Every summer, it's the same thing. As our kids focus more and more on fun, their parents and teachers start to worry that all their careful teaching is being completely forgotten.
One way to fight this annual IQ drop lies is to find things that will get your kids wanting to think. Help them find ways to enjoy using their brains, and, hopefully, they'll use them. Last year's Summer Brain article was one of the most popular ones I've written, so this year I decided to do a sequel, adding games that are new this year.
Farkle Frenzy, by Patch, adds a 3-D dice tower to the game of Farkle. The Bubble Hub in the center of the dice tower contains a die. One player presses it to roll the common die and then it's off to the races, with each player rolling and scoring at the same time. Education-wise, this is all about math and probabilities and quick-thinking.
Scattergories Categories, by Winning Moves. Scattergories is pretty much an all-time classic in this category. Players race to write down words in different categories, all beginning with the same letter. Scattergories Categories updates the concept, with one subject for each round, and different letters. It sounds like a small change, but it takes what was already a great game and makes it absolutely phenomenal. You simply can't play this game without laughing.
Ticked Off, by RNR Games adds a competitive twist to the categories idea. Like Scattergories, you're racing to write down things in a category (as in "Things in a pie"). With this one, though, before you start racing, you place bids based on how many things you think you will be able to write down. The bidding ramps up the sense of competition. Even though the game is light and fun, it turns on the pressure and sets your heart pounding - the perfect answer to a lazy summer day. It comes out in August, so keep an eye out for it!
The first two games in this category could form their own category: Chess. Why would I make Chess its own category? Well, because I ran across two great Chess games this year, and I wanted to let you know about them. Besides, you can never go wrong with Chess.
Solitaire Chess, by ThinkFun, is more of a puzzle than a game. That is, until you sit down with it. Yes, it's technically a one-player game, and it's fun to play that way. It's even more fun if you sit down with someone else and either challenge each other or work together to solve the puzzles. The puzzles, in a nut shell, are devious. You have a small (4x4) chess board with pieces on it, and your goal is to move the pieces to capture each other until there is only one left at the end. Sounds easy, doesn't it? ThinkFun has a good number of these sorts of addictive single-player things. If you prefer a more word-based challenge, take a look at PathWords.
Quarterback King is a combination of chess and football. Sounds weird, right? It is, kind of, but it's also a lot of fun. Each football player is assigned the same movement as a chess piece. When you are on offense, you try to move your quarterback to the other team's end zone. When you are on defense, you try to stop the other player from getting there. In essence, it's a series of innovative chess puzzles. If you have any chess players in your family, this is a great choice.
FlipOut, by GameWright, is a set-making card game that turns the genre on its ear. How? The cards are double-sided and in holders. You get to use the front sides of your cards, but everyone else gets to use the back sides. On your turn, you can flip, swap, or move a card. I did say this was the brain twisting category, right? It's also a lot of fun!
Old Classics Re-imagined
Of all the games in this article, Scrabble Flash is the easiest to get people to play. Just give your family a 30 second demo and leave it out on the kitchen table. Within a week, you'll notice that at any given moment of the day, someone is playing. From impromptu show-downs to solitary sessions, it simply becomes a part of your lifestyle.
Briarpatch has two games that are great to pull reluctant younger kids into playing. The first is I-Spy Spectacular. It's the familiar I-Spy game, but with riddle cards and a 3-D spinner. The second is a three dimensional tic tac toe called Tic Tac Turn. It looks like regular tic tac toe, but once the first player spins a level, the game turns fascinating (pardon the pun). It's the sort of thing that will have your 8-year old scratching his head and leaning all around the game to see what move to make. Heck, it'll have you doing the same thing.
Animals of the World
I'll admit it: of all the game categories out there, trivia games are my least favorite. For whatever reason, they just don't appeal to me. FoxMind's new game Fauna, however, is a blast. In it, you take guesses at characteristics of animals that you most likely have never heard of before, and score based on how well you do. Throw in an interesting scoring mechanic and some crazy animals, and you have a game that's a lot of fun. [Note: Fauna is not technically new to 2011. It's been previously been published in other languages].
One Last Note
If this list seems a little short, it's because I've been trying to focus on games new for 2011. There are tons of great games out there that aren't new this year. Qwirkle, for example, just won the Spiel des Jahres, and it's a ton of fun. Also, take a look at last year's article for a whole lot more games, all of which are still every bit as fun now as they were then.
What did I miss?
I know, I know. You're looking at this list and thinking "how could he have left out..." Well, the answer is that either I'm not aware of that game or I just didn't think of it. So post a note in our forums, or in the comments below. The great thing about this article being online is that I can always add more games to it!
In addition to being the editor and web guy for Games for Educators, Patrick Matthews writes stories, designs games, and builds web sites. Stop by DaddyTales for a quick laugh, or check out Live Oak Games to see some of his award-winning games.