Some of the fondest memories from my childhood involved “game night” with my family. Often we would get together with another family and the parents would play some sort of game and we kids would play on our own table. As I got older, I got to start playing at the adult table and it was always a fun time. Great bonding with parents, family, and friends.
Back then we would play dominos, tri-ominoes, quad-ominoes, card games like Uno™, Skip-Bo™, rook, spades, and hearts. Of course there were also games of Monopoly™, Sorry™, The Game of Life, and a few others. Later on we added Trivial Pursuit™ and Taboo™ which were new to the scene. Pretty much all of these games started off being fun. After a while a few definitely stood out. Like Monopoly™ which never seemed to ever actually have a winner. Somebody might have ended up winning the game, but everyone was bored with the game after about 45 minutes. Actually finishing a game of Monopoly was more of a statement of commitment than an indication of fun.
I strongly suspect that most people who HATE board games and “game night” do so because of their experiences with Monopoly early in life. Admit it, when you saw the title, what is the board game you thought of immediately?
It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way…
These days there are tons of options that absolutely blow away those old-school games we all love to hate. These games are so different from games like Monopoly™ because they move more quickly and keep people engaged during every player’s turn, not just your own.
There is a lot of support out there for family game night and all of the benefits it provides your family:
Top 3 Board Games to Revive Family Game Night in Your House:
1. Ticket To Ride – This 2004 Game of the Year is an excellent game that emphasizes geography, sequencing, problem-solving, and planning for 2-5 players ages 8+. In our family with 7 kids (ages 8-15), this is definitely the most popular. Games typically last right at an hour, which is great for keeping everyone’s attention engaged. Often we’ll play 2 or more games in a sitting because they’re quick and fun.
TTR is easy to teach and to learn. You can only do one of 3 things on each turn and turns move very quickly. Some games we’ve played have lasted 45 minutes or less. The board consists of a map of the USA with cities linked by train routes. Your goal is to buy routes and connect cities to complete your “tickets.” Each player has 45 train cars and when any player gets down to 2 or less, the game ends after one more turn.
There’s a ton of strategy you can apply, but the kids have fun collecting cards, buying routes, and completing tickets.
Consider also buying the 1910 expansion which has more route cards and bigger train cards which are easier to shuffle. Also, there is a Ticket to Ride: Europe edition and 1912 expansion for it. These will teach a little European geography. There are many other expansions available as well, all of which are solid additions to the game, but are by no means required.
2. Carcassonne – Another game of the year selection for 2-5 players ages 8+, Carcassonne is totally different from any other game I’ve ever played. It’s my wife Holley’s favorite board game. This one teaches pattern-matching, strategy,& spatial awareness.
Each player draws a tile randomly from the draw bag and has to connect a tile to ones previously played (the starting tile is always the same). Tiles can be connected by a road, plain, or city wall.
You have little men that you place strategically in order to gain points and win the game. Placing a man on an unoccupied road makes him a robber. The longer the road becomes, the more points he is worth. Complete the road and you collect the points and can re-use the man. Placing the man on a plain makes him a farmer. The more city gates his farm touches, the more points he is worth, but he must remain a farmer throughout the game.
Placing a man in an unoccupied city makes him a knight. The larger the city becomes, the more points he is worth. Completing the city walls allows you to collect the points and retrieve the man for re-use. Placing a man in an abbey makes him a monk and you get 1 point for each tile which is placed adjacent to the abbey (up to 9 points).
Once the tiles are all gone, the player with the highest score wins. Because there are only 35 tiles, games go very quickly (20-25 minutes). All players are engaged the whole time because you can play both offense and defense, plus you need to pattern-match in order to use certain tiles and to complete your roads and cities.
The basic game has only 35 tiles, but there are expansions that add more and different tiles as well as new rules. The Carcassonne Big Box (see above) has the original game and the 5 most popular expansions. There are still other expansions available to keep it fun an new.
3. The Settlers of Catan – 2-4 player ages 10+. I think this is my favorite of these 3 (though only by a hair). It teaches resource management, spatial awareness, trading/bartering, and strategy, of course.
Settlers is another game that is probably different than anything you’ve played before. The “board” of this game is one you set up with hexagonal tiles which are placed inside an included frame which holds everything together. On these tiles, you place disks that have a number from 2-12. The tiles themselves have different terrains which provide different resources (wheat, wool, clay, lumber, or stone) when the number on the disk is rolled.
Each player starts out with 2 settlements and 1 road segment per settlement. These are placed on a turn-by turn basis to start the game. After that, each player’s turn starts with a roll of the dice. Whatever number comes up causes the tiles with that number to produce resources for whichever settlements are touching it. This makes this game fun because everyone is playing every turn! Another aspect of the game that adds to this element is the element of trading/bartering. When you have a ton of wheat but need some clay and another player has clay to spare, it may work out as a win-win. The trading can happen at any point, but has to be initiated by a player on their own turn.
As you collect resources, you use them to buy roads and then build settlements and eventually cities. You can also buy development cards which can provide lots of benefits. Each settlement is worth 1 victory point. Cities are worth 2. The longest continuous road is worth one. The development card deck includes a few victory points as well as knights (which fend off The Robber – which moves any time a 7 is rolled and causes all sorts of havoc.) The game is over when the first player reaches 10 points.
These games can go quickly or can take longer. I think the average at our house is probably around 80-90 minutes (with 5 players). Interestingly the first couple of games (with 3 players) only went about 45 minutes. Once all the players know how to play, it can go very quickly.
As with the other games, there are several expansions. I would definitely recommend getting the 5-6 player expansion. I’ve also played the Cities and Knights expansion (loved it!) I’ll probably buy Cities and Knights soon. One downside to the Catan expansions is that each has its own separate 5-6 player expansion you have to buy if you want to play with more people.
We are eagerly awaiting Catan Junior (ages 6+), which should arrive tomorrow. Hopefully this will be a good bridge for the younger ones in the family to learn the basics.