Stone Soup

You know the card game “concentration“? Of course you do. It’s that game where you turn all the cards face-down and then try to find matches. There’s got to be at least a hundred versions, mostly for kids, often for purported purposes, such as: memory training, image recognition, sight recognition, and on, and, of course, on.

Stone Soup is yet another game very much like the card game “concentration.” There are cards. You turn them face-down. You try to find pairs. But there are some significant differences of significant enough difference to make this game noteworthily Major Fun.

The most significant of these differences is that Stone Soup is a game you play cooperatively. If you win, so does everybody else. If you lose, you are most definitely not the only one. And this makes the whole concentration idea much more fun, especially when people of my age are playing with people of my grandchildren’s age, because, frankly, the minute I turn a card back over I pretty much can’t remember what it was that I had just seen. And three turns later, I absolutely can’t remember. And the kids can. Which means that they have at least as much to contribute to our winning the game as I do. OK. They have more to contribute. But I’m not talking about that.

There are a couple of other significant differences that make Stone Soup so much fun. Mixed among the pairs of yummy vegetable cards there are also “Fire Out” cards. Whenever someone turns over a card that says “Fire Out,” that card goes into the fire space. There are 10 fire spaces, and 10 fire cards. Now, as you so well know, in order to make a kettle of Stone Soup, you have to have a big kettle, full of water, and a big fire to heat everything up. And if the fire goes out, well, so much for the whole soup thing.  Fill in the last fire space, and the game is over.

Fortunately, there’s also a Magic Stone card. If that gets found, it can be used to turn a Fire Out card back over before. So, if you do find a Magic Stone, you’ll want to save it. And once you use it, you’ll want to be absolutely sure to remember exactly where you put that Fire Out card you just turned back over.

So, it turns out that losing isn’t really anybody’s fault. There’s no blame. And winning is everybody’s win. And playing together, taking advantage of what actually is the shared memory, of what you might call the “group mind,” everybody gets to feel a little smarter, and rightly so.

Stone Soup, as all of the cooperative games from Peaceable Kingdom, is designed to be attractive to children. The theme is based on a familiar children’s story, the illustrations are bright, easy to understand, colorful. The equally colorful board sits on a cardboard platform in the box. There’s a hole in the middle. Stick your finger in, lift it out, and there are all the rules and promotional stuff, and an envelope full of pieces. Tear the envelope open, spill out the bright, stiff, cardboard pieces, and let the game begin. When the game is over, you have almost instant storage – just pour everything back into the box. The instructions are brief, and printed on the lid (printed on the lid! o, the sheer brilliance and non-losability of it all). The game can be played in maybe 15 minutes. Six people can play at the same time. And kids as young as 5 can easily grasp both the mechanics and fantasy of the game.

But as fun and valuable as it is for kids, it is even more fun and valuable for the family. Playing together, sharing memory, debating strategy, supporting each other, as equals – well, this is the stuff of love, the foundation of community, the very definition of family.

There’s a lot to be said for playing competitive games. Probably, too much, already. Clearly, there’s not been enough said for cooperative games. Unless you happen to be listening to Jim Deacove, founder of Family Pastimes, the inspiration for Peaceable Kingdom‘s cooperative game line, who’s been on my Admired Designers list for more than 40 years.

Peaceable Kingdom’s cooperative games are made responsibly. The paper used to make their games is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the ink is soy-based, plastic parts, when used, are made of recycled plastic and are phthalate- and BPA-free, even.

Art by Laura Huliska-Beith. Award by Major Fun.

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