Finding games to play with my 3 year old presents a special challenge. She's not super interested in following complicated rules. Or achieving far-off objectives (the kind that might not happen for an entire turn!).
To a board gaming fan who watches all the reviews and sees all the news popping up over at boardgamegeek, it might seem like little kid games are the farthest concern.
They are out there! Today we take a break from grown-up fare and look at a primo little kid game I stumbled across. HABA's Monster Bake!
Note: my household had quite the discussion on what to call this game. The official English name is "Monster Bake" however as the rulebook clearly calls out, the monsters are certainly not baking they are DECORATING.
The listed age on the box is 5-99, but my 3 year old was happy to jump right in. She seemed to comprehend everything just fine. My 9-year-old son played along to make her happy, but would certainly never play this if she wasn't involved. My wife got extremely competitive, and will no doubt be the reigning Monster Bake champion in our household, probably forever. So the right adults can find something to like here, too.
The objective of Monster Bake is simple. We played the game a couple different ways (true to a 3 year old's idea of fair play) but all the ways were close to the actual rules. Essentially, you flip over a card and the card shows the kinds of marbles you need to sort out of the middle and place in your bowl.
The objectives range from 4 marbles of different colors, all the way down to 1 (for instance, a single red marble). There are no objectives showing multiple marbles of the same color. The single and double marble cards are really nice for younger kids, who sometimes need to catch up if the game starts moving too fast.
There is a trick to using the spoon. Approach a marble too slowly, and the smooth wooden sphere tends to roll off the sides instead of ending up in the middle. What you have to do instead is jerk your spoon towards the target and try to get the marble to bounce up and in. And least, that's how it seems during the 50 or so times we've played so far.
Once you've grabbed your marble, just carefully navigate it over to your bowl and drop it in. Hopefully no one will try to knock the marble back off your spoon, which sometimes happens in more cutthroat sessions. Vicious!
Need for Speed
The most important goal when playing with younger kids, and the part Monster Bake meets and exceeds, is keep the action moving along.
Filling your bowl with the correct marbles takes half a minute. Then the objective is completed, and we are ready to move on to an entirely new objective. Meeting the requirements of each card was actually the most important part of the game for my daughter, rather than her competition with me.
In fact after quite a few competitive games, the variant she prefers puts me in the role of the game, turning cards over for her and telling her when to go, and allowing her to fill the order by herself. I end up being a referee and game master for what is essentially a solo game.
How it stacks up
The closest equivalent to Monster Bake in my collection is another game I bought for my daughter…Think Fun's Roll n' Play. Remove the giant plush die (which my daughter does anyway) and you have a bunch of simple objectives for kids to perform.
Monster Bake is a step up in complexity, changing the objectives from simple "touch your nose," "jump 3 times," style body awareness exercises and focuses attention like a laser beam into a challenging dexterity puzzle. If your little one wants to start out using their hands to help guide the marble onto the spoon, don't blame them because this can be HARD even for an adult!
As a kid, they are going to get the hang of it pretty quick.
Now I'm in the process of analyzing the rest of the HABA catalog. If you want to do the same, check out their web site or see some really awesome videos showing kids in action.