I got to spend a whole week with 12 nieces and nephews this month and got some grown-up gaming in, too. I was able to play a whopping 24 different games! In this post I’ll list them all in alphabetical order and talk a little bit about each one.

BoardGameGeek.com (BGG) is the definitive source of boardgame information. I link to each game’s BGG page below. If you want to see all my games, comments, and ratings, visit my BGG collection page .

I am always happy to talk gaming! Never hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want some good suggestions. For a list of the many gaming podcasts I listen to , see my most recent series of posts about the podcasts I’m currently subscribed to .


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/45358/alhambra-big-box Times Played: 3 Rating: 8/10

This trip was the first time I played this game. It’s older but is highly regarded. The big box version includes all the expansions, with which I’m excited to someday play. I played with grownups and kids from ages 10 to 13. I took a little longer for the younger kids to understand the rules, but once they grokked them, they played remarkably well.

It doesn’t take long to teach, and the turns themselves move quite quickly. The goal of the game is to build your alhambra (a palace compound of sorts) such that you have more of each type of building than your opponents. You also get points for having long continuous walls. The problem there is that the more walls you have, the more restricted your placement options become.

The core mechanic in the game is resource management. There are four different currencies (represented by cards) of various denominations. The problem is, you can’t make change. If you overpay for a building, tough. But if you pay the exact amount, you get another turn.

The game rewards efficient use of your resources and long-term planning of your building placement. (If you paint yourself into a corner, you need to waste at least two turns to reposition a building.) Attentiveness to your opponents’ alhambras and what currencies they’re choosing will also improve your chances at victory. This overshadows the inherent randomness of the card and tile draws.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game, and now that I’ve played it, I’m anxious to further explore the expansions to see how they might affect it. I can’t say it’s an exciting game (the only interaction is basically swiping stuff you think your opponent wants), but it’s fast and rewarding enough that I will definitely play it again. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the kids did with it.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/11/bohnanza Times Played: 5 Rating: 7/10

I’ve talked about Bohnanza before , and little has changed. My personal rating has gone down somewhat simply because I have played it quite a bit. The kids still love this game.

In the game you’re a bean farmer, competing and trading with your opponents to harvest the most money’s worth of beans. The cards are colourful and fanciful. The kids get a real kick out of the different depictions (particularly the stink bean, for some reason). The gameplay is simple: plant beans from your hand, turn some new cards face up and use them in a round of trading with everyone, then draw new cards. The kids have a great time trying to finagle favourable deals. I played with kids as young as 8, and it’s always a great hit.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147151/concept Times Played: 4 (sessions of many turns each) Rating: 6/10

Concept is more an activity than a game. It’s a boardgame version of charades or 20 questions. You have a board with abstract icons (board image ) and a few cubes of various colours. You draw a card with a number of words and phrases. Choose one and try to get the others to say the word without speaking. You may only place cubes and and say “yes” or “no.”

The kids really enjoyed it. It’s a great exercise in abstract reasoning and systematic thinking. They did remarkably well.

Color Stix

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/94456/color-stix Times Played: 5 Rating: 8/10 (from the POV of the kids)

Color Stix consists literally of 46 wooden sticks segmented into a number of colours. You turn over the sand timer and have 90 seconds to arrange your sticks such that you create lines of the same colours. You count your points and pass the sticks to the left. You do this until everyone has played with every group of sticks. The person with the most points wins.

This game is strictly for the kids. The younger ones (age 8) requested it the most. They seemed to get a real kick out of it.

Cosmic Encounter

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/39463/cosmic-encounter Times Played: 2 Rating: 9/10

This is a very old game that was given new life by Fantasy Flight Games. I have all the expansions and never get to play it enough. The gameplay itself is very simple, but the twist is that each player receives a unique alien power that completely breaks the rules. The trick to the game is understanding everyone’s powers and how to counter them.

You start with a number of home planets (normally 5) and ships (normally 20). You then draw a card from the “destiny deck” that tells you who you’re going to attack that turn. Alliances are formed, and the main players each select a card. The number on the card is added to the number of ships on your side and the highest total wins. Establish colonies on 5 foreign planets and you win.

I never thought the kids would be able to play this, but they did quite well. I had to explain a few of the powers, and there were a few tears after a bad run of destiny cards, but for the most part, the destiny mechanic does a great job of removing any animus from the attacks. The kids enjoyed it enough that they wanted to play a second time. They weren’t able to fully appreciate the various strategies, but they had fun, and that’s more important.

Dutch Blitz

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148203/dutch-blitz Times Played: 5 Rating: 7/10

This is a game you can play with just playing cards (1 deck with different backs for each player [as many players as you want] and remove the face cards). I have a published version of the game, though, that supports 4 players. It’s basically real-time competitive solitaire. It’s tense, fast paced, and at times infuriating. I get beat regularly. The kids love it when they can make the grownups groan in frustration.

Escape: Curse of the Temple

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/113294/escape-curse-temple Times Played: 2 Rating: 8/10

This is a real-time cooperative game. The game is exactly 10 minutes in length and includes two very evocative soundtracks. Together you all roll dice as fast as possible and explore a cursed temple, do various activities to get the exit to open, and then escape before the temple collapses. It’s loud and hectic and lots of fun. With the kids, we’ll often ignore the time limit or skip the part where you have to make your way back to the entry room. They just have a great time chucking dice and yelling at each other. Even the 8 year olds did great and took great glee in unlocking people’s locked dice. We only had time to play it twice that one day, but they would have played it a few more times if they could. Even the grownups enjoy the game. There are a number of expansions to make the game even more difficult.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/155703/evolution Times Played: 4 Rating: 8/10

Evolution is a game about eating as much as you can. You create species with various traits (carnivore, climbing, burrowing, etc.), body sizes, and populations and try to eat more than your opponents (and sometimes eat your opponents themselves). The interplay of the various traits is fascinating and does a good job of simulating how evolution works—i.e., finding your niche and not just doing what everybody else is doing.

I played twice with grownups and twice with the kids. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I have the flight expansion and a few bonus trait cards, but I didn’t have a chance to try them. I’m excited to, though. This is definitely a keeper, and I’m looking forward to playing it more.

Forbidden Desert

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/136063/forbidden-desert Times Played: 3 Rating: 6/10

This is a cooperative game targeted to the kids. Grownups can enjoy it, too, but I’d rather play deeper games like Robinson Crusoe  (perhaps my favourite cooperative game), Space Alert , Pandemic , or Defenders of the Realm . The kids really liked it, though! Each player has a unique role and you need to find all the pieces of the ancient airship to escape the desert before you’re buried by the sandstorm. If you have kids, I think this is a must have for your collection.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2655/hive Times Played: 3 Rating: 9/10

You could call this game “bug chess.” My 13-year-old niece picked it right up and played pretty well (she even beat me once). The current edition is made of beautiful thick bakelite. There’s no board. You just use whatever surface you have. On the tiles are various insects (queen bee, ant, spider, grasshopper, and beetle) that each moves in a unique way. The goal is to completely surround your opponent’s queen bee. It’s a deep game that grownups can really dig in to. There are a few expansions, but I’ve never played with any of them. If you enjoy two-player abstracts, this is a must have.

Incan Gold

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37759/incan-gold Times Played: 5 Rating: 7/10

Incan Gold is a push-your-luck game in which a group of archaeologists start exploring an ancient temple. Each round, a new card is drawn from a deck. Half the deck consists of treasure and the other half of 5 different hazards. If you draw treasure, it gets divided evenly among all participating players and any remainder are left on the card. If you draw a hazard card that has already been drawn before, then the temple collapses and everybody has to retreat. Also every round, everyone secretly chooses to keep going or retreat. If you retreat, you get to keep any money you discovered to that point. You also split up any of that treasure left on the cards evenly between everyone who retreated. If you keep going, you get a bigger and bigger share of any treasure you find. But if the temple collapses, you lose everything you earned that round. At the end of five rounds, whoever accumulated the most money wins.

The deck is small enough that even kids can track the various probabilities. You can use this game in a math education context. Kids also love to call each other “chicken” 🙂 The 11 year old said “his heart was beating so fast.” They found it tense and exciting, and that’s just how you want a game to feel. This is another must have if you have kids in your game group.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/54043/jaipur Times Played: 1 Rating: 8/10

This is a simple, two-player, mostly-card game where you buy/sell various types of materials to earn more money than your opponent. Player interaction is indirect. You each trade with a central market rather than with each other. It’s a good game for non-gamer spouses and older children. I recommend it.

Last Will

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/97842/last-will Times Played: 4 Rating: 8/10

This is a relatively complex worker-placement and engine-building game in which you try to spend all your money before everybody else. You do this by buying expensive properties that cost a lot to maintain, hiring various expensive employees, or holding lavish balls and going on expensive outings.

This is a fascinating game that all the grownups enjoyed. It’s somewhat complex and takes a teaching game to wrap your head around everything, but once you figure it all out, it plays quite smoothly. The engine-building aspect is a little mind bending because it goes through a few phases. I really enjoyed the way the game felt and heartily recommend it to adult gamers. I have the Getting Sacked expansion, but we didn’t have time to try it. I’m looking forward to it, though.

Magic Labyrinth

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/41916/magic-labyrinth Times Played: 6 (with me, but many others on their own) Rating: 10/10 (from the POV of the kids)

This is an import from Germany that may be hard to find, but it’s worth it if you can. There are two game boards. The bottom one has slots where you insert little wooden walls to build a maze. A top board sits on top with various icons. Each player has a pawn with a magnet on the bottom that holds a heavy metal ball below the top board. The player draws a chit out of a bag that has an icon that matches a space on the board. They then roll a die and move that many spaces. The trick is, you can’t see where the walls are! You have to learn where they are. If you cross a wall, your ball is knocked off your pawn and you have to go back to your corner. If you manage to find your way to the space with the matching icon, you win the chit and draw a new one. The first to win 5 chits wins the game.

The younger kids love this game! And why not? It has magnets! They wanted to play this all the time, and they played often by themselves. I can’t recommend this enough for younger kids.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/175199/mottainai Times Played: 3 Rating: 8/10

This game is the successor to Glory to Rome : a highly regarded but very difficult to find card game. The key mechanic is how each card can be used in multiple ways, so you’re constantly faced with the difficult choice of how to best use any given card. I only played it a couple of times, so it’s hard to say much more, but I enjoyed what I saw and look forward to playing some more.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/181304/mysterium Times Played: 5 Rating: 7/10

NOTE: I own the Polish version. I haven’t seen the American version yet. I’m told the dream cards themselves haven’t changed but that the person/place/thing cards have been redrawn.

This is the Dixit killer. It’s a cooperative game in which one player plays a ghost trying to guide a group of psychics to discovering the truth behind a murder that happened in the mansion. The trick is that you can only communicate with the other players with dream cards. You can’t speak. The cards contain fanciful, surreal art. So all the players need to be open and abstract as they consider their dreams. What’s significant? The colour? That ship in the background? The water? Or is it that snake that looks like ribbon?

This is a great game about communication and abstract reasoning. With the kids, we didn’t pay attention to the 7-day time limit. They just loved playing. I hope they release new dream card packs one day. If you like Dixit, then you’ll want this game.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/165986/royals Times Played: 2 Rating: 7/10

This is a pure area control game. The board is divided into countries, then cities, then political positions within each city. Using similar card drafting mechanics to Ticket to Ride , you play sets of cards to take over the various positions. If you’re the first to take a position in a city, you get points. If you get a cube in every city of a country, you get points. If you get a cube on each of the various position types, you get points. Then at three times during the game, if you have the most influence in a country, you get points. The person with the most points wins.

The components are great. Every point is physical. Even the title portraits are jigsaw puzzles where you can break the larger portrait into smaller ones when there are ties.

The gameplay is super simple and works great with older children. It’s really a gateway game. Grownup gamers will find the game somewhat slow, but it’s a great introduction to the hobby. If you find yourself playing with non-gamers a lot, this is a good addition to your collection. Royals is a good non-confrontational alternative to the more engaging Ticket to Ride.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/165876/spike Times Played: 1 Rating: 6/10

This is a crayon-rail-style game where you need to build your routes and deliver your goods. Whoever makes the most money wins. What’s neat is that you can upgrade your train.

The one game we played was somewhat underwhelming, but I thought I saw something really interesting there, and I look forward to playing more with more players. I’m not giving up on this one yet.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/148228/splendor Times Played: 2 Rating: 7/10

Splendor is pretty much a pure engine-building game where you slowly accumulate more and more resources for buying more and more valuable resources until someone accumulates 15 points. It’s a simple game with minimal direct interaction that works well with families and new gamers.

The kids actually enjoyed this quite a bit, and the 11-year-old beat us quite soundly both times. This is a great addition to a family collection.

Star Realms

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/147020/star-realms Times Played: 5 Rating: 8/10

This is a two-player deck-building game of space combat. You start with a certain number of hit points and a basic deck with some trade and attack cards. You then draw cards and use them to buy more cards from the trade row or to attack your opponent. The first to eliminate their opponent wins.

The trade row cards come from four different factions, each with very different focuses. Cards of the same faction often have bonuses when played at the same time, and managing the faction content of your deck is key. There are a bunch of expansions that introduce different game mechanics, single-player and cooperative scenarios, and more!

It’s a fast game that is tons of fun. I played it online for a while , but I much prefer face-to-face play. I’m definitely holding on to this one. If you have a kid around 10 years old or so and you want a two-player game you can play with them, check this one out.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis!

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/2653/survive-escape-atlantis Times Played: 6 Rating: 7/10

This is an older game that was recently rereleased as a 30th anniversary edition, and it has even more recently been reskinned with a space theme .

The island of Atlantis is sinking. You need to get your people off the island and to the mainland. The problem is that the waters are teeming with sharks, whales, sea serpents, and worse. Every turn you move some meeples and boats, sink a tile, then move a creature on the board.

The kids love, love this game. They understandably love to feed their siblings to the sharks. With the kids, we ignore the numbers under the meeples. The winner just gets the most meeples off the board. If you’re playing with grownups, you want to play with all the rules.

I also played with the dolphins for the first time. I think I’ll play with them forever now. It’s bloodier (and therefore faster), and the kids love the dolphins. If you’re a gaming family, you should have this game in your collection.

Through the Ages

BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/25613/through-ages-story-civilization Times Played: 1 Rating: 7/10

This is a super deep (but compact and streamlined) civilization building game that typically takes 2–4 hours to play. It is just so highly reviewed that I finally bought it. This trip was the first time I was able to play it.

We just played the “simple game” (the tutorial game) and it took us 90 minutes. After all was said and done, we decided that we really liked it, and next time we get together, we’re going to try the advanced game (and maybe one day the “full” game).

The gameplay of the “simple” game is actually not overly complicated once you get going. You have a mat representing your civilization with all sorts of little coloured wooden counters. You buy cards to upgrade your civilization, grow your population, and obtain/spend resources. It’s the long-term strategy that’s hard to develop, and you have to be willing to spend two hours playing a game even though you realize about one hour in that you have no chance. It’s not for everyone, but if you want something meatier you can play with 2–4 players, you can certainly do worse than Through the Ages.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13084/volcano Times Played: 1 Rating: 7/10

Volcano is one of dozens of games you can play with Icehouse pyramids . I’m a huge fan of the pyramids and have played many, many different Icehouse games with the kids. (And implemented a number of them on my gaming site SuperDuperGames .) Volcano is one they keep coming back to. (They also love Blam! ; if you’re into abstracts, then definitely check out Homeworlds ).

I strongly recommend that families pick up a set of the pyramids and the book Playing with Pyramids.


BGG: http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/142239/vye-card-game-capture-and-control Times Played: 2 Rating: 5/10

This is a Kickstarter game that I bought mostly because of the art, but I’m feeling a little regret.

It’s a simple card-based area control game where you try to form the largest connected group of cards that you control. The gameplay is super simple (play a card) but also somewhat shallow. After two plays with grownups, we were left wondering if there was more. There are quite a few different special cards, so maybe there’s a combination that’s just awesome, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get to find out. This is a game that I will likely only play with kids from now on. We’ll see how it goes next time.