Review: You’ve Been Sentenced! Can Doing Grammar Really Be Fun?

You've Been Sentenced! review

You've Been Sentenced! review

When was the last time your kids talked about verbs, grammar and sentence structure – while laughing hysterically and having a great time?  If you happen to own You’ve Been Sentenced! by McNeil Designs for Brighter Minds, this is probably a regular occurrence in your house.  For the rest of our readers, you must be wondering what bizarre reality we live in.

You’ve Been Sentenced – The Game That Sounds Like Homework

When we were scouring the aisles of Toy Fair 2011, searching for fun and exciting toys to review, a very nice woman asked if she could tell us about You’ve Been Sentenced!    I have to be honest, once she described how “fun” it was to make sentences and debate about grammar usage – I started to tune out and wonder if that robotic dog in the next booth would actually leave a mark if it bit me.  No offensive to English teachers everywhere, but I always believed “enjoyable  grammar” was an oxymoron.

This Is Why We Do Real World Product Reviews

It was with some trepidation when we agreed to have McNeil Designs send us You’ve Been Sentenced! and the new NASA Space Terminology Add On Deck to review.   Still, this is why we do full, real world product reviews – because some games you need to play to see the appeal.

Here is a Quick Video of How You’ve Been Sentenced! Plays -

A Game That Is More Fun To Play Than Explain

As the video shows, You’ve Been Sentenced is pretty easy to learn.  Each player (up to 10 players can play, recommended for ages 8 and up) gets 10 cards – each card has 5 words on it.  Every player tries to make the best sentence they can with the cards that they have.  There are a couple of different variations – with a timer, without a timer, bonus points, etc – but the basic idea is to create sentences.

I just re-read the above paragraph, and I know it sounds boring! I think what makes it so fun are the debates that occur after you create your sentence.  Any player can challenge your sentence and then you need to defend it – give some context and explanation of how your sentence can make sense.  The challenger gives her reasons why she thinks your sentence is not valid and then the other players, the jury, vote on your sentence.  This is the really fun part and I guarantee in no time everyone will be laughing at the crazy defense that people offer.

The NASA Space Terminology Add On Pack, A Must For Space Buffs

NASA Add On deck for You've Been Sentenced

New for 2011 is the NASA Space Terminology Add On Pack.  You get 400 space related words that you can mix into the standard You’ve Been Sentenced Game or play with just the Space terms.   The NASA Space Deck, created in conjunction with the Education Department of NASA,  encourages children to learn about Space exploration and the stars.

The NASA Space Deck is a great way for parents to teach kids about space exploration.  As cards like Neil Armstrong and Solar Array come up, you can explain them to your children.  What is great is that kids will want to learn what the terminology means, so they can use it in a sentence.

Is This a Game or A Teaching Tool?  Yes!

We could talk about the 10+ Awards that You’ve Been Sentenced! has won or the numerous testimonials they have received from teachers, educators and language specialist – but that would blow their cover.  I am convinced that the kids really don’t realize how much grammar, vocabulary and debating skills they are learning by playing this game.  Everyone who played You’ve Been Sentenced (including the adults) had a great time making crazy sentences and even more fun trying to defend them.

Some People Just Should Not Play You’ve Been Sentenced!

You’ve Been Sentenced! is a very open game in terms of rules and scoring – where majority rules, even if the facts say otherwise.   A player can have some combination of words that even Tarzan would agree is not a sentence, but if the Jury says it is a sentence, it is a sentence and they get the points.   The debate is usually the fun part of the game, but if you have kids who like strict, rule based scoring, it can lead to frustration and arguments.

You’ve Been Sentenced! does an incredible job of making grammar and vocabulary fun, but if you have kids who really have no interest in word games, this is not the game for them.   I will say, even if you think your kids have no interest in word games, have them try it, it may be they have just never played the right word game.

Finally a Game Moms and Dads Will Enjoy As Much as Their Kids

I am a Dad who loves games, but some of the games my kids want me to play having me so bored I start to wish the game will spontaneously combust.  Playing You’ve Been Sentenced! and the topic specific Add-On Decks is sort of like playing Trivia Pursuit meets MadLibs.  Moms, Dads, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Very Smart Dogs all will have a blast playing You’ve Been Sentenced! with the kids.   The game can be frustrating for kids younger than 8, but as long as you have older kids in the house, it is a true family party game that all ages can enjoy.

Conclusion:  You’ve Been Sentenced and NASA Terminology Add On Deck

I am man enough to admit when I am wrong – and I was very wrong about You’ve Been Sentenced!  I really did not believe that learning grammar and vocabulary could be fun, but this game proved me wrong.  You’ve Been Sentenced is one of those simple games that just works on all levels.  The NASA Space Terminology Add On Deck is great for kids interested in Space and they also make a number of other Add On Decks in other categories.  Now if only they could make a game that makes getting a root canal fun.

Update: 5/31/11 – We are giving away You’ve Been Sentenced and all the Add-On Decks as part of our Great Father’s Day Giveway on 6/8/2011 –

You’ve Been Sentenced! and the NASA Add-On Deck Gets 4 D’s (scale of 1 to 5) -

4 D Rating - Well Done

Any Product That Receives 4 or 5 D’s is Dad Does Approved!

Dad Does Approved

Father's Day Top PickSee Our Complete Father’s Day Gift Guide

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More Information:

Learn More At McNeil Designs. You’ve Been Sentenced sells for about $20. The NASA Add On Deck sells for about $10.

FULL DISCLOSURE: We received You’ve Been Sentenced to review. We received no money for doing this review and receive nothing if you do decide to buy You’ve Been Sentenced. If you play You’ve Been Sentenced and your kids vote down all your crazy sentences, understand you are not alone! This is a real review, by a real Dad (and his kids)!

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