What do you get a ninja obsessed 7 year old boy for christmas? I know it sounds like there would be one hundred and one answers to this question... and that is kind of the point.
Do I get him a Ninjago Lego set that will cause great joy for Christmas Morning, only to eventually be lost in the abyss of the "Lego Box" (you all know what I am talking about)? Do I get him a Ninja fancy dress outfit, that he will grow out of within months, undoubtably being passed down to his 5 year old sister? I knew I could do better than that!
Well, after much deliberation, putting various items in my basket, only to take them out again, I settled on the table top tile game, Cobra Paw, created by the makers of Bananagrams. I had to say, I was delightfully surprised by how well this game was received. After the excitement and chaos of Christmas Morning, spent with three incredibly enthusiastic children (which was also accompanied by the obligatory 8am, Coffee with Baileys) died down and everyone settled into discovering what their new found treasures could do, said 7 year old approached me and asked if we could learn to play.
I was thrilled to have a go and curious to find out how it would go down. I was not disappointed! First of all, the hexagon shaped box itself is fun, with its ninja cat and bright orange hue. The game's rule book comes in the form of a cute story, telling the legend of Grand Shidoshi, Master Meow, which makes the game come across as an ancient martial art practice.
I took this as my cue to take the role of a Cobra Paw Sensei and inform my student that we must play with honour, which is a really important part of the rules. (Side note: I am always quick to let children know that I will never let them win and that they should treat each time we play as a lesson in how to beat me.)
My favourite thing about this game are the pieces themselves. The dice and tiles are really aesthetically pleasing, with a nice weight and soft feel. I also love the bright colours of the symbols against black. This may sound really weird, but I also really like the way they sound. If you like Bananagrams, you'll know what I am talking about. Each round takes about 5-10 minutes to play. It is easy to reset and when it is time to put everything away, the box is divided into sections so that the tiles and dice don't roll around.
This game is all about reflexes and perception. Simply role the dice and be the first to snatch the matching tile... even if it is amongst your opponents winnings. The winner then gets to role the dice. To win, be the first to snatch up to six tiles! The object is to be very quick, which I personally love, and an added bonus is whomever wins gets to be Grand Shidoshi for the next round.
The rules are incredibly easy to pick up, but it's also really hard for the younger player not to cheat; let me explain. I say this, because from my experience, younger players tend to do two things instinctively: They hover over the tiles while they are looking for the one matching tile, this blocks the other players' view. The second thing is, they tend to guard the tiles they win; this means other players cannot snatch them. All this is understandable and can be remedied by reminding all players to "Play with honour." In the rules, there are instructions about form. Hold your paw up like a cobra, keep your elbow on the table and only when you see the matching tile do you strike.
It was all fun and games until my little apprentice became tired of losing. I let him know that it was going to take heaps of practice to master such a skilled art. I then suggested he practice rolling the dice and snatching the tiles on his own, so that he could hone his skill. He liked that and carried on without me for a while. We played many times over Christmas and instead of making it a big deal about who won, I would always point out how much better he did compared to the last round and with this kind of improvement, he would be beating me in no time!
All this said, I definitely feel like I made the right Christmas choice when choosing Cobra Paw for this budding 7 year old ninja!