Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bad Guys and Vampires

It doesn't seem unusual for little boys to be fascinated by superheroes. I would expect to be buying toys and T-shirts featuring Batman, Superman, and the rest of that familiar lineup. With four grandsons, I have certainly bought my share of those.

Then, a couple years ago, Pooh developed an affinity for bad guys, particularly Horace and Jasper, the dog thieves in 101 Dalmatians. On every visit for several months, I would have to role-play one of them while he played the other. This wore me out. It seems that, in the process of dog-napping, thieves must expend a considerable amount of physical energy.

More recently, Beenie, who will be four in just a few weeks, always wants me to show him, on my iPhone, images of every bad guy he or I can think of. To this end, we have engaged in numerous discussions of Joker, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Riddler, and  Jesse James. Once, I even threw Clyde Barrow into the mix. It seems I need to increase my repertoire of bad guys I can think of off the top of my head.

Last night, however, Beenie decided to pretend he was a vampire (I have no idea where he learned about vampires--I swear I am innocent this time.). As the potential victim of this particular bad guy, I had reasonable cause to worry. I had to pull my collar up around my neck and think fast.

"What does a vampire look like?" Beenie wanted to know.

"Well, he has sharp fangs, I said." And that's when, by the miracle of free association, I thought of apples. Sure enough, there was a single apple in the fridge that we were able to stretch into a play session of half hour or more.

"How?" you ask. Like so:

Yes, a secret yet untapped by apple promoters worldwide is that apple slices make perfect fangs. A typical apple, we learned, will afford you about ten sets of fangs. Each set will last several minutes from the victim's initial shriek of terror to the vampire's inevitable ingestion of his own teeth.

Luckily, no necks have to be harmed in the process of this particular vampire game. Last night, our biggest problem was the fact that we had only one apple and, thus, had to ration our fangs very carefully.

As it turns out, a little boy's preoccupation with bad guys isn't doomed to an undesirable outcome. As an added bonus to lots of fun and laughs, the kid, in the natural course of play, ends up with a healthy snack, and you can't beat that.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. Gets Five Stars

I've been thinking about Pooh all day long, and I hope the force is with him. By that, I mean I hope he and his sisters are having fun playing the new game Pa-pa and I delivered to him over the weekend as we observed his seventh birthday just a few days early.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with our launch of Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. I have always enjoyed the dice-rolling excitement of a good Yahtzee match, and I have to say this particular version adapts quite well to the needs of kids age four and older.

Instead of the usual numbered dots, the six sides of most dice feature pictures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, R2D2, Chewbacca, and Yoda, who acts as a wild card as players try to collect as many pictures as possible of a single character in a three-roll turn.

Since there is evil in every universe, one side of one sinister die is reserved for the picture of Darth Vader. If Darth turns up on a player's roll, that player loses the advantage of that fifth die for the remainder of that particular turn.

Further, the game is designed so that kids don't have to keep individual scores on note pads as they make decisions about how to count the dice rolls. Instead, they use color-coded game markers to mark their choices on a game board visible to all players at all times. This enables discussions of options with kids who may need help figuring out rolling and scoring choices. The board, game pieces, and dice (and a set of four happy players) look like this:

The game can be easily adapted for two, three, or four players, with the difference being the number of turns all players get. Once begun, things move quickly, and the kids seem excited both to take their own turns and to watch what happens as their opponents roll the dice, consider options, and strategize.

In our experience, the downsides of the game are few. You have to caution the kids not to bump the scoreboard and displace markers that have already been played, because then the cumulative scores are lost for that game. Another issue is the number of relatively small pieces (twenty score markers, five dice) to keep track of when a number of boisterous kids are involved.

But I have to say the five of us (Zoomie and I were partners) had a great time with Star Wars Yahtzee Jr. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. In the event of a number of kids who are fairly young, though, I would recommend flying a reconnaissance mission into the box ahead of time to punch out score markers and place the stickers on the dice. I did this, and am pretty sure I saved us some time, potential chaos, and possible damage to the game components.

Happy Birthday to you, Pooh. You are the most special first-grader in my universe. May the candles on your cake tonight glow like light sabers, and may your life be filled with a lot of Yodas and very few Darths.