One of the best known titles from German game publisher HABA, Orchard is deserving of its prominent position in modern board games for children. This cooperative game presents simple game play accessible to players as young as three years old. Hidden within the simple die rolling and color matching mechanism are some key decision points and plenty of opportunities for children to grow socially.
Orchard is truly the ultimate "gateway game" for introducing new players to the differences of modern board games. From a young age, players will have to think differently when playing this game. While some of the actions are directed by the die roll, the one-in-six chance of rolling a basket presents a decision point where players get to select two fruits of their choice. Players are working to gather all of the fruit from the orchard before the raven puzzle is completed in the center of the board. New puzzle tiles are added each time a raven is rolled (one-in-six). Doing a bit of adult math, this means that the nine-piece raven puzzle will be finished in somewhere around 54 rolls of the dice. With 40 pieces of fruit to harvest, there isn't much time to waste. When a player rolls a basket, then, they need to think logically about which tree has the most fruit left on it as opposed to picking their favorite fruit, color, or something else emotional. This is harder than might be expected for three and four year old players.
The game also provides an excellent opportunity for young players to practice the basic concepts of game play. Games, often briefly defined as rules-based play, require that all players involved are participating within the same set of rules. For young children who are still working forward from the developmental stage of parallel play where two children play side by side but in different worlds without much interaction, this is a good exercise in cooperative play. Children have to take turns, perform a single defined action, and follow the established rules. Big work for three or four year olds. And what better way to work than by playing a great game.
HABA has also released two iOS apps built around the character of Theo the Raven. They are not digital versions of the Orchard game, but rather extend some basic skills and present orchard-themed play.