Give Board Games a Spin

The next time your family is making a beeline toward the video game department of a toy store, try taking a detour into the board game section. You’ll find plenty of old favorites and new variations. Along with the simpler luck-of-the-dice racing games for younger children, there are complex scenario strategy games for older kids and teens.

Organized by types, many of these games do have small pieces and can present a choking hazard. Look for warnings on each game’s box.

Preschool Games
Candy Land (Milton Bradley) Ages 3 and up
Baby Boomers will remember this psychedelic journey through Gumdrop Pass, Lollipop Woods and Molasses Swamp. No reading, spinner or dice — just color-matching. The Pooh Candy Land Edition 100-Acre Wood Picnic Game has Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and Tigger pawns, nine stand-up scenes and a yummy recipe. There’s also a Dora the Explorer version with characters racing to the fiesta.

Cootie (Milton Bradley) Ages 3 and up
It’s OK to have Cooties in this game. Roll the die and build your bug. The same creative and dexterity skills are used with Mr. Potato Head. Star Wars fans will get a laugh from Mr. Potato Head Darth Tater. (Spud, I am your father . . .)

Memory (Hasbro) Ages 3 and up
Remember this one? Flip over two cards from the deck, trying to make a match. If you do, keep the pair. The player with the most pairs wins. In addition to the original version, there’s Pooh, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Blue’s Clues, Mr. Potato Head and The Disney Edition.

Mousetrap (Hasbro) Ages 3 and up
This unique Rube Goldberg machine-version of the proverbial “build a better mousetrap” challenge is a game that has no copycats. After a few successful trappings, players invariably use the pieces to try to build their own contraptions.

Operation (Milton Bradley) Ages 6 and up
A battery-operated game of skill that requires the removal of “ailments” from Sam the Patient with the tweezers without setting off his red-nose buzzer. The Shrek Edition has equally amusing ailments. The Brain Surgery version has Sam’s head making wisecrack remarks throughout play.

Strategy Games

Loot (Gamewright) Ages 8 and up
One of the five board games selected in 2005 by the American Mensa Society to receive their Mensa Select seal indicating games that are “fresh, challenging and well-designed.” Kids can enjoy playing as pirates plundering merchant ships on the high seas. Up to eight persons can play this clever card game, including as conspiring teammates.

Settlers of Catan (Mayfair Games) Ages 12 and up
This strategy game for three or four persons is credited with the growth of the new “designer” games. Players work to obtain the resources their settlers need to build roads, settlements and cities across the wilderness. A combination of luck, skill and player interaction create an equal footing for players of all ages.

Stratego (Hasbro) Ages 8 and up
This battlefield “capture-the-flag” two-player classic is a great first strategy board game. Position your spy, plant your bombs and protect your flag. Now you can do battle in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition, the Star Wars Saga Edition and a Duel Master’s version.

Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder) Ages 8 and up
Winner of the prestigious Spiel des Jahres Award for 2004 (German Game of the Year), this railroad game has two to five players attempting to lay track connecting important North American cities circa 1900. Unlike some other strategy games, this one is easy to learn and play. Plus, game play can last only an hour or so.

Word Games

Scrabble (Milton Bradley) Ages 8 and up
Words games like Scrabble are usually where adults have the upper hand. Kids might prefer the 3-dimensional Upwords, where players stack letter tiles over crosswords on the board to change the word for more points. There’s Scrabble Junior, a word-and-picture version for younger elementary-aged children. For bi-lingual families or students, the Spanish version places different letter values to correspond with Spanish language usage.

Cranium (Cranium) Ages 12 and up
You’ll need at least four players, but can play with up to 30. The 14 activity categories incorporate creativity, performance, language skills and practical knowledge. Cadoo is for elementary-age kids. Cariboo is for even younger children, but watch for small parts.
Similar party games include, Taboo, a word-association game; Scattergories, a categories game; Balderdash, a bluffing game; or Pictionary, a sketching game.

Classic Games

Chess (Various Manufacturers) Ages 4 and up
Everyone should learn to play chess. It’s a universal language. If your child likes Stratego and finds checkers boring, try chess. Not only are there dozens of beautiful wooden, glass or metal sets of various sizes, there are plenty of sets with historic, cartoon and movie characters as the playing pieces.

Monopoly (Parker Brothers) Ages 8 and up
What’s your favorite pawn piece in this 70-year-old board game of real estate and greed? The play itself is based primarily on the roll of the dice and can be slow and long. So the fun can come by investing in one of more than 100 themes available. From Astronomy to Disney Princess to Muppets to Simpsons to several U.S. Armed Forces versions, the variations on the classic shoe, thimble and iron could keep your family busy all summer. You can even Make Your Own Opoly Game (by TDC) with the kit, markers, scissors and/or a PC. Most of the versions can be ordered over the Internet, but local stores carry a popular variety.

If you can’t decide on one game, buy a tin or box full of classics that may include Chess, Checkers, Chinese Checkers, Backgammon, Dominoes, Pick-Up-Sticks, Jacks and a deck of playing cards, especially for when your family goes on vacation.
The real beauty of board games is, unlike video games, a parent might actually have a chance to win!