I’m a gamer. Not in the sense of “fire up the PS4, Martha, we’re gunnin’ for aliens again!” but board games and, to a lesser extent, role playing games. No, I didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons when I was in high school, but now I kinda wish I had done so as it’s a surprisingly fun shared storytelling game with the right people. I started out with Risk, Monopoly, Life, Stock Market and other Hasbro and Mattel mainstream games, but have branched out and moved far beyond those simplistic games. Now a typical weekend has me sitting around a table with friends, trying to defeat criminal gangs in a futuristic Seattle, overcome challenges in Camelot, cure global pandemics before it’s too late or lead my Roman Legion to victory as we expand towards Brittany. Fun!
It should be no surprise that we play games as a family too. With varying levels of success based on attention span. My oldest is always happy to play a game of Monopoly (though I’m a ruthless developer so generally win. Bwahahaha!) or cards, but she’s a bookworm and will more typically be curled up in her corner of the couch, nose in a book. My son and I have played tons of games and went through phases when we were obsessed with Dominion, then with Memoir ’44, but now our go-to game is gin rummy or cribbage. Fast, simple, no setup, and short. Good for his diminishing attention span. 🙂
It’s my 10yo who is the fellow gamer in the family right now, and we play a wide variety of games. She’s super smart so gets strategy games very quickly, which is fun, and she’s become quite okay with losing a game too, which is essential for gaming with your child. Since she’s young, I generally introduce a new game by simplifying the rules, then after a play or two add them back, one at a time, until we’re playing the full game with all original rules. The only variation: she doesn’t like confrontation in games, so if there’s a ‘steal the other play’s resource’ or similar, we’ll often just agree informally to omit that from our gameplay.
Labyrinth, from Ravensburger Games
We started with a number of the terrific Ravensburger games and the one that’s stuck with us for the years and that we still occasionally break out to play is Labyrinth. We have the deluxe version in the metal box, but all the variations are the same basic maze construction puzzle, and quite fun (and lightweight).
Here’s my moody pic of the setup from the last time we played:
What you can’t see too well from this pic is that the maze is comprised of tiles that have specific paths from edge to edge, and you have one more tile than fills the board. Your move is to push the extra tile along a row or column, then move your token along the newly created path, trying to reach a specific secret goal. Quick to learn, engaging, and maybe 20min for a typical game.
Nintendo Monopoly, from USAopoly
The game all the kids really like and that we often play is a variation of Monopoly themed to the Nintendo properties. We have about a half-dozen Monopoly sets, including the English and Mexican versions, but it’s Nintendo Monopoly (from USAoploy) that they gravitate towards if we’re going to play a family “monop” game.
Last time we played, here’s what it looked like:
Yes, an ill wind had blown through and flipped the houses on their sides. Tragic.
Ticket to Ride, from Days of Wonder
Another game that my kids will play and that the youngest K- has on her short list of favorites is the terrific Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder, the same company that also makes Memoir ’44 and one of my favorites, Shadows over Camelot. I’ve played a lot of railroad/railway building games and it’s still one of the best in terms of simplicity and strategy. Easy enough for your non-gaming friends, but still a game that works best if you really plan your routes ahead.
Again, a close-up:
If you’re a Ticket to Ride expert, you’ll recognize that this is the USA map. I really, really wish there was one that was a Great Britain map, including Wales and Scotland (and perhaps, via ferry, Ireland), but so far that’s not available. Perhaps the Days of Wonder folk have something in the works…?
One variation we play is that we’ll each use two train sets and play the game until the board’s almost full. The game rather breaks down at that point since it’s not designed to have such long paths but we’ll achieve every single bonus route before we just run out of steam. Then it’s “let’s play it again!” especially if it’s coming close to bedtime. Hmm…. 🙂
The Rivals for Catan, from Mayfair Games
The latest game that I’ve been teaching K- is a card game called The Rivals for Catan based on the hugely successful Settlers of Catan board game line. Now, a true confession: I don’t much like Settlers of Catan and find it rather boring every time I play. I’m presumably in the minority on that because they sell tons of copies and even have the game available through Target, Walmart, etc.
Rivals for Catan is a second generation card-based version of the game and it turns out to be faster and more fun, though it’s only for two players unlike the parent board game which can accommodate up to four players. Each player starts with a couple of settlements connected by roads and a variety of associated regions that let them produce needed commodity goods like sheep, wheat, iron ore or gold. The goal is to expand, gain additional regions, add soldiers, trading posts and the like, achieving seven victory points first.
Here’s what it looks like mid-way:
As you can see in the foreground pic, each development has a specific price in goods. A settlement requires one wood, one brick, one wheat and one sheep. Earning the goods and balancing production are much of the strategy of the game.
And K- loves it. Every time we’re together now she wants to crack out “Rivals” so we can have a quick game. Now, a quick game is about 45min to an hour, so it’s not fast, but playing against my little one and watching her think through complex, long-term strategies? Terrific!
Tahiti, from Minion Games
The latest game we tried is a fun tropical island exploration — and commodity gathering — game called Tahiti that I picked up off Kickstarter about a year ago. We skip a few of the unnecessarily complicating rules but it played fast, fun, and the pieces are colorful and amusing. A win-win! Scroll back up and look at the image at the very top of this article, it’s from Tahiti.
Now, how about you, dear reader? Are you playing card or board games with your kids? If so, what’s popular right now?
And a hat tip to my pal Christian for his recent blog post 10 Board Games Not Named Monopoly Your Kids will Love, even though we have incredibly little overlap. It’s all good.