Review: Four First Board Games for Toddlers

Four First Games by Ravensburger is a set of four board games intended for 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds. Included below is an analysis of each of those games as handled by my 2.8-year-old daughter.

Games my daughter can handle at this age involve counting, movement, and shape or color differentiation. Strategy is not a factor at this age. Patience is also short, so games should provide some action on nearly every turn.

Game Components

  • Two folding game boards are colorfully printed on both sides to provide the playing surfaces for the four games.
  • Six painted wooden pawns
  • A six-sided die with color faces. No numbers. One color is displayed on each side of the die.
  • Numerous 1″x1″ cardboard cards for the various games.
  • No components have words or letters and thus are easier for toddlers to comprehend.
Photo of The Bird's Nest board game. Click to view an uncaptioned enlarged version.

Get to the center one space at a time. Click to enlarge.

The Bird’s Nest

For 2 to 6 players from 3 years of age.

Rules: Players are birds who must traverse six spaces on a straight path to reach a nest in the center of the board. Each space in a player’s path is a different color. On your turn, you roll the die and if the die color matches the next space directly in front of you, you move forward to that space. A roll of “white” is treated as a wildcard, always resulting in movement. Gameplay is tedious for my daughter because we often don’t roll the proper color for movement. Winning the game requires a 1 in 6 chance of rolling “white” to enter the nest.

Official Variation: Allow young kids to move forward to the color rolled even if it isn’t in the adjacent space. “White” must still be rolled to enter the nest.

AJ’s Modified Rules: Shift from competitive to collaborative gameplay. Place all six pawns on the board. Each player rolls the die and looks for a bird that can be moved forward one space per normal game rules. Any color may be rolled to enter the nest. This makes gameplay fast and fun. Toddlers simply don’t feel a need to be competitive.

Photo of The King's Castle board game. Click to view an uncaptioned enlarged version.

Roll your way to the castle at the center. Click to enlarge.

King of the Castle

For 2 to 6 players from 4 years of age.

Rules: Players move along colored squares laid out in a spiral, with the ending square located at a castle in the center of the board. On your turn, you roll and move to the next space that matches the color on the die. If you land on a space occupied by another player, you are transported back to the starting square.

My daughter frequently loses sense of direction, moving backward instead of forward. This issue is overcome with friendly correction.

If you roll “white,” you take a teleportation card and are transported to a new location on the board indicated by the card. Each card contains a drawing of an animal that corresponds to a position on the game board. Sometimes the card will require backward movement on the board. The first player to reach the castle wins.

The game is similar to Candy Land, but superior in its use of a die. Candy Land uses cards for movement. My daughter has trouble picking up cards one-at-a-time and then becomes preoccupied with making the discard pile neat. In comparison, she takes delight in the simple act of shaking and tossing the die.

AJ’s Modified Rules: My daughter gets tired if the game takes too long to complete. To optimize gameplay, we do not use the cards. Every turn we move forward and if one player lands on another player’s space, that’s just a chance to say, “Hi!” It is the winner’s duty to then cheer on the remaining players as they too enter the castle.

Photo of the Garden Party board game. Click to view an uncaptioned enlarged version.

Be the first to plant five flowers in your garden. Click to enlarge.

Garden Party

For 2 to 6 players from 4 years of age.

Rules: Each player is a gardener trying to grow flowers. You have a flowerbed before you with five colored spaces for flowers. Each player starts with five flower-shaped cards that correspond to their gardens.

On your turn, roll the die. If the color thrown matches the color of one of the outlines in your flowerbed, you “plant” the corresponding flower in your garden by placing a card there.

If you roll “green” or roll a color for which you’ve already placed a flower, you skip your turn. The first player to plant all of his flowers wins.

AJ’s Modified Rules: We play with all four gardens even if we have less than four players. When a die color is thrown and you have already planted that color flower, this is an opportunity to help the other players by planting the same color flower in their garden. Optionally, rolling “green” may be treated as a wildcard chance to plant any flower. The game ends when every player’s garden is completed.

Photo of the Sizzling Sausages board game. Click to view an uncaptioned enlarged version.

Ravenous dogs will do anything for sausage, even navigate a senseless field of checkered squares. Click to enlarge.

Sizzling Sausages

For 2 to 6 players from 5 years of age.

This game is fairly complex and may indeed best be left to 5-year-olds.

Players are dogs trying to eat as many sausages as possible. The board consists of checkerboard-type squares presented in six colors. Twelve sausage cards are placed on 12 white squares on the board. Players begin the game positioned in doggy beds at the sides of the board.

On your turn, roll the die and move to a square up, down, left or right of you that matches the die color. The destination square may be any distance from you, but you cannot move diagonally. If you roll “white” you may land on a square containing a sausage card, thus collecting the card. If you land on a space occupied by another player, that player returns to his starting position. The game ends when all sausage cards are obtained. The dog with the most meat wins.

Each turn consists of one move. Thus, you have a 1 in 6 chance of rolling “white” and having the chance of collecting a sausage. Most of your turns consist of moving back and force around the board hoping that when you do roll “white,” you will be in a position to score a sausage. This process was far beyond the attention span and interest of my daughter.

Final Thoughts

There’s probably nothing I’ve looked forward to more than the day my daughter would be ready for board games. I love ‘em. The Ravensburger set was a blind purchase from a toy store, with the box giving few clues to the nature of the games.

What I like most about board games is that they require at least two people. There’s no plunking your kid down to be ignored. Board games are as much about face-to-face conversation as they are about what is transpiring on the game board.

Four First Games at Amazon.


6 Responses to “Review: Four First Board Games for Toddlers”

  1. Clipgator says:

    Thank you so much for this review and especially your modified rules !

    I play Candyland with my “2.83 year old” and the game often morphs into something Milton Bradley would never have anticipated, but that’s the beauty of playing with a toddler!

    We also play a simplified version of the card game “Go Fish” (with 3 or 4 pairs of cards only) and that’s been a hit as well.

    I’ll definately check out this 4-in-1 game. Thanks again!

    February 27th, 2007 at 11:36 am

  2. Sara says:

    Thanks for the review! I actually just looked at this game set at the toy store, and now I feel a lot more confident about buying it next time. Thanks for sharing your revised rules, too. I think many of them will work for my daughter, too. She may be a little young yet (she just turned 2), but I think I will give it a shot anyway.

    Also, your new site design is really cute! I love the non-baby colors and fun graphics. It looks really professional, and not like a typical blog (is that good or bad?).

    March 1st, 2007 at 10:19 am

  3. Marie says:

    Thank you very much for your reviews. Maybe I will make my own dice to use with Candyland. That’ll make it easier for my 2.5 yr old. Cards are hard for her to handle just yet.

    February 6th, 2008 at 12:37 pm

  4. papi says:

    we had lost the instructions.
    we made up rules (almost right ;-) ) but this was very helpful.
    thank you.

    January 18th, 2009 at 5:53 pm

  5. Gram says:

    Thank you soo much. My daughters loved these games when they were little. When Igot it out for my grandaughter the instructions were missing while the rest is perfect. Now we can play all of the games.

    February 7th, 2009 at 9:07 am

  6. meg says:

    thank you! i just found this game set at a thrift store and felt so lucky to find ravensburger games for cheap. of course it was missing the rules, and this is much better than making up our own. i never would have known about the sausage game. thanks again!

    March 26th, 2009 at 12:59 pm