Category Archives: Games for Kids

Bad Games People Still Play: I-Spy

I spy with my little eye, something that is boring. Give up? It’s I-Spy, the crap game that kids play when they’re bored and want to annoy their parents. Why do people play I-Spy? And is there some kernel of fun within it that can be salvaged?

Well, there is something fun about having a secret. I-Spy gives the spy a little secret to keep for a few seconds. More importantly, the other player must guess and conjecture as to what’s been spied. Meaning that for the game to be played, someone must act interested in your ephemeral secret. Fun for the person with the secret, but boring for the guesser, who usually only wants find the object so it will be their turn.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where's Waldo series.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where’s Waldo series.

Now games like this, where players take turns being the one who has fun, are obviously not ideal. But it is common symptom of guessing games. 20 Questions sometimes has this problem too; people seem to prefer having a secret to trying to uncover one. But is there some way we can tweak I-Spy so that both players can have fun simultaneously? Continue reading


Variations on a Score of Questions

20 questions is a classic time-killer. It is perhaps the ultimate guessing game, being that absolutely anything can be chosen to be guessed. Playing presents all the fun of having a secret or exposing one, and the excitement of narrowing a search down from the all-encompassing to the minutely specific.

Part of the enjoyment is in just how specific, how narrow a net can be cast with only 20 yes-or-no questions. Math junkies will know that by compounding the effect of 20 questions (assuming you are able to split the possible results exactly in half with each query), one can reach 2^19 conclusions. That’s about half a million rounds of play – and this is without even taking into account that you can change your repertoire of questions!

Which incidentally, isn't far off from the total number of described species of beetles. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

Which incidentally, isn’t far off from the total number of described species of beetle. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

But despite the prowess of this defining process, 20 questions does get old. Part of the problem is that players start to develop a ‘routine’, a set order of questions to ask at each games outset. Experienced interrogators may use a palette of 50 or so questions to play somewhere in the first 10 moves.

This is an effective method, but it makes the game much less exciting. Instead of earnest thought and search, players now follow a formula for half the game or more. Only the final few questions will be original ones. Much of the game becomes stale and repetitive. So how can be make the enjoyment of 20 Questions bigger than a bread box again? Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: One Word Stories

It’s the Late-Nineties. Autumn. The whole family is home, dinner having just ended. There’s a big storm tonight. Rain pounds on the roof, wind whips tree branches against the windows. The power goes out.


You have no cell phones. No lap-tops. No Nintendo DS, no PSP. It’s black for a long time. Your eyes have finally adjusted when a candle is lit. It’s set on the dining room table, light scarcely reaching the kitchen. The room is thick with unfamiliar shadows, and the rain keeps on. The family gathers back around the table, around the communal light. It’s too dark to read or draw, so what do you do? Sit and play ‘One Word Stories”.


This is a go-to game for many people and families. And it can be fun, for sure. It’s not a bad game outright, but I still put it in my ‘Bad Games People Still Play’ series, because it could be a lot more fun. Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: Truth or Dare

“Truth or Dare.”


“How come you never pick Dare?”

“Because if I pick Dare I will either be actually dared to do something, or be dared to answer a particular question truthfully. Essentially by picking Dare you’re allowing your darer to pick either Truth or Dare for you, depending on their motive. ”

The first problem with Truth or Dare, is that after playing once or twice, nobody picks Dare. Both because of smart-ass dares like mentioned above, and because anytime an actual dare is made it’s intended to be as dangerous or embarrassing as can be, while still remaining within the realm of possibility. The intent of a dare is seldom for group amusement, rather they seem to focus on forcing players to either lose their pride (backing down) or their dignity (performing a humiliating dare).

And let's not forget the havoc which may be wreaked by a triple-dog dare.

And let’s not forget the havoc which may be wreaked by a triple-dog dare.

Granted, for the purposes of hormonal-ravaged teens, the game may be well suited. Probing for crushes and making your friends look like morons or cowards probably serves some purpose in the social growth of an individual. But can Truth or Dare be salvaged for those of us without middle-school secrets or cracking voices? Continue reading

Harry Pottermon and the Massive Waste of Potential

If you were born or raised in the 90’s, then it’s nigh-certain that you are intimately acquainted with either Pokemon, Harry Potter or both. Even if you aren’t, there’s no way you haven’t at least heard of them. So other than their popularity and timing, what do these two multi-media multi-billion-dollar franchises have in common? And what is the secret to their success?

Other than that JK Rowling is a Legilimens and split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Other than that J.K. Rowling is a Legilimens who split her soul into 7 Horcruxes, of course.

Beginning with the obvious, they both began with the same demographic. Kids aged 6-12, with a slant towards males but not exclusively so. The Harry Potter books attempted to grow up with their readership, ending with material more suitable for 14-20 year-olds. On the other hand, Pokemon has kept its kiddie tone. Despite this, many aged Pokefans maintain an interest in the franchise. Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part Three: TV Tag

Lastly in this 3-parter on Tag, I want to discuss TV Tag. The game is similar to freeze tag, in that being tagged causes a player stop moving and be ‘out’. The difference is in the method of thawing. In TV tag players, once frozen, may unfreeze themselves by shouting out the name of a TV show (Some people play that you can name a TV character instead).

However, each show/character may only be used once per game, so players must listen to what shows their compatriots are employing. Eventually, all players are frozen and every TV show ever aired has been named.

Kids today, however, play "iPad Tag" instead.

Kids today, however, play “iPad Tag” instead.

If this last variant sounds dumb to you, good. It is the strangest, most awful and arbitrary version of tag I’ve ever played. TV tag gives an advantage to players with knowledge of television, which could be considered an added factor of skill. Except, that what does knowing TV shows have to do with playing tag? Continue reading

Grab-bag of Tag Part Two: Variations

Yesterday I discussed the animalistic appeal of Tag, but dismissed it as an unbalanced game in its most pure form. So how can Tag be improved as a game, while still maintaining the simple thrills of flight and pursuit?

How about Blob Tag? When a player is tagged, instead of it-hood transferring to them, they link arms with their tagger, and continue chasing free players as a single entity. Every time a player is tagged, they join with the ‘blob’, until there is a massive wall of globular flesh roaming the field for the final survivors. Now rather than a vague misanthrope, being it has its own aspect of group identity.

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

We are the Blob. You will be assimilated

Blob Tag (also known as Amoebae Tag)  provides rising action, a climax and a conclusion to the game. It doesn’t single out any winners or losers either, but becomes almost a simulation. A demonstration of how a single virus or idea can spread, perhaps. Continue reading