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Game playing is a wonderful way to bring a family together. It is even better during the tough economic times. As a family, we are always looking for new games, but that can be difficult in my family due to special needs issues. Recently, I was sent a product called Wits and Wagers Family from North Star Games. My husband was excited. He had played the game with the same name, but not a family version, years ago from another company that no longer exists. He was very happy someone had decided to publish it again. As per our tradition, I got the game out after Thanksgiving Dinner. We would just see how it went.

With overfull bellies, we got the game out to play rather than sleep the afternoon away. My children and a girlfriend who are grown and just out of college or in college groaned when their Dad said he had played it years ago. The idea of playing something he liked long ago didn’t sound very promising to them. With that, we opened the box and as promised, explained the game play in just a couple of minutes. My husband explained it to me by fingerspelling the steps as I needed to do something. First, a question is chosen and read aloud. My husband fingerspelled it to me. We each had little dry erase boards to write our answer on to and place face down when done. Our first question was how many different colors of Froot Loops are there? Everyone tried to imagine their morning cereals from breakfasts past and wrote down a number and placed their card face down. When everyone was finished, the cards were turned face up and placed in numerical order. We each then got to decide if we wanted to stick with our answer or try to help our chances by backing another’s answer. You each have two little meeples or wooden people shapes. One is larger than the other at about ¾ of an inch high and each set of meeples is a different color than matches an answer board. The large meeple is worth two points and the smaller one is worth one point. You place your meeples on any of the answers you think might be correct. You can place them all on your answer board if you are really certain you are correct, or you can place them on one or two others to help your chances of gaining points. The answer to our question was six. I had written 4 as a guess, but I knew there had to be more. Other answers given were 5, 6, and 8. I decided to put a large meeple on 5 and the small one on 8. If your card answer is right, you get one point. If your meeples are on a correct answer, you get one or two points for a possible high of 4 points if all of your meeples are on the right answer. I totally missed that one. My younger son’s girlfriend, Rachel, got that one right as I had watched her count imaginary Froot Loops. The only question I got right for the game was how many feet are in a mile. My two sons missed that one. I guess I didn’t teach that fact very well, did I? Rachel won despite not getting too many questions right as did none of us. That is the beauty of the game. Even those of us who have gotten foggy in our brains have a chance to win by mooching off the right answers of others. We all laughed at our silly and far-fetched answers and even enjoyed our temporary status of victors with appropriate trash talk. The game proved to be a hit.

Well-made and durable, the quick play of about twenty minutes is also perfect for most families regardless of ages involved. North Star Games states that it is best suited for those 8 and over and with three to ten players. As most of us know in homeschooling families, you often have younger children around. “The questions are varied and range from easy to hard making the game fun and easy for young and old people”, Rachel said. If you need a few easier questions though for a much younger child, you can let all of the family help you write up a few more to mix in. Brendan felt that “some of the questions could become outdated”, but you could also add a few more timely questions to replace them if you want. Brian thought it was really fun and “worked well for all ages” to play despite differences in abilities, but he agreed with his brother about some of the questions becoming outdated. Most though will stand the test of time and popularity. My husband really liked that it was the game he played and enjoyed so long ago, but also had a good playing and scoring format for families that might not feel the connection to wagering was a good example.

I liked the game setup and durability of the materials. The questions can be redone in braille, large print, or signed for family members with sensory impairments quite easily because the questions are short and simply stated. Scoring is simple even for the youngest members. North Star games can easily add additional question packets to be purchased separately to address issues of outdated questions or for providing special play topics, too. The game is easily modified for any family and their specific needs and a perfect fit at $19.99. There is the more adult party version available, too, if your family needs more of a challenge.

Check http://www.northstargames.com for more information about Wits and Wagers Family or any of their other games.

I was provided a free product to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way, and the opinion expressed here is entirely my own.

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Monopoly and Life are popular games. I recently was sent a game that reminded me of these two games a little in its play, but I never laughed as much playing those as I did Life on the FarmR by We R Fun, Inc. This educational game is a good twist to helping teach money management and life skills, as well as farm life as intended by the Minnesota Farm Family organization that developed the game. I have seen other organizations and authors of children’s book series try to develop games to further their mission or help book sales, but none have turned out as fun to play as Life on the FarmR.

The game play is simple and is enhanced by the well designed and well manufactured game board, box, and pieces. The box contains a full color game board, plastic insert tray that holds the 3 kinds of cow cards, farm expense cards, farm income cards, 6 denominations of money, 2 dice, and 6 variously colored pawns. The tray is a simple, but nice addition that many game makers are leaving out these days. Your game components can stay separated and protected. As far as play, each player starts with $10, 000, and you roll a dice and move the rolled number of spaces. You then follow the directions on the space. It could be draw a farm income card which gives you money from the bank for things sold on a farm. It could be a farm expense card which makes you pay the bank for some farm overhead type event. The space could have a detour from the path required or some other unusual event such as a cattle auction where you can buy more cows or a lose your turn because you have to pick corn or even an event where you have to pay a neighbor because your cows got out and damaged property. There are numerous things that can happen as you go through your life as a farmer. When you pass the barn, you can collect your milk money which is like passing the go space in Monopoly. The winner is the one who retires first. Retirement comes when you have a lot of cows and a lot of money. There are various ways to shorten the game by changing the exact retirement amounts or changing the way you start the game. Some of the cards really tickled my students. The one event that drew “ewwww” and giggles was the artificial insemination card. There were more ewwwws when we explained what that actually meant. More important than simple play is playability. As a avid gamer of all kinds of games, the most important thing to know about a game before purchase is how much will you want to play it again and again. Life on the Farm proved with my students to be a hit in that department. I played it with three different groups of my students of all different ages even non-readers. They all wanted to play it again and again. Two girls kept it at home for a few days and played it with the whole family. As a gamer with these certain requirements, Life on the Farm passed on all aspects. Yes, it is educational too.

Many types of students will do well with this game. My nonreaders, young and older, had no problem since the game doesn’t require any secrecy. Other students merely helped them to read their cards out loud. Everyone wants to know what you are getting or even better, what you are have to pay for. If you have students who are uncomfortable letting students read for them, you can ask one student to read everyone’s cards noting it being the role of the banker or some similar role. One of my students who plays role-playing games wanted to be the game master and read the cards for everyone like it was “life as it happens” as he put it. You could also put symbols with the key points on the back of the card to help the nonreaders, too. I, being DeafBlind, had the card tactually signed to me, but we are already in the process of brailling labels for the spaces and cards. Low vision students can quickly learn the color-coded money. My money will be brailled. Overall, this game is good for most learners and can be easily modified for others.
Life on the Farm is available on the http://www.werfun.com site for $25.00 which is a great price for such a high quality and fun game. There is a preschool version, as well, for $20.00. Give it a try, but be prepared for the onslaught of cow puns.
The vendor provided me with a free copy of this game to be reviewed here. The opinion is entirely mine.

Reading opens new worlds for all of us, but many times we can’t seem to get our children hooked. We try to find things to help them read better and enjoy it more. Sometimes it just takes finding something they like. Hank the Cowdog series of books and audio books written by John Erikson and published by Maverick Books might just be the hook you are looking for. This little dog and all his misadventures will slide and woof his way into your child’s heart with quite possibly the love of reading right along with him.

Hank is a dog if you hadn’t quite guessed it. He is a cowdog to be exact. Hank lives on a ranch and has taken up the position of head dog. If you ask his owners, you might think that Hank has a little over inflated sense of self, but read Hank’s stories, and you find he is a valuable pup. He gets himself into lots of trouble, but he always saves the day. Any child can learn to love reading in these lovable stories. The audio tapes and cds bring the stories to life with good quality and the songs are delightful adding more charm. Regardless to reading ability, your child will find a way to enjoy this world of Hank’s. There is also a website with a virtual world to explore that provides a memory game, math skills fun and practice, and silly fun with a Hank the Cowdog theme. That is just another plus. The books, audio tapes/cds come in packages from large to small beginning at $19.99 with individual paperbacks for $4.24 and hardbacks for $12.49.

The Hank the Cowdog Tornado game is a cute game similar to Parcheesi in play with a tornado spinner instead of dice and Hank the Cowdog characters for game pieces.  It is a game suitable for play by most children. It can be tactilely made easily with a few different shaped and textured bumps and the use of a brailled six-sided dice, so the blind and DeafBlind can play, too. That is a game that I can always back. Game play teaches so many skills for children of all ages and abilities.

Bring the world of Hank the Cowdog to your child. Reading can be full of giggles and gasps. Check it out at http://www.hankthecowdog.com.

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