Evolution of a young gamer - my older daughter's favorite games by age
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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We’ve been playing games with my older daughter (who will be five in February) since a little past age two and she’s now become quite a gamer. We always let her pick her own games, so if something gets a lot of plays, it’s because she likes it. Kids develop very fast, so her favorites usually don’t stay favorites for long. To track this development, I thought it would be fun to create a geeklist of her favorite games, with the interval being approximately every three months.

I’m hoping that this list might be useful to other parents- it’s basically my older daughter’s recommendations for games at different developmental levels. This might be obvious, but remember that kids develop in different ways, so I’m not saying that these are universally good for kids at the ages I've listed; just that they worked for my older daughter. I’ll be starting a similar list soon for my younger daughter; it will be interesting to see how hers differs.

I’m reconstructing this from my games played log, which I unfortunately stopped in the spring of 2007. Fortunately, I can remember what was popular over the last six months. I’m going to start logging games again, and will add a new game to this list every three months.

I included a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make it as a favorite game at a given time but have still been very popular with her.
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1. Board Game: Monkey Madness [Average Rating:5.30 Overall Rank:9773]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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2 years, 3 months

When she was this age, I was desperate to have her play games so I tried everything I could find- 4 First Games, Snail's Pace Race, Candyland- none of them grabbed her attention until we tried Monkey Madness. She didn't get this one at first, but once she figured out how to do it, it was a quick favorite.

Unfortunately, this game doesn't have much staying power- there's not much in it for kids who can play more complicated games. But we did play it regularly for a year or so and it was a good introduction to games.
 
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2. Board Game: Leapin' Lily Pads [Average Rating:5.41 Overall Rank:8991]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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2 years, 6 months

Although this game says that it's for ages 5+, my daughter surprised me by being able to play it at two and a half. Although she could more-or-less handle the mechanics at this age, the game was still a little beyond her and an adult who was paying attention could easily beat her. We beat her sometimes, but also made sure that she won her share of games.

This one had a lot of staying power- we were still playing it a year after we introduced it to her, and by 3 and a half, she could not only play it, she could clean our clocks at it. Now that she's almost five, it has lost a little luster, but I think that's a reflection of the game, she just wants to play something new.

This is a wonderful game and, at less than ten dollars, one of the best buys out there. I wouldn't say that it is a good adult game, but it is at least fun to play as an adult. And, by age three and a half or four, your kids will clobber you when you play!
 
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3. Board Game: Crafty Badger [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:8491]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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2 years, 9 months

Another Knizia! A few weeks before Christmas, my wife took my daughter to the toy store to pick a present for me (my wife knew, of course, that I love games so she correctly figured that having a game to play with my daughter would be the prefect present for me from my little girl). She picked this one all by herself (with very minimal guidance from Mommy, who just made sure that it was appropriate for her age).

I have a sentimental attachment to this one because of how it came to me, but I do think it’s a great game for this age group. It’s almost completely random, but the bits are pretty and it usually goes pretty fast. She’s almost five now and this rarely comes out, but she still requests it occasionally.
 
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4. Board Game: Memory [Average Rating:4.71 Overall Rank:11125]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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2 years, 9 months (Honorable Mention)

I picked up Memory for 32 cents at a thrift store. At less than a penny a play, it was one of my best gaming purchases. It was missing some of the cards, so we’d do a 4 x 6 or 6 x 6 grid.

I actually got this when she was about two, but she really didn’t get the game at that age- she liked playing with the cards, though. By closer to three, she could play by the rules and do pretty well.

I’m not a huge fan of this myself, but it’s pretty good for kids this age. She doesn’t like to play it much anymore, though she will play the Dora the Explorer set that my mom has when we visit Grandma and Grandpa.
 
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5. Board Game: Knuckling Knights [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:8542]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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3 years

Another game that is just about completely random, but this game was an instant hit. She quickly figured it out and always enjoyed it, especially pulling the gate and watching the pieces tumble out of the tower. Like all Haba games, this one has gorgeous bits and artwork.

This was exceedingly popular for about a year; she doesn't play it much anymore.

I think it's a fine game- almost totally random, but still a lot of fun.
 
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6. Board Game: My First UNO [Average Rating:4.76 Overall Rank:10593]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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3 years, 3 months

This was her first introduction to card games and a huge hit- it was popular with her for about six months, we played it well over 100 times.

I can see why people might not like this, as it’s a dumbed down version of UNO. But for the right developmental period, I think this is a fantastic game. It is colorful, fun, and teaches the basics of card games. There is some very minimal strategy, but enough so that you can at least discuss it with your child. The game is fast.

Although it was hugely popular for a while, it faded around age four and we rarely see it now. Still, I think it was perfect for her at the time and really recommend this one.
 
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7. Board Game: Dominoes [Average Rating:5.44 Overall Rank:10653]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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3 years, 6 months

I bought a set of Dora The Explorer Dominoes on the same trip to Target that I bought My First Uno. Both were immensely popular for the same six-month period; on many nights we’d play both games.

Dora Dominoes is a pretty stripped-down version of Dominoes and I wouldn’t say that it’s a brilliant game. Like My First Uno, though, it was perfect for her at this developmental stage. Unlike My First Uno, we never play this anymore.
 
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8. Board Game: Welt der Abenteuer [Average Rating:6.64 Unranked]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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3 years, 9 months

This was my splurge on an order from Funagain. The bits looked wonderful, I just had to see what this was like. A World of Adventure is really four games and my daughter was able to handle three of them at this age (the volcano one, which is a dexterity game, was a bit too hard for her). She loved the colorful people and the beautiful boards. I did too.

By four and a half, she could handle all four games and this game still sees play in our house. I'm absolutely terrible at the volcano game; she clobbers me when we play. She also beats me at the arctic game, which is a memory game. The other two are basically luck, so I win sometimes.

I think this is a fairly decent game. It's expensive, but considering that you get four entirely different games, all of which are decent by themselves, it's really not so bad.
 
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9. Board Game: Cat & Mouse [Average Rating:4.89 Overall Rank:10641]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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3 years, 9 months (Honorable Mention)

This game was never the game of the moment for her- it didn’t get a lot of play at once like some of these. But it has been played quite a bit over the last year, so I thought it needed a place here.

This game is totally random, but it’s one of the better totally random games out there. It’s quick and the bits are beautiful. I’d have a hard time saying that this is a brilliant design, but I like it quite a bit.
 
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10. Board Game: Chicken Cha Cha Cha [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1035]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years

There’s a good reason that this is a standard BGG recommendation for young kids- it’s really a great game. Santa brought this just before my daughter turned four and it quickly became a favorite. At first, it was a fair match between my daughter, mommy, and daddy. The games quickly became a rout, though.

This one had a fair amount of staying power, and it still comes out now and again. I think she’s grown tired of the very low level of skill that her mom and I have, though, so she’s going to have to wait until her sister is old enough to play some more.

I like this one quite a bit- it’s fun for everyone playing. We have the German version in our house and have tended to call it by the German name; I always like to hear my daughter asking for “Zicke Zacke.”
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11. Board Game: Lucky Catch [Average Rating:6.11 Overall Rank:7568]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years, 3 months

Lucky Catch is a combination of memory and luck; there is strategy, but mostly you win if you get good rolls and have good luck. You get points for getting various types of fish, you lose them if you get old boots.

This was a good game for her at this stage because she was able to tally people’s scores- she learned a little about subtraction from this. And the memory component made it similar to other games she’s played. I don’t know that this was wildly popular, but we did play it every night for a while.

I think this is a decent children’s game and worth buying. I don’t think it’s spectacular, and it doesn’t look to have a lot of staying power. Still, it was inexpensive and was well worth what I paid for it.
 
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12. Board Game: Go Fish [Average Rating:3.57 Overall Rank:11154]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years, 6 months

We’d been playing Go Fish for quite a while, but it never caught on with her. Then she noticed that by paying attention to what we asked for, she could get our cards if she had a match in her hand or drew one. Her memory is excellent, so she quickly excelled at the game and asked for it every night for a stretch of time.

She’s kind of grown tired of this one, but it was very popular for the time when she was into it.

I gained a new respect for this game. We have the I Spy deck, which has two of each card (rather than four of each like some versions) and is all pictures with no numbers. I don’t think she would have liked it with a standard deck of playing cards, but she does like it with this one.
 
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13. Board Game: Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:4763]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years, 6 months (Honorable Mention)

I bought this a few years back after playing it with a friend’s six-year-old and really liking it. As such, it had been hanging around our house and we’d try it now and again if she asked. She picked up the mechanics as early the end of age three, but didn’t really get it until four and a half. It’s seen quite a bit of play since then, but not the intense every night play that some games have. Still, she likes it quite a bit and it seems to have staying power.

I think I like the game more than my daughter does- I think it’s one of the best kids’ games ever. It’s fun for adults and something that an eight-year-old and a four-year-old can play together and both have fun. I think we’ll be playing this for several years, if not with the same intensity as some other games that are popular for a while but fade fast.
 
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14. Board Game: Rat-a-Tat Cat [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:1949]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years, 9 months

Since I bought this for her last month, we’ve probably played it 100 times; she is absolutely obsessed with it. When I bought it, I told her that it might be a little hard for her since the box says you have to be six and she’s not even five. I think she took that as a challenge.

She didn’t get the strategy at first, but she picked it up quickly. I’m also amazed at how much math she’s learned from this- she adds the scores up herself and almost always gets the totals right. A highlight for her was when she got all zeros in one hand! (A perfect score.)

I like this one quite a bit- it’s challenging for me and fun. The only problem I see with it is that she plays it so much, she’ll probably tire of it and then not want to play again. We’ve gotten our money’s worth at this point, though, even if we never play again.
 
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15. Board Game: Sleeping Queens [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:1726]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 Years, 9 months

Sleeping Queens came a month and a half after Rat-a-Tat Cat. As I predicted, she did tire of Rat-a-Tat Cat, but not until after at least 100 plays. The same will happen to Sleeping Queens sooner or later, so I'm going to make them co-champions for this age. She absolutely loved both. In a week and a half, we've played it at least 30 times together and she's played it several more times with my wife and with my dad.

I think this is a wonderful game for this age group even though it's rated for eight and up. We ignore the point values on the queens (so five queens wins in a 2-3 player game) and ignore the math problems. Neither of these minor tweaks change the game much.

I would never play this one with only adults, but I have quite a bit of fun playing with my daughter.
 
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16. Board Game: Midnight Party [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:1598]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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4 years, 9 months (Honorable Mention)

Having played everything in our game closet that I thought was appropriate for her age, my daughter started saying that she was tired of our games and wanted something new. I thought this might be a bit beyond her, but I figured I’d let her try. I was right, it is a bit beyond her- she doesn’t understand the strategy or the scoring. But she likes it anyway!

I’m expecting this one to become a favorite later in her development, but I wanted to add it now just to point out that you shouldn’t underestimate your kids. Even though she doesn’t understand the strategy, the game isn’t mechanically hard, and she can play it. She likes the bits, and for a few weeks asked for it every night. It kind of faded when Rat-a-Tat Cat showed up.
 
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17. Board Game: Cranium Zigity [Average Rating:5.32 Overall Rank:10793]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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5 Years

She got this for Christmas and can do most of it, but the spelling is too advanced for her. Still, she wanted to try it and became absolutely obsessed with it for a short time. I was really proud of her ability to do the math (adding to 11), and the rest of the game is well within her grasp.

I've found my daughter wanting new and different games at this age, but not quite able to do the "grown up" ones. So I'm searching for games that hit the sweet spot for someone who can't quite read, but who is starting to move beyond preschool games.
 
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18. Board Game: Clue Jr.: The Case of the Missing Cake [Average Rating:5.28 Overall Rank:10297]
Mark Hamburg
United States
Tacoma
Washington
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5 years, 3 months

Clue Junior's popular as a before bedtime game now. I think this is an outstanding game for this age- it introduces deduction and strategy, while still being mostly luck. Although this really doesn't challenge the adult mind, I still enjoy it quite a bit- probably because I see it as a gateway to more complex and exciting games.

I think that my daughter could play even more complex games now if we had the time (we rarely get to game for more than 20 minutes at once due to her younger sister).
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