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Best Games for Family Game Night (as featured on GEICO More)

February 25th, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few months ago I was approached by Kristen Koch / Associate Editor on behalf of GEICO More regarding my top board game picks for family game night.  It looks like they published the article, which you can find here:


As a side note, they seemed to have omitted and shortened some of my entries…I apparently had a lot to say.  I included my full Q&A below for anyone who wants to read everything I provided.  All of the games referenced below include a review, which can be found by clicking on the “Board Games” tab on the top of the page.

Q: What are five or six games from any year that you’d say are best for families to play together?

Ticket to Ride (2-5 Players, Ages 8+, Average Play Time = 45-60 Minutes) – “Ticket to Ride” is probably one of the most played games in my household.  Gameplay is as easy as drawing cards of varying colors and then playing those cards to create routes between cities to earn points.  Players get secret destination tickets that allow them to earn bonus points for connecting two distant cities.  It’s a light set-collecting, area control game that should be in everyone’s collection.  Newcomers should stick with the original USA version, as the Europe and subsequent expansions introduce more concepts and mechanics that make the game slightly more complex.

Settlers of Catan (3-4 Players, Ages 10+, Average Play Time = 75 Minutes) – “Settlers of Catan” makes resource collecting extremely easy, for those of you who enjoy resource management and building stuff.  What’s so great about “Settlers” is that when a die is rolled, ANYONE can receive resources regardless of whose turn it is.  With those resources, you’ll build roads and settlements across a numbered grid to earn victory points.  “Settlers” comes with a number of expansions too, for those of you who want more gameplay options.  While the core game is ideal for three or four players, it is possible to play with just two.

Apples to Apples (4+ Players, Ages 7+, Average Play Time = 30-60 Minutes) – There are a number of games out on the market that mimic what “Apples to Apples” does, but this one is probably the most recognizable.  “Apples to Apples” allows you to be as serious or as silly as you want to be…in our house, we always choose the latter.  It’s just more fun that way.  It’s easy to set up and clean up too, making it ideal for busy weeknights.  There are a number of versions of “Apples to Apples” out there (Jr., Big Picture, etc.), so check the box for specifics.

Roll For It! (2-4 Players, Ages 8+, Average Play Time = 20-40 Minutes) – “Roll For It!” is an incredibly simple dice game with a small element of strategy mixed in for good measure.  Players only have six dice a piece and their goal is to assign the dice they roll to the cards currently in play by matching the values.  Sounds easy…but with only six dice, you’ll have to pick and choose which cards to go after while the other players attempt to win said cards by doing the same thing.  The casual players that I know really enjoy this one.  There’s a separate red and purple version of the game and combining both allows you to play with up to eight players.

Blokus (2-4 Players, Ages 5+, Average Play Time = 15-30 Minutes) – Where “Roll For It!” involves a bit of luck with the dice, “Blokus” is 100% abstract and WILL flex your brain muscles a bit.  Using “Tetris-like” pieces, you’ll be competing with other players to lay down as many of your pieces onto the shared board as you can.  There’s a catch…your own pieces can’t touch directly.  Rather, they can only touch diagonally.  This game is perfect for people who want to learn pure abstract games like “Chess” but find all the rules and pieces of such games a bit too intimidating.

Splendor (2-4 Players, Ages 10+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes) – “Splendor” is one of my favorite games of all time.  The components are top-notch & beautiful to look at and the gameplay is deceptively simple.  Gameplay is as easy as collecting tokens of varying colors and then using these tokens to buy cards.  These cards not only give you victory points, but also help you in buying some of the more expensive cards.  I can’t recommend this game enough.

Other games to consider – Say Anything (like Apples to Apples), Forbidden Island (co-operative), Ingenious (abstract), Sequence (5-in-a-row with cards), Sushi Go! (drafting), Castle Panic (co-operative), Tsuro (tile-laying / abstract), Takenoko (set collecting / pandas!)

What are four or five games from 2015 that you’d say are best for families to play together? 

Machi Koro: Deluxe Edition (2-5 Players, Ages 10+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes) – The Deluxe Edition includes the core game and two expansions.  Essentially, it’s a city-builder / deck-builder, but not in the way you’d expect…in fact it’s much simpler.  The game includes cards with numbers on them, which in turn activate on a die roll.  Like “Settlers of Catan”, every player cashes in on a die roll no matter whose turn it is, assuming they have the card of the matching value.  The object is to earn money and be the first to be your landmarks, though buying more cards from the supply will increase your chances of cashing in with every die roll.  The expansions add a lot of variety to the game, giving it a ton of replay value.

Dragonwood (2-4 Players, Ages 8+, Average Play Time = 20 Minutes) – If you like to slay dragons but are afraid that D&D may be too much for your kids, then give “Dragonwood” a whirl.  Players will be using both card combinations and dice to capture & defeat nasty creatures like gooey blobs and spooky spiders.  Ultimately, players will be going after the bigger prize: dragons.  It plays relatively quickly…in fact you’ll probably get an entire game in before you could get done just setting up a D&D character.

Lanterns: The Harvest Festival (2-4 Players, Ages 8+, Average Play Time = 30 Minutes) – This is a tile-laying game that is similar to “Carcassonne”, but much more colorful.  Instead of laying down meeples on roads and castles, you’ll be laying down tiles to collect colored cards.  These cards can form sets which you then turn in for victory points.  The kick is that these square tiles have colors on all four faces and ALL players receive cards when you play a tile, based on which color is facing them.  “Lanterns: The Harvest Festival” is one of the best tile-laying / set-collecting games I’ve played this year.

Letter Tycoon (2-5 Players, Ages 8+, Average Play Time = 30-45 Minutes) – I have a lot of word / educational games in my collection, but “Letter Tycoon” does something they don’t…that is, it includes a mechanic that allows players to own patents on a letter.  In addition to spelling words to earn coins (which also act as victory points), players can buy patents on letters in order to cash in anytime someone uses them to spell a word.  In addition, the lesser-used letters like “Z” and “X” have special abilities, making it viable to buy patents for them.  “Letter Tycoon” is both educational and different, making it easy to recommend.

Runner-Ups: Rolling America (dice), Arboretum (cards)

What do you look for in a good family game? What makes you pick up one game over another?

Here’s the thing…everyone has different tastes in games.  Some people like casual games while others like heavy-duty strategy games.  You’ve also got games that feature deck-building, dice-rolling, set-collecting, area control…you get the idea.  Honestly, it can be a bit overwhelming, especially to the uninitiated.

First and foremost, it pays to do your homework.  Look for a scanned rulebook of the game you’re interested in by Googling, “X Board Game Rules PDF” or something similar.  Browsing through the rulebook will tell you how many players the game supports, what ages are recommended, what the average play time is, and what mechanics the it uses.  All of these things help me to determine whether or not I want to make the purchase (or in my case, request a review copy).  If you can’t find the rulebook, look for review sites like mine that covers the game in detail.

In my opinion, a good family game is one that has no mature themes and can be played in less than an hour…preferably a half hour.  I personally like games that are easy to learn but have a moderate amount of strategic depth to them…that is, you’ll be thinking more about what your best move is as opposed to flipping through the rulebook just trying to figure out what you are actually allowed to do.

What are some common features of games that have become favorites for your family?

It depends on who’s playing.  If it’s just Vinnie and me, then we’ll play almost anything.  The rest of the family are casual gamers and when they’re involved, we seem to play a lot of lighter games that involve dice, cards, and/or general silliness.  That translates to many games of “Ticket to Ride”, “Say Anything”, “Apples to Apples”, “Sheriff of Nottingham”, “Roll For It!”, and “Lost Cities” (just to name a few).

Why would you recommend playing games as a family activity?

Like watching television and reading books, games are a form of entertainment.  What’s wonderful about this particular form of entertainment is that there’s something out there for everyone, even if you don’t consider yourself a “gamer”.  Gaming allows everyone in the house to interact with one another directly, whether it be cooperatively or competitively.  Games, depending on which ones you’re playing, can encourage critical thinking, lighten the mood, get everyone talking about a particular subject, and more.   The trick is finding a game that you and your family will like and with all of the choices out on the market, it can admittedly take a while especially if you haven’t found your group’s preferred genre.  My advice is to stick with it until you do and better yet, ask someone who’s been around the “board” for recommendations.

Do you have any tips on being a gracious winner or loser?

Let’s face it, no one likes to lose.  I was an extremely sore loser when I was a child, mainly because I wanted others to recognize how good I actually was at something…as if I needed their approval or had something to prove.  Whether you’re playing games or competing in some other event, it’s important to remember that it’s not about winning or losing.  Rather, it’s the journey, the people you meet, and the things you learn that really matter.  We’re only human and life is too short to get upset or angry over something like losing a game.  After all, a game (at its heart) is meant to be a form of entertainment.  If you’re flipping tables while playing a game, then you’re doing “it” wrong.

With that said, being a good loser takes time.  Good losers are wise enough to recognize that no matter how awesome they think they are at something, that there’s probably someone out there better than them.  More importantly, real losers put aside their grief and learn from their mistakes…not because they want to beat the pants off somebody, but because they want to better themselves.  Good winners are those who are both humble and sensitive enough to be considerate of someone else’s feelings.  The trick is not to come across as smug or omnipotent while you talk about the game you played after the fact.  Lastly, whether you’re in a friendly or competitive game, always throw in a “GLHF”…which is short in the video game world for “good luck and have fun!”

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