Why Candyland doesn't suck

The latest installment in Greg Costikyan's indespensible game-review site, Play This Thing!, is a long, serious, thoughtful look at Candy Land, the game everyone loves to hate. Not so fast, says Greg, there's plenty of juice in that orange. Pieces like this are why Greg's one of my top five games-writers of all time.

To begin with, let us view Candy Land as a mathematical entity. It is very nearly a Markov chain, a stochastic process in which, given the current state, future states are independent of past states. (It would be a pure Markov chain if the deck were shuffled after each play; instead, it is a crippled Markov chain coupled to a push-pop stack.) As such, it is a metaphorical representation of the fundamental ideology of the United States; the past is no constraint on the future, and each individual should strive resolutely for personal advance despite whatever the past may hold. The child born in a log cabin may achieve the presidency, an immigrant boy who grows up in the slums of Brooklyn may become a real-estate magnate, an Ivy-educated scion of wealth may wind up on a bread line, and a double green will speed you to the fore. Though there are winners and losers, initial conditions are no determinant of outcome in the freedom of America. The subtext, of course, may be that success and failure is entirely random and has nothing to do with individual initiative and hard work, a concept alien to the Platonic ideal of the American dream, but perhaps a more accurate representation of reality than the Horatio Alger myth.

Next, let us consider the role of Candy Land in the acculturation of the American child. The characters represented in the game, through whose desmenses the players pass, are all representations of sickly, in many cases objectively repulsive, sweets: Princess Frostine, the Gingerbread People, Mr. Mint, Gkoppy the Chocolate (formerly Molasses) Monster. There's a clear message to the American child here, one our business establishment is at pains to transmit through all forms of media -- most importantly, of course, through the thundering waterfall of commercial blandishment none of us is permitted to escape, whatever media we peruse. That message is, of course: CONSUME. Consume candy. Consume everything. But for children, candy above all; the natural childish instinct to like what in more mature mouths is repulsively lachrymose is the key, the first way in for inculcation of the consumer instinct. Candy good. Consume candy. Whine at your parent until she, or as it may be, he, buys you the packet of Lifesavers. St. Francis Xavier, founder of the Jesuits, said "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will give you the man," meaning, of course, that if you brainwash small children with any idiot set of beliefs (like, say, the virgin birth, divinity of Christ, necessity for ritual cannibalism, and triune nature of the Godhead), you'll have them by the frontal lobes of the brain for the rest of their lives. They will never escape it. Thus, while Abbot no doubt had no such intention for her game, Candy Land also serves as an important element in the indoctrination of American youth in the cult of excessive consumption and extravagant and unnecessary use of resources, the fundament of our society and economic growth since the end of the Second World War.

Candy Land


  1. Is Greg the reviewer who wrote that great review of some Civ style game from the POV of a Roman Emperor explaining his motivations to one of his hapless pawns? I can’t find a link to it anymore.

  2. It’s a lot of words that don’t make up for the fact that the game has no strategy. It’s a learning tool, nothing else.

  3. You know, I’ve never actually seen this game in real life. Seems to have been very popular in the US, but maybe not so much in Canada?

  4. As a young child I decided Candyland would be even more fun if I drew in more shortcuts. I took a pen and drew in a bunch of shortcuts and relished the thought of playing the new and improved Candyland. After one game I was shocked to realize that it made the game worse. So in the end Candyland taught me that more of something isn’t necessarily better.

  5. I don’t see why adding a stack makes a Markov chain “crippled”. Next thing you know, he will be claiming that linear-bounded automata cannot be augmented with continuous state variables. It’s only a short step from there to saying that the Commodore 64 is not a Turing machine because it lacks an infinite tape. This is the soft bigotry of mathematical precision, and it sucks big noisy Kalman filters.

  6. I loved Candyland as a kid, mainly because of sensory aspect of it. I remember being slightly bored by the fact that there was no strategy involved, but the colors and illustrations were all so pretty (they might actually be horrible and tacky; I am going to pointedly not look at them again, so as to retain my childhood sense of wonder). Any boredom I had was more than made up for by imagining all the tastes of the candies and the lives of the characters.

  7. Nope, Candyland still sucks. It sucks even harder with the cards instead of the spinner, and it really sucks when one of your players is colorblind. There’s just nothing to it, the whole game is just a god-damned retard rodeo. Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders to some of you) is basically the same game but better.

  8. This reminds me of a fun game my friends and I have played — Candyman http://www.smirkanddagger.com/candyman.htm.

    You are a gingerbread man trying to get from the start to the end. Along the way are hazards that will cause you damage. As you take damage you lose limbs. Oh, and the gingerbread men can fight one another with an assortment of weapons. There’s even a Candyman Cage Match!

    The one to get to the end without going to crumbs wins. Fun and wacky.

  9. I hate playing this game with my kids. Luckily I realized you can win the stupid thing in 4 cards, so if they pester me until I can’t stand it any more, I just set up the card deck so that I pull:

    1. Princess Lolly
    2. Double Purple
    3. Double Purple
    4. Double Blue

    Done. Game’s over in less than 60 seconds. They cry their little eyes out, but at least I can get back to my iPhone and be left in peace.

  10. I will never forgive Hasbro for redesigning the game in the mid-80s, adding characters, which never existed in the original version, and making a travesty of the original appealing artwork. Here’s a photo of the 1962 version of the game and you can see how superior the artwork was:
    Also, I don’t think lachrymose is the word Greg wants in this sentence: “the natural childish instinct to like what in more mature mouths is repulsively lachrymose…”
    And while Greg thinks this game was designed the encourage children to consume candy (mine never needed any encouragement), I used it to get my kids to eat veggies and fruit: when you landed on a green square you ate a pea or green bean, landing on yellow meant a bite of banana, etc.

  11. One of the best pieces of parenting advice I got was from a parent ed teacher who suggested that if I wanted to get my shy daughter to open up and tell me what was bothering her, was to start playing Candy Land with her. It worked. The longer we played the more she talked.

  12. I’d never played (or heard of, until now) the version with crappy artwork and characters added. I played the good-looking old one as a kid and remembered liking it, but after buying a new one a couple years back (I think it was a retro edition, because it looked just the same as the original) and playing it, yeah, it does suck. I played several games with my roommate and there’s just no substance… it’s pure chance. It’s about as exciting as flipping a coin to determine a winner, except it takes longer. I realized then that the only thing likeable about Candyland is the artwork- it makes a better wall hanging than it does a board game. That’s the old version, of course… the new version is so ugly it makes my eyes bleed.

  13. When I started to read this post, I wondered, “What? Who hates Candy Land?” Then I read some of the replies. The prizewinner:

    it really sucks when one of your players is colorblind.

    Dear grownups: This game is not for you.

  14. I love Candyland. I took one copy of it and hacked it into “The Princess Brandy Alexander Action Advenure Game” based on Chuck Palahniuk’s book Invisible Monsters. I changed the cute kiddie pix on the board to photos from celeb-zines and added a batch of cards based on quotations from the book, i.e. “Your best friend is at the top of the stairs, and she is pointing her rifle right at you. Go back five steps.” The addition of the cards to the spinner added about an hour of game time, since it took a while to read the comments and stop laughing hysterically. For anyone who ones to get starting in making his/her own board game, Candyland is the perfect template.

  15. I remember someone noted that Candy Land actually becomes quite interesting if you distribute the movement cards to the players beforehand, and then they have to use strategy to move ahead.

  16. In junior high we played Strip Candyland because for once girls were around and we didn’t know how to play poker. Drawing a double meant losing an article of clothing as did shortcuts and finishing. Good excuse for that sort of stuff.

  17. I second Halloween Jack. If you want a game like this for adults, you want Bitin’ Off Hedz. Dinosaurs throwing rocks at each other and fighting. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print.

  18. I was enjoying this article – my daughter being an avid player of the Dora the Explorer version of the game – until the unnecessary attack on the faith of Christians.
    Not every Christian is a bullying, right-wing thug who tries to use the gospel to justify a violent foreign policy.

  19. #9 ” . . . the whole game is just a god-damned retard rodeo.”

    Oh, dear. Now you have me wondering whether Retard Rodeo would make a better card game or board game.

    I think Greg is pulling our legs.

  20. Play the Dora the Explorer version for faster games. The card deck has a much higher percentage of double color cards than the regular version.

  21. Now I’ve got in my head an urge to create a slightly more sophisticated, grown-up, somewhat sinister version of Candyland.

    A racetrack rather than a straight course, with side-tracks for special missions. The goal isn’t to get to the finish line. You have to fight for candy (victory points). Or maybe allies in a final, terrible battle for domination of Sweets Land.

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