What’s to Love: Adventure doesn’t always have to be something wild and crazy. Sometimes, we simply have to use our collective imagination. With so much attention on media, video games, and electronics, I’m wondering if anyone out there is into board/card games anymore. You know, the games that come in boxes, have a cardboard playing surface with some snazzy artwork, playing pieces, dice, and rules no one ever wants to read. Do you remember these relics of our childhood years?
In our family, the board game culture is alive and well, and we play several on an almost-nightly basis. I wanted to share with you some of our family favorites: games so incredibly awesome that they’ve stood the test of time with our kids. These are games that we’ve literally played hundreds of times (collectively) over the years, and we keep coming back to them for more and more fun. If you do not have these games, I suggest adding them to your collection very soon. Also, please share with our readers your favorite games, and where we can purchase them. Also, I realize that I’m targeting the 10 and under crowd here. If you know some great family games that teenagers actually enjoy playing, please list those as well.
Go Fish!: Can you believe it? Just get a deck of regular playing cards, and you’ll be on your way to years of entertainment. My kids cannot get enough of this game, and I’m sure we could play it every night without complaint. Don’t worry about a fancy set of cards, but they are fun for younger children. Our house rule is players can ask anyone for a card when it’s their turn. As long as you get matches, you can continue asking. Also, if you draw the card you asked for, you get to go again. Classic!
Wig-Out: Just look at that crazy cast of characters! How many times will I play Wig Out in this lifetime? I think it could approach one million games. Seriously, I think I’ve played this at least a few hundred times, and it’s always a nail biter! This is an exciting card game where players match funny characters in an effort to get rid of all their cards first. My youngest son continually talks during every game. I can never determine exactly what he is saying, but I think it’s his version of trash talk.
Do Over: We bought this game while staying at the Cooper Spur Resort, which is an odd place to find a card game. However strange, this was a great find, and years after buying it, we are still playing it at least a few times per month. The first person to get rid of their cards wins the game. Cards are played in ascending numerical order. If a player gets stuck, they can always reverse, play a “Do Over” card, or simply drop a bomb card, which wipes out the discard pile. Not a great game for kids under five.
Uno: Surprise surprise! I remember bringing this game to school when I was in 4th grade at Pine Street School in Fremont, Michigan. We played in big groups, and it was a riot – still is a fun game and holds up well. Of course, they’ve tried to make even more money by creating all these different Uno games, but the original card game will always remain a classic.
Blink: This is my personal favorite! Be the first to play all your cards by discarding matches based on three criteria: color, shape, or number. It’s a fast paced game that can easily be adjusted to make it fair for all. Give your older kids more cards at the beginning and this will level the playing field a bit.
Jungle Speed: Again, be the first to lose all your cards. Jungle speed is all about pattern recognition. Players slap down cards from their pile in alternating plays. If the patterns on top match, whoever grabs the totem pole first wins that round, and the other player has to add all the discarded cards to his/her pile. Watch out for specialty cards that make the game even more interesting. Love the bag!
Cooperative/Role Playing Board Games:
Pathfinder: As a youngster, I remember with vivid clarity playing Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends. When my brother invited me into the game, I thought it would be so boring. I remember saying, “What? There’s no playing board, no objects to move around, no playing pieces, no fancy spinner, etc.” While it was lacking what I recognized at that time as “the basics” of board games, it did have the coolest looking dice I had ever seen in my life. To this day, I’m fascinated by these awesome dice, especially the 4-sided pyramid and the 20-sided monster dice!
I remember the Dungeon Master showing me the “Monster Manual,” and I was totally in awe of the amazing drawings and background stories of each creature. They all had profiles detailing armor class, hit points, special attack bonuses, environment, special powers, etc. I remember carefully constructing my own character with many of the same attributes. Our small group was often held in rapture by our Dungeon Master’s clear and sometimes terrifying descriptions of our current situation. Would we be able to battle our way out of what seemed like an impossible situation after impossible situation?
Following in the tradition of role-playing games, the “Pathfinder Beginner Box” is made by the same company that makes Dungeons and Dragons, but it’s a far easier game for beginners, especially if you’re a first-time Dungeon Master. You can create characters within 15 minutes, and the box contains a dry-erase sample dungeon for your first adventure. There are cardboard cutouts of the various players (elves, clerics, wizards, and dwarfs), and the monsters you’ll meet along the way. Included in the box is a beautifully illustrated player’s guide, and an excellent guide for beginning game masters. Oh yeah…there are also plenty of cool dice!
The Pathfinder Beginner Box is the perfect introduction to role playing games. Kids under five years old will probably be frightened by the pictures and monster descriptions. Of course, you’ll want to consider the inevitable violent descriptions of the role play itself; therefore, this game may not be for all families. For role playing games, it’s hard to beat Guardian Games – if you’re into this style of game, you will totally GEEK OUT at this place.
Forbidden Island: I picked up this game at New Seasons Market in Arbor Lodge. Again, it seems a bit odd to pickup this game at that location, but there it was just sitting there waiting to be taken home and played. It just looked so cool, and I had to have it! When we were going through the checkout line, one of the clerks said, “Oh…Forbidden Island is a great game!” He suggested that it was a game that would be fun for the whole family. I’m so addicted to it, that I got the app on my ipad and play it all the time. It’s a great strategy game. Plus, the ipod app is a great way to learn the somewhat complicated rules.
Basically, there are six roles: explorer, diver, pilot, messenger, engineer, and navigator. Each role gives that particular player special powers during the game. The kids really loved learning about these roles and playing games with different attributes. As a team, you need to play collaboratively to collect four artifacts, get to a place on the island called “Fool’s Landing,” and fly to safety before the island is completely flooded. It’s a complex game with some rules that are a bit hard to figure out, but overall, it’s a brilliantly designed game. It’s fun with a variety of ages due to the collaborative nature of play. You’ll either all lose…or, all win!
Busytown: This is such a cool game! It’s a bit on the commercial side with an accompanying television show. However, this cooperative game keeps coming back as a young-kid favorite. Grab a character, take a spin, and look for objects on the crazy 3-piece game board before time runs out. You’ll have to make it to the end together – again, no one wins unless you all win.
The Secret Door: Another fun cooperative game! It reminds me of a memory-based Clue game. In the beginning, you’ll hide three objects under “the secret door.” Your objective is to make the correct guess about the missing objects. Work together to find pairs of objects, which is just like playing memory. Once pairs are found, that eliminates them from the missing objects under “the secret door.” If you turn over a clock card (there are 12), you’ll be one step closer to time running out. Once all 12 clocks are turned over, you have to make the best guess you can based-on your discovered pairs.
Classics and the rest:
Clue: Just bought Clue the other day after years of playing Clue Junior and Clue Carnival. Compared to the original game, these newer versions don’t cut the mustard, (HA! Get it?). I mean, what kid doesn’t want to be Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum? I still want to be those characters! When we cracked this baby open and played, well, actually, it was a complete disaster because my 5-year old could not read the cards, and my 10-year old got really frustrated. This resulted in a family game night meltdown. However, we were able to pull it together for round two with the little guy just checking off things according to the spelling. It’s still tough to play with kids who can’t read. Despite that fact, when I guessed those three cards for the first time in 20+ years, it nearly brought me to tears. Actually, I wasn’t close to tears, but I was TOTALLY PSYCHED, and I think I might have even trashed-talked a bit.
Life: That spinner! To whomever designed the game of Life, the idea for the spinner was pure brilliance! I remember vividly taking that baby for a spin as a kid. I also remember the awesome $100,000 white bills! Everyone probably remembers something about playing Life. I remember not once finishing a game! The bridges were cool. As a game, Life is pretty outdated, and I’m not sure it will make much sense to today’s kids. However, the current reissue is actually pretty good. The “action cards” are pretty corny and slow the game down to a crawl, but for the most part, this updated version is a lot of fun. We’ve played it a bunch, and it’s an entertaining 45 minutes. If you look around, you can still find the original version.
Pengaloo: Roll the colored dice and lift up penguins to reveal colored eggs. Hopefully, they are the same color as your dice! If so, collect the respective eggs and penguins. First player to collect six eggs wins the game. It’s basically Memory with penguins, but I don’t want that to sound disparaging. Pengaloo is a really fun game with a bunch of cool playing pieces. Your young kids will want to play this all the time.
Wildcraft: It’s likely that at least one person has heard of all the games I’ve suggested thus far. However, has anyone heard of Wildcraft? We’ve had this game for about 8 years, and we still play it at least once per month. As you spin and move your playing piece, you might end up with an ailment such as “bee sting.” You can then use your “herb cards” to find a natural remedy that might help with a sting. If you’re successful, you can move ahead to a “healing space.” If you don’t have the correct herb card, perhaps another player can help you by using their “cooperation card.” Watch out for traps and shortcuts along the way. The first person up and down the mountain wins.
Brainquest: A kid-friendly version of Trivial Pursuit. The cards and graphics are more suited for younger kids with six levels of questions. Each level of questions roughly corresponds to grade level. Sometimes, I ask up a grade level, sometimes I ask down a grade level. I’ve proudly answered 90% of all the 6th grade questions correctly! Hey…give me a little credit here – my mind is starting to go already at 45 years old. We have several house rules while playing this game: 1) if someone rolls a line, they can choose the category on either side of the line; 2) if you already have completed a category you just spun, you can take another spin; and 3) due to time restrictions, we play two correct answers equals a completed category.
Camp: This game was given to us as a present, and it turned out to be a really good one! Camp has won awards for its game-playing-awesomeness. Pick a character and answer wilderness/science-type questions according to your assigned level. Like Brain Quest, older kids will answer harder questions. Answering a question correctly means another turn, which will inevitably get you to “Camp” a whole lot quicker. There is no doubt that everyone will learn a little something while playing Camp.
Feeleez: This “emotional empathy game” helps kids get in touch with their feelings while playing a wide-variety of game options. The instructions offer plenty of ways to play, but we usually just use the cards for Memory now. If you have a child who is somewhat detached emotionally, this may be a good option for identifying and discussing feelings. We discovered this game at a St. John’s toy store years ago (now closed), I haven’t see it in a store since. It looks like it is available online. We still love playing with the Feeleez cards.
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