Candyland: Pastime or Past Its Prime?

If you ask the average person to name five board games off the top of their head, you can pretty readily guess some of their replies. Monopoly is always there, Scrabble is often second, and then you’ll get a smattering of Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry, and the like, and then a few outliers like Mouse Trap, Trouble, The Game of Life, and so on.

Candyland is a perennial name on that list, but if you look around the Internet where modern board game enthusiasts congregate, Candyland often appears on lists of the worst board games.

Why is that? Does Candyland get a bad rap?

Well, yes and no.

Strangely enough, the reason that causes so many game fans to put it on “worst” lists is the same reason it is celebrated as a good intro game for children: lack of choice.

Candyland isn’t really a game. There are no moves to make, no strategy to employ. Nothing you say or do will make you the winner. The game is purely one of chance. Once the deck is shuffled, the game is essentially over. (Chutes & Ladders and the card game War suffer from the same problem.)

Defenders of Candyland say that this is intentional… which is true. The game was designed to entertain and distract children either suffering from polio or trapped inside because of polio.

But defenders also argue that the game teaches children about reading instructions, learning to take turns, pattern-recognition, and more, all without the “complication” of actual tasks to complete.

But this is a weak argument, because virtually ANY game can teach these things and still offer children choices to make that affect the game.

Still, kids absolutely love Candyland. It’s bright and simple and silly, and the characters are charming.

So, what can we do to make the game engaging for solvers who actually want to do something, but won’t alienate the simplicity factor that makes it appealing to the youngest board game fans among us?

We institute some house rules!

1. Pick a card

Give the players two, three, or four cards to choose from. By allowing them to actually choose a card, there’s some level of strategy involved, even if it’s still a race to the end.

A variation on this idea is the push-your-luck house rule. In a regular game of Candyland, after you draw your card, you can ditch it for a second random draw. If you choose the second card, you must play it. This is a simple modification, but one that still allows players to affect the game in a meaningful way. Do you press your luck or accept the card you know you have?

2. Spot the color

One house rule suggested that a child should have to look around the room and point out an object that’s the same color as the card before they can move forward. While this doesn’t affect the gameplay, it does reinforce the idea that you can use Candyland to teach pattern recognition.

[A gritty reboot of Candyland by artist Shira-Chan.]

3. Deception

Now, it’s probably not a great idea to teach your kids about lying through board games. (After all, you’ll never be able to trust them in a game of Battleship ever again.) But adding a deception element can turn Candyland into an introductory poker game.

Basically, you draw your card, and announce your move without showing the card. If someone thinks you’re lying, they can call you out.

If you are lying, you don’t move AND you lose your next turn. But if you’re not lying, the player who accused you loses a turn.

4. Add trivia

This was a variation in my house on more than one occasion. Since there are six colors on the game board — and six categories in Trivial Pursuit — we combined the two.

When you draw a color card, you must answer a question of the corresponding color. Get it right, and you move on. Get it wrong, you stay where you are.

There are all sorts of terrific ideas out there to make Candyland more enjoyable for players of all ages — for instance, we found some good suggestions listed here which we didn’t cover — and with a little creativity, you can resurrect a classic and make it new again.

And we’ll leave it to you to decide if it’s a good or bad game after that.


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