Before I get started here, a disclaimer. I have a 15-month-old daughter at home. When she was born, we wanted to start thinking about how to get her into gaming. It was just about a year ago that we went to her first game day:
That’s Mission: Red Planet we’re playing. She’s not quite ready for that. She’s not quite ready for a lot of kids games on the market either. But fortunately, HABA has a line of games called the My Very First Games series, which are designed for two-year-olds. She’s not quite there either, but we’ve gotten several of these and are basically using them as toys right now. We’re working on getting her to learn concepts like rolling the die, but she still needs a lot of help with most stuff.
My purpose in writing this post is to give a little more exposure to this wonderful series of games. These are not going to be games that will appeal to adult gamers. HABA does have a number of titles (Animal Upon Animal, Rhino Hero, Karuba) that appeal to adults, but these are not among them. These aren’t even going to appeal to people who don’t have small children. So, take that as you will.
I’m going to be reviewing three games in the My Very First Games line today. I’ll be doing these chronologically, in the order we first introduced them to our daughter. So we’ll start with
First Orchard is a game by designer Annelise Farkaschovsky that was first published in 2009. It’s a cooperative game where players are trying to collect all of the fruit before the raven gets it.
The game comes with 16 chunky fruit pieces, a large wooden die, four circular tree tiles, a basket, five path tiles, and the dreaded raven. To set up, put out the path and put the raven at one end. Place the tree tiles, and add four fruits to each one (sorted by color). Then give the die to the first player.
On your turn, roll the die. Four of the sides are colors, so if you roll a color, you take a matching fruit and put it in the basket. If there is no more of that type of fruit, you can choose any fruit instead. One of the other sides is a basket, and if you roll that, you can place any fruit in the basket. The last side is the raven, and if you roll that, you move the raven one space forward on his track. If the raven gets to the end of the track before you have collected all of the fruit, you lose. But if you get all of the fruit first, you win.
This was my daughter’s first board game, played on a snowy day shortly before her eight-month birthday. At the time, she mostly wanted to eat the die and the fruits because EVERYTHING went in her mouth. Which brings me to my first positive point – everything in this game is nice and big, and definitely not swallowable. These days, she still wants to eat the fruit, but more because she recognizes it as fruit and she really likes fruit. But she also seems to understand that it’s not real, which is cool to see.
The components in the game really are top notch. The fruits are all quite solid, and the die is relatively light. The basket is not quite big enough to hold everything – some of the fruits will come out of the top – but that’s not too much of a problem. The raven, while the main protagonist in the game, has a friendly expression so it’s not going to come off as too much of an enemy. The die is well marked with colored dots, and the colors are distinct enough to be able to tell the difference.
Gameplay is VERY basic. You roll, and you collect a fruit or move the raven based on that roll. The only decisions to be made are which fruit to take if you roll the basket or if you run out of a fruit. But that’s not what the game is about – like Candyland, it’s more about matching colors and having fun as a family. Unlike Candyland, however, there aren’t going to be hurt feelings because someone got sent all the way back to start (I know it’s luck of the draw, but that’s devastating for a kid). It’s cooperative, so everyone can cheer for each other and boo the raven. Or, if you don’t want to instill that spirit in your kids, you can just congratulate the raven on a well played game if he wins and let him eat all the rest of the fruit.
As adult gamers, this game has nothing to offer other than some cool bits. But for kids, this one can be a lot of fun, and I think it’s a good color-matching exercise that can also teach teamwork and sportsmanship. Plus, it has a good toy factor. If you have toddlers in the house, I think this would be a great one to pick up.
Here Fishy Fishy! is a game by designer Kristin Mückel that was first published in 2012. In this one, players are racing to catch all of the different types of fish before their opponents.
The game comes with a magnetic fishing rod, six wooden sea dwellers, four puzzle boards (with five pop out pieces each), and a die. To set up, each player gets an empty board, and the sea dwellers (which I will henceforth be referring to as fish even though one is an octopus) are all placed in the bottom part of the box, which represents the sea. The player who most likes eating fish goes first.
On your turn, roll the die. Whichever color you roll, you now must attempt to catch that fish with the rod. If you catch the correct fish, you can add the corresponding piece to your board. If you were aiming for and caught the glitter fish, you can place any fish on your board. If you catch the wrong fish, you don’t add anything to your board. If you already have the piece you were going to add, you don’t add anything (though you can make the game quicker by allowing kids to add anything if they catch an already caught fish). The first player to collect all puzzle pieces wins.
Of the three games I’ll be talking about today, this one is easily my daughter’s favorite. She got this for her first birthday, and already loved fish, so she was all over it. She mostly uses it as a toy, but we can get her to roll the die on occasion (she prefers to do that in a box than on a table or the floor). We haven’t progressed to the point where she understands the puzzle board yet, but we’ll get there.
Once again, great components. The fish are all nice and chunky, and the colors are easy to distinguish. As in First Orchard, the game boils down to color matching, but the extra dexterity element makes the game much more interesting than just claiming fruits. Really young kids, like my daughter, will be more interested in using the pole to catch anything, but as they age, you can introduce the color element. The puzzle is mostly just your score keeper – the ability to match there is not as important, it’s just another level.
Unlike First Orchard, this is a competitive game. That doesn’t mean you can’t cheer for each other, it just means that there will be a winner. You can have joint winners if two people get their last fish in the same round. Ultimately, there’s luck in what you roll, but there’s also skill in trying to catch the fish. Adults will find the game incredibly easy, but kids will find it more challenging to catch the correct fish, and that’s where the game really finds its purpose. The wooden magnetic fish in this game are much more reliable than the plastic snapping fish in Let’s Go Fishin’, and probably safer for your little ones, so there’s that as well.
Hungry as a Bear is a 2014 game from designer Eljan Reeden. In this one, players are working together to feed a very hungry bear.
This game comes with one Bear pop-up, a hat, 12 food tokens, a cardboard plate, a cardboard spoon, and a wooden die. There are actually three game variants listed in the rules (four if you count free play), but I’ll only be talking about the first one since it’s the only one I’ve played. I will mention the other two at the end of this review. For this one, you set up the game by placing the bear pop-up in the base of the box with the hat (basically just a piece of cardboard that stabilizes the bear) inserted in the top. There are six different food types in the box, but you’ll only be using the blueberry, spinach, carrot and strawberry tokens for this game. They are all placed on the plate.
On your turn, you roll the die. If it comes up with one of the four food types, you put one on the spoon and feed it to the bear through its mouth. If you miss, the token is placed in front of the bear. If you roll a food type that is already gone due to being fed to the bear, pass the die.
There are two other sides showing the bear. If you roll the happy bear, you can feed him any food type. If you roll the messy bear, you place any remaining food token in front of the bear.
When the plate is empty, stack the food successfully fed to the bear next to the food in front of the bear. If the successful stack is higher, you win!
This is MY favorite out of the three games, mostly because I like the pop-up bear. My daughter likes it too, but usually just stuffs food in the bears mouth rather than using the spoon. She’s like that when she eats as well – she tries to use the spoon, but hasn’t quite grasped that food falls off when you turn it upside down, so she usually just uses her hands. She has always liked putting things in other things, so this is a hit.
Unlike the first two games on this list, which were all wooden, this game is mostly cardboard. Except for the die, that is. I wonder about durability because of that, since chewed on cardboard is going to be less stable than chewed on wood. But, on the other hand, this game only cost me $15 at Gen Con, so there’s that.
This one is a little more than a color matching game. The food tokens are all color coded, but really, it’s a straight up matching game – match the picture on the die to the picture on the token. The rules encourage you to have the kids name the foods as well. Then, you add the dexterity element with the spoon, which can be tough. Even adults might find a bit of challenge there since you do have to keep that spoon pretty steady. The messy bear on the die adds some chaos, where you miss without even trying first. But the game is cooperative, so you’re cheering each other on as it goes. So I think this is a fun game, and pretty quick – it’s only eight tokens after all.
OK, here are the other two variants. The first is a memory game using all twelve food tokens. Put them all face down, try to find the matching ones. The other one is a guessing game where the players choose a favorite dish, and the other players ask them questions to try to figure out what it is. Neither variant uses the bear, and that’s probably why I don’t really have any desire to try them.
So there you go. I’ll be back to talking about older gamer fare in my next post. Thanks for reading!