We’re installing a new Point of Sale cash at the store (I know, it has taken months — but it’s ready to go now, truly), and one of the most interesting and compelling reasons we decided to make the switch was the amazing amount of information we could wring from each inventory item.
For example, I decided to group the games into their own category, which was only logical. What this grouping allowed me to do, however, was to assign a number of definable fields to each game, such as the name of the designer, the publisher, the recommended number of players, the recommended player age, and so on. We can then sift out games by these criteria, so that if you ask me what games we have from Rio Grande Games, say, that are designed for two to four players, I can tell you.
It’s not a perfect system (it doesn’t recognize that “ages 12 and up” is a subset of “ages 10 and up”, for example), but we’ll be able to tweak it a bit as time goes on. The point is that it’s miles beyond anything we’ve had available to us before. Our previous Point of Sale (usually abbreviated POS) dated from 1999, and while it served us valiantly for many years — and still functions just fine in its cash register function — it really didn’t do much in the way of inventory management.
For instance, until I started entering the store inventory into the new system this past January (yes, it has taken that long for us to get this ready), I really had no idea that we had hundreds of different children’s games in stock. But now I do.
And so, when I saw a guest-blogger piece in a trade magazine that suggested no childhood would be complete without having played a rather tired list of mass-market children’s games, I thought “Why not update that list? Why not see whether there is anything better out there, possibly on our shelves right now, that could be substituted for any of the items listed?”
And so here we are, newly-armed with the data from the POS and anxious to see whether we can make an improved list of “Board Games You Shouldn’t Miss Before Becoming an Adult”.
The first on the original list was Candy Land, from Hasbro. Candy Land, for those who may have grown up on a desert island with only a slightly-deflated volleyball for company, is a board game designed for children ages 3 and up. No reading skills are required, and the game itself is language independent, so that it’s great for families who speak a different language at home. Players draw a colour card and move their playing pieces to the next pathway space that matches. There are some obstacles, but it’s basically a roll-and-move type race game in which no decisions are required. The game teaches colour recognition, turn-taking, and introduces children to the idea of winning and losing in the context of games.
Appraisal: Not entirely a bad choice as a first game, but, along with Candy Land, why not add Harvest Time from Family Pastimes Games to your stockpile? It has all the same attributes (learning colours, taking turns) but also has the virtue of being a co-operative game. Either players all win, or else the game “wins”. No single winner means fewer tears and tantrums for young
losers players who have not yet realized that you can’t win ’em all. In Harvest Time, the players “harvest” their gardens by rolling a colour-spot die and removing the matching coloured token, which represents a vegetable. The risk-factor in the game is the Winter, which advances each time a player rolls a white spot on the D-6. The goal is to get all the gardens safely harvested before Winter arrives, so when a player has harvested all the “carrots” in his garden, say, and rolls an orange spot, what does he do? He helps his neighbour, of course, and harvests a carrot for him.
Apart from teaching the virtues of co-operation, Harvest Time’s play time is a bit shorter, as well, at about 15 minutes. It’s definitely not as glossy a product as Candy Land; all Family Pastimes products have a sort of “home-made” look to them, although they are carefully designed by former teachers, manufactured right here in Ontario, and enjoyed by players around the world.
Second on the conventional list was Monopoly, both the Junior and the regular versions. Monopoly has a venerable history, with its roots in the fortunes made and lost in the run-up to the Great Depression. The game falls into the “economic” board game category, as players buy and trade properties and collect rents. The game continues until all players but one have gone bankrupt. The playing time is long, and the play experience can be intensely frustrating. In this way, of course, one could see Monopoly as a short and cost-effective course in Real Life. Part of Monopoly’s allure, I think, comes from the use of the iconic “Monopoly Money” — when do most of us mortals otherwise hold $500 bills? Monopoly Junior uses the same game mechanic, slightly simplified, and with smaller denomination bills (nothing bigger than a $5, alas).
Appraisal: In addition to Monopoly Junior, why not try Catan Junior, a game designed for ages 6 and up, from Mayfair Games? Like all Catan games, it has an elegant game mechanic in which all players may gain resources on every turn, so that players must pay attention to what’s happening at all times. Unlike the original Settlers of Catan, Catan Junior has a simplified game board and a pirate theme, so that players are vying to build 7 pirate lairs around a 10-island archipelago. Players roll a single D6, receive resources (in this case, cutlasses, molasses, goats, wood, and gold) which are combined to purchase pirates’ lairs, ships, and special helpful tiles. There is also an element of chance: just as in the original Settlers, Catan Junior has a Robber figure (although here he is the Ghost Captain and is moved when a player rolls a 6) who renders the tile on which he is placed unproductive for the duration of his stay. The odds of rolling a 6 are, of course, 1 in 6 on any given roll (the same as rolling a 7 using two D6s). Players can also trade resources with the bank and with each other, so that negotiation skills are called on, although the fact that goods are bartered instead of sold and bought means that counting and addition skills are not reinforced in the same way as in Monopoly Junior. Catan Junior blends luck and decision-making, making it a more interesting game to play than Monopoly Junior.
The next conventional choice is Trouble, also from Hasbro. This is a commercialized version of Pachisi (known also as Parcheesi and, in England, as Ludo), a game that has been played for at least 1500 years.
This is essentially a race game, with no strategy whatsoever. Still, it’s fun. The Hasbro version uses the Pop-O-Matic dice rolling mechanism, which is a nice touch as the dice stay safe and sound under their plastic dome. The automatic dice rolls also ensure that any precocious Sky Masterson wannabes can’t manipulate the dice throws.
Appraisal: This one’s a classic. Play it in any of its forms with children aged four or five and up. Snakes and Ladders (sometimes known as Chutes and Ladders, for the Ophidiophobic) is a good alternative since it uses the same roll-and-move game mechanic.