My daughter, who's 3 now, and I have discovered that we enjoy making board games together. She enjoyed Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders, but tired of them quickly. So, we decided to try and make our own using stuff around the house. After two pretty successful (i.e., she still enjoys playing them a few months later) games, we attempted our most ambitious one yet: The Zoo Game. It's fun, cost all of $8 to make, and, after spending two hours putting it together, we've spent several hours playing different versions of it. So, I thought I'd document it here in case anyone else with little kids wanted a starting point for making their own game.
Constructing The Zoo Game
The Zoo Game is your basic roll-a-die-and-move-around-the-board-trying-to-accomplish-things type of boardgame. The theme is, obviously, a zoo, and the general objective is visiting the animals in the zoo. Here's a photo of the board as we constructed it, set up and ready for play:
Around the periphery of the board are the animal cards. We made 4 cards for each of the 10 animals at our zoo (you can have as many or as few animals as you like) by cutting 3"x5" index cards in half. Each animal card has on it a sticker of the animal it represents (we bought two packs of animal stickers for $1.99 each...yeah, Michael's is expensive, but they have everything). I tried to make the animal cards look like Polaroids (R.I.P.), to suggest that we're going around the park taking pictures of the animals, but you can give them whatever treatment you like. We're planning on writing things about the different animals on the backs of the cards -- things a toddler would like, such as the names of the babies, mommies, and daddies (e.g., Elephant: Daddy = Bull, Mommy = Cow, Baby = Calf).
Above the top of the board is a stack of "Zoo Cards" -- I'll explain those later.
The board itself is basically two largish sheets of cardstock (like posterboard) I had laying around the house joined on the back by a strip of masking tape (so you can easily fold up the board for storage). We basically just drew the board and colored it in with markers, so nothing fancy there.
Scattered around the board, each of the ten animals has a "pen" -- the big oval with the animal's name in it. To add to the richness of the board (and to help make it more educational by helping her associate the word with the animal), we bought a set of small plastic animals from Target (16 mixed animals for $3.99) and place the corresponding animal in each pen when we set up the game. Hint: If you want to do the plastic animal bit, find and buy the animals before you buy the stickers and make the rest of the game.
In the center of the board is the Merry-Go-Round -- the starting place for all players. If your zoo has a different noteworthy landmark, feel free to substitute it.
The die was borrowed from another game we don't play anymore. One thing we did was put a monkey-face sticker on the '6' -- that signifies that the player is to draw a Zoo Card.
Zoo Cards are also made from halves of 3"x5" index cards. On one side is written a big "Z" and on the other is written one of several actions. The actions we have are as follows (but feel free to make up your own; the sillier the better):
Visit the [animal] (1 card for each of the ten animals)
Ride the Merry-Go-Round (2)
Feed the Peacocks - Miss This Turn (1)
Wait in Line - Miss This Turn (1)
Have to Go Potty - Miss This Turn (1)
Dropped Your Blankie - Miss This Turn (1)
Take a Nap - Miss This Turn (1)
Have a Snack - Miss This Turn (1)
Sugar Buzz - Take Another Turn (1)
Wild Card - Visit the Animal of Your Choice (1)
The last bit was player pieces. We actually re-use the player pieces we made for a previous game, but you can use or make whatever you like. Just make sure the bases fit in the squares you draw for paths; little kids tend to get confused if the piece covers more than one space.
The Zoo Game Gameplay
Someone goes first by rolling the die. If she rolls a number (1-5), she moves that number of spaces along a path. If she hits an animal space within that number of spaces, she stops and picks up the animal card. If, however, the player already has that animal card, the animal space counts just like a normal space and the player can move through it on that same turn if she rolled a high enough number.
If the player rolls a 6 on the die, he draws a Zoo Card and immediately does whatever the Zoo Card tells him to do. Play then passes to the player on the left.
The first player to collect all 10 animal cards wins immediately upon collecting the tenth card (we don't require the player to return to the Merry-Go-Round space, but that's up to you).
One interesting variant on the gameplay described above that we've tried (and prefer) is to place just a single animal card next to each animal pen. The first player to reach that animal space gets the card. The game ends when the last animal card is picked up. The winner is the player with the most animal cards. This variant is quite fun in that the Zoo Cards can cause quite the uproar when you're 2 spaces from a much-needed animal and you're suddenly sent to the other side of the board. It's also a much quicker game (good for kids with shorter attention spans, or adults who've had too much caffeine).
Anyway, if this inspires you to make your own game with your kid(s), let me know how it goes. Have fun...