We play a lot of games in my house, especially this time of year. I’ve always loved video games and my kids do too so we play a lot of those, but board games and card games are my favorite way to play. I have never done any research on the subject, but I’d like to think that ensuring my kids get a steady diet of healthy game playing makes them smarter and teaches problem solving skills that will help them later in life. Even if that is just wishful thinking, it’s still a great way to spend quality time.
I love helping people discover new games. I think many people limit their options to what they can find in big box retail stores, which is a shame. There is a whole world of great games out there if you just care enough to look. Fellow boardgamers, you local independent game store (if it still exists), and sites like Funagain Games are all great sources.
I recently asked my kids (ages 10 & 13) to name their top 10 favorite games in our game closet. I then picked my top 10 and compiled the results. Siblings being siblings, there were few clear winners. Here’s the list:
Pente & Pentago (3 votes). Pente was published in the late seventies/early eighties. It’s an abstract strategy game in which glass stones are placed on a grid. The object is to be the first player to place five stones in a row or to capture ten stones of the same color. It is reminiscent of Go but they are distant cousins, at best. For one thing, Pente games are much shorter. You can also play with multiple players. If you buy Pente, don’t settle for anything less than the edition that comes in a tube.
Pentago is very similar to Pente but it adds a literal twist: The grid is divided into rotating quadrants which a player twists 90 degrees at the end of their turn. Pentago also does away with captures.
Dominion (3 votes). Dominion is the newest addition to our game closet. The first couple of weeks we had it we were playing multiple games almost every night. This is a card game with a city-building metaphor. Your deck–your Dominion–starts as a modest collection of money and a few points, just like everyone else’s. Then, as the game progresses, you buy additional cards which help you improve your deck. Each turn, the hand you play is dealt from your deck, which is being continuously recycled. The goal is to acquire more points than anyone else by the end of the game. The trick is that you have to figure out the optimal way to leverage your resources to make that happen.
My Dad and my Uncle also enjoyed this game. They are consummate card counters, which can be a nice skill to have when playing this game–keeping track of the distribution of certain cards in your deck is extremely helpful.
Dominion comes with an enormous set of cards, each of which do different things. Any given game uses only a subset of these cards which means you can change up the game dynamics (and winning strategies) with every game.
Coloretto (2 votes). Coloretto is a deceptively simple card game in which you collect colors. Every turn you have a set of cards to choose from to add to your collection. The goal is to collect only the colors you intend to specialize in and collect none of the cards you don’t. Because of how the hands are played, you often get stuck with colors you don’t want (either by accident or because one of your opponents intentionally stuck you with an off color) which brings down your score. A nice attribute of this game is that it is compact and travels easily.
Spy Alley (2 votes). This is a boardgame in which you are a spy, traveling around gathering spy tools. The goal is to collect your full spy tool set and get to your country’s embassy before your opponents. The rub is that no one else knows which country you are spying for but they do see what kind of tools you are collecting. So the successful spy attempts to deceive the others by collecting tools for multiple countries. If someone guesses your country, you’re out. And that’s one thing I don’t like about this game, which is that the chance component is way too high. A random guess can take someone out fairly early in the game.
Hey, That’s My Fish! (2 votes). In this game a set of hexagonal tiles are arranged in any pattern. Each tile has one, two or three fish. Each player has a set of penguins. The number of penguins depends on how many people are playing. The objective is to pick up tiles and have the most fish by game end. Penguins can move from tile to tile, as many tiles as desired, as long as they travel in a straight line and do not jump gaps. Therein lies the trick–as you pick up tiles the board becomes more difficult to navigate, ultimately stranding penguins completely, ending the game.
Multiple Solitaire (2 votes). My sister and I used to play this with my Grandma non-stop. Games of double, triple, and quadruple solitaire are quite fun. As the name suggests, each player deals a standard Klondike soliatire setup. What makes it crazy is that everyone can play on each others’ aces. Speed is the winning aspect here and clear ground rules banning two-handed plays and body blocks are critical. There’s no limit to how many people can play. My Uncle once did a 40-person multiple solitaire game once that left both people and card decks bruised and battered.
Incan Gold (2 votes). Incan Gold is about risk/reward tradeoffs. In this game you are a traveler venturing into Incan temples in an attempt to snag treasure. The longer you stay in the temple, the more you can potentially earn, but the risk of losing everything is ever-increasing. Every turn you decide whether you are staying or going, as do your opponents. It’s fun to watch my kids’ very different strategies in this game. One methodically gathers a minimal amount of treasure and heads for the tent while the other presses his luck every single time.
Wits & Wagers (2 votes). Wits & Wagers is best for large groups. It’s a trivia game in which the answers are extremely difficult to guess. But the cool thing is that everyone takes a guess (answers are always either numbers or dates), the answers are organized across a frequency distribution, and then everyone bets on the one or two answers they think are closest without going over. The frequency distribution determines the odds with outliers earning higher odds. The winner has the most chips at the end of the game. For younger players, we do have to provide a little bit of assistance because they often lack enough context to make a guess that comes anywhere close to the answer.
Go (2 votes). Go has very few rules but is an extremely difficult game to master. I’m an extreme Go novice–I’ve been reading books on the game and play when I can. For the kids, I’ve read that it is best to simply explain the rules and let them play without trying to go overboard on teaching openings, patterns, and end-games, which is a good thing as I’m still learning those myself.
That’s it for the top ten. The following games got one vote each: Ticket to Ride, Blokus, Quoridor, Tripoly, and Carcassonne. That last one breaks my heart because Carcassonne is my all-time favorite game. I’m bummed my kids don’t want to play it more often.
Settlers of Catan, Spades, Set, Backgammon, Octiles, Rummikub, Chicken Foot, Sequence, and Pictionary got no votes as “favorites” even though we play those a fair amount. We play Pictionary enough that we covered a fair amount of the game room wall with whiteboard material.
So those are some of the favorites from my game closet. How about you? Got any good game recommendations?