Jim Van Verth
So, your kid has just turned 2, and you're ready to turn him or her to the dark side -- boardgaming. Or maybe your designs are less insidious, and you're just looking for something fun to play with your 2- to 3-year-old. My unhesitating recommendation is Go Away Monster. It teaches the basic concept of taking turns, has some puzzle-building elements, is low on competition, and has cute art. And kids like it, too!
Your goal in Go Away Monster is to draw random items from a bag and place them in matching spaces on a picture of a bedroom. If you get a monster instead, you yell "Go Away, Monster!" and throw it away. Once all the spaces in your bedroom are filled, you can either be declared the winner -- or, in the more friendly version, help other players fill theirs, until all the bedrooms are complete.
Yes, this game is not going to win any awards for it's strategic complexity -- it's completely random. But it's a short game, so it doesn't drag on like Candy Land, and it is fun to throw the monsters.
The game comes with four foldable cardboard boards representing four bedrooms, a handful of cardboard pieces representing bedroom items and monsters and a cloth bag for drawing the pieces out of. The pieces are made of thick durable cardboard and have brightly colored cartoon images on them, so they should last awhile and give your kid(s) long enjoyment.
The only minus that I see is that the box isn't really set up to hold the bag with the pieces inside unless you shuffle them around the right way. So it's probably easier to store the game loose, as just the four bedroom boards and the bag full of pieces (you won't need the rules). However, if you do manage to get it into the box, the current edition has a little suitcase handle on it, so your kid can have fun carrying it around.
Obviously this game is not for adults. It's for adults to play with toddlers, and I recommend it as such. It's short enough so that neither child nor parent gets too bored with it. And if you want to spend more time with it, you can play again.
One other nice thing about this game is that the base concept is so simple it allows kids to modify the rules and play the game their own way. For example, my daughter actually likes monsters. So she throws them away, and then gathers them up and puts them in one of the bedrooms as if they were pictures hanging on the wall. If there's only two of us, we also play that each person fills up two bedrooms rather than just one. If there are three of us, my daughter gets two bedrooms for herself.
So in summary, if you've got a toddler/preschooler you want to play games with, or a toddler/preschooler you want to give a gift to, I highly recommend Go Away Monster.