Candy Land: The World of Sweets…and parental doom.
Candy Land is a kids’ game that you will be forced to play as a parent. For those of you not in the know, the objective of Candy Land is to navigate your gingerbread avatar along the path to King Kandy at the Candy Castle. Along the way you will encounter the varied ecology of Candy Land, friendly faces, sticky licorice, and the inevitability of losing repeatedly to a three-year-old.
To move, you draw a card which will show one or two colored squares or a special Candy Location. You move to the next square of the color you drew one square or the next-next square if you drew two. If you get one of the special Candy Location cards, you immediately leap to that spot on the board, even if it is behind you.
The game mechanics are well designed for smaller children. Knower-level theory asserts that children learn their initial numbers in order, over time. First they learn “one”, then they learn “two”, and then “three”. After three (or sometimes four), children make a leap and learn the rest of the numbers all at once. You call a child that has learned “two” a “two-knower” and a child that has learned “three” a “three-knower”.1
Think about the board games you’ve played. Most are governed by six-sided dice, spinners, or cards. Almost all of these involve the number four or above. Candy Land’s genius is that it only requires that you be a two-knower. This makes it one of the first board games that children are cognitively capable of playing.
That is not to say that everything in your Candy Land playing experience will go smoothly. While your child may be able to count to two, she will not always wish to obey the rules of the game, the courtesy of taking turns, or that you get to visit Grandma Nutt and she does not. Making up your own rules is part of the fun of being a kid, so it is encouraged but offered as a choice. I’ll say, “We can do that, but it is not part of the rules. Do you want to make up our own rules?” and go from there.
Even playing with the official rules2 your kid will inexplicably defeat you more frequently than you think is statistically probable. The location cards will seem to be forever in your child’s favor. As you are one square from winning the game, you are suddenly warped back to the Peppermint Forest. This will result in extreme sinister glee appearing in your child’s face.
The biggest problem of Candyland is the sheer power of the Princess (née Queen) Frostine card. This location card jumps you right to the end of the game and whoever gets it is almost guaranteed victory.3 Even my three-year-old knows it; should I (or more likely her older sister) draw the card, you will see her lower lip pout out a little bit.
I’ve actually tried taking the card out of the deck, but my kids are smarter than me. After the game, my oldest daughter noticed that it had not been played and looked through the deck only to have me “find” it under the couch. Now the deck is checked before the game is started.
Alas, my Candyland days are winding down as my kids are starting to age out of it, but we’ve moved on to the vicious family activity known as Uno. My three-year-old will play Skip, Skip, Skip, Reverse, Draw Two with abandon and my six year old takes no greater joy than playing a Draw Four Wild Card on Daddy.
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- I first came across knower-level theory from an episode of the Radiolab podcast. I especially enjoyed the section on how the human “baseline” for thinking about numbers is logarithmic. ↩
- Or the official variant rules. The “Advanced” rules involve drawing two cards, and you choose the one that you want. The “Basic” rules provide that location cards cannot move you backwards. Because Milton Bradley is merciful, both of these variants speed up the game dramatically. ↩
- This card is the video game equivalent of finding a pipe in World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros. that jumps you to Bowser’s Castle in Super Mario Bros. 3. ↩
Photo by: John-Morgan