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.
Our Top Pick
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.
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.
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