll down – but not interesting enough to carry the game – it’s basically a roll and move game where the only choice is which one of two marbles to move. It should be noted, that the game isn't without ANY redeeming qualities: my daughter likes to roll dice - and if you roll a six - you get to roll again and add up the two numbers. This is good for developing some rudimentary math skills, but all in all, Monte Rolla was a bit of a 'dud' for both father and daughter alike. I can only imagine that it was a slow year for Selecta.
 
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18. Board Game: Ribbit [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:1021]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Schildkroetenrennen – Cute wooden turtles. The hard part about this game for me is remembering what the difference is between a plus (+) symbol and the arrow (-> symbol. The hardest part about this game for a four year old is remembering that your turtle’s identity is a secret. They often want to show their card or in one case, after selecting a face down card identifying her turtle, my daughter smiled and said, ‘Oh, good, I got my favorite color.’ Her favorite color is purple and, no, she wasn’t bluffing. This is a nice little hand management game for kids and adults alike. The stacking of the turtles works like Russelbande whereby the turtles on top of the stack are carried by the lower turtles as they move. Schildkroetenrennen works better with fewer players – than Russelbande; and it also reminds me a little of ‘Bucket Brigade/Honeybears” – also by Knizia. I like Bucket Brigade a lot more, but for little kids I’d stick with “the Turtle Races”.
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19. Board Game: Spooky Stairs [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:1563]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Spooky Stairs (Geistertreppe) – Another hit by Drei Magier Spiele – this is a roll and move game with a memory aspect, but more importantly, it has ‘magnet heads’ and ghosts. At first the ghost theme may be a bit intimidating for children, but once you explain it ‘the right way’ they get excited about the prospect of ‘the children scaring the ghost.’ Throw away the story line that goes with the game (i.e. the ghost at the top of the stairs turns the children into ghosts – that’s way too spooky.); rather explain that on a certain dice roll you get to disguise someone else as a ghost (i.e. one of the magnet heads gets to dress up in a ghost costume.) That way there is no trepidation and no bad dreams on the part of the players. Once under the ghost sheets, the memory aspect of the game comes into play, and children will have to fight the urge to peak under the ghosts to ‘remember’ which color pawn is underneath. This game is pricey, but a lot of fun with the caveat that it gets better with more players. (It loses something with only two – but it’s not awful.) The game only gets better with the expansion – Flaschen Geist. The winner is the player whose magnet head gets to the top step first, but when someone gets to the top step everyone yells ‘Boo!’ and scares the ghost.
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20. Board Game: Flaschengeist [Average Rating:6.77 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.77 Unranked]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Spooky Stairs: Bottle Ghost (Geistertreppe: Flaschen Geist)- This rather pricey expansion makes a fun game even more fun/exciting/intriguing and should be considered as a ‘mandatory expansion’. It allows for two more players, plus a small expansion to the board (which is superfluous) – but the best part is the bottle and the cork. After the ghost pieces have gone over the magnet-heads, the bottle can be slipped over the ghost – temporarily trapping him/her. Not to worry: the prospect of being trapped under a bottle with a cork stuck in the top does not appear to have any adverse psychological affects on a small child. The components of both the base game and this expansion seem to justify the high cost. I recommend you don’t think about the price, and just enjoy the frequent wails of the ghostly spirits that will inevitably arise from all of the little players who are immersed in the game.
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21. Board Game: Zingo! [Average Rating:5.44 Overall Rank:9510]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Zingo – I hardly consider Bingo a board game, but since it’s in the database, I guess I have to include Zingo. Zingo is basically Bingo (action/reaction) with an educational twist for kids: pictures with corresponding words spelled out which requires pattern recognition and encourages word recognition. But that’s not why the kids love it. Kids just love Bingo type games – and this one has a clever little mechanism for dispensing the Zingo tiles. Kids love to operate the dispenser. The dispenser ‘spits out’ two tiles at a time and it’s a race to scan your card for a match with one or both. Unlike regular Bingo - only the first player to call out the name of the tile gets to place it on their card. The Zingo boards have two different colored sides for two different levels of competition. This game gets a lot of requests from my daughter and works well for two or more players.
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22. Board Game: By Golly! [Average Rating:6.05 Overall Rank:4439]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Au Backe! – The artwork is easily recognizable from the other Zoch Verlag products, but this is essentially another memory game with a few additional rules thrown in to make it more interesting: rules regarding the chicken poop and the shovel. Not that I have anything against chicken poop, heck, I like chicken poop as much as the next guy, but I found the rules a bit to complex to explain to my four year old. We played with a modified poop rule to streamline things a bit. Bottom line is: the components are a deck of cards which come in a small box. Not a big hit with us – but again, we’re not big into memory games. If you love memory games then give this one a shot. If you like Au Backe, then you might consider its more expensive cousin: Chicken Cha, Cha, Cha.
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23. Board Game: Dancing Eggs [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1265]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Dancing Eggs (Eier Tanz) – I have a love-hate relationship with this action/dexterity game. My daughter just loves it – the two big, clunky, wooden dice, the yellow, rubber eggs. It’s made by HABA and comes in a cheap cardboard egg crate – just like real eggs from the market. While this is certainly clever from a marketing standpoint I often struggle to find it a place among the other ‘boxed’ games on the shelf – but I digress. We don’t play strictly by the rules. Oh, we roll the dice and we do the actions to claim the eggs, and we roll the dice, and we put the egg where it indicates; but we don’t end the game when the first egg hits the floor. If we did that the games would end way too soon. She has all of the instructions memorized and pretends to read the rules – explaining what each symbol means. “Bouncing Egg”, “Run around the table”, “Cock-a-doodle-doo!”, “Hushhh”, etc.. “Under the Chin”, “Between the Knees”, etc.. She won’t start playing until she has reviewed all twelve symbols and their meanings. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your point of view), a four year old can barely manage to hold onto three eggs. By the fourth egg, they are dropping and plopping out all around her. This is always quite hilarious. The game inevitably results in her scrambling around to retrieve her dropped eggs; and then she tries again to tuck them back under her arms or chin, or wherever they belong. I don’t have the heart to tell her that as soon as she drops an egg – the game is over. And why would I? Like I said, I crack up watching her try in vain to ‘manage her eggs’. So why do I hate this game? I hate rubber eggs. Not really – I’m just kidding. I only hate when the ‘Run around the Table” is rolled – for obvious reasons. Yes, it is funny when someone has to run around the table while clutching an egg between their knees; but no, it’s not funny when it’s me. She loves this game.
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24. Board Game: Zitternix [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:3942]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Keep it steady (Zitternix) – Another dexterity game by HABA. Adults will enjoy this game as well as the kids do. It’s a simple dexterity game with wooden dowels and a wooden hoop to stand them in. Roll a die and pull out the color. Depending on the color/thickness you get 1,2, or 3 points. Who cares about points? Just take turns, roll the die, and pull sticks until the hoop hits the table. After the hoop hit’s the table, start again, if you want, count up the sticks – but the score is not that important. Zitternix gets a lot of requests.
 
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25. Board Game: Penguin Pile-Up [Average Rating:5.22 Overall Rank:10474]
Stephen Brewbacker
United States
Long Island
New York
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Penguin Pileup – The penguin game from Ravensburger. I’m not really sure why I purchased Penguin Pileup, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Perhaps it was a latent fear of missing out on the whole penguin craze sweeping the nation and Hollywood. But seriously, how many dexterity/stacking/balancing games do you need? This one must be played on the floor. There is not a table made with four legs that can dampen the shock and vibration of little kids squirming in their seats enough to prevent penguin avalanches of epic proportions at the most inopportune moment – like when no one is placing a penguin and suddenly for no apparent reason: shoop -shoop – shoop shoop –oop –oop oop –p –p –p -ppppp. The components are plastic and there are plenty of penguins to go around. Penguin Pileup gets seldom requests from anyone except my 3 year old nephew who always wants to play when he visits. Boys!
 
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