Game: Cranium: Family Edition

Daughter (8) opened a box last week — the game Cranium: Family Edition. I bought it months ago during a “we should play games as a family” phase. You know, the type of good idea that becomes unpopular just as you think it’s working well enough to invest more money?

She and Son (11) played for about an hour while I worked on the computer.

We normally watch a back-episode of MythBusters during bedtime snack. Routines are extremely important for us. The kids know what to expect. We start the show at the same time each night. If you don’t put down your book or turn off the game machine or put your homework in your bag for tomorrow in time, you miss the first bit of the show. If you don’t finish your snack by the time it’s over, too bad. Mommy might remind you just before the final experiment, but when it’s over, it’s toothbrush time. It’s as reliable as a clock, but more fun.

(And, yes, Son times his morning routine so he gets everything done before Pokemon starts, and puts his shoes on the instant it’s over. It works.)

Last night she chose Cranium instead. With no school the next day, bedtime wasn’t as critical, so we went for it.

My friend whose family plays games together every Friday night was right. It’s a fun game.

At first glance, it’s a typical race-around-the-board game with challenge cards, but there are only two pieces — therefore two teams. The kids both wanted Daddy. Last night was Daughter’s turn to have him.

On your turn, the other team draws a card and reads you the challenge. The box they draw from depends on the colour your piece is on. If the square you were on is purple, you get to choose which box. If your team passes the challenge before the enclosed timer runs out, you get to roll and move, otherwise not. If the square you started on has a star you move double what you rolled. That’s all you need to know to play.

(Errata: Son timed the timer after the game. It’s exactly one minute.)

There are four boxes of cards: Creative Cat (art), Word Worm, Data Head and Star Performer. Once you play for a bit, you start to recognize the challenges. Charades with either drawing or play clay (provided), answer trivia question, words in a category that start with the same letter, mini-word-search, that sort of thing. It encourages co-operation between team members.

We helped Daughter a bit by giving clues or not starting the timer until she said the first word in the category. Daddy often let her go first, rather than using up the easy words himself. Once we changed the category. It depended on the challenge (and whether we messed up when reading it). This flexibility is a strength of the game.

We didn’t look at the clock, but it felt like an hour or so to play.

The box says ages eight to adult. Eight is the lower end. She was able to read most of the clues, although she struggled with some of the big words. She knew most of the vocabulary, just wasn’t used to reading it. Because it’s a team game, she could give the card to Daddy for help.

Son enjoyed the challenges as written. His ego isn’t tied to how well he does. He’s proud when he does well, but if it’s only a game he laughs when he doesn’t. When he needed something in the kitchen starting with E, and I told him to look near the microwave, where there’s a bottle labeled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”, he stared right at it without seeing. When we pointed it out, he laughed.

When the two kids played it, Son was good about keeping it fun. He didn’t try to keep score or keep her strictly to the timer. He’s good about that when he plays with her. He splits his mind into two tracks: She thinks they’re both having fun based on the game, but I can see him re-reading the clues and re-trying the challenges while she moves the pieces. It took him a few years to understand this. If Little Sister is playing, it needs to be fun for her, and we will slowly move her towards using the official rules. If she’s not playing, we use the official rules. (He now realizes we did the same thing for him when he was younger. There was a time when we needed to know three sets of rules: Daughter, Son, and Adult. Even now, if a new game has simplified rules we often start with them to get used to flow, but usually shift to the full set by the second or third time.)

It wouldn’t have worked if Big Brother were more competitive, or if all the players were under ten.

The game and pieces are sturdy. It’s playable Christmas morning, and will survive years of use. The pad of paper will last several sessions. The full-length pencil was pre-sharpened. The play clay survived the store shelf. I’m not sure how long the clay will last now that we’ve opened it, but it’s easy enough to make or buy more. The cubes with letters are nicely weighted, as is the movement die.

Overall, as long as you can balance your teams and are willing to be flexible, it’s a great game.

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