Hoot, Hoot! The sun is coming up soon and the owls need to get back to their nest. Why? Because owls are nocturnal animals who are active at night and sleep during the day. The learning opportunities in Hoot Owl Hoot start from the first description of the game's theme. In this cooperative game, players need to make efficient use of color patterns to help the owls back to their nests before the sun rises.
Each player has a hand of three color cards in front of them; they can select any of the color cards and then move any owl forward to the next dot of the selected color. The game happens in picking the color and owl to advance each round. In playing with a four-year old, initial selections were made randomly or based on color preference. As a learning facilitator (aka parent) it was my role to help suggest strategic thought as a more effective method for movement. Each turn, we paused and counted how far each color/owl combination would let us move. It was a great chance to talk about more than, less than, or the same. After a few rounds, this strategic behavior became more natural and needed less prompting.
The win/loss ratio of the game can be changed by increasing or decreasing the number of owls used. The mechanism isn't impacted very much _ -- _ the complexity of evaluating choices each round is decreased somewhat _ -- _ but fewer owls will move faster thereby more likely beating the sun. Win/loss for three owls, the suggested starting level, is about 80/20. Going to all six owls reduces this to about 60/40 according to Peaceable Kingdom. We actually like the higher loss percentage for the harder level of the game. This could be replicated in the simpler, three owl game by removing one card of each color thereby increasing the chances of drawing a sun card. Remember, failure is a learning opportunity, not the end of the world (even though it may seem that way to some four-year olds). If learners win every game every time, there is no chance for us adults to help them explore more strategic choices.
Another change we would suggest is having the sun cards trigger instantly when drawn; move the sun and then the player draws a replacement card. The problem isn't with turn loss, rather the difference in Hoot Owl Hoot is the hand of cards; a great mechanism for promoting choice, but it also stretches out the turn loss. Having a sun card in hand and knowing that they are going to miss a turn can lead to a player disengaging for a longer time as they wait for a whole round for the missed turn, and then wait a second round after missing the turn. Triggering the sun immediately still advances the loss mechanism, but removes the disengagement aspect that can come from the prolonged time without a turn.
Overall, Hoot Owl Hoot is recommended as a nice selection for younger players to explore strategic movement choices. There are not many games on the market for such young players that involve selecting movements as opposed to following a die roll or some other random aspect. Choice, and the evaluation of potential moves that goes along with the choice, is a critical skill for young players to develop.