Disney’s Phineus and Ferb said it best:
There's 104 days of summer vacation, and school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it!
It's not just an annual problem for the kids, either, but also for the parents. How can you find something that will keep your kids' brains humming through the summer? You need something fun, something the kids will want to do - maybe even something they'll want to do with you.
Wouldn't that make for a great summer? To paraphrase Phineus: why yes, yes it would.
These are games and toys that I've found this year, but they're far from the only ones out there. For some great older stuff, check out the 2011 and 2010 versions of this article. To see more information on any game, just click its name. I've linked to the publisher's sites.
Solo Games and Toys
Leave these games out on the table for instant fun that fills in all those pauses and slow times that every summer has. Not only will everyone enjoy them, but if you compete with the kids, you'll have a shared experience and an ongoing topic of conversation.
- Perplexus: This was the first year I discovered Perplexus, and it's fast become a fixture in our household. It's a round clear ball with plastic tracks and obstacles inside. The goal is to tilt and twist and turn it, guiding a little metal ball from point to point. It's addictive and challenging and a ton of fun.
- ThinkFun: ThinkFun is pretty much the master of solo thinking games, and this year they have three that I'm having trouble choosing between. First is PathWords, which has a new Junior edition. If you like word searches, you'll love PathWords. Next is Turnstile, which takes the pathfinding of Rush Hour to a whole new level. Finally, for those of you who like a physical fiddly sort of puzzle, check out Unhinged.
Continuing along the trail of finding things to do when there's nothing else, these travel games will fill the hours with mental gymnastics.
- Travel Blurt!: Remember Blurt? The game where one player reads a definition and everyone else tries to blurt out the correct word? This is the travel version, and it's every bit as much fun. An added bonus of this game is that even the driver can play!
- Zip-It: From the makers of Bananagrams, Zip-It is an incredibly clever two-player word-building game designed to be played on the go. You keep score by using the zippers on the pouch that holds the game, and the words can be built on a square that's only six inches on a side, which is perfect for an airplane tray or even just a book sitting on your lap. Gameplay is fast and furious, the fastest, in fact, of any word-building game I've ever played.
For the Whole Family
This is my favorite category of games, and this year, we have a wide variety of options.
- Fitz It: In this game, you try to name an object that matches as many of the words on your cards as you can. The more cards you match, the more you can play. It's great for vocabulary building, but no one plays it for that. We just play it because it's fun.
- Pix Mix: Pix Mix features simple line art drawn on transparent cards. Each player puts six random cards into a viewer (one on top of the other), then race to figure out the six pictures they're looking at. When we play, we put the cards into each other's viewers.
- Distraction: When is a memory game not a memory game? When it's all about the distractions. That's where Distraction comes in. Yes, it's a memory game, but it's focus is the distractions. I invented this one, so I'm biased, but it really is a huge amount of fun.
- Fifth Gear: This is a great game where players try to get four of their gears to connect with the white neutral gear. It's all about strategy and placement and blocking and connecting... Can you tell I like it? I played it at ToyFair and was immediately hooked. It's a great game to play with either kids or adults.
- Acuity: This is the best, most brain-bending pattern matching game I've seen. I don't know if it's the colors or the patterns, or the number of squares, but it really hits the mark. If pattern-matching is your game, you have to check this one out. If it's not, take a look at the video on the site.
- Cartoon It: In this fun drawing game, everyone looks at a cartoon character for 30 seconds, and then tries to draw it. It's a memory game and a drawing game all wrapped up into one, and the results will have you laughing out loud.
- Oversight: Oversight is an abstract game that's simple enough for the kids to play, but interesting enough to keep adults engaged. You're trying to get four tokens in a row, and on each turn you can either place a token or shift the tokens in a row sideways. The colors on this one are a little crazy for an abstract strategy game, but that's a plus when you're playing with kids.
- Word Winder: It's a book. It's a game. It's an app... By all reports, Word Winder is taking over the world, and for good reason: it's a ton of fun. If you've ever enjoyed any word building game, you need to check this one out.
- Ready to get creative? Briarpatch has a line of games from Play Play They're Paint Play, Color Play, and Story Play. I've only seen Paint Play, but they all look like fun ways to get the creative juices flowing.
Here are a couple new editions of games that I've mentioned before...
- Morphology Jr: I've mentioned Morphology before, but it's worth mentioning again. Imagine Pictionary, but instead of drawing, you're creating the images with the items included in the game (strings, beads, wooden sticks, and colored blocks). Lots of fun!
- Rory's Story Cubes - Actions: Do you enjoy Rory's Story Cubes? If so, check out this latest version of the game (actions).
For the little ones
- Willy's Wiggly Web is a game featuring something I've never seen in a game before: scissors. It's a cooperative game where the kids work together to cut the bugs free from a spider's web. From an educational standpoint, it helps with cooperation and hand-eye coordination and logic and... Never mind all that, though. It has scissors! How cool is that?
- Roll & Play is a game for the youngest of the young. It's a big plush die that you roll. The side that ends face up indicates what color activity card you draw. You draw the card and let your little one do the activity. Activities are broken up into category, and include things like clap 8 times, or squeak like a mouse, or make a happy face.
- Buck Buck Moose is a fun memory game where players race to slap stacks of cards. It's fast and fun with great illustrations. If you're looking for a game your little ones can play by themselves, this is it.
Stack-O-Saurus isn't for the http://briarpatch.com/Stack-o-Saurus-Card-Game.aspx
There's no way to hide the educational value of these games, but they're still fun. The challenge will be getting the kids to try them. Once they do, they'll be hooked.
- Albert's Insomnia: I found this game at ToyFair this year, and it's surprisingly fun. The cards have numbers on them, and you deal out four cards face up. Players take turns using math to combine the numbers on the cards to come up increasing values. The first player has to combine them to get a 1 (4-3, for example). The second player goes to 2, and so on. It's a lot of fun. The web site doesn't do it justice, though. If you go there, go straight to the video page and fast forward to the 55 second mark. That's where you can see how it's played.
- Bowl, Spell, & Score: In this game, you "bowl" a die that determines what letter cards you turn over, and then try to make a word out of those letters. The letters have points, so you can score
That's a Wrap!
I hope you've found at least one game in this article to enjoy this summer. If not, or if you know of any others, post a comment about it so other people can benefit from your experience!
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.