bot.land

What is it:

“An online strategy game with a focus on automation”

bot.land is a free (and ad-free) game where you design robots to fight other robots. The design takes the form of drag-and-drop code blocks, similar to Scratch and other kid-oriented programming environments. The game is multiplayer and allows you to compete against AIs or other players.

Who is it for:

The game is for anyone who can think abstractly enough to code virtual robots (perhaps 8 or 9 and older) and who enjoys battling virtual robots. The coding is not complex but would be frustrating for younger kids.

Many older kids and adults would enjoy this as well.

What Kids Like:

My kids are motivated by the idea of building a robot army that crushes the opposition, motivated enough to figure out how to do the necessary coding.

What Parents Like:

I like that there is a bottom-up way to teach programming concepts. That is, rather than watching a lecture and then doing an exercise, bot.land presents open scenarios and it’s up to the player to figure out the best way to win.

Being free and ad-free is a big plus as well.

If you find your kid likes this game, you might want to also look at Adventuron and Puzzlescript

What the Critics Think:

The Apple store gives it 4.4/5 (and rates it 12+)

The Google store gives it 4.1/5

on Steam it has a rating of 78%

(these three average to ~82.7% or ~4.1/5)

Concerns/Flaws:

The learning curve is challenging. There is not a lot of explanation and the first few levels feel like a sink or swim situation. Unless the user is highly motivated they won’t stick with it.

Who Made it, History:

bot.land is a group project by xtonomous and has been in active development since 2015

Makers’ itch.io profile

Where Can I Get it:

main site at https://bot.land/

on iTunes

Google Play

Steam

itch.io has more information, user comments, and links

Prodigy math game

What is it

Prodigy is an online game that relies on math to engage in battles with fantasy creatures. The game is a MORPG (multiplayer online role-playing game) and there is a limited social element where players can interact with other players. The game is free but the user is occasionally bombarded with in-game ads for the full membership.

Membership costs $8.95 per month or $59.88 per year. Membership removes ads and allows the player to do additional things in the game. These things (e.g. permitting a player to have more than 8 in-game pets) seem trivial to me but may matter to kids.

Prodigy is essentially gamified flash cards. Prodigy does not teach math, but instead drills players with grade-appropriate questions. Getting the question correct allows the in-game character to use some kind of spell in a battle. Winning battles earns credits, which can be used to level up armor, buy pets, etc.

Who is it for

Our kids don’t play any other MORPGs, so this is the game that permits them to have that experience. A kid who already plays online RPGs would probably find Prodigy to be inferior.

The educational part of the game is essentially identical to ALEKS. But while ALEKS has almost zero visual design or user feedback, Prodigy has loads. So a kid who needs/wants math drills but is frustrated by the flaws in ALEKS, might enjoy Prodigy.

Prodigy is in no way a substitute for a math course. It is useful as an ancillary activity, reinforcing the concepts that a child has learned elsewhere.

What Kids Like

My kids loathe ALEKS and love Prodigy. They enjoy the virtual environment, having an in-game character that they can name, dress, etc. They like all the game aspects of leveling up and earning credits. The math part is sometimes frustrating – because there is never explanation of how to solve the problems – but the fun of the game is usually enough to motivate them to continue.

What Parents Like

I like that instead of just playing a game, the kids are getting some math practice. We’ve tried other forms of math exercise, but Prodigy is the only one anyone has stuck with.

I have not used these features, but Prodigy allows parents to set goals for the kids, and set the rewards. It also allows parents to monitor progress and receive Report Cards.

What the Critics Think

Prodigy has loads of critics. The fact that the game does not actually teach anything, and solely relies on drills, is a frustrating surprise for some.

Common Sense Media has very mixed reviews, but ultimately gives Prodigy 4/5 stars.

Concerns/Flaws

• The excessive pressure to buy a membership can be annoying. There are not ads for other things, as there are in many of the apps my kids play, but still the ads for Prodigy membership may be enough reason to not play it.

• The game relies on a thirst for violent competition. The violence is very cartoon-y, without blood or gore. And the competition is not really different from what you would see in a game of chess.

However, most math-education tools/games rely on the desire to solve problems as the motivator. Prodigy uses the desire to win as the motivator. This may seem a subtle distinction, but it will appeal greatly to some students and not at all to others.

Who Made it / History

Prodigy was founded in 2011 by Rohan Mahimker, Alex Peters and is now developed and maintained by a rather large (70+) team based in Toronto.

Where Can I Get it

The Prodigy game website

Fireboy and Watergirl

What is it

Fireboy and Watergirl is a series of five free collaborative/cooperative online 2d platformer games.

One player uses the WAD keys to move Watergirl and the other uses the arrow keys to move Fireboy. Watergirl can’t touch fire and Fireboy can’t touch water. They have to help each other unlock doors in order to collect the gems and reach the doors at the end of each level.

Who is it for

Anyone who likes puzzle games would enjoy these games, adults as well as kids as young as 5 or so. A child can play by themself but it’s more fun to have a teammate.

What Kids Like

My kids like the idea of multiplayer games, although I’m reluctant to let them do much with that yet. And we sometimes play “hot seat” games where we hand the iPad back and forth to take turns, but this kind of game that requires sitting side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder is novel to them and is much more intense, and thus that much more satisfying when a level is completed.

What Parents Like

I love that there are games where everyone can win or lose together instead of always being a zero-sum situation where one child has to lose. Collaborative games force situations where the kids have to work together and communicate effectively – not just criticizing for a bad move, but encouraging and helping when possible.

Concerns/Flaws

The games were originally created with Flash, which is very near being completely unsupported. You can still activate the Flash plugin in your browser but it’s a bit cumbersome to do so. Fortunately, some fans have made HTML5 versions of the game, which run anywhere, even on iOS devices (which didn’t support Flash at all). However, these versions tend to be on sketchy sites with loads and loads of ads. And I’m not sure whether these copies of the games provide any income to the initial developers

Who Made it

The games were made by Oslo Albet and Jan Villanueva and have since been adapted with new levels made by fans of the original.

Where Can I Get it

Flash versions of the game are easy to find. Here is one place https://www.freegames66.com/platform/fireboy-and-watergirl/

And the HTML5 versions are pretty easy to find as well: https://www.fireboynwatergirl.com/

Blocksworld

What is it

Blocksworld (not to be confused with similarly-titled games such as “block world”) is one of many Minecraft-inspired games, but Blocksworld stands apart in the quality of the game, the number of features, and the implicit instruction of programming fundamentals.

What Lego is to Minecraft, Duplo is to Blocksworld.

Who is it for

The game is complex enough to be fun and satisfying for almost any age. The controls are simple enough that kids as young as five can get something out of it.

There is a social component to the game, where users can share their creations. While a nice idea, this can lead to some inappropriate creations being available to everyone. Blocksworld has moderators to sift out the inappropriate stuff, but parents should be aware that sometimes nasty things get through.

What Kids Like

This is currently my kids’ favorite game. They would spend ten hours a day playing it. It’s very easy to build stuff, and not just static things like buildings, but driveable cars with lasers and the like. There are the usual game components such as credits and badges and levels, which help motivate and get a sense of accomplishment.

What Parents Like

My favorite aspect is the pseudo-coding that the game uses to give functionality to the creations. If you build a car with laser beams, you need to “program” how the car and lasers operate. This kid of coding is perfect to teach kids fundamentals of programming.

There are so many STEM apps out there, and most of them fail because they try to teach overtly. But most kids don’t want a game that teaches coding. They want a game that is fun, where the teaching is implicit.

The best educational games are those where the education happens in the background. People who played RISK! or Axis & Allies as kids know world geography, not because they were explicitly taught, but because knowing that stuff helped in playing the game.

What the Critics Think

The critics don’t seem to like the game as much as I or my kids do.

6/10 Steam
3.8/5 iTunes – Apple
3.1/5 Apprview.com

A review at gameslikefinder.com
and one at GeekDad

Concerns/Flaws

A couple things:

• Wow, so many ads! This game has more ads than other games I let my kids play. I allow it because I think the game has enough merits, but the volume of ads is a concern. And since you don’t know what ads are going to be displayed, you need to supervise the kid a bit more than you would otherwise.

• The social/sharing/multiplayer/community feature is well-done. The kids are motivated to share their creations and see what other kids have built. But it’s not hard to imagine what happens when some middle-schoolers find out that they can upload their “Momo” or “Evil Elmo” creations. Blocksworld has moderators who flag this stuff, and it’s generally a safe environment for kids, but again, supervision is strongly recommended.

Who Made it

Blocksworld is made by Linden Lab, A.K.A. Linden Research, Inc., who are best known as the creators of Second Life.

Most Minecraft-like games are made by random teenagers learning to program, but Linden is a group of very experienced developers, and their experience is evident in the quality of the game.

History

From the Blocksworld Wikipedia page:

Blocksworld was initially developed by Swedish independent video game developer Boldai, which was acquired by U.S.-based Linden Lab in early 2013.[3] An earlier version of the game was briefly available in 2012 in Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark and Norway.[4] However, for the subsequent global release, the game was repositioned as a freemium offering where players have the option to purchase premium sets and games, additional building objects and pieces, coins, and other upgrades and extras for a small fee.

Virtual coins serve as the in-game currency, which can be either purchased via the in-app shop or rewarded through various community actions such as having creations rated via stars.

Players used have the option to pay 7.99 (US) or (CAD) dollars for Blocksworld Premium, which gives an infinite amount of designated blocks. Now, Blocksworld Premium is a subscription which has to be paid monthly/yearly and gives more benefits than the original Blocksworld Premium.

In September 2017, Blocksworld was released on Steam, prior to that, you could only play it on your browser or on your mobile device.

Where Can I Get it

Blocksworld is not available for Android, but is for iOS and is now on Steam as well.

The Battle of Polytopia

What is it
The Battle of Polytopia (or simply, “Polytopia”) is a free (ad-free as well) turn-based mobile strategy game.

Who is it for

Winning the game requires some strategic thinking and there is some very mild cartoon violence (about as much violence as in a game of chess) so I would put the lower limit around 7 years old. It’s fun for adults as well, so no upper limit on age.

If you or your child is a fan of Age of Empires, Civilization, or similar resource-management, leveling-up, strategic conquest kinds of games, this is the same but simplified, optimized, and minimized so that you can play on a small screen.

What Kids Like

The game is very addictive. The gameplay is very well-balanced so “just getting by” is possible with some effort but really winning can be tough.

The graphics are very appealing.

What Parents Like

I like that it’s free, with no ads. Too many games (even many paid ones) are full of ads. Polytopia makes revenue by charging for the online multiplayer option or for letting a player buy a tribe that is unavailable in the free version. The game clearly states that the multiplayer option requires spending “real money” so kids won’t be tricked into thinking that they can get it via credits earned in-game.

You can still play “hot-seat” multiplayer games for free, handing the device back and forth in a way that feels like playing chess.

And the game is just fun, very well-polished and balanced in a way few other mobile games are.

What the Critics Think

Apple/iOS/iTunes gives it 4.7/5 stars

as does the Google/Android Play store

The Battle of Polytopia wins gold in Lovie Awards 2018

The game has attracted a large following and there is now a subreddit and a fan wiki

Concerns/Flaws

Being free and ad-free, I have none of the usual complaints about the apps I let my children use. The theme is of conquest, so there is the suggestion of violence, but not more than you have in chess or checkers, or even tic-tac -toe.

The only real complaint is that in fitting a complex game into a simple mobile-friendly interface, the developers packed a lot of detail into the little isometric tiles. You sometimes have to look very closely to see where your players are.

Who Made it / History

Polytopia was made by a Swedish developer and released in 2016.

From the wiki:

The Battle of Polytopia, formerly known as Super Tribes, is a turn-based world-building strategy game developed by Midjiwan AB. The player leads one of fourteen Tribes to conquer a square-shaped world by capturing Cities. Cities earn Stars that can be used to research Technology, train Units to engage in Combat, and develop the surrounding Terrain to gain Population. Be warned, however: the more Cities that are added to the empire, the higher the cost of technological research… and the greater the area that must be protected from the endless onslaught of the other tribes!

You may play in Single player, where the goal of the game is either to gain the highest possible score in 30 turns (Perfection), or to destroy all opposing tribes (Domination).

Alternatively, you could engage in a local multiplayer “Pass & Play” with your friends, or connect with them online and play games from the comfort of your homes!

Where Can I Get it

iTunes for iOS

Google Play store for Android

and Steam will have a desktop version in ‘early 2019’

Machinarium – Amanita Design

What is it

Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game featuring a cute robot solving puzzles in a beautifully-drawn quasi-steampunk city.

Who is it for

It’s for anyone, young and old, but some of the puzzles are pretty tricky and even precocious children under 7 or so would need some grown-up help. But it’s a great game to play with a child.

What Kids Like

The character is cute, the atmosphere is immersive and captivating, and most of the puzzles are very satisfying. There is no speed/dexterity component, so players do not need to rush and can go at their own pace.

What Parents Like

The puzzles make you feel smart when you figure them out, so the game feels almost educational. It is aesthetic, and as stated above, is a good game for an adult to play with a kid. The music, by Tomáš Dvořák, is fun, happy, and pleasant.

It’s been at least 15 years since the ‘Golden Age of free Flash web games’ if there ever were such a time, back when Homestar Runner was the best thing on the Web, and Machinarium came out toward the end of that era. There were so many Flash games that I loved that my kids won’t ever see because Flash will no longer be available soon, but thankfully there are some relics of that period, such as Machinarium, that remain.

I also like the Eastern European aesthetic of the game. The developers of Machinarium, Amanita Design, are Czech, and the look and feel of the game, the characters, the puzzles have a quality that is simply different from the American and Japanese games that flood the market.

What the Critics Think

Machinarium gets 9/10 on Steam, 4.6/5 on Google’s Play Store for Android, 4.3/5 on Apple’s iTunes for iOS, and 4.6/5 on Jay is games, which also has a nice write-up of the game.

  • IGF 2009, Excellence in Visual Art Award
  • Nomination for 13th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards (DICE Awards)
  • Gamasutra, Best Indie Game Of 2009
  • VGChartz.com, Best Indie Game Of 2009
  • PC Gamer, Best Soundtrack of 2009

In 2011, Adventure Gamers named Machinarium the 17th-best adventure game ever released.

Concerns/Flaws

The only complaint is that some of the puzzles have the quality common to point-and-click type games, where you sometimes have to click on just the right pixel to prompt a reaction and there is sometimes a lot of frantic clicking trying to find that one spot.

Who Made it/History

Machinarium was the first full-length game, made in 2009 by Amanita Design, based in Brno, Czech Republic (more on Wikipedia) after years of success with shorter games such as their Samorost series

Where Can I Get it

You can play the free demo online using Flash. You may need to activate the Flash plugin in your browser.

The full set of links (Humble Bundle, Steam, iOS, Android) is on the Machinarium page

The game is going for $10 these days. If you don’t want to spend any money, or want more of a preview, check out Amanita’s other games, such as the free Samorost or The Quest for the Rest

Dig Out!

What is it

Dig Out! is an app game on Android and iOS. Control a miner in a 2D world, digging gems while avoiding falling boulders and monsters. The game is similar to many others I’ve seen, but this one is polished and developed much more, giving it high replay value.

The game has an infinite number of randomly generated maps, ways to level up and trap monsters, and competitive leaderboard to compete with others or against previous scores.

Who is it for

Anyone can play, but from my experience, the age that enjoys it the most is 6 to 9.

Apple rates the game 9+ while Google rates it Everyone. Our 7-year-old loves it.

What Kids Like

I should point out that of all the games we’ve downloaded to the tablet or phone over the past year or so, this is one of the top 5 that gets replayed the most. (Others include Tiny Rails, Plants vs. Zombies, Whoowasit, Clumsy Ninja, and of course, Minecraft).

I’m not sure what the kids like exactly, but I think it’s the random generation of levels that keeps it fresh, along with the simplicity of the controls. Also, the game permits very quick games or extended ones.

The graphics are very appealing as well.

What Parents Like

Although one aspect of the game is crushing enemies under rocks, the cartoony graphics and otherwise non-violent content makes the game harmless fun.

There is not much to the game in terms of education, other than the kind of problem-solving in most computer games.

What the Critics Think

The game gets 4.6/5 on iTunes and 4.5/5 on the Play Store

Concerns/Flaws

The game is not educational, doesn’t encourage cooperation or anything like that. It’s “just” fun.

The game has ads and in-app purchases, so parents need to keep an eye on that.

Who Made it/History

Dig Out! was made by ZiMAD, an established Russian game developer best known for their Magic Jigsaw Puzzles

The game was launched in 2016 and has been tweaked multiple times since then.

Where Can I Get it

Available on Apple’s iTunes for iOS and Google’s Play Store for Android.

Clumsy Ninja

This is one of the many games the kids have tried on the iPad and the Android phone, and months later they still play it.

What is it

The free ‘action-adventure’ game shows a 3d character dressed as a ninja who reacts to the user’s actions in the same way used in the ‘ragdoll physics’ games from a few years ago.

The player can pick him up, give him high-fives, throw objects at him, tie balloons to him to make him float. Each action has the potential to help ‘train’ the ninja, earning points, leveling up, etc. There is a narrative in the game, about getting the ninja to find a missing friend, but that is not overt.

Most of the actual gameplay is flicking balls and other stuff at the character to make him dodge them.

Who is it for

The game is rated ‘family’/’everyone’ and is very G-rated. There is the violence of throwing objects at a virtual character, or dropping him from heights, but it’s very cartoony and not violent like many other games are.

What Kids Like

The kids seem to like the toy aspect of the game rather than the narrative. They like playing with a virtual doll. And they like earning points they can use to ‘buy’ new objects. They also like competing against each other to see who can get to a certain level first.

What Parents Like

It’s not a game that I have any interest in playing, but it seems like harmless fun for the kids.

What the Critics Think

MacWorld rates the game 3.5/5. They have a lengthy review.

That rating seems unfair given that the game gets 4.8/5 on iTunes and 4.4 on the Play Store. And the game was an iTunes ‘editor’s pick’

Concerns/Flaws

The game used to have ads, including those awful ‘watch to earn’ ads. The latest version of the game is supposed to have removed those.

There are also in-app purchases, which is presumably how the developers make money, so you have to be careful to restrict that action on your devices.

Who Made it

Clumsy Ninja is made by NaturalMotion, who also makes games such as “Dawn of Titans” and “My Horse”

History

The game was first released in 2013 and is the first mobile game to use the Euphoria game engine

Where Can I Get it

iTunes for iPad and iPhone

Google Play Store for Android devices

Whoowasit?

[amazon_link asins=’B00JFWLPRG’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’matchstickkidboo’ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’160a5163-9751-11e8-9a3a-d5b20d3630ad’]

What is it

Whoowasit? is a board game as well as an app where players work together to win. Unlike most games that are essentially zero-sum (a player can win only when another player loses), Whoowasit? is collaborative and players either win or lose together.

The game is a bit like Clue or Cluedo in that the players have to deduce who the culprit is based on limited clues.

Here’s the description from BoardGameGeek:

In Whoowasit?, players must find the magical ring that was stolen from the wise king by the evil wizard. Playing against a running clock, players move their playing pieces through the various rooms on the game board to uncover clues to who stole the precious gem. Along the way, talking animals help players solve the mystery of the stolen item with the help of a treasure chest that randomly supplies clues on behalf of the animals. Whenever players meet animals, they must feed them so the animals — that can only be understood by children — can provide the clues that advance gameplay. The clues supplied by the electronic treasure chest ensure that no two games are alike. All players must work together to find the stolen ring, and they win or lose as a group, depending on whether they can master an assigned task.

Who is it for

The game is recommended for gaes 7 and up, but kids as young as 4 enjoy it, even if they don’t quite get all the strategy.

What Kids Like

Our kids love it and ask to play it on the iPad all the time.

The theme of a cursed castle with an evil wizard and helpful fairy and talking animals are fun and keep them playing.

The level of logical thinking required is also just right for kids – complex enough to be stimulating but not so complex that it becomes boring.

The length of the game is just right as well. The players sometimes lose but the game is quick enough that they can just try again. A longer game would be frustrating to lose, after having spent so much time on it.

What Parents Like

Our kids (like kids in most families) sometimes have trouble sharing and sometimes compete with each other a little too fiercely. Whoowasit?, by forcing them to work together, lets them see the benefits of doing so.

It’s also nice to have a game that is one with wits, not with agility, and is an alternative to all the building games our kids like.

What the Critics Think

The original board game won the ‘Most successful board game’ in 2008 and 2009 in Germany, was the 2011 Disney FamilyFun Toy of the Year, the 2011 Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year, and the 2011 National Parenting Center Seal of Approval.

Concerns/Flaws

I can’t think of any flaws.

The developers did lose a chance to broaden the theme when they made the app version. A board game, by necessity, has a limited theme because it can only have one board and only so many tokens. But the app version could have had multiple locations and characters. Even if the gameplay remained the same, a new location would help keep the game fresh.

Who Made it

Ravensburger (ravensburger.com) is a very established game and puzzle company based in Germany. They are well-known for their 3D puzzles and games such as Labyrinth, Make ‘n’ Break, and Scotland Yard.

Where Can I Get it

The original electronic board game is out of print as far as I can tell, but the app version is available in iTunes and the Google Play Store

RoverCraft

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What is it

RoverCraft is an app that lets players build “space cars” and drive them along bumpy alien landscapes, collecting coins and avoiding crashes.

Who is it for

The game is simple enough for kids as young as 4 to have fun with it, although only older kids would be able to understand it well enough to get high scores.

What Kids like

They like the building, and they like the driving, and they like the upgrades. As the player collect coins, they can use the money to buy more and stronger materials for their vehicle, and unlock other worlds (Mars, Titan, etc.) The achievements are attainable, but take a little work, so the reward system is well-balanced and engaging.

They also like the catastrophic failure that ends every driving run. The player basically drives their car until it crashes, and the crashing is fun, so even when they lose they can enjoy it.

What Parents like

The building part is creative and forces problem-solving (how to structure the chassis so that the vehicle can cross the chasm without falling in?)

The driving part is thrilling but not overly competitive. The players are effectively racing against their own previous times.

What the critics think

The app gets 4.4/5 on Google, 4.5/5 on iTunes, and 4.6/5 on the Microsoft store.

Criticisms are that there are too many ads and that the developer (Mobirate) doesn’t update the game frequently enough.

Concerns/flaws

There are a lot of ads that the player has to endure or click off. There are in-app purchases that can distract from the gameplay, and we as parents need to make sure that the purchasing feature is disabled on the phone/tablet.

Who made it

RoverCraft is made by Mobirate, who also makes the Parking Mania series, other space-themed games such as Space Expedition and Space Bikers, and several others (Stick Fu, Jelly Jumpers, Dead Ahead).

When was it made/history

Mobirate was founded way back in 2003. RoverCraft was first released in 2015 and has had sporadic updates since then.

Where can I get it

Google Play Store, iTunes, and the Microsoft Store. You can even use Amazon to get it for Android devices, if you wanted.