Playing Games...
The Best Games of 2013
Posted: 2013-12-09 12:22:54 By:



Playing games is not only a great way to connect with your family, it also offers some time when the phones and other electronics are not center stage. Here are the games that got the highest ratings from our testers for 2013.




2013 Awards
Janod Barnyard Dominoes
(Janod $24.99 Score: )

Cows, ducks, hens, tractors and farmer's hat and boots are easy to match on these wooden dominos. Turn them over and play a traditional match the dots domino game. Finished in smooth natural wood these are basic gear that will be used for naming and knowing as well as for matching, stacking, or collapsing games. 28 pieces. 

SNAP: Introduce the playing pieces by finding all the cows as a first game, finding all the sheep as another game...etc. Playing a traditional game of dominoes can wait. Knowing and naming and matching builds the readiness for the old-fashioined game. These are nice for stacking and lining up, too.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2013.




2013 Award
Peaceable Kingdom Stack Up!
(Peaceable Kingdom $29.99  Score: )

Designed for preschoolers, this really is a cooperative game that can only be played by working together to lift the blocks in a stack. The players are trying to beat the Stack Smasher ( a cardboard playing piece shaped like a hand) as it moves around the board. In one game there are challenge cards that require kids to bark or sing or do other actions on their turn. Again, they do this together. There are three games for preschoolers to play with two lifting rods. In one game they use the skinny end of the rod; in the other game they use a sponged tip to lift the blocks and add to the stack. The maker has also included directions for a two-year old color sorting game that little siblings can play. So many games for preschoolers are hard for beginners deal with, especially the winning and losing part. Here the game is played against the board instead of each other as they learn about taking turns and working together to beat the silly old stack smasher. It can also be fun for multi-generational family fun that can include preschoolers with ease. 3-5


Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Disney Sofia the First Royal Prep Academy Game
(Wonder Forge $19.99 Score: )

Imagine a game that combines aspects of Battleship (but you're looking for charms), Memory (you're supposed to remember where characters are located) and a wild card (pure guessing to win a charm). The actual set up of the game is quite clever. There is the Royal Prep Academy Building with lots of windows that are covered with moving shutters. One player puts on a plastic charm bracelet and has to try to collect charms by guessing where the other player has placed them behind the shutters. Much more fun to be Sofia the First and wear the bracelet than being the "hidder." The idea is that you take turns. We have a feeling that a lot of parents will end up playing hidder more often, although our 4 year old tester equally enjoyed being the hidder! Marked 3 & up, but will be enjoyed more by 4-6 crowd.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Disney Sofia the First Magical Tea Time Game
(Wonder Forge $$19.99 Score: )

Love this innovative game based on Disney's Sofia the First having a tea party. The idea is to collect treats for your plate. The clever twist is how you determine which color treat you need. Each tea cup has a spinning piece in the middle that moves either by blowing on it or by using the "magical" tea pot that "puffs air" when squeezed. (Some of our younger players needed help making this happen but still loved this aspect of the game play.)  In all of our years toy testing, this is one of the most unique game designs that incorporates the theme of the game perfectly. When all of the delicious treats are taken, the round is over and the player with the most treats wins the game. The game also rewards good manners with awarding treats for not having your elbows on the table, being the first to get up and curtsey (we are taking about a Princess in training after all), saying please, and thank you. A game that involves age-appropriate game play and a fun dose of role playing. Fun! Marked 3 & up.

Age: Preschool, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013.




2013 Award
University Games Very Hungry Caterpillar Twirl and Toss Game
(University Games $30 Score: )

Players have the fun of tossing small fabric fruits at the Very Hungry Caterpillar as it turns round and round. The object is to be the first to get all three of the pieces of fruit of one color to stick to the caterpillar. An active game that will keep kids pitching and picking up the mini plush apples, plums, pears and oranges. A decorative looking game that will reinforce color concepts, simple counting, and involves active play.


Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


Early and Later School Years



2013 Award
Gamewright Chef Pop de Pop
(Gamewright $16.99 Score: )

A fun way to reinforce counting and early math skills. Players shake the pop-corn cubes and get to keep the cards that match the ones in the popper. If you have a card with three yellow pieces of pop corn and there are only two yellow showing in the popper, you cannot put your card in your collection. If there are 4 orange corns showing in the popper and you have two cards with two orange corns, you can put both cards in you winning pile. So players are adding and considering if they have more or less than the number shown. For young players this calls for flexible thinking and visual discrimination. But watch out! If you get a piece of burned corn on your turn, you must take and keep a burned corn card. The game ends when all the regular cards are used up or the burned corn cards are gone. Winner is the one with the most unburned popcorn cards. 6 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Educational Insights Even Steven's Odd Game
(Educational Insights $19.99 Score: )

A rapid fire dice game that reinforces addition, subtraction skills. The game comes with 40 2-level challenge cards, four dice holders, and 24 dice in red, yellow, green, blue and white. Everyone plays at one time, rolling his dice again and again to be the first to complete the challenge and fill his dice holder playing board. First one to win 10 challenges is the winner. For 2-4 players ages 7 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Yoga Spinner Game
(Upside Down Games $19.99 Score: )

A fun way to gain flexibility, strength, and improve posture while introducing kids to Yoga poses. Game can be played solo or with others. Players take turns hitting the spinner and choose a card of the same color shown on the spinner. Now, try to hold the pose for 10 seconds without laughing or falling down! The object is to be first to collect one card of each color. Perfect for sleepover, playdates, or family fun. Our test family Mom wrote that her whole family enjoyed this one...."We were laughing and having fun and the boys said the stretching felt good after soccer. I appreciate that the game doesn't assume you know yoga poses and the illustrations are quite clear (although it does help to be familiar with the poses to help the kids do them). The graphics are clean and very cute and you know I always like a game that is self contained (the cards are stored in the spinner itself) - always good for keeping up with all of the cards and for using in different rooms or places. I like that it is very active and teaches everyone something new as well. We give it a thumbs up! I can also see a big use for this in more of a classroom or group setting (such as a break from fine motor skills - at our school the kids take 'brain breaks' and do something more physical.)"

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Swish Junior
(ThinkFun $12.99 Score: )

One of the most elegant card games we tested this year. Swish Junior comes with 45 transulcent cards that have shapes (a diamond, star, circle) placed on different locations on the cards. A "swish" is made when you can stack up two cards so that the images line up.  Sometimes this requires that you turn the card and to line up a solid circle with an open-circle- calling for great visual discrimination skills.  They say 5 & up, we'd say this a great parent-child game at the younger range. Players can then graduate to the more advanced original game of Swish.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
(MindWare $29.99 Score: )

Our game day testers loved this game that requires a careful eye for detail. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles that each have a different color on each corner. As players pull more tiles from the bag the goal is to make circles where all four quarters are of the same color. The player with the most matches at the end of the round is the winner. You can play individually or if you have younger kids we'd recommend playing in teams.  The pace of this game is lovely since you're working on your own board (or team's board) rather than competiting on one board against other players.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Heads Up
(International Playthings $19.99 Score: )

 A game designed by Professor Higgins perhaps? Heads Up challenges players to balance fake books on their heads. Rolling the die tells each player how many books to add to their mortar board. It may also instruct you to remove a book. Comes with 40 "books", four mortar boards and a die. You have to bring your own sense of balance. Marked 5 & up. 


Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Sifteo Cubes Intelligent Game System
(Sifteo $129.99 Score: )

Sifteo Cubes is a revolutionary toy that looks to change how kids, and tech-loving adults, play with blocks. Co-founder David Merrill's 2009 TED Talk originally opened our eyes to the possibilities of Sifteo blocks. Each Sifteo Cubes set comes with one home speaker, three cubes, one USB cable, and a carrying pouch. Additional cubes can be bought separately to enhance the learning and gaming experience. New games can be downloaded by plugging the home speaker into a computer and purchasing games from Sifteo's website. Although the cubes are still a new product the games are innovative, educational, and most importantly, fun.

Sifteo Cubes sets come with four games, Cube Buddies, Code Breakers, Word Caravan, and Chroma Splash. Each game presents different learning challenges to young users.

Word Caravan is a word puzzle game that utilizes the tilt and neighbor-awareness of the cubes. The goal of the game is to create a specified number of words from the letters displayed in the cubes; each cube shows two letters whose order can be switched by tilting the cube in each direction. Word Caravan is a fun and thought-provoking game that requires young readers to creatively access the situation and make words on the spot. For more experienced readers the cubes do not always recognize advanced vocabulary, and simply ask for low-level words to complete the level.

Chroma Splash is a challenging puzzles game that incorporates the tilt, touch, and neighbor-awareness capabilities of the cubes. The game asks that players match colored bubbles on neighboring cubes and then pop the matching bubbles to move to the next level. Each level has different color and positioning combinations that require gamers to think through the puzzle before starting.

Code Crackers proved to be a great mathematics puzzle game. The objective of the game asks players to combine the numbers displayed on the cube using different mathematical functions to make the target number at the end of the equation. Beginning levels test basic addition and subtraction skills. As difficulty rises the equation lengths are extended and multiplication and division are added to the game.

Cube Buddies tests the facial recognition abilities of players, and asks gamers to recreate the scrambled faces of various cartoon characters. It uses the familiar neighbor-awareness function to match the various misplaced facial features together.

In addition to the four games sent with every Sifteo Cubes set, we tested two additional games, Sandwich Kingdom and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ninja Slide, as well as two smaller color and sound programs, Bliss Bomb and B!

Sandwich Kingdom quickly proved to resemble many of the old Sega Genesis and Gameboy RPGs such as Shining Force and Golden Sun. Like the beginning of all these games Sandwich Kingdom has long-winded dialogue and movement motions. Unfortunately the redeeming quality for all of those old games, the turn-based fighting, is not included in Sandwich Kingdom. Despite the lack of fighting the method used to move throughout the maze-like levels is spectacular, and redeems Sandwich Kingdom as a top-notch puzzle-labyrinth game. The use of multiple cube displays to reveal the level layout by laying them next to each other is ingenious. It allows players to investigate multiple routes before moving the character by tapping the display you wish the main character to walk to.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ninja Slide is my favorite game of the Sifteo Cubes set. It is reminiscent of Rush Hour with the addition of slight cartoon violence. Each stage asks the player to tilt and click Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, or Rafael to a specified end point. The player slides through the puzzle-like courses, ranging across multiple cube displays, occasionally dispatching enemies with one of the four ninja turtles' unique weapons.

Bliss Bomb and B! are two interesting additions to the Sifteo Cubes set. Bliss Bomb is a strobe color program that allows users to combine the different cube displays to create different colored and patterned shapes on the screen. Unfortunately this can be a bit irritating to look at after an extended period of time. B!'s function as a interactive sound system is a interesting concept. Each screen displays a different pattern that has it's own color and sound. When the cube screen is tapped a sound is emitted and the pattern changes. Overall both of these programs are not the most engaging additions to the otherwise stellar Sifteo Cubes set. They would likely only keep users occupied for a matter of minutes before moving on to the one of the more extensive and lengthy puzzle game programs.

  - review by Matthew Weinstein

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Hedbanz Act Up!
(Spin Master $19.99 Score: )

We like this new take on the original Hedbanz.  This one is played more like charades. Players put cards on their head bands without knowing what the card says. The object is for the player to guess what that card says from the actions of the other players. But in this game NO TALKING and NO PROPS are allowed! Unlike the original Hedbanz game, which was played like 20 Questions, this Act UP version is a whole lot trickier, but good fun. Our testing family (with preteens and young adults) enjoyed the game a great deal. Marked for kids 8 & up - we still think the original Hedbanz where you can speak will be less frustrating for younger players.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
(Learning Resources $19.99 Score: )

A visually challenging game with 25 double-sided cards and 36 multi-colored rods, and 8 cubes. Choose a colorful card and then players must discover the path that connects two cubes. Once the path is spotted, players race to be the first to build the pattern they see. It's tricky, since the rods are not all the same size and you have to reproduce the path to the side of the card, not on it. So this calls for visual discrimination and speed. Our multi-generational testers had fun with this game and the younger kids were often better at seeing the pathways and reproducing them. There are three levels of play for 2-4 players. 6-adult.


Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens, Teens, Adult. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Hasbro Bejeweled
(Hasbro $19.99 Score: )

Originally an online game, Bejeweled has now been adapted for real time play, complete with playing board and shimmering playing pieces. Basically this is the same game as the digital form, the object is to collect three of a kind in a row. But the big glitzy playing pieces are good looking and pleasing to slide across the playing board. Game play requires some strategy and logic.  We loved this game--but we do think the packaging needs some work. Once you create the board (and the pop up box fo the pieces) it does not go back into the original box easily. Our suggestion is to get a bigger box to store it in. 8 & up.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
Laser Maze
(ThinkFun $29.99 Score: )

From the folks that brought us Rush Hour, here's a new brainteaser for the 21st century. The idea is to bounce the laser off the mirrors on the other game pieces to hit the end piece. As with their other games, the challenges (there are 60) get progressively more difficult. Our testers loved the idea of the laser game piece. Laser Maze requires problem-solving skills and the ability to think several steps ahead. Very cool.

Age: Later School Years, Tweens, Teens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on




2013 Award
(Blue Orange Games $15.99 Score: )

Our testers loved this fast-paced dice game. You're trying to be the first to see the matches of the icons on the dice and scoop them up. The icons include: cherries, an anchor, a cactus, a ghost, a palm tree, skull & bones, and a butterfly.  If you don't see any, you can shout NADA.  Watch out though if you do and there is actually a match!  There are different variations on the game that appealed to our testers depending on their age. Also great fun, Flash - same concept but with numbers and making combinations.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2013. Click here to purchase the product on


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