When I hear the Pop-O-Matic bubble, my heart skips a beat.
That distinctive click-click of our family’s Trouble game – a game we used to play marathon-style when my daughter was 5 or 6 – means it’s board game time at our house.
Time to clear space on the table, pull up chairs, grab some snacks and make some memories.
Sometimes a game session becomes the stuff of family folklore.
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Like the time my brother Dave and I teamed up for Catchphrase and stunned our competitors by guessing the word “yonder” in about 2.3 seconds. The clue, delivered in my best backwoods accent: “Where is the sumpin-sumpin?”
Or the argument over Apples to Apples – an annual event – during which my son, Jack, will try to persuade that round’s judge that nothing, and I mean nothing, is luckier than a meatball or more annoying than underpants.
Every holiday season, I try to add a game or two to our family’s collection. For guidance, I visit Gwen Ottenberg, owner of Imagine That Toys, at 29th North and Rock Road in Wichita, who loves games at least as much as I do.
This year she picked several goodies. But Gwen knows me so well by now – she’s pretty much a board game psychic – that she grinned as she pulled out a little blue box marked Braintopia.
“This is going to be your favorite,” she said.
She was right.
The fast-paced brain-stumper game reminds me a little of Anomia (another family fave), but with a variety of challenges that test mental focus, flexibility, memory and speed. Up to six players – ages 8 and up – race through the deck of cards, trying to solve puzzles faster than their opponents.
Cue up the legendary Tobias Victory Dance, people, because I’m all over this one.
If you’re looking for a fun new family activity this year – for your own family or as a holiday gift – here are some others to consider. Most are available at Imagine That Toys; others can be found online or at discount stores.
▪ Snapzi: The Add-On Game for Folks Who Love Slapzi (Tenzi, $9.99) – To play this, you’ll need the original Slapzi game, which I wrote about last year. The expansion pack features 60 “snapshot” cards that match up with your Slapzi category cards, offering a whole new way to play the game. (Speaking of game-play folklore, ask Gwen about the time she tried to persuade me that flamingos have teeth.) Ages 8 and up.
Gwen Ottenberg of Imagine That Toys in Wichita demonstrates Snapzi, an add-on game to last year's hit, Slapzi.email@example.com
▪ Cha-Cha Chihuahua (Gamewright, $17.99) – This one, designed for little-bitty kids, is downright adorable. There’s no reading required. Players draw cards and follow the illustrated instructions, jumping, jiving or wagging their tails to place plastic pups on the dance floor. While preschoolers practice counting, taking turns and fine motor skills, parents can bone up on their sweet dance moves. Ages 4 and up.
Gwen Ottenberg and Suzanne Tobias demonstrate Cha-Cha Chihuahua, a fun, easy, shake-your-bum game for ages 4 and firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ Snow White Deluxe (Smart Games, $29.99) – Here’s another charming preschool puzzle game for kids, combining the classic Disney fairy tale with a three-dimensional game board that looks like a Little People play house. Players use logic to place Snow White, dwarves and the wicked witch in the right spot, using illustrated clues. Ages 4-7.
Gwen Ottenberg of Imagine That Toys in Wichita demonstrates Snow White Deluxe, a preschool puzzle email@example.com
▪ Panda Rollers (Educational Insights, $19.99) – Players roll the dice by shaking the panda’s bubble eyes, which remind me of the aforementioned Pop-O-Matic Trouble bubble. Match your panda cards to the colors of the dice shown to collect bamboo tiles. The player with the most bamboo at the end of the game wins.
▪ Rhino Hero (Haba, $29.99) – Remember Suspend? This one’s kind of similar. Players compete to build a cardboard structure using roof cards and wall cards, then try to place game pieces on top without sending the whole thing tumbling down. Ages 5 and up.
Gwen Ottenberg demonstrates Rhino Hero, a stacking/building strategy game for ages 5 and firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ Word on the Street Junior (Educational Insights, $19.99) – Word on the Street is one of my family’s all-time favorite games, and now there’s a version for younger kids. Players split into two teams, which means you can play it with two people or 24. On each turn, one team flips over a category card. Team members frantically brainstorm words that fit the category (example: “Something worn on the wrist or hand”) while the opposition tries to sidetrack them. The team must agree on a word and pull each letter of the word one lane closer to their side of the “street” before time runs out. Word on the Street Junior features easier categories and the complete alphabet instead of only 17 letters. (Including vowels makes the game easier for younger players.) Ages 8 and up.
▪ Cranium Cadoo (Hasbro, $24.99) – Back by popular demand, it’s the original version of Cadoo, a Cranium game designed for youngsters. Players can play “combo” or “solo,” completing challenges such as sculpting a clay object, sketching a word, solving a picture puzzle, acting out a clue or answering a trivia question. First player to get four tokens in a row on the game board wins. Ages 7 and up.
Gwen Ottenberg of Imagine That Toys demonstrates Cadoo, a game by the makers of Cranium, designed for ages 7 and email@example.com
▪ Anaxi (Funnybone Toys, $21.99) – In this Venn-diagram-inspired card game, players race to connect words in surprising ways. During each round, you draw three word cards and overlap them on the base card. Players work at the same time to write down as many people, places or things that share the qualities shown on the cards. Players with unique answers score points. If the words are “pink,” “fluffy” and “sweet,” for example, you might write “cotton candy” or “Jello salad.” Ages 8 and up.
▪ Codenames (Czech Games, $19.99) – Here’s a great party game for older teens and adults. (And a perfect gift for my friend and fellow spy/assassin game fanatic, Carrie Rengers. Shhhhhhh.) In Codenames, two teams compete to see who can “make contact” with all of their agents first. A “spymaster” on each team gives one-word clues, trying to direct his or her teammates to guess words of the right color. Confusion and hilarity ensue. During my game with Gwen, for instance, I said, “Tock,” expecting her to guess “tick” on the board. But she thought I said “talk” and guessed “mouth” instead. See what I mean? Super fun. Ages 14 and up.
Gwen Ottenberg of Imagine That Toys in Wichita explains Codenames, a fun party game for teens and firstname.lastname@example.org