Games and Puzzles

What's not to like about cheap games and puzzles? They never go out of style, they teach kids about fairness and losing gracefully, and they provide hours of interactive fun. Two of this season's hot new games for boys and girls are Lego's Creationary (starting at $30), a Pictionary offshoot that requires players to build objects with Lego bricks, rather than draw them, and Mattel's Loopz (starting at $30), an electronic Simon Says-style game. These two are priced slightly above our Cheapism cheap games niche, but are worth knowing about. If you prefer to stay within the cheap games segment, however, you'll find plenty of alternatives that retail at half the price and are just as engaging.

See full Buying Guide

Our Top Pick

Gamewright Rory's Story Cubes

Rory's Story Cubes Review

Our Picks
Gamewright Rory's Story Cubes

Rory's Story Cubes Review

Rory's Story Cubes by Gamewright encourages out-of-the-box game play for kids of all ages and the adults in their lives. It is less a structured game than an exercise in storytelling; the rules are more akin to guidelines. Rory's Story Cubes consists of nine six-sided die in a box slightly larger and deeper than a deck of cards. Instead of numbers, each die is imprinted with pictures out of which players must weave original stories. It's surprisingly simple, and quite versatile.

There are a number of ways to play the game. You can have each player take turns rolling all nine dice at once and see who can come up with the most imaginative story. Alternately, players can trade off rolling one die at a time, working together to craft a collective story. Since the game is subjective, there is no right or wrong way to play. It takes the focus off of winning and losing and instead encourages creativity and collaboration.

We handed over a set of Rory's Story Cubes to our 8-year-old toy expert to get a child's opinion. She tried out the game during her family's weekly game night, and enjoyed making up silly stories. She liked that there weren't a lot of complicated rules, but she sometimes found it hard to figure out what the pictures on the dice were supposed to be or find a way to incorporate them into her tales.

Online reviewers had a lot of positive things to say about Rory's Story Cubes. They also found several original ways to use the game. While one Amazon parent keeps it in her purse for instant waiting room entertainment,another uses it to help the kids overcome writer's block during homework hour. A 5th grade teacher posting on Amazon uses this pocket-sized game as a part of her creative writing curriculum. The few negative reviews we found, like this one on Amazon, find the game a little on the dull side.

Rory's Story Cubes sells for under $8, making it a good value and an affordable gift option. Choose this game for kids with big imaginations or as a fun English-class aid. The unstructured game play discourages the hurt feelings and poor sportsmanship that "winners" and "losers" often encounter. Highly competitive or left-brained children may find it boring, however.

Uberstix UberFrog Set

Uberstix Review

At first glance, Uberstix impress with their versatility. These plastic building sticks and connectors are designed to integrate with a slew of other popular building toys, including Lego, K'Nex, Erector Set, Zoob, and Zometool. Uberstix also work with McDonald's drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, paperclips, paper cups, and standard water bottles (the latter can be used to float Uberstix "watercraft"). However, the shortcomings of Uberstix quickly became apparent when our 8-year-old tester got down to the business of construction.

For our Uberstix review, we tested the 76-piece Uberstix UberFrog set. Uberstix are designed to move in a joint-like fashion, but their rigid, linear shapes seem better suited to erecting the skyscrapers of the pricey architecture kits than to crafting animals like the UberFrog. The sticks are brittle and stiff, and two broke within the first few minutes. A couple of consumers who bought Uberstix Starter Sets report the same issue in Uberstix reviews on Amazon. In fact, the Uberstix manual that came in our kit demonstrates ways to modify broken sticks for continued use.

Our 8-year-old tester had a difficult time maneuvering the small circular connectors onto the pieces that made up the frog's body. She was able to get the knack of the pieces through trial and error but needed some adult help starting out. The directions included in the UberFrog kit were thorough, though a little hard to follow. Because of the multidimensional way Uberstix lock together, it was challenging for our tester to put them together based on the 2-D illustrations in the instructions. It did help that the manual shows the steps of assembly from different angles.

User reviews of the Uberstix Starter Set on Fat Brain Toys echo our tester's experience, indicating that Uberstix can be "complicated" for younger children to use. On the plus side, most Uberstix reviews say the sets are a hit with kids and encourage imagination and creativity.

For young engineers-in-the-making and building enthusiasts, Uberstix offer unlimited possibilities and configurations. If you're buying for children who are rough on toys or have limited patience and dexterity, however, consider skipping this toy.

Buying Guide

Cheap Games and Puzzles Buying Guide

The makers of the award-winning cheap word game Bananagrams (starting at $15) introduced two cheap games for girls and boys in 2010: Appletters (starting at $12) and Pairs in Pears (starting at $12), both of which introduce young spellers to Scrabble-like strategy. Milton Bradley's updated Connect 4 x 4 sells for a starting price of $17, but the original Connect 4 is available for as little as $7. Classic favorites that go over just as well with boys as girls, such as Monopoly (starting at $10), Yahtzee (starting at $10), Uno (starting at $7), and SkipBo (starting at $6), can also be purchased at bargain prices. An added and free bonus: the opportunity to pass along a personal favorite from your childhood to the next generation.

Board games and puzzles are an excellent way to introduce concepts of fair play and strategy to children. Cheap games help them experience winning and losing in a non-threatening environment that just happens to be fun, as well. And, as we found during our in-person toys reviews, cheap games are a particularly good choice for children with siblings because most are appropriate for a wide range of ages. Spot It, a favorite of our child testers, appealed not only to our 7-year-old tester, but to her 9-year-old sister, 4-year-old brother, and even her mom and dad. (See our full review and video review.) Bananagrams, Appletters, and Pairs in Pears also have cognitive value; as one parent points out in a toys review on Epinions, these cheap toys for boys and girls can help youngsters with word-building and spelling.

See also our full review of Scrambled States of America, an educational game.

Cheap games are often quite durable, and we didn't notice any negative comments in toys reviews about how our choices hold up. Perhaps the only significant downside to cheap games for girls and boys is that they can't be played alone. If the intended recipient prefers to play on her or his own, or doesn't have siblings or lots of play dates, a cheap game may not be the best choice.