How To Have A Family Game Night WITHOUT Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, or Chutes And Ladders

Better a day late than never. Sometimes even a blogger forgets her Thursday morning job…so here we are, on Friday morning. And as promised, I have some games to share with you today.

Photo by Crosswinds Community, via Flickr
Photo by Crosswinds Community, via Flickr

For years, we heard people extol the virtues of Family Game Night. And in theory, we agreed. There’s too much staring at screens, too much exposure to loud, obnoxious commercials. Plus, games exercise the brain in any number of ways, and you can sneak in important lessons about planning and strategizing.

But the idea of playing one more game of Chutes and Ladders made me want to whimper, and Monopoly? I mean, we all know how long it takes to play that. That’s not family game “night,” it’s family game “month.”

Plus, how do you play games together when you have both preschoolers and preteens?

Fortunately, one of our extended family members loves games, and she introduced us to quite a few that we would never have tried otherwise. We’ve also done some trial and error, so here you go: the Basi Family’s recommendations for Family Game Night:

Games That Work With Little Ones

1. Yahtzee. Kids love to roll dice, no matter what age they are. And parents can help guide the kids through their choices. Plus, you can play “teams” with the littlest ones, whose job is to roll your dice for you.

2. Tell Tale. This game consists of two-sided round cards with nothing but images on them. There are many ways to play, but basically you build a story one person at a time, based on the images. This can be hysterically funny. We have always just used it as a storytelling game, never a competitive one.

3. Spot It: another “round card” game, which is harder than it seems. Everyone receives a card with a number of different small pictures on it. Another one card is turned face up in the middle. There is always one, and only one, overlap between the pictures on your card and those on the card in the middle. Whoever “spots it” first wins that card and thus the round.

4. Disney’s Eye Spy. The goal is to get everyone from the bottom to the top of the board before the clock reaches midnight. You get to search the intricate worlds of Aladdin, Pooh, Little Mermaid, and Pirates of the Caribbean for items—the more you find, the faster you move. But if you spin a “clock,” the clock moves ahead.

Cooperative Games

Sometimes the most daunting thing about game night is teaching everyone to lose (or win) gracefully. One of the greatest things we’ve discovered recently is cooperative games. Like Eye Spy, the idea is everyone wins or no one does, and thus you work together. This lets you teach strategy, because you’re all discussing what to do and why. Here are a couple we enjoy:

5. Flash Point. The “house” (a game board) is on fire, and there are people in different rooms who need to be rescued. But everybody only gets so many actions per turn, so everyone plans who’s going to do what in order to rescue enough people before the house collapses.

6. Forbidden Island. The island, home to four treasures, is sinking, and different tiles are constantly being flooded, shored up, or lost altogether. You never know when the waters are going to rise, so everyone has to work together to figure out how to retrieve the treasures and get everyone off the island.

The “as long as I can be competitive I don’t mind losing” games

I don’t like playing chess, because I’m so bad at it, it isn’t enjoyable. But there are games where the mental challenge, or winning a single round, can be so satisfying that it doesn’t sting if you don’t actually win the game.

7. Blueprints. You build a structure out of 6 dice, everyone pulling from the same pool in the middle of the game area. Different dice are scored differently—some based on the face, others by how many of one color you use, and so on. You earn one kind of bonus for building the structure exactly as your blueprint directs, but sometimes you can get a higher point total by playing to the scoring parameters of the different die colors. We played it straight a few times to learn the scoring rules, but now it’s a stimulating mental challenge to figure out how to win, not just the round, but the prize cards that eventually determine the overall winner. Blueprints says it’s for 8 and up, but Nicholas, who is 7 1/2, is holding his own on this one.

8 (bonus 1) Monsters and Maidens. We had to play a couple times to get comfortable with the rules, but this turns out to be a fun, low-strategy, dice-based game in which “knights” try to “rescue” a given number of “maidens” from the “monsters.” I know, it’s not politically correct. So sue me. It’s fun.

9 (bonus 2): Ten Days In the USA. Build an itinerary for yourself according to specific rules about linking states of different colors. Actually, it’s perhaps disingenuous to put this in the category of games you don’t mind losing, because I happen to be very good at this game. I haven’t lost yet. 🙂

A lot of games—like #s 4, 6 and 7 on this list—have a basic set of rules, and a “more complex” set. This gives them more flexibility to be played with older vs. younger players. They’re a lot more fun with the more complex rules, but you start out with the basic rules while everybody learns the rules of the world.

These are just a few of the games we’ve explored as a family. There are many, many more. This Christmas, do some exploring and get yourselves some games to make Family Game Night a fun reality for your family. You won’t be sorry.

What games do you enjoy playing as a family?