For family fun, try an ingenious brain game. Three excellent choices are Cranium: The Family Fun Game,by Cranium, Inc., The Whole Brain Game, by Creative Mind Games, and Evolution, by Platypus Games.
Cranium Family Fun Game is played in teams, so the whole family can join in. The game consists of a playing board; two tokens; modeling clay; a drawing pad and pencil; six colored, lettered cubes; four flipper frogs; a die; a timer; and 400 playing cards divided into four, color-coded sets. The object of the game is to be the first team to advance around the playing board. To do so, a team member draws a playing card from one of the decks and reads it aloud while keeping the solution hidden. The members of the opposite team must answer a question correctly or perform a task successfully before the timer runs out. If they do, they can roll the die and move their token towards the finish line.
The range and diversity of tasks on the playing cards account for Cranium Family Fun’s broad appeal. The Data Head card set relies on memory and comprises trivia-type questions, predominantly on pop culture. Players make lists within categories and select from multiple choice or true/false options. Another task is to replicate, after ten seconds’ perusal, color patterns represented on the playing cards with game cubes. The Word Worm set is similar but requires a bit of playful thinking beyond rote memory. For example, on the category cards, players make lists, but each word must begin with the last letter of the previous word on the list. Some cards include word searches and require spelling words such as asparagus and Mississippi backwards without writing them down.
The Creative Cat and Star Performer card sets use a more imaginative approach. Creative Cat cards
- involve players drawing or modeling with clay, sometimes with eyes closed; teammates must guess correctly the concepts or objects being demonstrated;
- direct one player to guide the hand of another in drawing an answer; or
- show three close-up shots, zooming in on parts of items within a single category, like a sock, a shoe, and a shoelace, for team members to identify.
The Star Performer cards call for action—pantomiming, flipping frogs through clay hoops, gathering items from around the house, and humming or whistling answers.
Cranium Family Fun, awarded a Parent’s Choice Foundation Silver Honor and 2005 national Parenting Center Seal of Approval in Fall 2005 is designed for ages eight and up, though the team approach allows for younger children to participate. The Cranium, Inc., Web site, www.cranium.com, provides innovate game extension ideas and features several other game versions.
A game similar in antics to Cranium Family Fun but designed for older players (age 12 to adult), is Platypus Games’ Evolution. It consists of a game board; four totems; a die; five sets of game cards; pencils and drawing pads; and a timer. The object of the game is for teams, or “tribes,” to advance around the board, evolving from primordial ooze through four stages: Primate, Early Human, Modern Man, and Super Human. Each team must correctly answer a question or complete a task from the corresponding card set, including Mutation cards between stages, in order to roll the die and move forward. The first team to reach Super-Human level and to answer a Super–Human game card question correctly wins.
Many of the tasks in all categories rely on trivia about popular culture, but the clues become more challenging as players advance to higher stages. Cards in the Primate stage require acting out clues with body language, solving picture symbol messages, and answering scientific questions about animals. In the Early-Human stage, the clues require a bit more logic and association to solve, such as drawing symbols for popular titles and solving abbreviated equations for common numerical references, i.e. 12 = M. on a J. (members on a jury). Cultural questions about foods are also included. In the Modern-Human stage, teams must draw picture clues using the opposite hand, act out clues to familiar titles or characters by reciting a line of dialogue or humming a theme song, or solve phone number clues using a phone key pad to decipher. The Super-Human cards rely on prediction and guessing; two team members write down their predictions of what the other will answer to fill in the blank clues (three _____; first _____; new ____) or guess what specific member of a broader category, such as animals or flowers, the teammate would choose.
The Mutation cards provide the most creative and divergent opportunities. Players must provide answers that rhyme for certain clues; list random items so that team members can guess broad categories (i.e. things you put in a bag; things you chase); provide words that begin and end with the same letter in response to three clues; and solve cryptic word puzzles.
Evolution has received multiple awards, including designation as one of Dr. Toy’s Ten Best Games and One Hundred Best Children’s Products of 2005; The Family Magazine Group’s 2005 Family Choice Award; IParenting Media Award’s top products of 2005; Games Magazine’s Top One Hundred Traditional Games of 2006; and was designated a recommended product in 2005 by the National Association for Gifted Children’s Parenting for High Potential magazine.
The most innovative of the three games is The Whole Brain Game. The game consists of an eight-sided die and eight corresponding Instruction cards, a set of color-coded Category cards, a thirty-second timer, and score cards. A player rolls the die and reads the corresponding Instruction card aloud. Then the player selects a Category card and reads aloud the appropriate color-coded word or phrase. For example, Instruction card number 4 requires the player to draw one Category card and use the word from the green category to “List all the kinds of _______ you can think of.” Green category words are nouns ranging from concrete to abstract, such as rock, ritual, and decay. Players or teams have thirty seconds to shout out as many answers as possible while a player from the opposite team records them. When time is up, opponents get to challenge the responses for feasibility, originality, and uniqueness; players have the opportunity to defend their answers and convince opponents to accept them. Any disputed responses must be voted on or settled with a roll of the die. Each accepted response is awarded one point. The first player or team to score eighty points, having answered questions from all eight categories, wins.
All eight Instruction cards provide opportunities for players to shift from linear to creative, divergent thinking. Players may be asked
- how two random objects are similar or how they may be used together;
- what would happen if they had certain powers;
- what a specific person might do under the given circumstance;
- what would happen if something did not exist;
- what had to be invented or thought of before something else could occur.
The possibilities are as numerous as the imaginative process, relying on logic and sequencing, patterns and relationships, and divergence and spontaneity. The thinking process, in fact, is the focus of the game; the more often a player can “cross over” from one meaning of a term to multiple levels of meaning, the more challenging and engaging the game becomes. The Whole Brain Game indeed relies on the whole brain.
Created for ages eleven and up, The Whole Brain Game was selected by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association as winner of the Best New Game for All Ages (1999); voted by Games Magazine as one of the top one hundred games for the year 2000; and a recommended product by the National Association for Gifted Children’s Parenting for High Potential magazine.
—Sarah Boone, MA
Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She has an MFA in creative writing, which she teaches at North Carolina State University.