I got away last week and was able to spend time with a bunch of nieces and nephews (ages 9–18). I brought three suitcases of games and we got through most of them. The total ended up being 25 individual games played over 60 times. Here’s an alphabetical list of games we played, including a link to Board Game Geek (where you can get more information on the game) and a count of the number of times we played. This is a long post, so dig in.

Where can I buy these games?

There are lots of online vendors. But if you can find a “friendly local game store,” I recommend checking it out first. I always prefer supporting local businesses when I can.

There are two online vendors that I personally use. I have no ties to these companies, and there are others out there. As always, caveat emptor.

Why do you like games so much?

I realized I’ve never discussed this on the blog before. Maybe one day I’ll create a static page on this subject.

  • When interacting with strangers, new acquaintances, or professional colleagues, board games provide a highly structured social experience. They constrain “small talk” and let me socially interact without the personal discomfort of open-ended one-on-one conversation. But the right game also provides opportunities to compete, laugh, or just build stories that can form the foundation of deeper relationships down the road. Board games provide a formal framework for play—something adults have little time for generally.

  • With kids, I think board games are invaluable. Kids already have a great sense of play. While outdoor physical activity with other children is perhaps ideal, board games provide a framework where they can interact with adults. Sure, as an adult I still like to wrestle and be physical, but I must admit to getting older.

    Board games also teach kids important skills like strategic planning (how am I going to approach the game overall), tactical response (what am I going to do now that my opponent took the card I wanted), and how to win and lose gracefully. And of course different games teach other specific skills like memory, pattern recognition, dexterity, etc.

I realize I’m more enamoured with board games than most, but I think every family could benefit from having a few good games in their closet. Designer games are available more widely than ever before. Hopefully this list and other similar posts I’ve made on this blog will help you find games you and your family will love.

And now, the games

If you just want to jump to Board Game Geek, here’s the list of games, but I explain the various games and my thoughts about them further down.

Airlines Europe

This is a classic economic game around set collection—specifically stock holding. Players buy airplanes of various colours (different airlines) to connect cities on the board. Purchased airplanes increase the value of that airline’s stock price. Players also draft and develop a stock portfolio in the various airlines. Three times per game, players’ portfolios are scored. The player with the highest cumulative score at the end of the game wins. There’s also a special airline (Air Abacus) that doesn’t have planes but that inherently increases in value as the game progresses. But you have to discard regular stocks to get these shares.

The 11+ kids really liked this game. The very first time we didn’t use the Air Abacus cards, but we introduced them the other times. All it took was one scoring round for the lights to start going on in their heads as they saw how the share system worked. They tried different strategies and beat me at least once.

This is a light-to-medium-weight game ideal for families. It only takes about an hour once you get going. It’s competitive but not directly confrontational.


This is a game of card drafting and tile placement. Players collect money in four different colours, which they use to buy tiles from the marketplace. The problem is, the market doesn’t make change. So if you over pay, you’re simply out that extra money. If you pay with exact change, then you get another turn. The tiles are then placed in your alhambra, according to various placement rules. Three times during the game, players’ alhambras are scored. The player with the highest cumulative score at the end of the game wins.

The 11+ kids enjoyed the challenge of getting exact change. This is another light-to-medium-weight game that works great with families and new gamers. The decision space is quite limited, but thoughtful strategy is still rewarded (I still won quite handily).

I bought the “big box” edition that contains all the expansions, but I haven’t yet been able to try any of them. One day (in my dreams) I will have a regular game group where I can experiment and maybe find the ideal Alhambra experience.


In my mind, an essential in any family game closet is a collection of Icehouse pieces (called Looney Pyramids now, I think) , produced by Looney Labs . They just finished a Kickstarter for a “big box” version of these pieces called Pyramid Arcade . I cannot recommend this highly enough! I think every family should go out and buy this box!

I have a quadrillion of these pieces, and there are a dozen different games I’ve played with this particular group of nieces and nephews before, but Blam! is fast, simple, and active. The younger kids (9–11) asked for it specifically.

It’s played on a standard chess board. All you do is place one of your pieces on the board. Any adjacent pieces are pushed outward one space (which can cause a chain reaction of pushes). The player then keeps any pieces pushed off the edge of the board. If it’s your own piece, you keep it for later use. If it’s an opponent’s piece, you keep it as points. The game ends when nobody else can play. (Often one player manages to collect more of his own pieces and can take a number of turns in a row at the end.) The player with the most points wins.

The kids love the idea of explosions, and they actually struggle a little learning how all the adjacent pieces get pushed. But they giggle with glee as they blow their sibling’s piece off the board. It’s a simple abstract strategy game that kids can grow in to. There is indeed some tactical depth for older kids.


This is perhaps the most-played game in my collection. Every single set of nieces and nephews ask if I brought “the bean game.” I’ve talked about this game specifically on my blog before, as well as in other “gaming glut” posts .

This game has a number of unique features that work great together. There’s hand management (you’re not allowed to move the cards around in your hand and have to learn how to group the cards you want grouped), set collection (you need to gather groups of the same beans in certain numbers to acquire points), and trading (which can get loud and vigorous). The trading aspect is complicated by the fact that the different beans have different values, so the kids need to consider that in their trades. The kids can’t get enough of it. It is fascinating to see how the different sets of kids approach negotiation.

This is a light game that is best played at high speed. The trading can get bogged down sometimes as kids try to puzzle things out. A game shouldn’t take longer than 45 minutes. Adults and older kids also enjoy the game, and ask for it at least once during a visit, but they will want to move on to more complex games after a couple of plays.

To me this is another game-closet essential. It just never gets old. I am never letting this game go.


This is another family classic that will never leave my collection. It has been around since 2000 and is ranked as the #12 family game on Board Game Geek . It’s a light-weight game ideal for new gamers, largely because the decision space is so narrow. The only reason I don’t play it as much is because there are so many other games that fill this same niche.

On your turn you draw a tile from the box and place it with the others on the table according to the rules, creating a free-form French landscape. Once that’s done, you have the choice of placing one of your pieces on some feature of that tile. That’s it. It’s almost pure tactics. Based on the feature you placed your piece on, it will score under certain conditions and you’ll get the points and the piece back. Whoever accumulated the most points by the end of the game wins.

Kids have almost as good a chance of winning as the adults (except for the farmers). It’s simple, pretty, and mostly nonconfrontational (unless you go prematurely completing other peoples’ cities). There are a dozen different expansions to this game, but I find they just extend the play time too long. I just have the base game with the river expansion, and that’s enough for me.


I haven’t played Chess since high school, where I played a lot. It’s not a game I carry with me, but the hunting lodge had a set and the kids had recently learned, so we played some games. The problem with Chess is that it’s hard to throw. An experienced player will always win. What I didn’t think about at the time was handicapping. I could have totally done that. Next time I will!

This is a dry, heavy game that I don’t necessarily recommend to people. Yes it’s a classic, and yes it’s the stereotypical “geek” game, but there are so many superb abstract strategy games out there that are more approachable and fun than Chess. Keep Chess for the school clubs and play any of the dozens of Icehouse Pyramids games at home.

Color Stix

This is a game for the younger kids. It’s 42 brightly coloured wooden sticks with seven coloured rectangles on each stick. Players each get a group of sticks and simultaneously try to arrange them to form large contiguous blocks of the same colours. You score each player, pass the sticks, and do it again. The highest cumulative score wins.

This is an excellent game for young kids. It introduces them to timed play and helps them build patterns. I don’t personally find it much “fun,” but the kids enjoy it and even beat me from time to time.


This is more activity than game, though it does come with rules for competitive team play. I just never play it that way. Someone draws a card that contains 9 words and phrases of increasing difficulty and chooses one. Without speaking, the player places game pieces of various colours on a board of basic icons, trying to get the other players to guess the word or phrase. It’s like a board version of charades, I guess.

The success of the game depends heavily on who’s playing. You need to choose words/phrases that the players will be familiar with, which can be constraining with younger kids. The idea behind the game, though, is quite straightforward. Kids from 10 and up have successfully conveyed relatively complex words.


  • Board Game Geek
  • Plays: 2 (and the younger kids played a couple times on their own)

This is a dexterity game. I prefer the team variant. Each player has pieces in weird shapes composed of 1 to 6 blocks—some uncoloured and others coloured with your colour. All the players jointly build a tower out of these pieces based on certain rules and then move their game piece up the tower. If a team knocks over the tower, the other team wins. Otherwise the winning team is the one who’s game pieces are the highest up the tower.

Kids love dexterity games. This is no exception. It’s the only game of this kind I have in my collection, but it doesn’t get as much play as I like. I generally have to wait until the kids come over. If your family enjoys games like Jenga, give this one a shot. It’s lots of fun.

Defenders of the Realm

I love this game. I came to it late and missed out on the expansions. They’re so hard to find now! And I just missed their Kickstarter! ARGH!

Anyway, Defenders of the Realm draws some basic mechanics from Pandemic, but the similarities stop there. The board is a map of a fantasy land that is being invaded by four races, each headed by a general (orcs, undead, demons, and dragonkin). Each player has unique powers. Together (it’s a cooperative game) the players must fend off the enemy’s minions and eventually kill each general.

The game is medium weight and can take upwards of two hours to play until people are comfortable with the rules. It’s also quite hard. I haven’t won many times. I find it so much more fun than Pandemic, though. It’s more thematic, and the special player powers are more extensive. If you like cooperative games and like fantasy settings, check this out. Lots of fun!

Escape: The Curse of the Temple

This is another cooperative game and is played in real time. There’s a thematic sound track that will guide you through a 10-minute play session. The players individually and frantically chuck dice to move around the temple, discover new rooms, and unlock the exit. Players can also help each other if they’re in the same room, so often players break off into smaller teams.

It is frantic fun. The kids insisted we play until we won, which we finally did. There are a number of expansions that make the game even harder, but I’ve only ever played any of them once. As the kids get a little older, I’ll break some of them out. If your family can handle a little stress, and you want a game you are guaranteed to finish within 10 minutes, this is the game for you.


  • Board Game Geek
  • Plays: 3, plus groups of kids played a couple of games on their own

This is a game about survival of the fittest. The game contains a boatload of cards depicting various traits like carnivore (which lets you eat other players), climbing (which protects you from carnivores that can’t themselves climb), warning call (that protects surrounding species from carnivores), and long neck (which lets you get food before anyone else). Each player builds species with various combinations of these traits and slowly builds up their population and body size. Each round, players secretly contribute a card to the vegetable food pile (which can be a negative number). Then players take turns feeding their species from the limited food supply, leveraging whatever traits they have. At the end of the round, any food you managed to eat goes into a bag. Whoever ate the most food over the course of the game (with some bonuses for surviving species) wins the game.

The game takes a few rounds to get the hang of, but once you know what the cards are and what’s possible, things move along fairly briskly. I would rate it as a light-to-medium-weight game. It’s quite tactical (you have to deal with the cards you draw), but there are definite strategies one can employ. An experienced player will consistently outperform less-experienced ones.

The kids (particularly the boys) really loved this game. It got lots of independent play. They like eating each other, of course, but they also enjoy outsmarting each other with fun trait combos. Next time I’ll break out the Flight expansion for more variety. They just released a new standalone expansion called Evolution: Climate that I look forward to trying. This definitely works for families and is even mildly educational. Give it a try.


Fluxx has been around for almost 20 years and is made by Looney Labs , the same people that make the Icehouse Pyramids I love so much. I broke it out the first night I arrived because we had little time. Fluxx now comes in dozens of themed varieties, like Monte Python, Cthulhu, Zombie, etc. With the kids I just played the vanilla version.

Fluxx is a highly chaotic, all tactical game of ever-changing rules and goals. The base game consists of four types of cards: rules, goals, keepers, and actions.

You start with the basic rule “draw 1 then play 1”. Rule cards can change the number of cards you draw and play as well as can institute hand limits, reverse turn order, and many other things.

Keepers are cards like “chocolate,” “toaster,” and “rocket.” You place these in front of you.

Goals are generally combinations of one or more keepers—for example, the goal “Hippyism” requires that you have the keepers “peace” and “love” to win, but there are also goals like “10 cards in hand” or “5 keepers.”

Finally, action cards do things like steal keepers, trade hands, or to reset the rules.

The themed decks generally include other theme-specific mechanics. Zombie Fluxx, for example, includes the mechanic of “creepers,” which are keeper cards that you don’t want and can travel between players.

Kids like it because it’s super easy to jump into. As long as they can read, they can play. It’s all chaos, though. That won’t work for everyone. I personally can’t play it for too long in a sitting, but it was a great way to pass a half-hour before bedtime.

Forbidden Desert

After asking if I brought the “bean game,” the nine-year-old twins asked if I brought “the scientist game.” I’m not sure where they got that description :) After some follow-up questions, I discovered they were talking about Forbidden Desert.

Forbidden Desert is another cooperative game. Each player has a special role—for example, the climber can pass through spaces blocked by sand, the water carrier can get water from wells and share it with his teammates, and the navigator can move other players on their turn. As a team, you’ve crash landed on your way to a desert excavation of ancient ruins. With storms coming, you need to excavate the ruins and find the pieces of an ancient air ship that you can use to escape before it’s too late.

The board is composed of individual tiles which are shuffled, so every game is different. On your turn, you move your pawn, excavate tiles, and clear away sand. At the end of your turn a number of cards are turned over from the storm deck. Most cards move the tiles around and distribute sand markers. Some make you consume water, and others increase the storm’s ferocity. To win you need to find the four pieces of the air ship and get to the landing pad. If any player dies of dehydration, or if you run out of sand markers, or if the storm reaches a certain level, you lose.

Most cooperative games can suffer from the “alpha player” problem, meaning one player can get a little bossy and tell people what they should do. Surprisingly, kids don’t tend to do this, actually, and as the only grownup playing usually, I just let them make their decisions. You can adjust the difficulty, but even on easy, I don’t think we ever won. It’s a game that really forces you to be as efficient as possible. This is a light-weight game, a touch more complex than its predecessor Forbidden Island . It works very well with families. This is the cooperative game I recommend the most for kids.


I love this game so much. It totally replaces Chess for me. It’s basically bug chess. The pieces are nice heavy bakelite. There are three expansions I know about (that each introduce a single new piece), but the vanilla game is more than enough.

You don’t need a board to play. The pieces form the board as you place them. The fundamental rules are simple: the pieces must always be connected as a single group (the hive), new pieces can only be introduced touching their own colour, and the player whose queen bee piece is fully surrounded loses. Each of the pieces (queen bee, ant, spider, grasshopper, and beetle) move in their own special way, just as in Chess. Players take turns introducing new or moving existing pieces in an attempt to lock in their opponent’s queen bee.

No this game doesn’t have the history and depth of Chess, but it is still plenty deep and scratches the exact same itch. With two experienced players, things can get very serious and thoughtful.

Incan Gold

One particular set of nieces and nephews (9–13) love this game. The one nephew really gets worked up. “My heart is beating so fast,” he says.

Incan Gold is a push your luck game. You are Indiana Jones types delving deeper and deeper into an ancient temple. The game consists of a deck of cards containing artifacts, treasure, and hazards. Each turn, the top card is revealed. If it’s treasure, then the value is divided equally among the players still in the game, with any remainder placed at the entrance. Artifacts are placed at the entrance. The first time a particular hazard is revealed, nothing happens, but if a duplicate of that hazard appears, the temple collapses and everyone in it loses whatever gold they earned that round. After each card is revealed, the remaining players simultaneously decide whether to keep going or escape. Escapees split the gold at the entrance equally, and whatever gold they earned goes into their permanent stash. Artifacts can only be claimed if one and only one person runs. The player who accumulated the most gold after five rounds wins the game.

The game is quite tense and teaches kids about probability and risk management. It’s a simple game but definitely one a family should have in their closet. It supports up to eight players, which is rare.

King of Tokyo

This is another light family game. (I new I’d only be playing with kids, so I left my heavier games at home.) The kids love this because it has fun monsters and big chunky dice. The nine-year-old boy took way too much pleasure in attacking his siblings.

The theme is a Godzilla-style fight between massive monsters in Tokyo. Each player chooses one of the available monsters, like Pandakai (a huge panda bear) or Cyber Bunny (a cute pink bunny in a massive robot). The goal is to accumulate 20 victory points or to be the last monster standing. You earn points by being “king of Tokyo” (i.e., your monster is in the city proper) or by rolling certain dice combinations. On your turn, the player rolls six huge dice and can reroll them Yahtzee-style three times. Claws cause damage, hearts can heal you, lightning bolts give you energy cubes, and number combinations get you victory points. If you’re in the city, your claws damage all other monsters. If you’re not in the city, your claws only hurt the “king of Tokyo.” With energy cubes you can buy special action cards that do all sorts of fun things. I also have the Power Up! expansion , which gives each monster a unique deck of cards with various special powers.

This is a light game that is easily grasped by even young kids. Even grownups can play this game and have a good time, but it is indeed best played at speed so it doesn’t outstay its welcome. If your kids like chucking dice (and who doesn’t), check this one out.

Magic Labyrinth

I’ve talked about this game before. It’s designed for younger kids and is a real hit. It may be hard to find. Check out the BGG link for photos. It’s hard to visualize.

This is a memory game. The board has two levels: the top is just a flat grid of various symbols, but underneath that is a grid with slots into which you fit little wooden walls. Once set up, you can’t see the walls. Each player has a big wooden piece that sits on the top board, but it also has a magnet on the bottom to which a big metal ball attaches underneath the board. A chit is pulled from a bag that matches one of the symbols on the top board. The player rolls a six-sided die and has to move that many spaces. If they can get to the space that matches the chit, they win the chit and a new one is drawn. First one to collect five chits wins. But here’s the rub, you need to learn where the walls are. If the ball hits a hidden wall, it falls off and you have to return to your starting space.

If you have younger kids, this is definitely worth seeking out.

Monopoly Deal

I was given this game a while back, but because of my aversion to Monopoly, I never opened it. I heard on some podcasts, though, that it was actually a good card game, so I thought we’d give it a try.

The gameplay is quite simple: draw some cards, play up to three, and the winner is the first to collect three complete property sets of different colours. There are four types of cards:

  • Money cards are played into your bank and are used to pay rents and other penalties to your opponents. All other cards also have monetary value and can be used to pay.

  • Property cards match the properties found in the Monopoly game. The card tells you how many you need to complete the set. There are also special property cards that can be one of two different colours depending on how you orient the card when you play it.

  • House/hotel cards can be played on a complete property set to increase the rent values.

  • And action cards do various things such as causing your opponents to pay you rent, swap properties, etc.

The kids liked it, but I could tell they didn’t love it. It’s a fast “take that” style game, so it’s quite confrontational. Make sure the players can handle being picked on an little.

James Bond (and other names)

  • Plays: 3

This is a basic card game that, oddly enough, goes by different names in the different niece/nephew groups. (Actually, many of the card games I’ve taught them over the years get given different names by the different sets of kids.) I never travel anywhere without a deck of cards. I have one in the glove box of my car, in my daily satchel, and in my desk at work. Playing Cribbage and Casino with my grandpa is what got me into gaming in the first place, and my siblings and I passed many hours as kids playing cards. I still remember family Rook tournaments at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Anyway, James Bond is a speed game for 2 players (though you can play it with 3 and 4 as well if you want). Deal four cards face down to the middle of the table and then deal an equal number of four-card piles in front of each player (6 piles for two players, 4 for three players, 3 for four players). Turn over the cards in the middle and start the game. All players play simultaneously and as fast as they can. The first player to turn all of their piles into four-of-a-kinds wins.

  • You can only look at or handle one pile at a time.

  • You can exchange one card at a time from the pile in your hand with a card from the middle.

Kids love speed games, and ideally this is a game played by equal players. When playing with kids, I give myself an extra pile or two and just take it slow. They still seem to enjoy it. No family game closet should be without a couple decks of cards!

Robinson Crusoe

This is the hardest but most thematic and fun cooperative game I’ve ever come across. After maybe a dozen plays over the years (I don’t get much grownup game time), I’ve only ever beat the first scenario once. The 11 and 13 year olds found this game in my luggage and asked to play. I warned them that it was hard and complex, but they said they wanted something meatier. (Yes!) The hardest part of this game is learning to play it. Fortunately a second edition is coming out that will supposedly have a better rule book. It took some time to set up (especially since I hadn’t played it in quite a while), but they persevered and we got three whole games in before dinner (though we didn’t win once).

You play castaways on a tropical island. The game comes with six scenarios in the box, but many other fan-made scenarios can be had for free online. The first scenario is simple on the face of it: start a signal fire and have it at a certain level before the distant boat gets too far away. But simple does not mean easy.

Each player has a unique role with special powers. The players decide together what they’re all going to do that turn. You can explore the island (revealing new resources and scenario-specific artifacts), gather resources (which you will desperately need and never have enough of), go hunting (which will earn you resources), build something (which includes shelter, palisades, and various inventions like fire, a knife, or a snare), and a few other miscellaneous things like boost morale or heal up. If two people do the same thing, you are guaranteed success, but it’s not terribly efficient. If only one person tries to do something, then they roll three dice, the results of which could be catastrophic. The main tension driver is the event deck. The deck is seeded differently based on the scenario and is drawn from a large deck, making each game different. When rolling dice, you may have to shuffle new activity-specific event cards in the deck. Often they’re mysterious. Many cards have a top and bottom portion. Thematically, I like to cover up the bottom and not read it. The top might tell you to do something like put a marker on your character’s arm and then shuffle the card into the event deck. When that card gets drawn again, then you’d do what the bottom text says, which in this example could say that you can’t use that arm this round, so you can only do certain actions. Others have decisions on them. They might say discard this card OR get some benefit but shuffle the card into the deck. But when you draw that card again, I can almost guarantee it’s not going to be pretty. Then you have to deal with weather (which is what kept killing us) and all sorts of never-ending tribulation.

This is a complex, heavy game that isn’t so scary once you actually figure it out. The game is so freaking good, though! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed it. If you have some older kids or grownups who like to play cooperative games, then add this to your collection. You won’t regret it.


Set is a great brain burner for kids and grownups alike. In the real-time game, I’ve found that teenagers are just as successful as grownups. Grownups will regularly beat younger kids, though. My favourite variant is the two-player game Get Set because it’s not real time, so I can play with younger kids and they still have a chance at beating me.

Set is a card game where the objects on the card have four traits: shape (oval, triangle, and “squiggle”), number (1 to 3), colour (red, green, and purple), and fill (empty, solid, or hatched). A “set” is three cards for which each trait is either all the same or all different (e.g., 1 red solid triangle, 2 red hatched triangles, and 3 red empty triangles). In the real-time game, 12 cards are laid out on the table and the players search in silence for a set. If they see one, they yell “Set!” and then gather the cards. If indeed it’s a set, they get to keep it and new cards are laid out. If no sets are found, then you keep adding cards to the tableau. After you’ve gone through the deck, the person who collected the most sets wins. Get Set, on the other hand, is a “Go Fish” style game that is turn based. Even younger kids have come close to beating me.

I think this is another family game closet staple. It really engages the brain.


  • Board Game Geek
  • Plays: 3, and groups of kids played a couple of games on their own

Splendor is an “engine building” game, meaning that you slowly build up a mechanism that feeds back into itself, netting you ever-increasing benefits. The endgame is triggered when someone’s “engine” reaches 15 victory points. Once the game ends, the player with the most points wins.

A collection of cards representing (very abstractly) gem mines and dealers are laid out on the table, as are a collection of gems in different colours. There are three levels of cards, each increasingly more expensive but also more valuable. Your decision space is quite small: take gems from the bank, take a card from the table to play later, or add a card to your engine either from the table or your hand. Cards have varying gem costs, which you can pay either with gems you collected from the bank or with gems created by your engine.

This is a relatively light game. There’s no direct player interaction. The most confrontational you can be is to perceive what card your opponent may be building to and reserve it before they can. There are various strategies you can employ, and an experienced player will almost always beat a less-experienced one. For families and new gamers, this is a great gateway. Serious gamers, though, will enjoy this for a time but will move on relatively quickly. It has won numerous awards, though, and is BGG’s #8 family game, #85 overall (which I think is way too high). You should at least play it once. It may be a perfect fit for you.

Survive: Escape from Atlantis

Man, do kids love this game! They just take so much pleasure in feeding their siblings to the sharks!

Each player has 10 plastic pieces with numbers from 1 to 6 printed on the bottom of them. The centre of the board is made up of tiles of different heights: sand, jungle, then mountain. This island will sink throughout the course of the game. In each corner of the board are islands that are safe. You want to get your pieces to these islands. With the younger kids we just count the number of pieces saved. With older kids, we play with the real rules where it’s the combined value of the pieces that count. This introduces a memory element where you want to remember where you placed your 6 piece and make sure you get it home safely.

At the beginning of the game, the tiles are shuffled and laid out (it’s different every game) and players take turns placing their pieces and boats on the board. (Once placed, you’re not allowed to look at the pieces’ values again.) Then on your turn you take three actions:

  • First you move your pieces and boats that you control around the board according to the rules.
  • Then you sink a tile, starting with the sand, then the jungle, then the mountain. On the flip side of these tiles are various icons that either add new objects to the game board or are defensive tiles you can save and play later.
  • Then you roll dice and move creatures around the board to hurt your opponents or increase the safety of your own pieces.

So yeah, there are creatures:

  • Sharks (represented by these creepy black fin pieces) eat swimmers.
  • Whales sink boats.
  • Sea serpents do both.

I also have the dolphin and giant squid expansions.

  • I always play with the dolphins now. Dolphins protect swimmers from sharks and serpents.
  • Giant squid can eat people out of boats or right off of dry land! Squid and whales kill each other.

It’s a loud and bloody game. It’s light and chaotic, but lots of fun. Families can’t go wrong with this one.

Ticket to Ride: Europe

This is the #6 family game on BGG, and with good reason.

This is a card drafting, set collection, network game. The map is of Europe with coloured railroad networks between the various cities. Players start the game with a set number of trains and a number of destination tickets indicating cities they must connect. You claim routes by playing sets of coloured train cards that match the route in number and colour (e.g., a red route of length 4 would require 4 red train cards to claim). On your turn you can draw train cards, claim a route, or draw new destination tickets. It’s quite simple, until your opponent claims the one connection you need to complete your ticket!!! You earn points by claiming routes and completing tickets. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

There are many standalone versions of this game as well as map packs and other expansions. Most people consider the Europe version (followed closely by the Märklin version, which introduces passengers) to be the best ones. The basic Ticket to Ride is a map of the USA. What the Europe version does is open up the map a little bit so that full-blown cutoffs are more rare. It also introduces train stations, of which each player has three, which lets you count one route in or out of a city towards completing a ticket. So even if you are cut off, there’s still a chance you can make your connection.

The gameplay is simple enough that even younger kids can participate, and there is indeed some strategic depth here. An experienced player will almost always edge out a less-experienced one. But kids are still competitive and learn quickly, so watch out! Every game closet should have at least one of the Ticket to Ride games.