Premise: You should really know what this game is, but if you don't for some reason, here's how it works. You place a bunch of cards face down. The cards have symbols on them, and there are two of every one. You flip two over at a time and try to make a match. There may be more to it than that, but you get the gist.
Pros: I guess finding matching symbols probably does something positive to your brain. It's simple enough, so a 3 year old can get it. You can vary degrees of challenge, like keeping the cards face up when they're first starting.
Cons: It gets a little long. If your kid gets bored with a game, Memory will turn into Twister mixed with throwing stars. The cards are the stars.
Premise: There's a path to some candy castle or something (I don't really know, because I've never actually landed on the end, nor have I paid attention to it), and each stone of the path is a different color. Game pieces move by picking a card and moving to the color indicated on said card. Or, there are also cards with different candy treats on them, which allow you to jump to different spaces. And there's some area that's sticky, and you get stuck until something else happens. I don't know.
Pros: If your child gets the ice cream bar card, or whatever candy treat is closest to the candy castle, and then gets double blues and double oranges the next two turns, this game is pretty kickass. It will last about 5 minutes, and I'd give it an A. Also, with the grade A scenario, your child's goal must be to reach the candy castle. That doesn't always happen.
Cons: It's too much of a crap shoot. Sure, it could go well. Or, your child wants the gumdrop card, and you draw it, and they kick your gingerbread game piece across the room and throw themselves on the floor in tears. Or they get stuck in the sticky stuff, or they're almost at the end and then draw the popsicle card (or whatever) and have to go all the way back, or the game takes too long, or the damn cat steals a gingerbread piece, or whatever. There's no telling, hence the grade of C. Could go either way.
Chutes and LaddersGrade: C
Premise: It's a lot like Candy Land, but instead of the candy castle, there's some other kind of goal destination that I can't remember. I think there are dice, and the game pieces move accordingly, sometimes landing on a plain square, sometimes you have the opportunity to ascend a ladder, sometimes you're screwed and have to go down a chute. Oh, and there are little morality plays within the game. Bring an apple to your teacher? Ladder. Animal sacrifice? Chute.
Pros: Same deal. You get the big ladder, big rolls, you're gold.
Cons: Same. You get close to the end, you hit the big chute, the game board ends up in the toilet. Or, your child thinks the big chute is the greatest part of the game. Crap shoot.
Don't Break the Ice
Premise: Each kid gets a hammer, and taps out blocks of ice until a bear falls through to its doom. That kid loses.
Pros: Kids like hammers and smashing.
Cons: It takes five hundred years to set the damn thing up. You have to cram each little block of ice in the frame, and the kid can't help, even though they're begging you to, because they don't have the strength or coordination to squeeze the blocks into the edges. You barely do. And instead of you sitting back with a cocktail while you let them figure it out, you shove their little hands out of the way, because you're invested now; it's taken an hour for you to find all the damn pieces and fit them in. Then you flip the thing over, ever-so-gently slide the stupid plastic bear into its slot, it inevitable falls through and you have to flip it over again and replace cubes, and then put the bear in, and then in one second flat, the kid destroys the ice, sending the bear to the depths of icy cold, and laughs hysterically, because they don't care what the goal is, as long as they can have the yellow hammer. Then the hammer is used on the cat. Then they want to play again.
Premise: It's bingo. But instead of tiny balls in a cage, there's a spinner. You have to get three in a row, and then scream bingo.
Pros: The cards are small, so the games are short for short attention spans. Spinning the spinner is fun. Screaming bingo is fun.
Cons: The only con is the markers are small and look like cat treats.
Premise: Little ducks swim around a pond. There are symbols on their butts. Pick ducks, try to find three matching symbols, and you win.
Pros: It's simple, quick, and kids like ducks.
Cons: It's so frickin' loud. So loud. When I hear that game turn on, tears fill my eyes and I need to resist the urge to smash the game with the Don't Break the Ice hammers. Stop quacking, you little fuckers.
Stay tuned for Strategies for Playing Games with Toddlers.