Christmas is in the air, and again stores are jammed with children's games for Dad to play with. Here are a few of the better ones, some new, some not, but all entertaining.
Golferino is a miniature, boxed-in golf course of nine foam-rubber greens, guarded on all sides by a variety of obstacles—bridges, tunnels, waterwheels—-plus the normal stuff you usually find yourself in, sand traps, streams and pine trees. At the center of the course, dressed in a gaudy red cap, red shirt and yellow pants stands a plastic man—or you, for it is you who will swing the silver putter the little man holds in his hands. A knob outside the course turns the man in the direction of each of the nine holes. When you have lined him up, you push a lever and the putter whacks a steel ball—probably too hard and off line—toward the green. If the ball misses the cup, it returns obediently to the tee. When you finally sink a shot, you move on to the next hole. That's about all there is to Golferino, which Hubley puts out for $13.95. It isn't golf, and it isn't even living-room putting, but when there is snow on the ground and kids in the living room, it's the next best thing.
Carrom Nok-Hockey, as the name implies, has a hockey format, but skill at billiards—"a cool head and a keen eye," the Music Man said—is important to success. The game is played on a fiber-board rink about four feet long and three feet wide. (The F.A.O. Schwarz model, which sells for $18, comes equipped with legs, card table high. Less expensive models—without legs—are available for $13.) A low wall encloses the rink. At each end is an opening—the goal—a thin slot carved out of the wall. Triangular wooden blocks are wedged into the four corners of the rink so that the walls angle in. Directly in front of each goal is a square block, positioned in such a way that shots from down ice, if skillfully executed, will carom off the corner of the rink, slide in front of the goal mouth, hit the square block and carom again into the goal. The square block also functions as a defensive help, preventing easy goals from straight on.
The rules are simple. Each player—you can play singles or doubles—uses a pint-size hockey stick. The puck, also wooden, is placed at center ice, but there need be no face-off. The game, happily, is physically noncombative: there is no high-sticking, slashing or body checking. One player shoots uncontested. Assuming he does not score, his opponent then takes his turn, shooting from the spot the puck has come to rest. When a goal is scored, the puck is returned to center ice and play begins again.
This is not a game of luck. A player with an instinct for angles and a hand steady enough to carry out the idea will win. For just a moment, as you flick the puck off the boards, off the square block and into the goal, you are Maurice Richard in all his glory.
For horseplayers, and there are a few of them, there are several games on the market, ranging from basic to complex. The Derby Horse Race Game is geared for the horseplayer of tomorrow. The track is straight (and fast) with five horses in five grooved lanes. You wrap a string around the axle of a wheel—even a 4-year-old can do it—and pull hard. The spinning wheel sends five ball bearings shooting forward into the horses, which start moving up the track. The ball bearings fall back to the spinning wheel, shoot forward again, and so forth until one horse reaches the finish line. Problem: too often the same horse wins. Still, the kiddies should like it. Derby is an import from England and costs $8.95.
Tudor has revised its Electric Horse Race Game ($6.95), a good one for the intermediate horseplayer. You line up four horses, flick on the switch and watch them vibrate around the oval track. In this game, too, there is the problem of the repeat winner, but in this case there is a solution. The horses can be separated from their conductors, so a quick shuffle of conductors will make the favorite anybody's guess. There is one other problem. On some sets, the four horses, vibrating together along the narrow track, often jam up and stop running altogether. Remedy: try match races of two horses only.
Finally, for the graduate horseplayer, there is Ross Kearney's Horse Rating Game ($5.95), a really intricate and complicated board game involving past performance charts, handicapping and jockeying. The rules require careful study and an alert mind, but to the dedicated horseplayer this should be only fun.
Salvo is an uncomplicated yet exciting game involving imagination and logic. The idea, briefly, is this: I have some ships and you have some ships, each sailing on a cardboard sea, unseen by the other. You try to sink my ships—there are eight of them—before I sink yours. The firing is done verbally, each shot falling into one of the 144 squares—numbered one through 18 along the bottom and A through H down the side—which make up the opponent's sea. You fire a round, or salvo, of five shots—A6, E7, G2, etc.—and I let you know if you've hit any of my ships, which occupy two squares (destroyers and submarines), three (battleships) or four (aircraft carriers). Then I lire my round, then you again, and so on. As a player's ships are sunk, that is, hit in all of its squares, his number of shots is reduced. When one player's ships are all sunk, the game is over.
Salvo is an old pencil-and-paper war game—some people called it Battleship—which was popular during World War II. Now, for $4, the Ideal Toy Corporation has introduced this jazzed-up model, complete with plastic battlewagons and stormy-sea backdrops. It has also altered the rules slightly—always, sad to say, for the worse. For instance, you are now required to tell your opponent exactly which shot hit a ship, rather than let him figure out which one of the five it was, thus eliminating much of the game's intrigue. Those who recall the old game will shudder at such changes, but teen-agers, with no memory of the game or, for that matter, of World War II, should enjoy this dolled-up version.
Toymakers produce football games about as fast as rabbits produce baby rabbits and, like rabbits, the games all look pretty much alike. One game, Foto-Electric Football ($6.95), has a tried and true but interesting gimmick. Do not be deceived by the "electric" in the name. This is not one of those games in which you line up your men, turn on the juice and watch in dismay as they vibrate all over the place, usually backwards. In this game one person selects a diagramed offensive play from a pack of cards, while his opponent picks a defense, also diagramed, from another pack. When the two cards are placed face to face on a lighted screen and a cardboard shield is removed, the result is shown. When the route taken by the runner—indicated by a zigzagging line on the offensive card—is intersected by an X, or tackier, on the defensive card, the play is over. Sometimes this happens behind the line of scrimmage. Sometimes it doesn't happen at all. In that case, touchdown! There are many plays, many defenses and variations on both, so the strategies are almost endless. Be the Vince Lombardi of your neighborhood.
GOLFERINO'S LITTLE MAN LINES UP A PUTT ON ONE OF COURSE'S NINE HOLES
THE HORSES ARE OFF AND RUNNING AROUND THE ELECTRIC RACETRACK