Why I Hate Candy Land

Candy Land - Gloppy

Why I Hate Candy Land

(And What to Play Instead)

I said it in our very first podcast: “Getting stabbed in the face is better than CandyLand!” Although I may have exaggerated a tiny bit, I’ve gotten some push back over the years from listeners who do play Candy Land with their kids.

Candy Land has a Good Side

Candy Land - Gloppy

Never thought you’d hear that from me, did you?

Kids love the candy theme and the fun characters. Who wouldn’t want to harvest candy canes with Mr. Mint or jump in the Chocolate Swamp with the friendly monster Gloppy?

It’s also a good tool to practice color matching. The colors are clear and bright, and the counting only goes up to 2.

At its core, Candy Land helps young children practice taking turns and follow directions – but this is true of most games, so it’s not a strong selling point for me.

Candy Land is Hard and Uninteresting

Drawing a single card isn’t an easy task for a 3-year-old. Neither is following a set path. Ever watch a 3-year-old walk outside? They don’t follow paths, they make their own.

It’s too long. At 134 spaces to travel, a typical game is going to require more than a dozen turns to get a player to the end of the board. Especially in a 4-player game, kids (and adults!) lose interest because there’s nothing interesting happening when it’s not your turn. There’s barely anything interesting happening even when it is your turn.

There are no choices to be made. Simply draw a card, and move to the space indicated. Many other games for young children at least let them choose how to roll a die (should I throw it in the air, or gently onto the table?) or spin a spinner (do I flick it or push it?) Even the shortcuts and penalties in Candy Land are completely out of your control.

Most young kids can’t handle being penalized when they deserve it. But whether it’s losing a turn in the licorice swamps or being sent backwards to a special pink candy space they had already passed, being penalized when you did nothing wrong is the worst. Forget it. Flip the table time.

Candy Land board with Gingerbread and Candy Cane cards
They look so friendly, but they’ll send you backwards!

But What Can We Do?

Child's hand dumping Candyland pieces into a potty
Where Candy Land belongs?
Used with permission from BGG user tpancoast

So, now that we’ve laid out all my concerns with the most popular board game for preschoolers, what do we do? Should we just consign Candy Land to the trash and wait to play games until our kids are older?

Of course not! There are several options available to the discerning parent:

Tweak the Rules

If your kids love the idea of Candy Land, but you hate the inevitable meltdowns, you could try adjusting the rules a bit.

Hasbro, the current publisher for Candy Land in the United States, acknowledges some of the difficulty presented by the classic Candy Land rules. In the official rules on their website, they suggest two updates:

  1. Younger players move only forward, never backward. If you draw a pink picture card that would send you back, discard it and draw a new card. (Editor’s note: Publisher sanctioned recommendations to ignore key mechanics doesn’t send a comforting message…)
  2. “Older” players draw two cards and pick one to use on their turn. This is the easiest way to introduce some choices and strategy if you already have Candy Land.

Play an Easier Game

If, like me, you can’t stand another trudge through the Lollipop Woods, pick an easier game instead. “How could it get easier than Candy Land?” you may ask. Look for games that:

boy holding large dice
Dice are fun!
  • Avoid combining challenging mental tasks (like color matching & counting) into a single “action”.
  • Require simple physical tasks like rolling a single die.
  • Use durable equipment (dice, tokens, thick cardboard cards) rather than drawing or flipping those easily-destroyed cards.
  • Keep it short! Even 15 minutes is too long for a kid who hasn’t played games before. Turns should take less than 30 seconds, unless all players are engaged on every turn.
  • Keep all players on equal footing. Shortcuts or penalties are not fun when you’re just learning how to play!

Our Recommendations

We’ve played a few games that we find work just as well as Candy Land with toddlers and preschoolers, if not better. Some are intended for young children and some aren’t, but all of them are easily enjoyed by kids under 4 years old.

To practice taking turns:

To practice color matching:

  • Zitternix (Keep it Steady) from HABA. Roll a die and pull the matching color stick, but don’t let them all fall!
  • Hisss from Gamewright. Build a multi-colored snake by matching colors on the heavy duty cardboard tiles.
  • Try Kingdomino for a more advanced color matching experience, and work on introducing the scoring rules as your children get a bit older.

To practice basic counting:

  • Feed the Kitty from Gamewright. Roll a die, and pass one mouse to a neighbor or put one in the kitty’s bowl.
  • Monster Match from North Star Games. Roll dice and find a monster with the matching number of eyes, hands, or legs. Of all our recommendations, this is probably the one where our preschooler has needed the most help, so we don’t play it as a true speed game.
  • Or just roll dice and count the numbers! Preschoolers find this activity very engaging, especially if you have large or unusual dice.

Taking turns is too difficult right now? Try some simple games where all players play simultaneously.

  • Happy Salmon and Funky Chicken from North Star Games allow you to try to match another player’s card, and then do a silly activity. (We reviewed Funky Chicken last summer. Our whole family loves playing it together.)
  • Maze Racers from FoxMind Games. Two players each create a maze with magnetic pieces on a whiteboard, then swap and race a marble through the maze their opponent created. This also works well as an individual toy.

Lastly, if you’re not completely convinced and still love the feel of a traditional move-forward game like Candy Land or Chutes & Ladders, there are some shorter and more engaging options we’d recommend:

  • Silly Street from Buffalo Games and Wannaplé. Draw a card and get everyone doing activities to move along the 30 spaces of the board. You’ll need an adult or older child who can read the cards, but the activities break up the monotony of waiting while building character traits.
  • Unicorn Glitterluck: Cloud Crystals from HABA. Roll a die and move your unicorn through the clouds collecting pink crystals – the board is 25 spaces long and there are opportunities to gift crystals to other players, keeping it from being overly competitive.

Follow these guidelines to a better game playing experience for your little ones. Happy playing!

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  • Sean O

    Years ago, my middle daughter was given the nickname “Board Flipper” after her frustration with Candy Land. I don’t think we’ve taken it out since.

  • Nancy Hale

    You are so RIGHT ON with this! Have always hated this game and didn’t know why…beyond BORING….well, and all that candy.

  • Rob

    Go Away Monster was our go-to game for all 4 of our kids when getting them to learn to take turns!

  • Bob

    Bought my two year old her first two games: “Go Away Monster” and “Candyland”. She has a very long attention span for a two year old. She got bored with “Go Away Monster” pretty easily. She LOVES matching games and puzzles, so I though this would be perfect for her, but four shapes per room is just not challenging enough, and she doesn’t understand why we don’t like the monsters. We started having the monsters “steal” things from the room to make it a little more challenging, but she just doesn’t understand why monsters do what they do and why we are supposed to tell them to go away. She knows that when she draws a monster, it goes in the box, but isn’t really interested in yelling “Go Away Monster”. I was surprised that she took to Candyland more readily, actually.. She asks to play it constantly now. I mean, she does love candy (too much, I’m afraid. *sigh*), and she loves colors and lining things up in sequence, so I’m not completely shocked that she would go for this game. She actually likes sorting the cards in the discard pile into different colors more than anything, but she doesn’t seem to be frustrated by any particular aspect of the game. I agree that it can get a bit long for ME, but it really does not seem to bother her.

  • It wasn’t available yet when I wrote this article, but My First Castle Panic is a great alternative as well! A cooperative (or solo!) game where children match shapes and colors to defeat monsters and throw them in the “dungeon”.

    Andrew wrote all about it here: https://www.thefamilygamers.com/my-first-castle-panic/

  • The threat of polio has lessened over time, but Candy Land’s value persists because of what it teaches. This is not to rehash the usual litany of early-childhood skills some Candy Land proponents tout. Yes, the game strengthens pattern recognition. Sure, it can teach children to read and follow instructions. In theory, it shows children how to play together—how to win humbly or lose graciously. But any game can teach these skills.

  • Candyland Rules!

    Ridiculous non-sense.