Getting little kids into tabletop gaming

The last few weeks, I've been entertaining my two granddaughters, a four year old and a nine year old. In trying to think of what I could do with them, I immediately thought of games. But I have very little experience with games designed for younger children. I didn't want to stick with conventional games, like Candy Land or Uno. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to introduce them to my world of tabletop gaming, while keeping it age-appropriate. Here are the games and crafting activities we ended up with. The girls seemed to enjoy everything.

Disney Codenames (USAOPOLY, 2-8 players, Ages 8+, $16.30) — Disney Codenames is a slightly simplified re-skin of Vlaada Chvatil's hugely popular and award-winning deduction card game of spies and assassins. In the Disney version, teams of players give and guess clues related to Disney characters and settings. You can play with 2, but you really need 4 players for a satisfying game. We played this with the nine year old and she was at a greater advantage because she knows the Disney properties better than the three adults who played with her.

Yogi (Gigamic, 3-10 players, Ages 8+, $15) — Yogi is basically sit-down Twister minus the touching and falling on top of each other. You draw cards that say things like "Hold this card on your forehead" or "Keep your left palm facing the table." You go around picking cards and adding what they say to build your "yoga pose" until you forget a previous command or drop a card. Last yogi standing wins. The production of the game is first-rate. It comes in a stamped metal box with two card trays, and PVC cards with bright, colorful, and wonderfully goofy artwork. We were able to play this game with both girls. We read the cards to the four year old. Everyone has gotten a kick out of Yogi. It's quick to play, so we've played it numerous times.

Hack & Slash (Steve Jackson Games, 2-6 players, 10+, $19) — Honestly, I was concerned this game might not have enough going on to be fun to play, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is basically a dice-rolling card game that also uses meeple adventurers. To play, you deal 4 quest cards (including the tavern card which always remains on the board 'cause in fantasy adventure, there's always a tavern). Each player chooses a quest and commits the specified number of meeples for that adventure (from an initial pool of 8). To complete the task, and collect the rewards, you have to roll the specified hit points or higher. If you win, you get to collect the rewards on the card (additional meeples or victory points). If you lose the roll, you lose the adventurers you committed to the quest. Play continues until a player is out of meeples or the quest deck is exhausted. The player with the most victory points wins. The game was super quick to learn and the nine year old, who'd never played such a game, picked right up on it. This is a great gateway game for fantasy roleplaying or more involved fantasy wargaming. It has many of the trappings of a dungeon delver, with orcs, trolls, dragons, caverns, treasures, and the all-important tavern. It was fun to see the granddaughter quickly learning how many dice to roll (equal to the adventurers on the quest), when a hit was successful, how to resolve the win/loss, and how to collect victory points. She even came up with a house rule we might try next time: trading victory points for meeples.

Gaslands modeling — I thought that the girls might enjoy Mad Max-ifying and painting Hot Wheels cars for future use in the tabletop car combat game, Gaslands. The four-year-old had no interest, but the nine-year-old was all-in. I did most of the conversions on the cars, but she painted hers (the green one above) almost entirely by herself. I got to show her useful modeling techniques, like sponge painting, drybrushing, rusting, and washes.

Making BeadBots — Since the four-year-old had passed on the Gaslands cars, I wanted to find something that she might enjoy. I've been watching a lot of Bill Making Stuff, a recent YouTube channel hosted by a very funny and talented UK maker who does a lot of game modeling and trash bashing. Bill is the king of BeadBots (making robot miniatures primarily out of crafting beads). I thought this might be something a four-year-old would take to and I was right. Here's the work-in-progress robot that we made, ready for priming and painting. She came up with the fun idea of using a Warhammer 40,000 jungle tree canopy as hair. And we were tickled with the idea of using Space Marine shoulder pads as robo-feet.