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Bubble Stories Holiday

Bubble Stories Holidays from Blue Orange is an incredibly simple, lovely game for young children. Designed by Matthew Dunstan, with art by Marie Millotte, it involves a deck of cards with bright cheery images. You turn cards over once you have matched images in bubbles, to try to achieve a goal of finding cards with stars on to match an objective card. As with the original Bubble Stories (Blue Orange), you turn over card after card to ‘explore’ places - this time with a holiday theme. With no text, it can’t really get simpler than this as a narrative card game for children.

Just opening the box sets the standard for the game: it is a nice, thick, jointed box with a magnetic clasp. Pleasingly, you then get instructions that are in many languages, but each on individual bits of paper so as to not overwhelm. And, best of all, a picture set of instructions for the six learning-to-play cards! Such is the simplicity and good execution of the instructions that you can just pick up and play the starter deck even with a child alongside asking incessant questions.

At first it seems almost like ‘Snap’, as children spot image in bubbles on a starting card and then have to spot them on their associated deck of cards. However, as turning over one card can reveal more bubble locations for children to search for, they then have to follow a trail, deciding which card to turn next and remembering which cards they have ‘explored’ fully.

Turning over ‘wrong’ cards leads to red dead ends which diminishes how successful an explorer you are categorised as at the end. Character cards give you hints as to which card to turn over next. And star cards are the cards you are searching for, with an achievement card showing you how many you have to find.

Pitched for age 4+ with 1-2 players, it really hits the mark. It works with an adult modelling and one or two infants playing initially. It is hugely educational for 4 and 5 year olds. They are forced to be observant (with some cards showing just part of an image cleverly in the bubbles), match images and try to recall information. Once taught, children in this age range and a little older can even play independently. Tho' the temptation for them to just flip the cards randomly can be hard to resist! And the theming just adds to the appeal: what child won’t like finding a pharaoh’s head or the skeleton of a dinosaur?

The game will frustrate adults, however, as you don't have the opportunity to strategically avoid dead ends: it seems luck based which bubble leads where. To entice older or just more clued up children, and keep adults feeling sane, it would be nice if the bubbles that were dead ends were bubbles that did not fit logically in the sequence. There are three main games within the deck themed around dinosaurs (Mystery at the Museum), beach (Scuba Diving) and animals (Day at the Animal Park). It seems a shame that the dead ends aren’t for artifacts that don’t fit (eg: for Scuba Diving, an animal that does not belong under the sea) so that children can use their knowledge to avoid dead ends. Tho' as I type I do wonder if I have been outwitted by a game designed for roughly 5 year olds and I am missing some way to identify these dead ends currently…

Each of the three games took just about the right amount of time to hold a 5 year olds attention successfully, and a little bit of adult help keeping which cards had been fully ‘explored’ helps the game run smoothly.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing Bubble Stories Holiday with 5 year olds and eagerly anticipate my own children soon being old enough to enjoy it too. With the slight reminiscent feel of a point-and-click adventure, and a hint that it might help children along their path to one day enjoying escape games, it is a worthwhile purchase, but only if you are really hitting that intended demographic of a parent with a 4-6 year old. Niche but well made!

(Review by Nicola Bridge)

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