No kid wants a Mario who can't run, jump or duck. No kid wants a Pikachu who can't growl or thundershock. So who, our testers wondered, will want Neopets who can't do much of anything?
The Neopets Trading Card Game (Wizards of the Coast, $9.99), ranked last on the list of more than 40 board games Chicago Parent tested with 20 kids ages 5 to 14. The game, which, tries to bring the craze of virtual pets from the Web to the dining room table, had directions that simply were too complicated.
"It's confusing," said Bridget Reinhard, 12, of Oak Park. "It tells you to separate the cards into two decks, and it tells you to draw a card, but we don't know which deck to draw from."
The Neopets game is a stark reminder of what we've known about kids' games for so long: Simple is in. Games ranking highest with our kid testers this year weren't ones that were necessarily easy to win, but ones that had simple directions or reminded them of a classic game.
Alia Kirsch, 10, of Oak Park would have preferred to play her favorite card game, UNO (Mattel, $3.99), than sit through a round of Neopets. "I liked [UNO] when I was 6. Now I'm 10, and I still like it," she said. "It's challenging, but easy to understand."
No kids' game should ever be too challenging to understand.
Gotta have it
- Conjecture (Outset Media, $24.95). Think Pictionary with sculpting dough instead of a pad and pencil. Players take turns sculpting objects for teammates to guess and racing opponents for a correct answer, often with hilarious results. "It was fun watching your friends guess what you're making," said Anna Agboola, 12, of Oak Park.
Our testers had so much fun with the clay and clue cards, they didn't even bother to keep score. And after kids played Conjecture they didn't want to test anything else.
- There's a Fly in My Soup (Basic Concepts, price unavailable). The game is similar to the old favorite Ants in the Pants (Milton Bradley, $9.99). Players try to land plastic bugs in bowls of soup on a rotating base using spoon catapults. While it was sometimes hard for kids to get bugs in the bowls, the game kept one group engaged for about 40 minutes.
"The length [of the game] was just right if you're bored and you have an hour to do something," said Tess Fisher, 9, of Oak Park. "I liked it even though it's probably for 7-year-olds."
- Count Across (Cadaco, $19.99). This game, which tests kids in math, was a surprise hit. Players roll dice, add or multiply the numbers (depending on the play level) and mark numbers off with clear chips on the game card. "It's like Bingo!" said Aaron Carlson, 10, of Lombard. "It's fun. I would play for a long time." His opponent, Eric Doberstein, a 5-year-old from Elmhurst, agreed the game was "really good."
- Cogno Deep Worlds (DoubleStar, $34.99). This game was a hit with the fifth-graders. "It can be complicated and stuff, but it's not that complicated," said Jack Walsh, 11, of Evanston. "You just have to watch a little while and you figure it out." Be sure your kids are old enough for this game, the fourth-graders found it frustrating.
- Loot (Gamewright, $9.99). This card game uses pirate skulduggery to teach strategy. Our fifth-grade testers pronounced the game "addicting" and predicted that although it's rated for ages 10 and up, even younger kids would enjoy it.
If the kids insist
- Gnip Gnop (Fundex Games, $15.50). This classic game, in which players race to empty their courts by shooting balls into their opponent's court, was another all-ages favorite. And why not? It has fast-paced button pushing akin to Hungry Hungry Hippos (Milton Bradley, $17.99) and the rules were summarized in two sentences on the back of the box. "This is the best game," said Sarah Stumbras, 12, of Oak Park. "[It's] kind of competitive, but not too competitive."
In fact, Gnip Gnop's assembly instructions were longer than the rules. "It was hard to set up, but worth it," said Aaron Carlson. But be forewarned: "No parent will want this game," Chicago Parent Senior Editor Cindy Richards yelled over the noise of the gnipping and gnopping. If noise annoys, parents will want to gnip this gnop in the bud.
- Bumparena (Cranium, $17.99). This new issue from Cranium was a hit with the boys, but not the girls.
Don't waste your money
- Alfredo's Food Fight (Fundex Games, $19.98). The kids had several criticisms of this game, which is similar to There's a Fly in My Soup (fork launchers replace spoons, felt meatballs replace the plastic bugs, a spinning Velcro-adorned chef replaces the soup bowls). They said the game quickly grew pointless.
"That food fight game, it gets stupid after five minutes," said Evan Fisher, 11, of Oak Park. Ethan Thomas, 11, of Oak Park agreed. "You just start doing things that have nothing to do with the game."
- Pig Pile (R&R Games, $14.99). This was another card game where players couldn't get past the rules. The girls stuck with it, but only because they liked playing with the 40 miniature pigs that came with the deck. "The instructions are confusing," said Alia Kirsch. "We're having more fun stacking the pigs than playing the actual game."
- Patriot Challenge (Patriot Challenge, $34.99). This game, which said it's for ages 10 and up, proved too difficult for our fifth-grade testers. "This would be a good game for someone who likes history. My cousin, for instance. She's 8 but she's messed up and loves history. She would love this game, she would answer the questions for 15-year-olds," said Lily Saywitz 11, of Evanston.