My daughter just turned 5 about a month ago. It’s a very exciting time, gaming wise, because she’s starting to get better and better games for her birthday. I wanted to run through the games she got this year, which will maybe help you out if you’re looking for something for the 5-year-old in your life.
Red Light Green Light (Buffalo Games) is a push-your-luck card game that’s essentially a race from one end of a track to another. Gameplay is incredibly simple – you draw cards from a deck until you stop or you bust. Cards you draw are green lights (you can move one space), double green lights (you can move two spaces), or red lights (you cannot move at all). So you draw cards, and as long as you’ve drawn all green lights, you can keep drawing. Eventually, you may choose to stop. When you do, you can move all the spaces you have accumulated. You can’t move through other cars or the cones that are placed before the game begins. The first player to the end wins.
Mechanically, there’s a lot in this game that is similar to things like Can’t Stop or Incan Gold – you are literally pushing your luck with no knowledge of what’s coming up, just praying that the odds are in your favor. But Red Light Green Light fails to have the tension of those two because there’s just nothing else there. The lanes are straight lines to the finish, and while you will have to jog to an adjacent lane at least once, there’s just not really any rhyme or reason to why you’d want to stop, other than getting closer to the finish. There is an advanced variant with construction cards that allow you to place cones during the game, but you’re still at the whim of the draw as to when they get used.
Granted, I’m looking at this game from an adult’s perspective. For kids, it’s a nice easy way to introduce them to push-your-luck games, as well as to some basic math concepts. But, for adults, there’s just nothing there. I think there are better games out there that accomplish the same thing with more fun attached, so I can’t really recommend this one.
The Fairy Game (Shannon Lyon/Marisa Pena, Peaceable Kingdom) is a cooperative game about fairies trying to gather magic gems before Mr. Winter freezes the flowers. On your turn, you draw a card. If it’s a fairy card, great – you can take an action. If you have three fairies of the same color, you can get a gem. There are also cards that allow you to trade cards, or to remove snowflakes. If you draw a Mr. Winter card, a snowflake gets added to a random flower, and if that flower gets too many snowflakes, it freezes and you lose. But, if you get all four gems before that happens, you win.
We have another Peaceable Kingdom game, Hoot Owl Hoot, and based on our experience, they do pretty well with their co-ops for kids. This one has some basic set collection aspects, and while the luck of the draw is strong, the special cards that allow you to trade and remove snowflakes add some really good opportunities to practice strategic decision making. The game does have shades of Pandemic/Forbidden Island in its mechanical construction, which is a good thing.
It can be pretty frustrating to draw a Mr. Winter card on your turn, as that’s all you get to do – put a snowflake on a flower. But other than that, I think this is a really good one to open the door to more complicated cooperative games later on.
Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Stacking (Kristin Mückel, HABA) is part of HABA’s Unicorn Glitterluck series.This one is cooperative, and has you trying to collect ten crystals as well as stack up clouds and unicorns. A circular track of tiles is dealt out, and on your turn, you roll and move around the track. If you land on a crystal, you collect it. If you land on a cloud or unicorn, you have to stack a matching piece on the castle in the middle. If, while stacking, you ever cause pieces to fall, you flip over one could tile. If there’s a sun on the other side, everything’s fine. If there’s a thunderstorm, you’re on your way to a loss, which happens if three thunderstorms are collected. When you have collected all ten crystals, you must stack the baby unicorn on top of the castle. If you do this successfully, you win.
This game has a lot of similarity to Animal Upon Animal, except with unicorns. It’s a different mindset – you aren’t deliberately trying to place things in awkward positions so the other players will have difficulty stacking because it’s cooperative. There’s a roll-and-move element to the game, and it’s the kind with no ability to mitigate. But it’s still an interesting game, and adds another layer to AUA, which is another game my daughter loves to play. So, this one has been a hit, and I think it’s a good one. Boys may not be interested because it is very pink and unicorny, but who knows – they might be into that kind of thing, and that’s just fine too.
Outfoxed! (Shannon Lyon/Marisa Pena/Colt Tripton-Johnson, Gamewright) is another cooperative game that I am just now realizing was designed by the same people who designed The Fairy Game. In Outfoxed!, you’re trying to catch a thief. There’s a randomly chosen thief, and you have to collect clues that will eliminate suspects in a cool little plastic decoder thing. On your turn, declare whether you’re looking for suspects or clues, then roll three dice. You have up to three rolls to get them all showing the correct face (paws for clues, eyes for suspects), or the fox thief moves forward on the track. If you find the correct thief before the fox escapes, you win.
This game really takes the idea of Clue (trying to catch a randomly chosen crook), streamlines it, and makes it more accessible for a younger audience. The deductions are very basic – clues show an accessory that the thief may or may not have, and the decoder shows whether they have it. There’s some roll-and-move here, as you are moving around the map based on number of paws shown on the dice (1-2 per die face). It’s a very good deduction game for kids who get to work on their observation skills, and have to work together to figure out what is more important (clues or suspects). We like this one a lot.
The Pyramid of Pengqueen (Marcel-André Casasola Merkle, Brain Games) was originally published in German as Fluch der Mumie in 2008, but got revamped in the Ice Cool universe in 2018. In the game, one player is the mummy, and the others are treasure hunters. Treasure hunters are racing around the board, trying to collect specific treasures. Meanwhile, the mummy is hunting them. The gimmick of the game is that it’s played on a vertical, magnetic board. The treasure hunters know where the mummy is at all times, but the mummy is playing blind. If the mummy catches enough treasure hunters, it wins. Otherwise, the first hunter to collect all of their treasures wins.
I have wanted this game ever since I first heard about it in its original form. Now, thanks to my daughter adding it to her birthday list (after some, um, gentle encouragement from me), we have it. And, speaking as an adult gamer, I love it. There’s hidden depth of strategy – treasure hunters have to be smart about what treasures they’re running after, and not let the mummy’s die pool get too big. As the mummy, you have to use logic to figure out where they are.
That said, this is one of the most complex games my daughter has attempted to this point. During our first game, she and my wife were playing against me as the mummy, and she said, “I don’t think I like this too much.” To her credit, she wanted to try again, this time as the mummy. She liked it much better as the mummy (it helped that she BEAT ME). Now, she asks to play it a lot.
The biggest negative about this game is that the magnets are TINY. I mean, itty bitty. They were much bigger in the original version, and I don’t know why they got shrunk so much for this edition. But it’s still a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it – just don’t play around babies, because this is a definite choking hazard.
So there you go. That’s all for today – stay safe, and thanks for reading!