By now, it should be no surprise to anyone when I say that I like board games. One of the first things I did when things began to be locked down for the pandemic was to start looking for ways that I could continue to play board games with the people from my lunch group. While playing games online is an acceptable substitute for when it’s impossible to play them in real life, I much prefer to play them in person. And like so many activities, playing games with my family is definitely near the top of ways I prefer to play games. I was reminded of that earlier in the summer when I attended my family's reunion. My wife and I have tried for several years to add board games to our family together time. Of course, as the kids became teenagers, spending large amounts of time with their parents became the most painful thing that they could possibly have to endure, so we found quickly that trying to get them to play games with us by fiat was a losing strategy. I started to look into a wide variety of games to try to find something that they would enjoy. So, today I’m going to share a few games that had varying degrees of success.
One of the difficulties we have is the wide variety of ages that we have in our home. My oldest is 21, and my youngest is 10. They were younger when we started playing games as a family, so finding a game that would both challenge and interest our older teenage children and still be understood by our youngest was difficult. For some games we would either “team” up with the youngest, or we’d hand her some unused game pieces and she’d make up her own games with them. Many of the common games for young children are not interesting at all to older children, though sometimes you can get the older kids to play them just to placate a younger sibling (I’m looking at you, Chutes and Ladders). It’s rare that a game geared towards younger children has enough depth to keep the interest of a teenager. Catan Junior does a pretty good job of this. In this game, the players take on the role of a pirate faction. Instead of building settlements, you are building pirate bases. The routes between bases are outlined using ships rather than roads, and instead of development cards, you purchase tokens from a parrot named Coco. For those familiar with the Settlers of Catan, most of the game play will be familiar, though the game is scaled so that it plays in a shorter time frame so it doesn’t lose the child’s interest. We found this game to be a fun introduction to games to a younger child, with enough strategy to keep an older sibling interested, at least for a couple of plays.
The next game was kind of a surprise. I’m a fan of cooperative games like Pandemic. I’ve mentioned before my competitive streak, and these sorts of games keep me from focusing that competitive nature on my fellow players, turning it instead to competing against the game. One of my siblings gave us a game for Christmas. It’s been a common theme that I get a game for Christmas or a birthday, and it just sits on the shelf because for some reason I decide I probably won’t like the game. I’ve now had two experiences that proved I was wrong, so maybe I should give those games more of a chance. One game we got that ended up being a hit with the family was Ravine. This game is a cooperative game for three to six players (perfect for our family, we could include all our kids and both parents). It says ages 10 and up, but our youngest was about eight, and she was able to get the mechanics of the game. The theme of the game is that the players were on a plane that crashed. They woke up and now have to work together to survive until they are rescued. The game plays in day and night phases. During the day, the players gather resources and craft equipment needed to survive. During the night, they deal with situations that may arise, such as weather events or animal attacks. If a player’s health drops to a certain point they may also be affected by madness, and they have to deal with the effects of those cards as well.
Wingspan and Takenoko
The next two games I chose because of their visual appeal. All three of my older children are very into art, and have worked hard to become quite skilled in a variety of drawing and painting mediums. I thought maybe if we could introduce them to some pretty games they’d be more likely to want to play more. Wingspan and Takenoko are two very different games, but both of them are very pretty. In Takenoko, the Chinese Emperor has given a gift of a giant panda to the Japanese Emperor. You have been tasked with setting up a bamboo garden to house the panda. There is weather to contend with, and a variety of different colored bamboo that you are trying to collect and find out what the panda prefers. The rule book has some great illustrations and a small comic that shows the general outline of the game. All my kids liked the little panda figure, and the story of the gardener being annoyed with the panda made them laugh.
Wingspan is a very different game, less whimsical. When I first heard of the game, I had a hard time reconciling the theme with the reviews of the game. The idea of bird watching sounded, well, boring. But, everyone raved about how good the game was, so I picked it up. One knock on the game, at least for my stated goal, is that the game was way too advanced for my younger daughter. The game play was probably a touch too heavy to keep the interest of my older children as well, since they weren’t really into board games. But the artwork was everything I had been led to believe, and more. The attention to detail on each of the bird cards was top notch, and I loved the facts they had on the different birds, making the game educational as well as fun and beautiful. The pictures of the birds reminded me of nature drawings in my biology textbooks from college, both detailed and accurate. We were able to get them to sit down and play it a couple of times, which was pretty good for our kids.
Cover Your Assets
The final game on the list ended up being the most popular with our family. While the other games might have gotten one or two plays, this one got in the double digits. That kind of surprised me. In direct contrast to pretty much all the other games on this list, there is a definite “take that” element to this game. In this game, you are collecting various financial investments. You collect the assets by matching pairs of them in your hand, then putting them in your asset pile. Each named asset has a dollar value. Assets on the top of the pile may be stolen by other players, with the exception of the first asset a player lays down, that one is always safe. The assets are stolen by a player declaring that they are going to try to steal an asset and putting down another card with the same name, or a wild card. The player owning the asset may defend using either a wild or a card with the same name. This continues until the asset is either stolen or defended. All the cards used to steal and or defend the asset are added to that asset, making it even more valuable. The idea of the game is that you want to put other assets on top of your valuable assets, covering them up (hence the name). It is definitely a more adversarial game than the others, so I was quite surprised that the kids liked it.
We’ve tried several other games over the years that didn’t make this list. Mice and Mystics was a game that I had high hopes for, but we never played more than the first scenario. I’m curious to hear what games people have used to introduce their family members to the hobby. Let us know what your experience has been getting your non-gamer family and friends to try out the hobby.