Spent time with some in-laws over Christmas and the new year and got some gaming in. Here’s what we played.


No home should be without a few decks of regular old playing cards. I never travel without them. I even keep cards in the glove box of my car, just in case. I have so many fond memories of playing cards as a kid, both with grownups and with other kids. They’re cheap and eminently versatile. You can play so many different games! The best place I’ve found to learn new card games is Pagat.com . I think just about every game ever invented is there somewhere. This trip I played the following plain card games:

  • 99 : I play this with my parents. It’s a trick-taking game for exactly three players. The only problem is that I suck at it. My dad kills us all the time.
  • Golf : I learned the 4-card version, with Jacks being worth zero. The seven-year-old ate this game up.
  • Palace : A simple “get rid of your cards” game for the kids.

Boardgame List

First just a list and then the notes.


Most of these games have been discussed in detail in previous posts (my collection doesn’t grow that fast). Below I only discuss the games I haven’t discussed before.

Battle Line

This is a two-player card game and it’s one of my favourites. It’s simple to teach and play, but it’s tactically quite deep. There’s some mind games in there, too.

Can’t Stop

Kids love dice games. I drew a board on some paper and we played this a couple of times. It’s perhaps my favourite dice push-your-luck game. The seven-year-old is totally reckless, but it paid off for her more than a few times. Kids love games where they can beat the grown ups.


This is a team-vs-team game for pretty much as many players as you have. You lay out a grid of words on the table. There’s also a map that designates which words belong to each team, which cards are neutral, and which card is the assassin (guessing that word means automatic loss). Each team has a clue giver. The clue giver gives one-word clues, and their team tries to guess which words on the board the clue giver is referring to. The idea is to come up with clues that point to the maximum number of words belonging to your team. It’s the perfect social party game that actually requires some hard thought. There’s a picture version as well.


This is a generic push-your-luck-style dice game sold in a commercial box. One of the in-laws received it for Christmas, so I taught them how to play. There are lots of different variations out there with different scoring combinations and house rules. Kids like pushing their luck. And because it’s largely luck based, kids can win, which makes them feel good. Dice, like playing cards, are cheap and versatile. Don’t buy the commercial version. Just buy a bunch of six-sided dice from your friendly local game store and choose your favourite scoring rules from the Internet .

Five Tribes

This is a medium-weight euro game that uses a mancala mechanic. A 6x5 grid of tiles with various values and special powers are laid out. Wooden pieces in different colours are then placed on each tile. On your turn, you pick up all the pieces on an arbitrary tile and “seed” those to adjacent tiles. When you drop the last piece, you pick up all the pieces on that tile of that same colour and you get a special action based on that colour. You also get to activate the special power of that tile. If you clear the tile completely, you take ownership of that tile. There are a number of mechanisms that earn you points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

This game requires a fair bit of forethought and planning. You have to juggle the various paths to victory. But it’s not super heavy. I have really enjoyed the few plays I’ve gotten in.

King of Tokyo

Kids love dice games. They also love cartoon Godzilla-like monsters and beating up their family members. This is a no-brainer purchase for any family.

Red November

A great cooperative game involving gnomes, and doomed submarine, and lots of grog. The game features a unique time tracking system that makes for some tough decisions. To win, you need to survive for an hour of game time. But every couple of minutes something terrible happens. If any of a half-dozen things happen, you all die. It’s whimsical, hectic, and lots of fun.

Secret Hitler

This is an actual new game in my collection, and I absolutely love it. It kills all other social deduction games. Everybody gets a secret role. Most are liberals, but some are fascists, and one of those is the “secret Hitler.” Every turn the next player in sequence becomes the president and nominates a chancellor. A vote is held. Once a government is formed, the president chooses the top three policies from a deck of policies (some of which are liberal and some of which are fascist). The president discards one and gives the remaining two to the chancellor. The chancellor discards one and enacts the other. The liberals win if they pass 5 liberal policies or kill Hitler. The fascists win if they pass 6 fascist policies or if after a certain point in the game the secret Hitler is elected as chancellor.

*This game is clearer than The Resistance . The theme is less distracting and you only ever have two people revealing information at a time. *The policy deck is an important innovation. In The Resistance, for example, the first mission only requires two team members. Best strategy is to never fail the first mission, otherwise you’re much more likely to be discovered. The only way to break this rote opening is to let the group decide on what mission to do first, but that introduces a second vote every round. The policy deck obviates this problem. *The later fascist policy spaces have special powers usable by the president, regardless of affiliation. To kill Hitler, for example, you need to pass a fascist policy. Delicious tension!

This is not a game for everybody. Your group needs to be able to compartmentalize. I’ve seen couples stop talking to each other after games like this. You will be accused of lying, and you will likely have to actually lie to somebody you care about to win. It’s a game. Enjoy it :)

Tiny Epic Galaxies

This is my favourite of the “Tiny Epic” series of games (though I still really like “Kingdom,” and the upcoming “Quest” looks terrific). It’s light but interesting. The deck of planets is what makes the game so replayable. If you only want one of the “Tiny Epic” games, this is the one to get.