As the holiday break season is wrapping up, many parents are questioning their hold on reality.  I posit – it doesn’t have to be that way.   When I was growing up, there were a set of classics that were played over and over and over.

When I grew up, I found out that no one particularly loved them, but felt a responsibility for “family time” and felt that games were good for learning.  And if they had to play the game of Life one more time, child abandonment was not out of the realm of possibility.

The reality is that many of the games the children of the 80’s, 90’s and 00’s grew up on were bad.  Very bad.  And many that were somewhat good were deeply flawed due to the limitations of what made a game a game to major publishers.

We don’t need to put up with that any longer.  This series is going to look at how we can substitute the games we grew up on with newer games that will increase enjoyment for the whole table.

As a reference point, there are three criteria I looked for in looking for replacements:

  1.  Make Meaningful Choices. Many of the older games thrived on the mechanic of roll the dice, move, do what the space says.  Ever those that gave choices (Monopoly) didn’t really give choices.  Because it was obvious what the right move was, there was no freedom.
  2. Increase the Aesthetics.With the new wave of games, there is no excuse for ugly.
  3. No Player Elimination. Want to make a kid hate a game?  Eliminate them and keep playing.

So, here’s the first four options.  Let me know about your ideas.

Replace Clue with Stop, Thief!
So what gives with creating a game for kids and then eliminating them if they make a bad guess?

Clue may be a beloved game but it has some severe faults. Obviously, it is not a good scenario when an 8 year old makes a false accusation and then must sit around watching others play the rest of the game.

But there something more rotten in the game – and it has to do with what Clue does well. Clue at its heart is a logic puzzle – players move from room to room, gaining evidence from each other until they are sure they know who killed Professor Plum. This core idea drives Clue and gives it a forward push.

Except that it depends on dice to move around. A game that helps introduce kids to logic puzzles depends on complete randomness for success. You may know that Ms Scarlet was the murderer with the pipe in the Den, but if you keep rolling 2’s your brilliance does you no good. And every good logician knows that luck with dice in is inverse proportion to how much you need high rolls.

It’s not a bad game. But what if it could be so much better?

Enter Stop, Thief!Stop, Thief! is a game from the 80’s that Restoration Games brought up to modern standards. It keeps the deduction element alive but completely does away with player elimination. Instead, you – as an individual or as a team of investigators – race against the thiefs. An app gives you sound-based clues on where the thieves may be and it is up to you to examine the map and determine their location.
Players use a handful of cards with different values and special powers to move around the map to where they think the thieves are headed. Once there, they make an accusation and if they’re wrong…nothing happens. They just pay some money and keep on playing.

This is so much more satisfying. You are in control of where you go – not randomness. You will continue playing to the bitter end. It’s not perfect – the art is horridly bland – but it gives a great intro to logic and makes you wonder – what would Clue look like if it used an app instead of cards? Because the logic puzzle portion of Clue is amazing. It just sucks for a child to be left behind.
As an added bonus, Stop, Thief! comes with a co-operative mode. Instead of playing against your children, you can work with them to combat crime.
Stop, Thief is available directly from Restoration Games for $30 here. It may also be available from Amazon 3rd party sellers.

Replace Monopoly with Flamme Rouge
Let’s talk about a game that seems like it offers tons of choices but in reality offers few real choices. Monopoly, simply put, is a horrid game – period. The only opening gambit is to roll the dice and buy as much as possible. And if one person gets good rolls and you get bad rolls, well….
I know that Parker Bros advertises it as the “ultimate trading game,” but really? For anyone who knows what they’re doing, trades are stagnant because the cost of giving someone a monopoly is so high. And if you’re playing with kids, you know who the sucker is. So it degenerates down to a race around the board to collect more money and buy more property.

Flamme Rouge is not a trading game. It’s a bicycle racing game. Bicycle Racing? That sounds boooring!

Well, no. It turns out the replacing dice with a deck of cards1 makes kids weigh options. Each turn, you draw three cards that vary from moving two spaces to 9 spaces and secretly choose one for that turn. The rest go back on the bottom of the pile. And then everyone moves simultaneously. If you end up in the front of the pack or alone, you take an exhaustion card that gives a movement value of two and place it with the other cards you didn’t choose.

So each turn, you’re asking yourself – is this the time to break away and try to win the race or should I stay in the pack. Complicating matter is that each player has two racers so that they can try to use them together as a pack of their own. See? Racing around a board need not require dice to be exciting!

You can find it at Amazon for roughly $50.

Replace Dominos with Kingdomino
I have nothing against dominos. I’m sure it’s a great game. It’s just when I think of dominos, I think of this:

Not that:

Everyone has a set of dominos laying around their house. Hardly every used. Why? Because it’s boring and frustrating. Match a tile. If you can’t match a tile, keep drawing until you can match. Soon, one person ends up with a legion of dominos.2 And which set of rules do you use? Dominos seems to have more house rules than Monopoly. But the biggest sin? It’s just kind of boring.

Enter Spiel des Jahres award-winning Kingdomino.

It actually has little to do with Dominos except it’s played with tiles that are divided in half with different art (terrain types such as forest, desert, sea, etc in this case) on each half. Some of those halves have crowns on it. Each turn players pick a domino and place it around their castle in a 5 x 5 grid. The catch? Unless the domino is touching a player’s castle, one of the halves must touch a previously-lain domino half with that same terrain art. And it needs to stay within a 5 x 5 grid. And you get bonus points for forming a perfect square. And more for having your castle at the center of that square. Scoring is drop dead simple for kids (and parents) to understand.

My daughter took to Kingdomino because it is a rare combination of artwork that she likes, gameplay that she can understand but challenges her, and a feeling that she can beat me. What I like about it is that it is introducing her to simple game drafting and tile-laying concepts as well as forcing her to think in advance.

Kingdomino can be found here for around $17.

Replace The Game of Life with Fireball Island!
Another game with no real decision making. You’re going to college. You’re going to trade salary cards with the person who has the highest salary. I’d say this is a race game like Monopoly, but it’s the exact opposite. The Game of Life actually rewards the player who gets the lowest spins.[Footnote]Note: Substituting a spinner for dice doesn’t change randomness. It’s just a novelty. And for younger kids, you’ll be reseating that dang spinner continuously. Just get a ten-sided die.[/footnote]. The only real choice is whether to buy stock and I’ve yet to see a game where that decision overpowered who got the most turns.

Fireball Island, another game by Restoration Games, is not perfect. But it is fun. Remade from a classic 90’s boardgame, it does away with dice in favor of action cards. Each turn you play a card, do the action on the card, and collect a new action card. To be honest, the gameplay is not horribly interesting.

But the aesthetics take the meh gameplay and deliver a game that



For starters, Fireball Island is a molded model of an island that adventurers move around looking to collect treasures and snapshots3The vanity is that the players are adventure tourists on a cursed volcanic island[/island]. At the top of the island is Vul-Kar -the volcano/god. Every once in a while, a player will set loose Vul-Kar’s fury by dumping marbles in it’s top – sending these round bits of volcanic chaos down various paths on the island and knocking down the adventures.

Getting hit by lava doesn’t kill a player – it just means they lose a treasure. And players have some control over it. On the island are a number of 3D palm trees. The adventurers can twist these – blocking trails and diverting the lava to other players – and even change the way Vul-Kar faces. For pure kinesthetic joy, it’s hard to beat Fireball Island.
Fireball Island can be found here for around $75.