Had the privilege of looking after a cousin's kids for a few weeks over September and October. They live close to my sister, too, so I also get to spend extra time with them. I was still working, and now that the kids are older there was much driving around, so things were really busy, but I made sure to bring lots of games because I knew there would be at least a few days where we could game ourselves sick. I brought maybe half my collection. It's hard to say. Two huge suitcases and a box full.
According to my records, we played 29 games 100 times, not counting just regular old card games. On my very last day, with my sister's kids, we actually got through 10 different games in one day.
I've said it before and I'll say it again—no home should be without a few decks of regular old playing cards. I never travel without them. The best place I've found to learn new card games is Pagat.com. This trip I played the following card games:
- 99: A trick-taking game for exactly three players.
- German Whist: A two-player whist game. There's a variant my stepmom taught me that I don't see on Pagat. I like them both.
- Golf: Kids love this one.
- James Bond: A simple speed game for two or three players.
- Poker: Yes, my sister's kids love playing Texas Hold 'Em.
First just a list and then the notes.
- Airlines Europe
- Alien Frontiers
- Android: Netrunner
- Bang: The Dice Game
- Bottom of the 9th
- Cave Troll
- Colossal Arena
- Defenders of the Realm
- Forbidden Desert
- King of Tokyo
- Lords of Waterdeep
- Mission: Red Planet
- O Zoo le Mio
- Secret Hitler
- Sentinels of the Multiverse
- Survive: Escape from Atlantis!
- Tash Kalar
- Tiny Epic Kingdoms
- Tiny Epic Quest
Most of these games have also been discussed in previous posts, so some will not have as much detail. You can search the previous posts for more information on a particular game you're interested in.
A relatively simple family game of set collection. There's no direct confrontation beyond taking a card someone else might want. Players can expand any of the airlines in play, which increases its value. Players also play shares of the different airlines in their portfolios. At each scoring phase, players who have the most shares in each airline earn victory points. Whoever has the most at the end wins.
This is an older game that I picked up when they did a "big box" reprint. I haven't had a chance, yet, to really explore the expansions. It's a worker placement game with dice as your workers. You roll them and then place them at various stations on the board that have various requirements (doubles, straights, different totals, etc.) and that give you certain benefits. The ultimate goal is to get your colonies on the planet and to take control of as many zones as possible. Game ends when someone places their last colony, and the winner is whoever has the most points at that moment.
The base game is relatively straightforward, so younger kids can play (10+). With them I relax some of the rules like maximum resource holding. This is a more confrontational game. You can steal from other players, and competition on the planet is zero sum, but kids love rolling dice. It went over well.
This is an asymmetric two-player card game. I have a bunch of cards from the original version of this game, but I got a base set of the new version from a colleague and brought it with me to try out. It's a cyberpunk theme, created by authors like William Gibson in books like Neuromancer.
One player is the corporation, who is trying to score agenda cards. The other player is the hacker or "runner" who is trying to steal those agenda cards. First to score 7 agenda points wins. The corporation uses decoys to mask his agendas and "ice" to protect his servers. The runner has "icebreaker" software and other hardware and resources to make "runs" on these servers, break through the ice, and hopefully pilfer the server's data. But he has to watch out for ambush cards and particularly viscious ice.
The corp is generally quite wealthy and has the most flexibility, but he also has multiple weak points he has to protect. The runner is generally cash poor but has various resources to help and has more flexibility in how and where he attacks. The two players are playing completely different games, which is one thing I love about it.
The original version was a collectible card game, meaning you would buy booster packs and you never knew what you'd get (like Magic: The Gathering). The new version uses a "living card game" model where you still buy new packs, but every pack is the same: three copies of a bunch of new cards for both sides. Everybody gets the same thing. This is a game that really shines when you are buying the new cards and building your own decks. The starter set is a little vanilla. I'd rather spend my money on new games than dumping it into a single one, but maybe one day I'll find a bunch of cards on eBay or something for cheap enough. We'll see.
Bang: The Dice Game
This is the dice version of the card game Bang!. Both are secret role games where one person is the sheriff who is trying to destroy all the outlaws and renegades with the help of his deputies, but only the sheriff is known. You have to deduce who the others are. Good guys win if the outlaws and renegades are killed, the outlaws win if they kill the sheriff, and the renegades only win if they're the last player standing.
I prefer the dice game because it's faster and simpler. The card game is fun, but it overstays its welcome. And when teaching new players (and younger players), there's more cards and powers to explain. With the dice game, you just explain what each of the six sides mean and you start. Both games have unique player powers.
This is a great light game for 5-8 players that even the kids enjoy. Thumbs up.
I've talked this game to death. Every family should own it. Kids love it, and they can even win it (10-year-old Emma routinely beats us all). If you don't already own this game, and you have kids that like to play games, then go buy it.
Bottom of the 9th
I really don't like baseball. I'm not sure why I paid money for this game. It got lots of hype on a few boardgame podcasts I listen to, it was inexpensive, so I bought it. But this trip was the first time I had played it (over a year).
It's a two-player game that simulates a tie game at the bottom of the ninth inning. One player is the batter and another is the pitcher. There are a bunch of different players to choose from with different stats and powers. The core mechanic is simple bluffing/guessing. The pitcher secretly selects his pitch (inside/outside + high/low) and the batter tries to guess it. Depending on the guessing goes determines what powers the players can use that turn. The pitcher then rolls two dice: one with different types of throws (strike, ball, contact) and a regular 6-sided die. The pitcher then rolls his die. Powers can also affect the dice. Once finalized, you compare the two numbers in a table, and depending on the throw type, the result is either ball, strike, or hit. If it's a hit, there's a little die-rolling race to see if they make it to base. The pitcher wins if he gets three outs before any runners score. The batter wins by scoring a single runner.
This game is super light. There's not a whole bunch here unless you find pleasure in the theme itself. I still found it much more enjoyable than I feared. I need to find a baseball fan to play it with. Fortunately it's a small game that doesn't take up much space, so I'll keep it around a while longer.
This is an older game that I still like to bring out when I can. It's an area control game with cool miniatures and powers. The map is of a dungeon divided into a few entrances, three pits, and a bunch of rooms worth different amounts of gold. Each player has the exact same minis and cards. All that will differ is the order in which the cards are drawn. Players use their cards to bring out various heroes and even monsters to vye for control of the most valuable spaces. (The eponymous cave troll is a piece that obliterates one of the rooms and everyone in it.) At a number of points during the game, the board will be scored. Whoever has the most heroes in a room gets the gold. Whoever accumulates the most gold by the end of the game wins.
I like to bring this out with people that want something just a little bit heavier. It's still a pretty light game, but it requires some thought. It's also highly competitive. Your guys will get killed and you will lose access to points you thought were a sure thing. I always enjoy playing.
Another excellent party game. It will accommodate 4+ people (6-8 works best). All you need is two teams. Each team has a clue giver who tries to get his team to pick the words on the table that belong to them using one-word clues. The first team to do this wins. But you have to look out for the assassin word. The team that picks that word instantly loses.
There are a number of versions of this game now. It's super popular. For kids you might prefer the "pictures" version, but gamers prefer the words (there are more-interesting clue-giving possibilities). If you regularly have largish game gatherings, this is an easy buy.
This is a great little card game. Eight (of twelve) monsters, each with their own special powers, go into the arena. Only three will survive. But which three? Players make bets over multiple rounds and play cards representing how well the monsters are doing. At the end of each round, one monster is eliminated. Whoever has the most valuable bets on the surviving monsters wins the games.
This is a simple and lightweight card game with great decisions and backstabbing moments. It's an older game, but I think it's still in print. I'm a big fan.
This is more of an activity than a game, though you could play it for points if you wanted. It's like charades but with a board.
The board consists of abstract icons on which you place pieces of different colours, representing main and subordinate concepts. Using this you try to get people to guess anything from a single word, a proper noun, or full-blown phrases. Even kids can play. It's a superb family activity.
Defenders of the Realm
I really love this game. The mechanics are similar to Pandemic, but it's a fantasy theme. Each player takes a role (e.g., ranger, sorceress, rogue) with special powers. A map with different locations of different colours gets seeded with four evil generals and their minions. Your job is to work together to defeat all the generals. Like with most cooperative games, there are a dozen ways to lose.
This is a hard game to win, but it's so much fun. Much more thematic and engaging than Pandemic. There was a reprint via Kickstarter a while back (which I very sadly missed!), so you should still be able to find the game. Even the kids can play, but it does take more than an hour to play, and it will take a few plays before you finally win. I recommend this to people who like challenging cooperative games and fantasy themes.
This is another new game that I bought specifically for this trip. People thought it felt similar to Catan, but I didn't see it.
This is a medium-weight engine-building area control game. There's a hex map on the table that's different every game. There are five different types of cards, each represented by a different shaped building. Players play cards to their tableau and place the corresponding wooden piece on the map (the area control part). When you place a card of a certain type, you activate all the powers on all the cards of that type you've played so far (the engine part). Throughout you will earn victory points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
I only got to play this game once, and I really enjoyed it. I look forward to playing again with more people. It can be quite confrontational. I wouldn't play this with younger kids. You have to really work through how to best synergize the different cards. I recommend this for people that want something a little meaty but not too heavy.
The kids love this one. It's a cooperative game with a cool theme and airship that everyone wants to play with. The kids can even play this one on their own. It's a great way to introduce cooperative gaming to kids. There's an even simpler game called Forbidden Island, but I like Forbidden Desert because it's just that little bit more complicated so that I don't get quite so bored playing it with them.
This is an excellent addition to a family game library.
Another excellent card game. This is also cooperative, and the twist is that you can't see your own cards. The goal is to communicate to each other what cards each other holds and to cooperatively build a tableau. Try to get a perfect score. It's simple but challenging. An excellent family game.
This is a chaotic engine-building card game for 2-4 players, though I think it's best with just two. Otherwise things get too chaotic. Players collect and play cards from different historical periods to either use powerful effects or just as points. The goal is to dominate different ages and accomplish various challenges. The first person to accomplish six dominations wins.
The cards do wildly different things and require a lot of reading and attention. You don't have too much control over what you'r opponent is doing, but you need to pay attention because you can influence at least somewhat how their powers affect you. With more than two players it gets to be too much. The game hasn't gone over too well with the few people I've tried it with, but I do enjoy it and will keep trying.
This is a great little two-player game that the kids seem to really enjoy. I played it exclusively with the 10-12 year olds. Players collect cards of different commodity types and trade them in for chips of different point values. You get bonuses for trading in larger sets. Whoever accumulates the most points wins the round, and you play best out of three.
The only problem with this game is the setup. You have to resort all the chips every round, which gets tedious. It's now available on mobile phones, so I highly recommend getting it there and playing it with your kids. But if you don't mind a little housekeeping between rounds, the physical version is still lots of fun.
King of Tokyo
Such a great dice chucking game! The kids love this. You choose from different cool-looking monsters and duke it out to control Tokyo. You can buy cool powers, and each monster also has its own deck of mega powers. The game is directly confrontational, but in a fun way. It does feature player elimination, though. Even the grownups like playing it. I highly recommend this game to families.
There's another version called King of New York which I think is a better game. If you're playing with grownups, I'd prefer to play this version. But it's a little too complicated for kids. King of Tokyo is simpler and still tons of fun.
Lords of Waterdeep
This is a classic worker placement game, with a Dungeons & Dragons theme. Each player gets a secret role card that gives them a way to earn extra points at the end of the game. They also get some quest cards and some intrigue cards. They then take turns placing workers on various spots on the board to collect resources, build new buildings, play intrigue cards, and the like. The goal is to complete quest cards to earn points. After eight rounds, players reveal their secret role, add up their extra points, and the player with the most points wins.
As far as worker placement games go, this is an excellent introduction. Even the younger kids can wrap their heads around it and be competitive. There's some confrontation, but rarely is anybody completely locked out of the game. It's relatively quick playing, too (though the setup takes a couple minutes).
There's also an expansion, Scoundrels of Skullport, that I heartily recommend you pick up if you play this with older kids and grownups. It comes with two modules: the one I don't love, but the other I'd never play without.
Mission: Red Planet
I have the second edition of the game (the latest one). This is a fascinating game that I do really badly at. It combines role selection like Citadels with an area control game that is engaging and challenging.
Each player gets a supply of astronauts and nine character cards, each with its own unique power. All players have the exact same cards to choose from. They also each get a secret mission card that gets them points at the end of the game. There's also a row of space ships going to different areas of Mars, and then there's Mars itself, broken up into different regions and each with its own resource worth one, two, or three points. Over ten rounds, players simultaneously select one of their nine characters to get their astronauts on ships and influence astronauts on Mars. There are three scoring rounds where resources are allocated and collected by the players controlling each region. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.
I think younger kids struggle a little bit with the strategy, but they still like playing the game. I've played this at work a number of times with great success. This is a great competitive game-night game.
O Zoo le Mio
Silly name, pretty decent dominoes-style game to play with kids.
Each player is building a zoo by bidding on different tiles. The tiles have pathways and two ends, each representing different types of animal enclosure of various qualities. You have to place tiles into your zoo such that the paths connect. Ideally you're also connecting enclosures of the same type. Players earn points by having the highest-quality enclosures of each type, by having the most greenery, and by creating loops of paths.
Kids get a kick out of the theme. It's a great way to introduce auctions. I'd say this is a good family game, especially for younger kids.
My favourite secret role deduction game! It accommodates up to ten players. Most players are liberals, but there are also some fascists and one Hitler. Each round the new president nominates a chancellor and there's a vote. If successful, the president draws the top three policy tiles (consisting of 11 fascist policies and 6 liberal ones), discards one face down, and hands the other two to the chancellor. The chancellor then discards one face down and enacts the other one. The liberals win if they pass five liberal policies. The fascists win if they pass six fascist policies or if Hitler is elected chancellor after the halfway mark.
This is a game of bald-face lying and betrayal. It is not for everyone, but I've yet to encounter a group that didn't like it. The kids particularly love it! I think they just like being allowed to lie once in a while :) We've had so many fun moments with this game. I've discovered that my sister's kids are incredible liars (please use your powers for good!) and the actors in our midst have gone all out—yelling and finger pointing and accusations and recriminations. So much fun! I also play this at work. If this sounds like fun to you, go get this game now!
This game saw the most play of any other (more than 25). While we do enjoy the standard speed version, the one most people play is the two-player "Get Set" variant (other variants are also available).
I think this is another no-brainer for every family game library. It's cheap, compact, and playable by all ages. It's also a great exercise in visual pattern recognition.
Sentinels of the Multiverse
This is one of my favourite games of all time. It just oozes theme and creates really vivid and memorable play sessions. It can be a little fiddly, but it's totally worth it to me. Kids love it, too! The only requirement is the ability (and willingness) to read.
The core mechanics are simple. Each player chooses a completely unique superhero to fight a villain in an environment. All of the characters come from the game designer's own mind and have the most incredible comic book art style. Each of these is represented by a unique deck of cards representing the different skills and powers of the characters. Some are quite straightforward, others are more complex, all work together in some very interesting and satisfying ways. Each turn you simply play a card (doing whatever it tells you to do), activate one of your powers, then draw a card. Go until the victory or defeat condition of the chosen villain is complete.
This is a great game for problem solving and working together to find useful synergies. It's so fun to watch the kids figure things out. It's not always easy, especially if the kids just pick whatever hero looks cool. In one of our sessions, for example, we were in a situation where we were taking a lot of damage, but none of the kids chose healers. This was a great play session, though, because even though we came close to losing twice, and we even lost two of our heroes, at the very last second the youngest player pulled out a killer combination that won us the game. So much fun!
If your family likes superheroes and card games, then it doesn't get any better than this!
This is a relatively quiet set collection game that works great with families. There's minimal player interaction, but with experience you learn how to impede at least some of your opponents. You collect gems to buy cards that give you more gems to buy even more valuable cards until someone collects 15 points. After everybody has had an equal number of turns, whoever has the most points wins.
It's simple, quiet, and relatively quick. It might be a little boring for some, but it still deserves a place in many libraries.
Survive: Escape From Atlantis
This game has been around for over 30 years and is a staple of family game libraries. Kids love it!
The island of Atlantis is sinking and you need to get your people to safety. Each player has a collection of pieces that they need to navigate from the island to the corners of the board. On your turn you move, then sink one of the island tiles (which usually introduces various creatures), and then you roll the dice to move the creatures around, usually to the dismay of your opponents. You have boats which help you move faster, whales that destroy boats, sharks that eat swimmers, and sea serpents that eat everything. And there are also expansions that introduce dolphins that protect you from sharks and serpents and giant squid that kill whales and can pluck people right off of dry land!
Each of your pieces has a number on the bottom of it, and technically the winner is the one who gets the most valuable pieces to safety, but when you're playing with kids the pieces get knocked over a lot, and the younger ones have a hard time with the memory, so we usually just play that the most pieces wins, with the numbers being a tie breaker.
Kids seem to love feeding each other to the sharks. They request this game all the time.
This is a game described in the Patrick Rothfuss's excellent Name of the Wind series. James Ernest got together with Rothfuss to flesh out the rules and create a physical game.
This is an abstract strategy game for two players, who are trying to connect the two ends of the board. There are two and sometimes three different types of pieces. Abstract strategy games aren't for everyone, but if you're a fan, this is an enjoyable connection game.
This is a near-abstract strategy game for two or four players. You place pieces on the board and try to create patterns to summon even more powerful creatures. You can play a simple deathmatch game where you get points for summoning legendary creatures and crushing your opponent, or you can play what they call the "high game" where you compete to complete challenges worth different point values.
I like the theme and always enjoy playing the game.
Tiny Epic Kingdoms
There five games, now, I think, in the Tiny Epic series. Three of them I love, and this is one of them. The goal of the tiny epic series is to create games with small footprints that are highly replayable, relatively quick playing, but also highly engaging.
Kingdoms is your typical 4x game where you try to expand, collect resources, and crush your opponents. Each player selects a unique race with its own powers and a single map card. Players then go around taking various actions to develop their mini civilization. When one of a few conditions is met, the game ends and is scored.
I like the wide variety of races, though some are obviously more powerful than others. I like the simplicity of the actions. But the game is plenty deep. It does require thought and strategy to win. There are a number of expansions that make the game even more enjoyable. If you like 4x games but don't like the time committment they usually represent, then check this game out.
Tiny Epic Quest
This, with Kingdoms and Galaxies, is another of the Tiny Epic games that I really enjoy. It's meant to simulate an RPG, a sort of Legend of Zelda experience.
You lay out a variable map of cards, each with two locations on it. Each player gets a number of pieces. In the day phase the players take turns moving their pieces around trying to get to locations they need. Then during the adventuring phase the players take turns rolling dice to accomplish various tasks. But you can also take damage, so there's a push-your-luck element to it.
Completing certain tasks can grant you magical items, which is where the coolest part of the game comes in. Each of your pieces has holes in both of its hands. When you earn items, they click into the piece itself, giving it unique powers.
We only got to play this once, and it took a little while to learn all the rules, but we all really enjoyed it, and it played really smoothly once we figured everything out. I'm definitely going to be playing this more, and this may quickly become my favourite of the games (though I do really love Galaxies).