Thursday, December 23, 2021

The 5 Best New-To-Us Kids Games of 2021

The 5 Best New-To-Us Kids Games of 2021
Plus 4 Honorable Mentions

This year my youngest son (aged 3.5 to 4.5 years old throughout 2021) really got into board games, so this is the first year I've decided to add a new list of kids games to my annual top games lists.  

He got a bunch for Christmas last year and a bunch more for his birthday over the summer (and he'll be getting more for this Christmas in a few days).  In 2020 he played mostly simple games, like Race to the Treasure (Peaceable Kingdom), The Little Firefighters (Advance Games by Foxmind), My First Stone Age (Z_Man Games), and My First Castle Panic (Fireside Games), which are still favorites.  This year though, he's really broadened his gaming experiences!  He'll join in on just about anything now, even playing on his own for games like Spelndor, Dice Forge, and Potion Explosion (though he needs quite a bit of help).  His favorites though are the games that he can play completely on his own and they're actually pretty decent games. 

In case you're wondering what else (besides what's on this list) that a four year old can play (with varying degrees of independence), here are the other games (not necessarily new to us though) that he played in 2021:  
  • Captain Carcass - With some help - he actually won!
  • Catan: Junior - With some help, and he loves the pirate theme.
  • Dice Forge - With some help - he really enjoyed this, especially swapping out dice sides.
  • Floriferous - Simple mechanics he was able to grasp fine, though the strategy was out of his reach.
  • Headbanz For Kids - This is fun and he's getting better and giving (and figuring out) clues.
  • Hues and Cues - Mechanically he gets it, but his life experiences make giving good clues or understanding clues given a challenge, but with some help he gets it!
  • Labyrinth - He loves this, but needs help with finding good paths.
  • Legends of Andor - He was able to play his character and we helped him with some of the decisions.
  • Memory - A classic, and I think he's better than his old parents.
  • Mole Rats in Space - He enjoys this, especially with my variant that makes it a little less predetermined.
  • My First Castle Panic - This was on my top games list last year and it's still a favorite!
  • My First Stone Age - This also made it on my top games list last year and we still enjoy it.  
  • Mölkky - (Spoiler) This yard game makes it onto my to New To Me games list for this year.  We love it, especially since the whole family can be competitive!  It's not a kids game, otherwise it'd be in the top 5 here, too!
  • Polyhedral Perils - This is one of my designs that he playtested with me.
  • Potion Explosion - He needed a lot of help finding good combinations, but once he got marbles he mixed the potions on his own.
  • Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time - A fun cooperative game that he enjoyed.
  • Race to the Treasure! - Still a favorite of his, though he asks for it less now.
  • Splendor - He understands the mechanics if not the strategy yet.
  • Spot It! - He loves this and often beats us!
  • Stuffed Fables - This is more about the story you experience than the mechanics, so it works well for all ages!
  • Sum Swamp - This was a favorite of my older boys and now my youngest is starting to play, and learning arithmetic along the way!
  • Surprise Slides - The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Mind numbingly simple.  He enjoyed it twice, but hasn't asked for it since (and it's now vanished from the house).
  • Zombie Dice - Super simple press-your-luck and he's often luckier than I am.
  • Zombicide: Black Plague - OK, maybe a little dark for a four year old, but the mechanics are simple enough and he loves taking out zombies.
Also, check out my top lists (mostly adult games) for 202020192018201720162015, and 2014.

4 Honorable Mentions:
I'll start with four quick Honorable Mentions.  These are games he enjoys, but dont' quite make the cut for the whole family.  They do make it to the table on occasion though.
  • Carcassonne Junior (2009, Z-Man Games) - Carcassonne is still one of my favorite games, and this was a nice introduction to some of the basic mechanics, particularly matching up tiles.  Unfortunately we found this super simple and more reliant on luck than any actual strategy.  There are a few choices to make, but the winner is the first player able to place all their meeples, and that's heavily reliant on drawing enough tiles with your character's colors on them before the other players.
  • Connectors - Mission Space (2020, Skillmatics) - This looked promising, with similar tile-laying mechanics to Carcassonne, but it suffered from some very restrictive placement rules and some unbalanced tile colors.  I've added a custom starting tile and tweaked a few of the rules that I think will help with that, but we haven't played again since the first time.  I do want to try it again though because I think it has potential with those changes.
  • The Magic Labyrinth (2009, Drei Magier Spiele) - We picked this up at a thrift store and it's become a favorite.  It's very similar to Labyrinth, but with a cool magnet and hidden maze mechanic.  This would have been number 6 on my top 5 list.
  • Ugah Ugah! (2015, HABA) - This is a fun little press-your-luck dice and set collection game.  It's quick and simple, but not usually his first choice when we have time to play something.

Top 5 New-To-Us Kids Games of 2021:

OK, so now on to the top 5, New-To-Us kids games of 2021!

5. Outfoxed! (2014, Gamewright) - My son loves playing this multiple times in a row!  It's a super simple deduction game where you are trying to figure out which fox stole the pot pie before the fox escapes town.  You'll choose an action (look for clues or find suspects) and then roll three dice up to three times trying to get matching symbols.  If you succeed you get to take your action, if not then the fox moves closer to escaping.  If you find suspects you'll get to reveal two suspect cards that each show one of the foxes suspected of stealing the pie.  Clues are various articles of clothing and as you move around the game board to find them you'll get to learn if the culprit is wearing various items.  Each of the sixteen suspect has three of the twelve articles of clothing.  As you play you'll get to narrow down the suspects that match the articles of clothing that the culprit has or doesn't have until you either solve the mystery or the culprit escapes.  The game has a pretty good balance between strategy and luck and my son loves the theme and the logic behind figuring out the culprit.  I only wish there were more than sixteen suspects with a bit more variety in clue combinations.  There are over 1300 combinations, so with only 16 possible suspects a lot of them are the same with just one difference, so you're either searching and searching for one specific clue or you're just waiting for the last suspect to come up.  The game doesn't need 1300 suspects, but 20-30 would have been nice.  Maybe an expansion some day?  

4. Dragon's Breath
(2017, HABA) - I first saw Dragon's Breath at the HABA booth at GenCon 2018 and thought it would be great for kids, but when he was a little older.  Fast forward to Christmas 2020 and I figured he was the right age for it (3.5 years).  It was the first of his Christmas games that he wanted to play and still, a whole year later, it's still one of his favorites.  It's fast to play (about 10 minutes), has a tiny bit of strategy, but it simple and balanced enough for everyone to have a chance.  Plus it looks great with all the sparkling acrylic gems!

3. Dragomino
(2020, Blue Orange Games) - This is also known as My First King Domino and uses several mechanics from the original game, but simpler with a fun twist.  In the game you're looking for dragon eggs and you get them by drafting a tile, adding the tile to your lands, and collecting dragon eggs for terrain types that match.  Then you get to check to see if the eggs you collected are empty or have baby dragons in them.  Different terrain types have different frequencies on the tiles and also have different numbers of eggs, but they all have the same number of baby dragons.  So the desert is a common terrain type and there are lots of eggs, but a higher proportion of them are empty, whereas the rarer volcanic terrain has fewer eggs, but the same number of dragons.  At the end of the game the player that saved the most baby dragons is the winner.  I absolutely love this game and it's interesting enough that I think we'll be playing it for years to come!

2. Zombie Kidz Evolution
(2018, Scorpion Masqué) - Until this year I had never played a legacy game.  I generally don't have the time to play one game multiple times in a row.  I love playing new things, so usually a game will get one or two plays out of my game group before it gets set aside for months (or even years) while we play all sorts of other games once or twice.  But this summer we got my son Zombie Kidz Evolution, our first ever legacy game!  It's a super simple game about driving zombies out of a school and trying to lock the four doors to secure the school before you're overrun by zombies.  The game starts out with super simple mechanics and you have to get really unlucky dice rolls to lose.  But after each game you get to put a sticker on a game tracker and after so many games you get to open an envelope that adds a new rule or new feature to the game.  You get to add new rule stickers to the rulebook, add stickers to certain components, earn new cards, and complete mission objectives.  The changes are the kinds of things you'd expect, like new character abilities, special zombie abilities, etc. but they do a great job of slowly increasing the game's complexity.  They also add to the theme and story and keep what is otherwise a very simple game, interesting.  It's not like other legacy games where you end up with a unique version of your game since everyone will end up with the same changes in their copy of the game, but it's been fun to add new stuff to our game.  It keeps us coming back for more, excitedly waiting for the next chance to open an envelope.  And I'm genuinely curious to see where this will end up.  There are four characters and four types of zombies, but fifteen different envelopes to open.  So I wonder what other surprises the game has in store for us!

1. The Quest Kids
(2021, Treasure Falls Games) - This was a last-minute gift added in for my son's 4th birthday this summer and it's been a HUGE hit in our house.  It's a simple enough game that my 4 year old knows all the rules and can even set it up on his own, but it has enough going on that even my 12 and 15 year olds enjoy playing it.  In The Quest Kids you are four adventurers (based on characters from a YouTube series apparently) that are exploring the mysterious home of the missing wizard, Tolk the Wise.  As you explore you'll find rewards (in the form of Power, Wisdom, and Magic cards as well as Treasure tokens), special Gems (worth points), and sometimes monsters (also worth points).  To defeat monsters you'll need to spend various combinations of Power, Wisdom, and Magic.  If you don't have the required cards you can ask for help.  Everyone has a chance to chip in to help you defeat the monster, and if they do they earn Kind Kid cards that give them special rewards!  There are also Quests that you can complete to earn more points.  The game ends after all the rooms have been explored and the player with the most stars wins.  Mechanically the game is super simple, and it's pretty reliant on luck at times, but I love how it rewards cooperation while still being competitive.  I even brought this to a regular game night that my son had to tag along with and the other players we played with (an adult friend and his 17 year old son) enjoyed the game, too.  This is a wonderful game for any adventurous family, perfect for kids ages 5 and up (or younger if they're big gamers).  There's an expansion for the game (The Trials of Tolk the Wise) that we plan on trying out over the holidays.  It adds a campaign mode with puzzles, more story, character abilities, some legacy elements, and more.  I'm really excited to see how that makes an already fun game even more entertaining and expansive.

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GJJ Games Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

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