House Rules and Candy Land

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, or following me on any type of social media you realize that I’m a game player.

So it’s probably not a surprise that I like playing games with my little boy.

You probably also realize that I’m something of a hyper-critical curmudgeonly fuck. Which means I find a lot of things irritating.

For example, Candy Land:


(This is what my version looked like when I was a kid.)

I’m not going to go off on some screed about game design here….

Ah hell. That’s a lie. I’m so going to. I didn’t mean to. I was just going to come in here and tell a cute story about my kid and then get out under 600 words. But I’ve kinda have to get this out or I’ll probably burst a vessel or something. I really shouldn’t keep this shit bottled up. I promise it will be a smallish, well-reasoned screed. Okay?

Dear everyone: Kids games should be games.

I know, I know. The main things we get from kid’s games isn’t competition. It isn’t intellectual stimulation. We’re not playing Traveler, here. We’re not looking for the subtle intricacies of Go. I get that. There are two primary things a kid’s game provides:

1. It gives you an excuse to hang out with your kids.

2. It gives your kids the basics of how to play a game.

This second one is not to be underestimated. When I started playing with Oot a year or so ago, I was amazed at how much of it wasn’t natural. The concept of taking turns, following rules. They need to be learned.

So yeah. I know those are the two biggies that you’re getting when you play a kid’s game. But you can still have some *game* in there.

Think about it. The main purpose of food is to get calories and nutrients, right? But we don’t just sit down and eat two cups of lard and a multivitamin, do we?

No. We do not. Not twice at any rate.

*     *     *

I remember playing Candy Land with my mom. It was fun. But I was a kid back then, so the bar for fun was fairly low. Pretty much anything a kid does with their loving parent is going to be fun. When I was older, my mom confessed that she’d gotten really tired of Candy Land. She used to hide the low-level candy cards because they made the game last forever.

Tedium is not the mark of a good game.

I felt a connection with my mom when, after playing Candy Land a couple times with Oot, I began to do the same thing. Because it *is* a tedious game, and not just for adults. Oot himself would start to zone out partway through the game. Not because he has a poor attention span, Oot will sit and read books for hours. He’ll work a puzzle on his own.

No. He’s bored because the game is tedious. And it’s tedious because there is no skill involved. You draw a card, you look at a card, you match a color, you move your piece.

Games that involve no skill are not good games.

Yesterday, after months of not playing, we brought out the game again and took another crack at it. Because he wanted to, and he asked nicely. And I can deal with some tedium if it makes him happy.

But we changed the game a little bit. We added a house rule where you drew two cards and got to pick which one you wanted.

With this small change, Candy Land became an actual game.

Sure there was still a huge random element to it, but now there was some skill as well. You had to make decisions.


So what will it be, my little man? Green or red?

Suddenly, this game became fun for both of us. Not only was the race to the castle *much* faster. But you didn’t have to fear getting a “backer.” (Which is what Oot calls it when you get a card that makes you go backwards.)

Most important of all, there was suddenly some choice involved. He had a reason to pay attention. Which card do you want? Which will move you farther?

What really impressed me was when he got to this point on the board.


“Oh no,” he said. “I hope I don’t get a green!”

(He didn’t want to get stuck in the Licorice Pit, you see. If you land on that particular green square, you lose your next turn.)

I took my turn and moved, then he took his turn and drew a double green and a double orange.

“I pick the two greens because I like green,” he said. Then he picked up his piece and looked at the board. He set his piece down again. “No. Wait,” he said. “I want the oranges instead.”

I tell you, I practically burst with pride and joy.

With this one simple rule change, the game became engaging for both of us. He even taunted me.


Which, as far as I’m concerned, is as vital a part of game playing as learning to take turns and follow rules.

The crafty little bastard even tried to coffeeshop me when I drew the popsicle.


He’s like, “You should take the double blue, dad.”

Again, I glow with pride. That’s my boy. If you can’t win by the cards, you win the game with your mouth.

I beat him the first game. I was tempted to throw it, because I could tell he wanted to win. But that’s not doing him any favors. That’s another thing games teach us: how to lose. How to deal with disappointment. How to deal with the fact that sometimes, you just get shitty cards and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. And that sucks. Rub some dirt on it. Happens to everyone.

Also, Oot already taught me what happens when you don’t play straight with kids:

So I played that first game straight and beat him. He took it well, and because the game was shorter with the two-draw house rule, he was willing to jump right back in for a re-match. And, because it hadn’t been a tedious random trawl through sugar mountain, I was happy to give it another go too.

The second game I got an early lead again, and *really* considered throwing it. But I didn’t, and he won anyway. So that’s a good lesson for me, too: Sometimes I should just leave well enough alone.

It was also cool to see him get better at choosing which cards to pick. He’d always pick the doubles over the singles. But originally he liked to pick blue and green because he liked those colors better.

I didn’t tell him he was wrong, I just took my own turns and talked to myself, saying. “Hmmm. If I go to the blue, I go this far. If I take the orange, I go *this* far. I think I’ll take the orange, because it’s farther.”

By the second game, he was doing the same thing. Because kids are smart. They’re built to learn.

Why am I sharing this?

Well, partly because I love talking about games, and I love talking about my boy.

But I’m also telling you this story because I’m guessing a lot of you have kids, or you *will* have kids in the future. Or you’ll at least play with some kids. And this was such a simple, elegant fix to a classic children’s game that I couldn’t help but share it.

If any of you have suggestions for good kid’s games you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Play nice everyone,


This entry was posted in gaming, mom, Oot. By Pat89 Responses


  1. beckiwithani
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 5:13 AM | Permalink

    We got Catan Junior for our 7-year-old this Christmas. In a couple of years, I highly recommend it for Oot. It has a few characteristics that are rare and refreshing in a kids’ game: It requires strategy. It is fun for adults, too. (I’d play it even without kids, as “Catan Lite” — really fast at 20 minutes or so, and has the same feel as the original.) And it’s actually quite possible for kids to win, even though it requires strategy. There’s enough luck involved to level the playing field.

    Combine all this with the fact that we are raising her to be a good little geek by teaching her something that will make her want to play the real Catan someday, and it’s a winner for everyone.

    • Posted March 17, 2014 at 5:21 AM | Permalink

      I’ve heard good things about that one….

      • MTrad
        Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

        My daughter is Oot’s age and Catan Jr. is probably her favorite game. She asks for it all.the.time. And it’s actually one I don’t mind playing repeatedly with her. My son is almost 7 and still enjoys it, too. I definitely recommend it.

        • Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:57 PM | Permalink

          That’s good to know too. I wouldn’t have tried it on him this young, but hearing this. I think I’ll give it a whirl….

      • Brainfreeze
        Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:52 PM | Permalink

        My daughter is 6 and she loves the game, from the pirate theme to being able to use the robber to steal resources from the bank.

  2. urimeir
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 5:50 AM | Permalink

    Chess is a pretty good game, but you have to throw it sometimes…

    • domdib
      Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:27 AM | Permalink

      Chess will take a while obviously, but it does have the advantage that it’s quite easy to handicap – e.g. start with a rook down.

    • domdib
      Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:29 AM | Permalink

      Plus also Go – has a good handicap system built right in. However, not everyone’s taste runs to abstracts like Go and Chess.

    • domdib
      Posted March 17, 2014 at 7:41 AM | Permalink

      Sorry for multiple postings, but I just remembered a house ruling of Castle Panic which I did for a couple of younger kids. Usually, each card does a certain amount of hit point damage to a monster, so you whittle them down over time. However, to speed things up and make it a bit more exciting for the young ones, I ruled that, as long as they could hit a monster, then that basically took out the monster (together with obligatory swooping of cards down on the monster, “whack” sounds etc.!). Makes the game easier too.

    • Werechull
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

      If you want to teach someone the basic movements of chess, try playing it half-court. Fold the board in half. You have to kill the king to win. Everything else is the same. It’s total carnage!

      Warning: it may not be a beautiful game, but it is a fun one.

  3. Steve MC
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:22 AM | Permalink

    I’ve played Candyland only once, with a niece and nephew, and what I remember most was how much my niece cheated. Like she got a red and placed her piece two reds ahead, and scowled when I slid it back. At first she was like, “Oh, that’s right,” but by the fourth time I caught her she was just slumping her shoulders, like, “Oh, pisser.”

    With this excellent fix to the rules, she might not have felt she had to take matters into her own hands. : p

    For a game suggestion, my nephew’s favorite was building a tall shaky castle with Lincoln Logs and then building catapults (simply lay a green plank across a small log) and launching pieces at it.

    • Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:42 PM | Permalink

      That’s another thing games can teach us: That cheating isn’t okay, and that we’re not as clever as we might think we are….

  4. futuretimelord
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 7:49 AM | Permalink

    My daughters(4 and 7) and I play Enchanted Forest all the time. We really like the fairy tale theme and the game is overall pretty fun to play for all of us.

  5. sammishgirl
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 7:51 AM | Permalink

    We used to play a lot of Chutes and Ladders when my kid was young. But I hate spinners with a fiery passion. So very early on we switched to using a die. And then once he got good at knowing what number was rolled just by looking at it, we switched to two dice. This gave great addition practice as well as making the game go faster. Win-win! Also, I placed a long piece of masking tape up either side of the board, with an arrow next to each row, marking which way you move on that row. It made it much easier to see which way you were going (this was mostly for me, because I invariably moved the wrong way).

    Also, if you play Sorry, we always play the alternate rules where you hold a hand of three to five cards, and chose which card to play each turn. It’s a huge improvement to the game.

    • Richd00d
      Posted March 25, 2014 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

      Another nice twist to Chutes and Ladders is to reverse the direction of them. It really makes you think when a chute is up and a ladder is down. Every time we played, we tried to switch it up so you had to keep on your toes.

      We also played “Life” a lot and had a number of variations we threw at it. It’s one of those games that is just begging for mods. And when we got older, the game “Public Assistance” is hilarious. Conservative message aside, it’s a cool game with two loops (one for welfare and one for the employed), so the strategy changes up as you play. And the “illigitimate kid” cards are SO CUTE!

  6. pjmintz
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 7:53 AM | Permalink

    I’m actually looking forward to playing Candy Land with my girls (3 & 4) when I get home now. THANKS!

  7. CancerKiller
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM | Permalink

    Great idea! Will have to try it out with my youngest.

  8. Kerensky287
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM | Permalink

    When we played Snakes and Ladders when I was a kid, we had a house rule that each time you landed on a snake, instead of going back some distance, you fought an actual boa constrictor. Turns out those things aren’t terribly ferocious when they can’t drop on you out of a tree.

  9. Tomesch
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 9:48 AM | Permalink

    I have the fondest memories of this game:

    It’s a cooperative game, something I encountered only much later in my gaming career. I must have been between 4-7 when we used to play it. I vividly remember the excitement of finding the orange bear card… I have no idea how this game played, but I remembered it instantly after your blog post, and the orange bear card sticks to my memory :)

    But being German, this game has to be good, because it was on the short list for the game of the year/Spiel des Jahres. Which is a really good sign.

    • jhandest
      Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:12 AM | Permalink

      That sounds interesting but my question is why would you want to help a bear out of the woods?

      • Tomesch
        Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:27 AM | Permalink

        You know, us Germans like everything neat and tidy, and since there are no wild bears living here we make things tidy again by getting the bear out of the wood. I suppose you would tell the children put the little bear in the zoo, but in reality we just shoot them (

  10. ajbobo
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 9:50 AM | Permalink

    The copy of Candy Land I bought for my kids a couple of years ago actually listed this house rule as an official optional rule for older kids. I never got a chance to try it out with my kids (they were busy making up their own variants on the game). I’m happy to hear that it does work and makes the game an actual game.

  11. jhandest
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:09 AM | Permalink

    One that is a little different from these is the old Pick-up Sticks. I remember playing this a lot with my dad (who was awesome at it) and I have started playing with my two boys. Specifically, I love watching my 4 year old play because he watches the little tricks I use to snag sticks then mimics them. I’m amazed at how fast he can see a new technique and apply it in the right situation, even if he isn’t successful in the attempt.

  12. LightAxe
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:10 AM | Permalink

    Have you checked out Robot Turtles yet? Best game ever, in my opinion, for kids. It scales up quite nicely. My four year old is challenged by it, as is my nine year old. There are also adult modes if you want to scale it up that far.

  13. Neville Longbottom
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:34 AM | Permalink

    My wife and I aren’t having kids, but our good friends have two.

    They’re raising them to be two things: world-class geeks, and rock climbers.

    I don’t get to teach games, because the mom considers my game-playing to be something between frightening and daemonic.

    I get to teach knots, though. I can live with that.

  14. justlikestoread
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM | Permalink

    I have a 4 year old and and 7 year old. We like to play Where’s My Fish, Blokus, Spot It, Uno and the Busytown game. Busytown is a favorite, it’s more fun with more players. It’s good for play dates because everyone wins or everyone loses. I have to say my 4 year old is better at Blokus and Where’s my fish than my 7 year old is. She has an eye for strategy. She probably would not have played those games if she did not have an older sibling.

  15. Colin McComb
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

    Forbidden Island is pretty easy for kids to learn, and it’s a fast play. Also, if it’s just going to be you and Oot, Hive is easy, fun, fast, and it’ll teach him some strategy at the same time.

    • Little My
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 5:02 AM | Permalink

      We liked Forbidden Island for a while – great concept! – but we now find the game play in Forbidden Desert more fun. I also like the aspect that you can dig yourself out at any point, whereas in Forbidden Island, once the square is gone, it’s gone.

  16. Mickey
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:39 AM | Permalink

    Lego. Now I know some will say its a toy not a game, but it becomes a game when you build something together right ? My daughter and I spend hours just chatting away while we build and it’s incredibly relaxing and still fun.

  17. Merebear
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:58 AM | Permalink

    My 3 year old son loves Zombie Dice and Blokus, even though he needs reminding of the rules from time to time. Sadly, our version of Candy Land was a cheap $5 holiday present. It no longer includes cards; it has a spinner, which doesn’t allow for the two card rule, obviously. I wish it did. It definitely is tedious, and my son also gets distracted very quickly.

    Lately, my husband has been running short D&D style dungeon sessions for our son’s character (that he created himself, he was so proud!) and that has been going over swimmingly. It’s also helping us teach him numbers and how to add as we make him count up the pips on the dice to tell us how much he’s kicking butt.

  18. Geekgirl
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:59 AM | Permalink

    We do quite a bit of gaming with our kids (aged 5, 10, 12 and 20) and while it really depends on the kid – how into the game they are, how focused they are – for our younglings, these are the ones that are favorites:

    Forbidden Island – all of us enjoy this one, from the smallest to the tallest.
    Settlers of Catan (regular version) – it depends on your kid, absolutely, but we’ve played this with our three older kids, and our 12-year-old beats us regularly.
    Carcassonne – again, everyone games with this one from the littlest to the biggest.
    Poo – It’s a card game about monkeys flinging poop. C’mon.
    Sequence – They have a regular version and an Alphabet version, it’s like bingo with card/letter sequences (hence the name).
    Tenzi – A dice game that works on matching and speed. Was my Christmas gift, but I can only play it when I pry it out of my children’s hands.

    On a side note, I’ll be in Cambridge on Friday to hear you speak, and could, possibly, bring Cards Against Humanity to play at lunch, should a certain bearded fellow be interested. :)

  19. cecasagrand
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:01 AM | Permalink

    Hi Pat! I created a username just to respond to this (finally, my time to shine.) My husband and I love board games, so my preschooler has them all.

    The best one by far is Sequence for Kids. It’s easy enough for them but good for teaching them strategy.

    Shoots and Ladders is awful. No matter how fondly I remember it, it does not translate well and is just an exercise in frustration. Busytown is fun, but it’s one of those games where everybody wins. My daughter loves Zingo too.

  20. awkwardlyfeminine
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:12 AM | Permalink

    I’m actually incredibly excited to get to play Pairs with my kids! I’m going to nab a Princess and Mr Whiffle deck as one of my choices when it’s all set to ship. My two oldest (5 and 8) love the books, and they’re pretty into card games, so it’s perfect. It hits on a lot of the things I look for in a card game, too, with the adding, strategy, and such.

  21. JJLeggo
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

    My girlfriend has a 3yo, and my son (6yo) gave up out of sheer boredom about halfway through. This new rule will hopefully help the next time around :)

    When it’s just the two of us, we usually play games like Zombie Dice and Dungeon Roll. Castle Panic (and now Catan Junior) are on my wish list.
    I am also mildly addicted to Kickstarter, so we are looking forward to the delivery of games like POOP!

  22. reldal
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

    I seriously just registered so I could say thank you for the Candyland hack. I have an 8 and 4 year old, and I’ve taken to hiding Candlyland when I just can’t take it any more.

    Games we do like:
    Enchanted Forest (really fun, but requires a good memory)
    Skippity (colorful checkers)
    Kids of Carcasonne (I can play this with both kids – the older get the strategy, the younger just likes to make patterns)
    Spot It (this is the 4 year old’s current favorite)

    Thanks again – game night will be fun with all these new suggestions!

  23. smileyvirgo1
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

    My daughter and I also changed up Candy Land when she was younger. We decided each time that we could either play by the traditional rules, make up new 2 new rules, or each play 2 characters. She really loved alternating turns between 4 character pieces with just the two of us. And some of the new rules she thought up were so creative! We ended up making variations on most of her games after that, but we couldn’t add new rules until we had a good grasp of the original ones. That way, when she played with others she wouldn’t be lost. To this day, we love coming up with new ways for all of her games, even as far as adding new characters we make ourselves.

  24. isaiasw
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Permalink

    In adult PC gaming, have you ever played The Witcher series? Witcher 2 is quite possibly one of the best PC games I’ve ever played (and I played a lot…) :)

  25. cynrtst
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:41 AM | Permalink

    I’m still playing games with my kids. Last Monday I played Arkham Horror, a truly awesome game, with my son on our weekly game night. Just wait till Oot is old enough to play Cards Against Humanity with you. And the smug look when they win without cheating is still priceless, no matter what age they are.

  26. Cirlonde
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Permalink

    It might have to wait until Oot’s a tad bit older but I’ve always loved the card game Skip-bo ( It teaches basic counting, but it’s not “dumbed down”. It is random (like any card game) but takes skill and thought as well. Some of my fondest memories as a kid are of playing this game with my grandmother, and I’ve played it with kids as young as 4 as long as you’re patient. Definitely recommend it!!

  27. Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:11 PM | Permalink

    Jeez, that new version of Candyland is like a sensory overload. I can barely look at it.

    I used to love playing Candyland. My Gram sped it up by taking the cards out too. LOL. But, in all fairness she also always put candy at the end for the winner. That also made us go a little bit faster and not get distracted.

  28. neurosion
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:23 PM | Permalink

    “Gulo Gulo” ( is one my kids love. The basic idea is that you are a wolverine (an adorable little meeple that looks far cuddlier than any actual wolverine I’ve met) advancing up a randomly generated path of colorful eggs, trying to rescue your baby wolverine from the vengeful birds who have kidnapped him.

    Aside from the path of eggs (represented by cards, their colors initially hidden but slowly revealed during the game), the game comes with a wooden bowl (the nest) filled with a pile of variably-sized, multi-colored wooden eggs and a long, thin stick with a small orange “bell” at its tip (the “egg alarm”). To move forward on the colored path, you have to steal an appropriately-colored egg from the birds’ nest without letting the egg alarm drop. If you succeed, you move forward; if you fail, you fall back.

    There are two mechanics that make this game work. The first is that, similar to your Candy Land fix, you have a choice. Each turn you can either go for a color that’s already showing or take your chances by taking whatever color is revealed by flipping over the next card in the path. This can often mean the difference between going forward one space or jumping ahead seven spaces. Sometimes the choice is obvious; other times it’s a real decision whether or not you want to press your luck.

    The mechanic that makes it a real winner though is the physical component. You see, I’ve got fat fingers. Big, fat grown-up fingers. So when the last green egg is hiding out at the bottom of the nest, chances are pretty good that I’m going to trigger the egg alarm. My kids, on the other hand, have tiny little kid fingers. Most of the time, they can dig out the egg pretty easily. This makes the game relatively unique in that parents are at a distinct disadvantage. There’s really no question of “throwing the game”; you’ll have your hands full just trying to keep up.

    Although Gulo Gulo is sadly out of print, it looks like there are a fair number of (overpriced) copies available out on the BGG marketplace. I highly recommend it. I initially played it when my kids were 3 and 5, and we’re still playing it now that they’re 6 and 8.

    Also, King of Tokyo… but I’m sure you’re well aware of that one.

  29. Robo
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 12:57 PM | Permalink

    He’s YOUR kid, Pat, which means he’s gonna have snark.

    Prepare him for the real world early and get him:


    Oh, and please post videos early and often!

  30. daemon82
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:16 PM | Permalink

    Kids of Carcassonne is great for kids! My son could start playing it at 3 or so, and now that he’s 5, he makes decisions specifically to close off a road of his, or to help somebody else. He got Robot Turtles for Christmas and really likes it. My husband loves it because he’s a computer programmer, and this is basically LOGO programming for our 5 year old. It starts out with some very basic rules, then you build up the different kinds of obstacles and add extra program steps in one batch, that sort of thing. He saw us playing Ticket to Ride one day, and since he LOVES trains, we let him play along with us. We changed up the rules a little bit – open hands and no scoring, but I think that’s the only real difference. He loves it and does pretty well. He doesn’t pay too much attention to the routes he’s supposed to finish, and by the end of the game, he’s blocking off routes (“making traffic”) and trying to play on all of his favorite color tracks, but he holds his own in our just-for-fun rules. I don’t think it will be too long before he can truly play with the real rules. We have a version of Trouble that he likes and can play. He also likes the Super Why game (it’s about letters and reading). It’s completely and utterly tedious for me to point to the letter that comes after G in the alphabet, or find a word that rhymes with man, so I started having him “help” me with all the questions. Recently, he figured out that I was making him do all the work, so he told me if I asked him for help and he answered, he would get the card. Looks like he figured out some negotiation there. :)

  31. daemon82
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 1:30 PM | Permalink

    I completely forgot to mention Labyrinth! There’s a junior version, but I would just buy the regular adult version. Just like it says, it’s a maze game. You have a board that is constantly changing with corridors that are straight, right angle, or t-section. On your turn, you push a row of maze tiles, then move your character to try to get to a symbol on the path. It has a few rules for younger kids like they can look at their whole hands and choose what to go for next instead of doing it blindly in order like the adults. The game board is a little smaller in the junior version, but I don’t think that helps much. Also, the junior version has everybody go after the same object which might help the maze to clear up for the kids, or it might just frustrate the kids to work on getting a path and have somebody else get to the symbol right before them. My 5 year old does really well at this game, pushing the maze to make a clearer path for himself or to block me off. Most of our games are close, though I still have a small edge.

    I also have to second the vote for Lego. Our 5 year old just got his first set of the little pieces and he can play putting them together and taking them apart for hours. If he asks for help, we can sit down and have fun building with Lego and spending time with him. The other day, we had all four of us (me, my husband, my 5 year old, and my 2.5 year old) all sitting together and playing on the floor with the Lego pieces. Even the 2.5 year old built some things like a face with a steering wheel attached to it.

  32. trunuyawkr
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 3:06 PM | Permalink

    Mom of 4 boys, ages 14 – 3. Some of our favorites:

    Jenga – has the advantage of building your own cool things off to the side with blocks that have been pulled. Helps the little ones stay entertained while the older ones figure out their next move. :)

    Stratego – Admittedly, this might be above Oot’s level right now (then again, he’s your kid, so maybe not :) ) In the beginning, my kids focused on the numbers on the pieces, and which one was bigger than the other. We slowly built up to figuring out strategies.

    Othello – You can pare the board down to whatever number of squares you think Oot can comfortably work with; it doesn’t need to be a full board. My boys all *love* this one, and ask to play all the time (and yes, some boards are bigger than others, depending on the child).

    Have a great time playing, whatever you choose!

  33. Baashterd
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 4:24 PM | Permalink

    After logging in and starting to type I realised that the game I was about to suggest to you is not actually a game in the traditional sense. There is no winning and your #2 primary thing for kid’s games doesn’t quite apply to it. In addition, I have never tried playing it with children. With this sales pitch I give to you, with beaming confidence, Rory’s story cubes.

    Basically you roll 9 dice with pictures in them and then have to tell a (more or less) coherent story based on them. Great fun and doesn’t take much time. Also, you know, stories are cool.

  34. christie
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 4:38 PM | Permalink

    Your twist on candy land made me immediately think of another tedious children’s game…chutes and ladders. This game can last for days. I may have not corrected a “miscounting” that was helpful in getting closer to a conclusion.

    I have always drawn “dots” on the spinner area for the number like a di, as I played this game with my children when they were still learning the written number figures.

    Your twist inspired me to find a twist to make chutes and ladders more interesting and less tedious. I believe the decision making is important once the basics are learned. I offer the following untested option …two sets of dots. A set of red dots and a set of blue dots in the section of the spinner. The dots can have a sum of 10. For example, in the “4” section there would be four red dots and 6 blue dots…the player can choose if they want the red dot or the blue dot option for their turn.

    You could even write the corresponding number figures in an alternate color. Untested, however, I think it may work well.

    • christie
      Posted March 17, 2014 at 4:48 PM | Permalink

      Beginner versions of “Uno” are fun and quick games. We also like the travel version of clue. And yahtzee, we just got a pac man version with ghosts on the dice!

  35. imjuscarol
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 6:34 PM | Permalink

    I too registered just to get in on this post. Six kids with 3 left at home. Csndyland is forbiden in this house. I couldnt take any more after kid 3.

    The number one game in this house is the card game Munchkin. Tag line “Kill the Monster, Steal the treasure, Stab your buddy” just about sums it up. This is hands down the funniest, easiest, most engaging game we have ever played. The rules change as you play so it doesn’t get boring. You can help people or hurt them.

    My kids call themselves gamers. They will play video games constantly if they were allowed to. One call of “Munchkin” and the controllers go flying and they are ready to play.

    The game is inexpensive, has lots of add ons and expansions and most of all kids and adults love it. 8 and up is a good age group. Think of it am a spoof of D&D where you will wear your +3 Pantyhose of Protection to defend yourself against a level 12 Wannabe Vampire.

  36. Posted March 17, 2014 at 8:27 PM | Permalink

    I love this story. In fact, I love reading all your stories about your kid(s, now). You seem like such a great father!

  37. junebug88
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 9:23 PM | Permalink

    What does “coffeeshop” mean as a verb? I mean, I can pretty much figure it out from context, but I’ve never heard the word used this way and I would be interested to know where it comes from. I didn’t have any luck googling it (though I’m sure you’ll be interested to know there are a lot of cafes in the world named Verb).

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:54 AM | Permalink

      I replicated the experiences detailed in this post pretty much exactly. xD

  38. Dragonmag170
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 9:32 PM | Permalink

    I have a few suggestions for you, from a fellow games/huge fantasy person.

    I’m a college student now, and I still remember the games my parents would play with me. One of the first ones I remember ever playing was candyland, and we had a similar house rule to yours.

    But my personal favorite was scrabble.
    Yes, my parents played scrabble with a three and a half-4 year old.

    I know, that’s young. But by that point I knew how to count, and I knew the alphabet. I had put together that the alphabet was how we wrote down words. And I could recognize basic vocabulary.

    And it was great. So far as I remember, they never went easy on me. Never. They almost seemed to ENJOY completely and totally thrashing me at that game. They never held back. My limited vocabulary could barely keep up with what they were putting on the board. But I learned fast.

    And so they always had a dictionary when we played. And when they played a word I did not know, they would first ask me to try and figure out what it meant based on words I already knew. That never worked when I was younger, but as I got older I got better at it. If I couldn’t figure it out, they sent me to the dictionary and made me look it up. On my own. They taught me how to use the dictionary the first few times, but once I knew the alphabet really well they wouldn’t tell me where things were and I had to find the words myself.

    It encouraged me to read more. I figured out pretty fast that if I read books, then I would find new words to use. And if I used the words, I could potentially beat them. It became just about a biweekly thing- every other week we played a game of scrabble, and I tried everything I could to beat them.

    They linked this into my schoolwork too. They would give me extra points if I worked in one of my school vocabulary words and defined it on the spot, without the dictionary. They would always ask for the meaning of a word, assuming it wasn’t something dumb like “know” or “yes.” you know. words whose definitions are just… the word.

    This sounds really cruel, but by 6 I was the one beating them. Consistently.

    Now I never lose to them. I haven’t lost a game of scrabble to my parents in over 6 years. I’m pretty damned competitive about it, actually. I do everything I can to smash them when we play.

    Why do I think other kids should have to go through this? Because it forces young children to learn vocabulary. Quickly. And it gives them a reason to do that.It forces the same kind of decision making abilities that your house rules with candyland teach- and it is something that kids can pick up on very, very quickly. Especially if you make it competitive for them. Going easy on a child during a game of scrabble doesn’t do them any good. I enjoyed the challenge of really trying to beat my parents.

    Anyways, I thought you may like to try this out, being an author. It really was a great way to learn how to spell and how to be competative, make rational decisions, and the like.

    • Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:50 AM | Permalink

      Oh, man, Scrabble was where it’s at for a booky kid like me. We had a copy of Scrabble Junior where the words are already spelled out for you on the board and you just match them, and I was playing that as a tiny tot until it wore out, then I moved up to regular Scrabble and begged everyone else to play with me ’til they were sick of it. xD

  39. badasspenguin
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 10:16 PM | Permalink

    My child psychologist wife says Pirate Plank is a great game to play with kids. They must make choices every turn:

  40. ryangmullen
    Posted March 17, 2014 at 11:21 PM | Permalink

    We love the card game Hisss. Easy to learn the rules, my kids can beat me (but only if they pay attention) and the cards are thick so they don’t bend or get folded by little fingers.

    Also, Gobblet Gobblers A nice twist on tic-tac-toe. Mostly my younger kids just like to eat me, but my 7 year old is getting the hang of it.

  41. GryphonBrokewing
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:15 AM | Permalink

    I started my elder daughter at cribbage when she was 8 (good for math skills as well as game play). Both girls were playing Talisman with me at 7 and 9. They’re now 9 and 11 and sometimes beat me. We’ve also started on Dungeon Quest. They asked for Forbidden Island last Christmas. So far, the game beats us, but they’re enjoying it. They’ve been a little stretch for my younger one to keep up, but helping her talk through the decisions as you’re already doing with O0t goes a long way.

  42. Richard
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 2:49 AM | Permalink

    Nice post… yes, playing games is important and fun, and games without a skill factor become boring after a short time.
    As far as recommendations: HABA Games has a ton of games targeting 3- to 5-year olds. Some are really nice, some are a bit dull. One of the simplest ones where players actually make decisions and need to judge the situation is “Quack”, which is also very quick and easy to play.
    Once they understand basic principles, some kids can pick up fairly complex games, so don’t underestimate them. My son (who just turned seven) loves Dominion, Munchkin, and King Of Tokyo, and plays King of Tokyo against my daughter (5 years). We have also played Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, and a ton of other games over the last couple of years. Dungeon Fighter is also a lot of fun.

  43. Gemelli
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:02 AM | Permalink

    Such a great post. I am ashamed to admit that I went beyond hiding the low-tier candy cards; I hid the entire damn game box and pushed different games. I bow to the elegance and ethical superiority of your approach.

    My kids are 11, 8, and 7, and gaming is huge in our house. There is nothing like the thrill of your progeny outsmarting you at a game where you are doing your level best to come out on top.

    The youngest is the one who’s really bitten by the gaming bug. The other day, he woke me up with one of the finest good-mornings I’ve ever heard:

    “Good morning, Daddy! You know, I can’t decide what we should play this morning, but I think it should either be Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep.”

    You know how it feels when a kid comes home and tells you that he hit the winning home run in his school game, and also got straight As in his report card? Me either, but I’ll bet it feels a lot like that.

    Taking the pulse of what the kids are playing these days, I asked my 7-year-old what his favorite board games were these days this morning while he was getting ready for school.

    “Well,” he said, “I really like Chess, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and shooting zombie targets with Nerf guns.”

    So that’s about where we are today.

    Oh, oh. And we have been playing sessions of Kobolds Ate My Baby when the kids have friends over. You know that your friends are keepers when you announce plans to have their kids play a game whose object is to kidnap and devour an infant, and they don’t call the police. But as introductions to the world of roleplaying go, you could do a lot worse.

  44. Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:45 AM | Permalink

    I remember always being somewhat let down by board games when I was a kid, because I’d always be so naturally drawn to them, but then they were never as satisfying as I wanted them to be, because they were all random luck and no depth. I learned really fast, even as a tiny kid, that the best part of Candyland wasn’t the game itself, but the prospect of staring at the board and imagining the kind of world where everything was candy, what that would mean, the people who would live in it, and what stories might happen there. Rediscovering my natural love of games with adult board games like Catan and (especially) Dominion as a teenager was like a revelation. I’m definitely going to play more complicated, rewarding games with my kids someday. :D

  45. ali rahemtulla
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Permalink

    Pat, you need to get Dark Souls 2. Seriously, just play it. I mean, it’s one of the greatest games ever made, and the Souls series of story-telling is beautiful. You would truly love it.

    • ali rahemtulla
      Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:20 AM | Permalink

      No, wait. Get Oot to play it.

  46. Misfit
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:32 AM | Permalink

    My sons are 3 and 5 and we play lots of games. Anything where they don’t have to read on their own works well, especially co-operative games. This lets us play with everything in the open and they get to make their own choices. We play Zooloretto and Formula D (I basically just say this gear is risky this is safe, you choose which one). The co-operative games work even better, Forbidden Island, Castle Panic, Defenders of the Realm, etc.

    We’ve also been playing an RPG called Hero kids, which they really like. Most of the adventures involve making friends and finding treasure rather than slaying monsters, but they’re still having fun. Having their characters win free ice cream for a week was the talk of the house.

  47. Amber
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:17 AM | Permalink

    SET is a fun logic game! We get a little competitive…

    • Little My
      Posted March 19, 2014 at 5:04 AM | Permalink

      It’s like Tetris, though – play a lot and you will begin to see those little shapes behind your eyelids when you are falling asleep. . .

  48. crank.shaft
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:11 AM | Permalink

    Hey Patrick, this is a nie blog and everything, but……….. I wish you would spend more time finishing book 3 and less time blogging. Just saying! I’m jonesing for the conclusion!

  49. jaymatteo
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 12:40 PM | Permalink

    I just came across an article discussing a panel at GDC about how games can help preserve the culture and history of societies. It reminds me of how you approach games in your world and also what you’ve done with the most recent Kickstarter. .

  50. mgshredder
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:18 PM | Permalink

    I’m sure this comment thread is long since deserted, but…

    Someone mentioned Catan Junior above, and I would highly recommend it. We play it with my 9 year old all the time and have done for the past 2 years or so.

    And “backer” is an excellent word. At some point over the past couple of years my boy has stopped using his own words for things like that and started using phrases he hears for the same concepts, and I miss some of his old words, like “holdups”, which meant any block or other object he temporarily added for the purposes of supporting whatever tower, spinning wheel or other object he was making at the time before the design was completely built and the support was no longer needed. Now he calls them “stanchions”, which is correct and isn’t a bad word in and of itself, but it somehow lacks the panache of “holdups”.

    Also, boogers were “ronies” back then, which grossed his mom out because she thought of boogers whenever she tried to eat macaroni. Now boogers are just boogers in my house, and I sort of miss when they were ronies.

    Or maybe I just miss the littler version of my boy. Little kids get language in ways that most adults seem to lose. Writers excepted, of course, at least some of the time.

  51. Little My
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 5:10 AM | Permalink

    We play Settlers of Catan a lot since we got it at Christmas – we all love it. I hate to write this on the blog of the king of Catan, but we have changed a rule and like it much better now (definitely goes over a little more easily with my five year old): we have no robber. If you roll a 7, it’s a wild card and you get to pick which number will produce resources. We love this rule.

    Thank you for fixing Candy Land! It was the bane of my existence but the suggestion of sugar makes it totally attractive to the little ones. I hate that (as designed) the game is completely predetermined. The game is just sitting there in the desk of cards, waiting for you (or anyone, or a robot) to turn over the cards in the proper order and move the pieces accordingly. it’s no more interesting than rolling a set of dice. It’s basically a “learn-to-take-turns” teaching tool.

    Blokus is an excellent game. I like games that can be learned quickly but yet are strategically interesting. Makes it possible for kids to play at a range of ages.

    Forbidden Desert is really fun. (I like it better than Forbidden Island, though both are fun.)

  52. Corvus
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:01 PM | Permalink

    Regarding the two cups of lard and a multivitamin, I’m guessing you haven’t heard of Soylent (i.e., not the people version rather the new crowdsourced one that they promise is people free). It seems…interesting.

  53. zmollon
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:54 PM | Permalink

    Hi Pat and fellow minions,
    My suggestions (favourite games are 7 Wonders, Dominion, Settlers of Catan, though I own practically every game in the top 50 on BGG)

    1) Qwirkle is fun/light. You need to match shapes by colours or shapes, but you can’t have two pieces that are the same. Board game suggests ages 6 and up, but I’ve seen younger players play it successfully. Still some strategy with how you orient your pieces for scoring points, and teachers patterning.

    2) Blokus. Extremely simple to learn, but pretty complex to play well. Basically you’re playing tetris but your coloured pieces can only touch each other at their corners. Fun game for 4 players. I belive there is a 2 player version as well.

    3) Forbidden island is pretty great. I’ve never played Forbidden desert and I’ve heard good things about it, but it’s probably slightly more complex (and at that point Pandemic is probably better anyways, although that’s pretty advanced though it’s a cooperative game so an adult can handle the mechanics and children can try to think of what to do).

  54. AirForce Green
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 6:58 PM | Permalink

    Dear Pat,

    I am a first time poster and would just like to open my message by saying I really admire your style of writing and telling stories. I was curious to know if your clever wit and storytelling powers came as the laborious result of much writing and rewriting, but was thrilled to read the story of you and your son playing a more stimulating version of Candy Land. It is just as fun to read.

    You seem like a very good parent. I have a three year old and a 1 month old myself, both boys. I find there is much we can learn from children in such times as playing boardgames or walking in the park. Their minds are so open, paying attention to every moment and being changed by it. I think it goes without saying that I’ll be picking up a copy of Candy Land and playing by an updated set of rules, but there is something else to your story. These moments cannot be factory made. The genius of youth is spontaneous and reckless I’ve noticed.

    I love all of your characters, even the bad guys. Your world is clearly well imagined and peopled with interested folks. However, there is one in particular that has caught my eye and interest. Elodin. Elodin is the one of all your characters whose book I would love to read most, I think. Are you writing a book about him? Is it already written in your head? I’m sure it must be. I don’t think such a great and eccentric character could exist without quite a meaty past. We learn so much about him in the books we’ve read so far that I almost feel set up for a release of such a book. I won’t ask you when I’ll have the book in my hand because I can imagine constantly being berated about such things, and I’m sure it gets annoying.

    I only ask,”How would you name it?”

    • babblefish
      Posted March 20, 2014 at 10:04 PM | Permalink

      While Elodin is such a mysterious and amazing character, I want to keep him that way. Kvothe is such an egotistical know-it-all. He needs to know he is not the newest thing under the sun. Elodin doesn’t go parading his exploits and I thoroughly enjoy the mystery. That is not to say the he wasn’t a kid, just saying…I do understand about going off on some character tangent. How in the hell does he know the ademi language. Clearly, he was inquisitive enough to search that out and I bet it would make a great story.

      • AirForce Green
        Posted March 23, 2014 at 4:51 PM | Permalink

        Why is Elodin not legendary? It’d be funny if Kvothe ran into a song about Elodin that he’d never heard before out in some far flung place.

  55. xendarus
    Posted March 20, 2014 at 10:13 PM | Permalink

    When I was a kid, my parents had a cool game called “Dark Tower”. If anything, it was fun just playing with the tower, building armies, and going into battles! Seemed pretty advanced for a game from the 80’s.

  56. PACW
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 2:06 PM | Permalink

    I wrote a piece for a parenting mag years ago about the importance of family game playing. My conclusion was that in a few short years the only kids with any discernible social skills would be the D&D groups.

    I have to remind myself of that when this latest group is at my kitchen table playing D&D whilst eating like orcs and swearing like sailors.

  57. Posted March 22, 2014 at 10:18 AM | Permalink


    I was sitting there watching the video and thinking to myself… what would I have done if you’d never written NOTW? I wouldn’t get the awesome parenting advice from your blog. I wouldn’t have that bond between me and a few friends, and my favorite book would still be… well something else…

    I say this because you mention in the video you’d never considered writing anything other than fantasy. And I could see you being an awesome author in any genre. Your blog reminds me of those videos a little bit. And if you ever do a compilation of stories about Oot or parenting advice you’ve learned I’d read it in a heartbeat.

    You are a level headed dude and you give great advice. Anycow, I just wanted to express that this story hit me in the feelers because I was holding my boy and thinking, Oh man, one day we get to play games together!!


    • AirForce Green
      Posted March 23, 2014 at 4:45 PM | Permalink


      I totally agree. My favorite book was probably one of the Harry Potter books, which are great books, but NOTW and WMF have had a huge impact on the way I see things. It’s nice to read someone with there ear to the ground.

      I have a three year old who thinks he’s a freight train most days and a 1 month old that I’m honestly not sure is self aware yet. My dad and older brother read this series and recommended it to me, and the conversations we have on certain goings on in Kvothe’s life often inspire great debates about art, music, the inevitability of death, and morality. These books are really good.


      You’re a master. How old should a child be before I read these stories to him, in your opinion?


  58. COdebatecoach
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 3:06 PM | Permalink

    Oh yeah, this is a great blog entry!

    My nine year old and I started this a few years ago, but with card games.


    Then, war but you get to pick up 5 cards and play them in any order you want. Extra cards to resolve a “war” get pulled from the blind deck as usual.

    Next, we pulled an older sibling in and played a straight up, no trump, 8 card trick taking game. Your score is how many tricks you take.

    Next, we made one suit trump (the next undealt card).

    Before long, she was playing Hearts, Spades, then Euchre. All this in about 2 months of fun. Parenthood is a lot of fun with games!

  59. choefer
    Posted March 26, 2014 at 9:33 PM | Permalink

    For the last 5 or 6 weeks I have been teaching a class sponsored by unitedway at the university where I go to school. I am introducing 4th and 5th graders to electrical circuits and programming trying to help develope their imaginations and natural inventiveness.
    While most of these kids don’t have the knowlege to do much of this on their own, its neat to see their eyes light up when they make a circuit work.
    In many ways the games you speak of perform the same role, if on a bit lower level, teaching them how to think logicaly and analyticaly without closing their minds to ideas that may be seen as “outside the box”. They pave the path for the later lessons of life.

  60. Brainfreeze
    Posted March 31, 2014 at 4:51 PM | Permalink

    I really suggest Catan: Junior for kids. I have been playing this with my wife and our six year old daughter. The rules are easy to understand and game play is quick enough that she does not lose interest before the game finishes.

  61. pusanguy
    Posted April 1, 2014 at 3:43 AM | Permalink

    A word of caution:

    I learned a painful lesson a few years ago.

    My son had just turned 10 and I thought it was time to introduce them to some serious teamwork-oriented console gaming. We started out with Lego Star Wars and would make occasional forays into call of duty or gears of war. While we were playing these games, I found myself getting often frustrated and quite angry that he was walking around doing some non-mission oriented something or other, which would often result in me getting my ass kicked or failing to achieve some objective. This would usually lead to instructional techniques such as shouting “Connor, what are you doing????” and “Connor, pay attention.”

    Then, he did something in one game that caused me to yell something like, “okay. That is it. I quit. If you’re are just going to keep messing around and doing stupid stuff, I am not to play this anymore. Turn the stupid thing off.” He got real quiet. I looked over and saw that there were tears rolling down his cheeks.

    Of course, it broke my heart. It finally sank in that, as much as I give them credit for being a bright kid, he is not an adult. He was playing that game on entirely different level and for an entirely different reason than I was. He was playing it simply because he got to do what was perceived as a grown-up thing while spending some precious time together playing with his dad. Me, I was just an uber-competitive controlling asshole that made a 10-year-old boy cry.

    We pushed pause and had a conversation about my behavior. It was painful as hell for me and basically boiled down to “your dad is a dick who takes unimportant things way too seriously sometimes.” I gave him explicit permission that if I ever said anything that made him uncomfortable or said anything that made him feel bad in any way, he could punch me in the arm and say, “Relax dad. It’s just a game.“

    I am proud to say, that he only had to say that to me once. The past three years have been awesome gaming together on the xbox. Eventually, I was able to turn control of missions and formulation of ideas over to him and ask him for his ideas on what we should do, how we should solve a problem, and where we should go next. The competitiveness, and not wanting to die, and working towards goals came naturally.

    Even when the kids get older, just have fun. Never forget that just playing a game with dad is the coolest thing for a kid and makes them feel like he is on top of the world. Don’t do dickish things to take even that joy away from them.

  62. ravenchow
    Posted April 6, 2014 at 10:00 PM | Permalink

    On the topics of games, I found a game similar (at least in my mind) to tak (or tack or whatever). It goes by the name of Go.

  63. Mordy
    Posted April 7, 2014 at 2:17 PM | Permalink

    I have a 3.5 year old. Our favorite board game is the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel game. I think it checks off all the items you mentioned you look for in a game Enjoy!

  64. Marcio
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 6:04 PM | Permalink

    I can’t wait to have kids and play monopoly and battleship with them.

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