Games for Tweens, Teens, and The Whole Family

In an era where just about everyone over the age of two has a room full of electronic devices, it can be hard for families to find ways to spend quality time together (meaning everyone is actually looking at everyone else). It’s especially tough if the kids are careening toward adolescence. This week we review four really fun games for families with kids eight and up. No batteries, chargers, or Internet connection required.

betcha can't winBetcha Can’t Win (Simply Fun)
It seems simple enough: Each player has six dice and rolls them as many times as necessary to match the number (using any math function) on cards that are face up on the table. Match as many as you can and rack up the points. But beware: if another player matches your points, you could end up with zero. Great for learning math and risk/reward. 15-30 minutes play time. For 2-4 players, ages 8+. $28.00 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

pack itPack It (Simply Fun)
Everyone ready? We’re all going on a hike, so you’d better start loading up your backpack. Players are dealt several Item cards (compass, tent, frying pan, map, and so on, each of which includes a value in miles) that they use to start stocking their backpacks. The goal is to put together a pack with the greatest number of miles. Then, they take turns drawing cards to add the items they’re missing and increase mileage. But watch out for the Hazard cards (Bear, Skunk, Blister). For example, if you draw the Blister and have socks in your pack, you’re okay. But if you don’t have socks, you have to discard your highest value card. Draw the Skunk and you’ll have to discard two cards. 20-30 minutes play time. For 2-5 players, ages 8+. $24.50 at http://www.simplyfun.com/

strike a poseStrike a Pose (R&R Games)
Think Charades but without any of the movement or acting. In each round, one player is the Collector, a guy or gal who’s buying statues for a fabulous estate. The Collector leaves the room and the rest of the players draw one card (used by the whole group) which has a category and a number of statue options. For example, in the “At the Beach” category, statues include “Sun bathing”, “Building a sand castle,” and “Playing volleyball.” Each player pics one option and freezes in a pose they think will best mimic the person, place, or thing. The Collector returns, looks at the Category card and tries to guess which player is which statue. No movement or sounds—statues are made of stone, right? The opportunities for silliness are endless. 30-45 minutes play time. For 3-14 (yes, 14) players, ages 10+. $17.95 at online retailers or http://rnrgames.com/

unnatural selectionUnNatural Selection (R&R Games)
Use your “super cool Mod Ray X5000” weapon to mash together your own crazy creatures. Start with a single animal (defined rather broadly, to include pet rocks), then play cards to add features. The goal is to create a beast that would defeat your opponents’ beasts in a battle. The combination of the features and animals can be incredibly funny. You might start with a goldfish and then add “sprinkled with tempura flakes” or “has a headache.” After all the players have done their finest mashing, it’s up to the judge (a role that rotates among the players) to decide which creature would emerge victorious in a smackdown. The player who wins the most challenges become the “Ultimate Warrior.” It’s fun, and fast-paced. 15-30 minutes play time. For 3-10 players, ages 8+. $11 at online retailers or at http://www.rnrgames.com/

 

All Work and No Play? Naaaah

Yes, the new school year is almost (or, in some places, already) under way. And yes, the kids are going to start coming home with backpacks full of homework. But that doesn’t mean no more fun. Here are two great activities that will help you make the summer last a little longer, and three that will keep a smile on your face as the weather gets colder.

poo doughPoo Dough (Skyrocket Toys)
One of our favorite fads has been gross toys—things that poop, blow snot, pass gas, and more. If your children are into this (most are), they’ll definitely enjoy Poo Dough, which is completely disgusting, but in a really fun way. You get realistic, pooh-shaped molds and the dough itself (which comes in a lovely shade of yellow and two equally lovely shades of brown). But wait, there’s more. You also get special molds for “corn” and “peanuts.” Yep, the kids (and plenty of fully grown adults) are all set for hours of giggly, eeeew-inducing entertainment. About $8 in stores like Toys R Us, Amazon, and Walmart.  http://www.skyrockettoys.com/

fart pianoFart Piano (Skyrocket Toys)
If the look and feel of poo dough isn’t enough, you can always add sound effects with the Fart Piano. Far more versatile than its name would indicate, this piano can also cough, belch, and sneeze. Just press a key and you’re on your way. It even comes with sheet music so you can entertain out-of-town guests and dignitaries. About $20 on Amazon and Toys R Us.

fuze water blasterCyclone Water Blaster (FUZE/Skyrocket)
What a great way to get the kids involved in doing something physical outside. The Cyclone Water Blaster is essentially a motorized (using 4 AA batteries), handle-bar mounted squirt gun that enables kids (or the kid in any adult) to soak someone up to 25 feet away and pedal off before the victim can return fire. The nozzle has a 180-degree radius and riders can adjust it on the fly. Get two Blasters and you can turn your bikes into horses and water joust. Grab some towels and let the games begin. About $25 at your favorite retailer, including http://www.walmart.com

bike bubblerBike Bubbler (FUZE/Skyrocket)
This one manages to bridge the gap between exercise and gross-ness. All you do is mount this motorized gizmo underneath your bicycle seat, and you can spray out a stream of bubbles as you zip around the neighborhood. In the words of one of our child-testers, “it looks like it’s pooping bubbles.” Well, at least this time it’s clean, right? The Bubbler comes with one 4-ounce bottle of bubble solution, and you can make your own when you run out. For kids who aren’t riding yet (or adults who are exhausted), the Bubbler works just fine without a bike. About $15 at www.SkyrocketToys.com or www.FuzeBikeFX.com

view masterView Master (Fisher Price)
Remember View Masters from when you were a kid—those goggle-like viewers with their circular cardboard story reels that simulated 3D? They’ve been on toy store shelves since the 1940s (it’s their 75th anniversary this year!), and who would have thought that something so low-tech could possibly entertain today’s tech-crazy kids. Go figure. The new View Masters are pretty much the same as the old ones—put the reel in the viewer and push a lever to move through the story. The only real differences are that the images are brighter and the viewers themselves come in a variety of styles, including Hello Kitty and those Despicable Me minions. Gift sets include a View Master, three story reels, and a handy-don’t-lose-them storage case. Available in stores and online for about $15. http://www.fisher-price.com/

Clinging to Summer

The days may be getting shorter and the nights a little cooler, but we’re not ready to say goodbye to summer just yet. Here are some great activities that can help your family make the most of every minute between now and the day school starts.

Disc-MasterDisc Master (Ideal)
Combine a friendly game of Frisbee (aka disc) with the more precision-oriented golf, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Disc Master is all about. You start by designing your own nine “hole” course using the goal (which looks a little like a basketball basket mounted on a short tripod). Just like with golf, you make a series of shots that bring you closer and closer to the target. The player with the lowest number of throws wins. The package includes one very sturdily built target, two discs, nine flags, and a storage bag. All you need is a couple of acres of open space. Ages 8 and up. Retails for around $75 on Amazon. http://poof-slinky.com/

pro gold flag footballPro Gold Flag Football Set (POOF-Slinky)
Golf is a pretty laid-back kind of game, so if you’re looking for something a little more energetic, this flag football set is for you. The rules are the same as regular football (the American kind), but instead of bone-crushing, concussion-inducing tackles, the defense stops the player with the ball by yanking one of the flags clipped to his or her waist. It’s a really fun way for everyone in the family—boys and girls—to work up a sweat, work as a team, and develop throwing and catching skills. Comes with everything you need for a 4-on-4 game (one foam football and two different-colored sets of eight flags (two per player)).  For ages 5 and up. Retails for around $20. http://poof-slinky.com/

bizainy lemonade standLemonade Stand Start-Up Kit (Bizainy)
The vast majority of people who play sports will never make it to the pros. So you’ve got to have a backup plan. And what could be better than running your own business—especially one that can cash in on all those sweaty athletes? The Bizainy (a combination of “business” and “brainy”) Lemonade Stand Kit is a smart, creative way of teaching kids about business and money management in the most effective way possible: by putting them in charge of their own enterprise. Kids can learn about budgeting, marketing strategy, attracting customers, negotiating rates, closing the sale, and calculating profits. Those are all skills that will come in handy as they move toward independence. If this one isn’t your cup of, well, lemonade, Bizainy also has Charity Bake Sale and Babysitting kits. For kids 5 and up (adult supervision suggested). $30. http://www.bizainy.com/

zoku-slush-maker-+-art-of-slush-bookZoku Slush and Shake Maker (Zoku)
Make your own slushies, milkshakes, and smoothies without leaving home. Put the core of the Slush Maker into your freezer at least eight hours in advance. Then, just whip up your ingredients, pour them into the frozen core, and you and the kids can be drinking virgin daiquiris on the porch in about 10 minutes. The Zoku is sleek, colorful, and BPA/phthalate free. Zoku also publishes a beautifully photographed, 96-page book, The Art of Slush, which is packed with dozens of delicious sounding recipes, including blood orange mojito and purple antioxidant berry slushes, pistachio cardamom milkshake, and espresso vodka dark chocolate smoothie (to enjoy after the kids go to bed). Kids of any age can pour the liquid into the core, but an adult should be involved in the actual blending phase. The Zoku and the book each retail for about $20 at http://www.zokuhome.com/

Gear Up!

Most of us—adults and kids—are walking around with hundreds of dollars of portable electronics. This week we review a number of items that are designed to help you get the most use out of your gadgets, and to protect them—and your ears.

Knivo wireless headphonesKinivo BTH240 Wireless Bluetooth Headphones (Kinivo)
Wires, wires, everywhere, and no one knows where they go or how to untangle them. The solution? Go wireless. With these Knivo Bluetooth headphones—which work on almost any device—there’ll be no more accidentally dragging your music player off the table or having someone trip over your wires and yank your ear buds out. And for kids watching a movie or playing a game, no more wires to fiddle with or gnaw on. But be warned. Once you go wireless, you’ll never go back. $35 on www.Pure-Gear.com




DualTek Extreme Shock CaseDualTek Extreme Shock Case for Samsung Galaxy S5 (PureGear)
If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S5, chances it you paid plenty for it (or made a long, long commitment to your cell carrier). So it’s worth investing a bit more to protect it from the daily bumping and scratching you put it through—and from the drops and dings your kids inflict on it. The new DualTek case fits like a glove, doesn’t get in the way of taking pics or making calls, and takes a real beating. The corners—the weak spot on most phone cases—are specially designed to absorb impact and vibration. Available in yellow, white, and black. $35 at http://www.pure-gear.com


PureTek Rollon screen protectorPureGear Roll on Screen Shield Kit (PureGear)
Even the best cases have trouble keeping the screen from getting scratched. If you’ve got any iPhone 5 or a Galaxy S5, the PureGear Screen Shield kit is for you. The patented roll-on applicator makes applying the screen protector a breeze, and completely eliminates those annoying bubbles. The protector itself reduces glare and besides resisting scratches, it keeps your screen safe from the dirt, grime, and fingerprints from little hands. $25 at www.Pure-Gear.com


BlynkBlynk (Lyfeshot)
This tiny, hands-free camera is specially designed to take time-lapse photos. Just set the interval—one shot every second, minute, hour, day, or longer—and you’re ready to go. Blynk then puts all those photos into a single movie (or saves them as individual JPEGs). Now you can condense a week-long adventure into a few minutes, create your very own 30-second video of flowers blooming, or marvel at how quickly your baby (or your puppy) is growing up. Available in pink, blue, and black. $129 on http://www.lyfeshot.com


Paick SleekPaick Power Bank (Paick)
There’s nothing worse than being out with the family, seeing something amazing, and discovering that your battery is at 5 percent. You can solve that problem with a Paick Power Bank. Charge it up before you leave your house or hotel and you’ve got a sleek, portable power source that will help you squeeze a few more hours out of your phone, tablet, or other device. Power Banks come in a variety of capacities. The one we tested was 6000mAh, which essentially doubled the available talk time. $59 and up at www.Paick.com


Sun Power solar chargerSun Power 6000 Charger (Secur)
But what if your plans take you someplace where there’s no electricity at all? If you’ve got a little sunshine, all you’ll need is the Secur Sun Power 6000. The fold-up solar panel charges your phone, tablet, or other device no matter where you are. It’s durable, light, easy-to-use, and water resistant, which makes it a must-have for beach- or camping trips. Dual USB ports let you charge two phones or devices at once. $129 at http://securproducts.com

Sometimes, You’ve Just Gotta Get Away

So you’re taking a trip with the kids. Whether you’re going by car, plane, or some other way, you’ll need to keep them safe, occupied, and relatively quiet. Here are some fun, new musts-have travel take­­-alongs.

delsey heliumHelium (Delsey)
If you’re like most parents, part of your job on family trips is to be a pack mule, dragging luggage, laptops, and lovies all over creation. Bags in Delsey’s Helium line are durable (on one trip, ours were loaded onto 16 planes, nine boats, and nearly 20 trains and still look great) and lightweight (making them easy on the back and minimizing those evil airline baggage charges). Available in three sizes and your choice of standard or bright colors. All are equipped with a TSA-approved lock and retail for $160 and up. http://shop.delsey.us

eagle creek sight-seeing tablet courierDay Traveler (Eagle Creek)
We’ve been big fans of Day Traveler bags for a long time. Our new favorite is the Site-Seeing Tablet Courier. Like the other bags in the line, this one is durable, lightweight, and accommodates a surprising amount of stuff (the split-book design makes packing a breeze). It’s also water resistant (so no worries about spilled drinks or rainstorms), has a host of pockets in various sizes (perfect for phones, glasses, wallets, laptops/tablets, and more), and comes with RFID-blocking technology (which keeps your personal information safe), Retails for $45 at http://shop.eaglecreek.com

eagle creek weekenderAdventure Weekender (Eagle Creek)
If you’re going on a quick trip, this one is perfect. It’s got plenty of room for a computer, a change of clothes, those just-in-case-we-get-stranded-overnight necessities, and is still small enough that the flight attendants won’t try to make you gate check it. You can lock the zipper pockets, and the Adventure Weekender is easy to stack on larger bags. If you’re looking for durability and versatility, this one’s for you. $150 on http://shop.eaglecreek.com

vinci tabletVINCI Tab III M 5” Learning Tablet (VINCI)
If you have a little one who’s not quite ready for a big tablet, the VINCI Tab III is made to entertain, engage, and educate. It comes with a great bumper (which incorporates a handle) to protect it from those inevitable childhood drops and “oopsies.” The company says the VINCI is aimed at kids 18 months to 9 years, but we think it tops out at about 6 years—today’s tech-savvy kids will be on to far more sophisticated tablets by then. But the little guys will have a great time learning and playing without getting overstimulated. The fun, game-based apps teach math and reading skills in an enjoyable way that they’ll want to play over and over—and that will keep them quiet wherever they happen to be. What a great way to keep those young minds humming without having to resort to “Angry Birds” or “Fruit Ninja.” $129 at http://store.vincigenius.com

swimways sea squirts life jacketsSea Squirts life jacket (SwimWays)
Going for a swim with children who are less than 100% water safe? You can literally keep their head above water with a number of swim aids from SwimWays.  They’ve got a wide variety of vests, life jackets, baby floats, and other products, so you’ll have no trouble finding something for each child’s swim abilities. The Sea Squirts life jackets are adorable and even sport a stylish fin (orca, dolphin, or clownfish). The Power Swimr swim training system comes with nine flotation pads which you gradually remove as your child moves from floating to swimming. Please remember that when it comes to children, no swim aid can substitute for mom’s or dad’s watchful eye. Be safe. Sea Squirts run $47 and the Power Swimr is around $21. https://www.swimways.com/

Taking the Boredom out of Family Game Night

We’re all about families having fun together, and game night is one of the best ways to do that. But playing the same games over and over can get a little stale. So, in the interests of injecting a little more fun into your family’s game night, here are some great choices that will keep you and yours engaged and laughing.

Battle SheepBattle Sheep (Blue Orange Games)
Simple to learn, fun to play, but a new challenge every time. Players start off with four board tiles (there are a total of 16, so up to four can play), which they take turns laying out until the board is complete. Each tile contains four “pastures.” Then, each player takes his or her herd (a stack of 16 color-matched sheep tokens) and places it on one of the pastures along the edge of the board. The goal is to put your sheep on the most pastures. Move as many of your sheep as you’d like—but you have to leave at least one behind, and you can only move in a straight line. Seems simple enough, but if you’re not paying attention to your opponents and plotting out your own moves a few in advance, some of your flock could get penned in. The first few times you play, you’ll probably be on the defensive—doing whatever you can to keep your flock free. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll go on the offensive and start blocking everyone else. The board tiles and tokens are sturdy and the game is great for building strategic- and abstract thinking skills. For 2-4 players, ages 7 to adult. Retails online for around $21. http://www.blueorangegames.com/

LoonacyLoonacy (Looney Labs)
Loonacy combines elements of Crazy Eights, Uno, and Dominoes to make a fun, fast-paced game. Players start with seven cards, each with two images on it. The goal is to be the first to empty your hand by matching at least one of the images on your cards with one on the cards in the face-up pile(s) on the table. All you need is quick reflexes, a good memory, and a lot of luck. The fewer the number of players, the more discard piles you have (two players have four piles). That adds an element of strategy to the game since there are so many matching options. But as you add players, the number of discard piles decreases (five players have only one pile), which turns the game into a completely crazy free-for-all—something that may frustrate younger players. Takes only 5-10 minutes to play for 2-5 players, ages 8 and up. Retails for about $12.16. http://www.looneylabs.com/

regular show fluxxcartoon network fluxxRegular Show Fluxx and Cartoon Network Fluxx (Looney Labs)
If you’re looking for free-for-alls, this one takes the cake. It starts so peacefully, with each player getting three cards. The rules are simple. Draw one and play one. But here’s where the fun starts. Each card played can change the rules of the game, requiring you to draw more cards, talk in a cartoon voice, play all the cards in your hand;, steal cards from an opponent, and so on. Rules can be combined if they don’t contradict each other (for example, you might have to draw four cards and talk in a cartoon voice). Regular Show Fluxx features characters from the Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show,” while Cartoon Network Fluxx features characters from nine CN shows, including “Powerpuff Girls,” “Eddy,” “Adventure Time,” and “Samurai Jack.” Both are for 2-6 players, ages 8+ and retail for around $16. http://www.looneylabs.com/