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Since discovering the British made Orchard Toys range of board and card games via positive reviews, I've grown to love the brand and have come to own a number of different games for my children. I purchased Scaredy Cat for my middle son last Christmas, when he was four years old. This appealed to me as a very compact little set of sturdy cards, designed to encourage basic counting skills in a fun manner.
The concept of the game is relatively simple, involving just the cards and no other pieces. The aim of the game is for each player to acquire as many birds on their cards as possible, taking turns to draw cards from a face down pack. There are 41 bird cards in total, with each card featuring a number of birds from one up to as many as six birds. The added extra is that hidden amongst the shuffled cards are three cat cards. If a player turns over a cat card on their go, they lose all of the bird cards already collected and go back down to zero. Needless to say, this adds an element of suspense and tension to the game, particularly when a player has a run of luck and manages to draw quite a few cards with five or six birds on them, only to find a cat in their next go. It is also a source of some potential tantrums and tears for younger players if they felt confident that they were winning, only to have to give up all of their cards!
The other element to the game is that they are six scarecrow cards (which together form a jigsaw puzzle type image of a scarecrow.) Once all of the six scarecrow pieces have been drawn and assembled (by any of the players), this marks the end of the game and each player must total up the birds they have managed to collect and keep. At this point, younger players might need some help adding up their birds - particularly if playing with wiser older siblings who are likely to cheat!
One of the reasons that attracted me to this particular Orchard Toys game over others in the range was the surprisingly high age range. This set claims to be suitable for children aged between four and ten years old which is a really broad range and quite unusual for card games of this type. My children are quite spread out in age (with my oldest son now aged ten and my youngest son two) so I hoped that this would be a game that could be played at least by the oldest two without either of them becoming bored too quickly.
I actually found that the game appealed more to my oldest son at the very upper end of the age recommendation than to my four year old at the lowest end of the spectrum. My oldest son is quite competitive and even though this game is purely based on chance rather than on any skill or strategy, he became very excited at the point when the scarecrow was almost complete, particularly when he appeared to have the most birds. He also enjoyed the drama of potentially finding a cat during each of his turns and, understandably, took great amusement whenever I or his younger brother found a cat at a particularly unfortunate moment.
I found that my four year old, by contrast, started to lose interest slightly as the game can take quite a while, depending on the frequency of finding the 'killer' cat cards and the speed at which the scarecrow pieces are drawn.The game can be played with as few as two players or as many as six, although I've only played with up to three players and find the game quite lengthy enough with that many players. For my younger son, I ended up adapting the game by removing some of the bird cards which made the game quicker, as there are 41 of these cards in total. This adaptation also meant that the cat cards and scarecrow pieces were found much quicker too, which added extra excitement to the game as the cat cards do generate quite a lot of excitement, particularly when the player finding it had acquired by far the most birds at that point! I don't think there really needs to be quite as many bird cards included within the game as there actually are but this does, at any right, mean that it isn't a major issue should any of the cards (other than the scarecrow pieces) get mislaid.
As I've come to expect with Orchard Toys products, the quality of the pieces and the packaging is excellent, with both being reinforced and robust enough to withstand regular play. The box itself is really compact, making this ideal for storage or for taking out and about as a distraction during long waiting periods.
I actually got a real bargain when I purchased this game as it was selling for just £4 on Amazon. I picked up quite a few boxes to give to my son's school friends as this game is the ideal price range and size to make a great gift for birthday parties. The game is currently selling for just under £7, which does seem a lot for what is essentially just a boxed set of cards. In terms of play (and unobtrusive educational) value, this is still a worthwhile investment even at that price and is a game that I'm happy to recommend.