Nothing brings the family together for the holidays like a board game. And nothing tears the family apart like arguing over the complicated rules of Monopoly, the aggressiveness of Risk, or the lopsidedness of Trivial Pursuit. Not to mention games that typically result in cheating, like Clue or Battleship. (Speaking of which, do acronyms count in Scrabble?) Now that I have you completely depressed about traditional family board games, I do want to share some good news. There are several board games that, while they may not be as mainstream, won’t end in table flipping and shouting.
Telestrations is a game where literally everyone wins. There are no losers. The concept is simple, combining the game telephone with your ability to draw. Each person starts with a simple phrase, like “It’s raining cats and dogs.” The next person attempts to draw the phrase. Next in line tries to interpret the drawing back into a phrase. Then the next individual draws, followed by another trying to interpret what they see into a phrase. By the end, the picture drawn could be quite far from the original phrase…which typically results in quite a bit of hilarity.
With simple rules and quick rounds, Telestrations is a great game for every member of the family, regardless of age. Participants can jump in and out between rounds, meaning the game doesn’t isolate individuals from the rest of the family for hours at a time. A high number of people can easily participate (8 or more). Actually, the more participants you have, the more “interesting” or misinterpreted the results become. And at the end of every round, everyone has a great laugh about the results.
Carcassonne is a tile-based board game. The rules are fairly simple. Each turn, a player draws a tile to place on the board. The tile can have any combination of fields, roads, or city. The rule is that you have to place field next to a field, road next to a road, and city next to city. You score by placing your people tokens (called “meeples”) on fields, roads, and cities and completing those elements.
It’s an easy game to pick up. The base game allows for 5 players, but there is an expansion that allows for a 6th. Rounds are typically fairly quick, lasting under 30 minutes. Since the board is built while you play, every game is different.
Carcassonne has been quickly gaining in popularity, and for good reason. It currently has 150 reviews on Amazon. Eighty-seven percent of those are are a perfect 5 stars out of 5 stars, with an average of 4.8. For more advanced players, or those looking for some diversity, Carcassonne has many expansion sets. These include such elements as a princess versus a dragon, a shepherd with sheep, and a carnival to add excitement.
Ticket to Ride is a fun board game with a train-building theme. The object is to connect various cities on a map. You match colored cards together to be able to play “trains” to create routes. Routes between two points can only be played by one or two players. Most city connections require multiple routes strung together. At the end of the game, points are added up for the city connections and the one with the most points win.
The great thing about Ticket to Ride is that it isn’t overly aggressive. If one player takes a route you want, you typically have several other options. Each player has different city connection objectives. The real competition is who can connect their cities the fastest.
The standard Ticket to Ride map is of the United States. However, if you want some variety or want the kids to learn the names and geography of international places, there are other map variants. You can buy the full Ticket to Ride game with Europe or Nordic countries. Additional expansion maps are available for Africa, India, Asia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Pennsylvania, and the United Kingdom. These expansions also include some alternative rules to increase the diversity of the game and maintain replay value.
There are a number of variants of Balderdash. Amazon easily has 10 different versions that have been published throughout the years. Regardless of the version, the idea behind the game is simple. You have an unusual trivia-type question with the true answer. Players then make up fake answers to try to trick each other into choosing the wrong answer.
The variant my family likes to play is basically a poor man’s version of Balderdash. All you need is a dictionary and some slips of paper. Going in a circle, each player takes a turn running the round. When it is your turn, you pick a strange, underused word from the dictionary. You write the true definition on a slip of paper, then you tell all the other players the word (but not the definition). Each player then creates his own definition. You then collect all the answers and read each one out loud. The group then votes on which they believe to be the true answer. At the end of the round, each player that voted for the correct answer gets a point.
Fluxx is a card game for the family that loves the complete nonsense, off-the-wall, random, crazy, insane, and quite frankly, the non-sequitur style of game. Fluxx starts out very simple. You draw a card and you play a card. The twist is, playing a card may change the rules of the game…including how to win. For example, you may play a card that says you now draw two cards instead of one. After a while, the rules and objectives of the game can get pretty crazy.
The advantage of Fluxx is that every game is different — you never know what will happen. You always have to be on your toes for the changing strategies. Creative-card plays can result in crazy outcomes. I once saw a player go through the entire deck three times through a strategic card play.
Other other neat thing about Fluxx is that it comes in many, many different varieties. There is the classic version. However, if you want to branch out a bit you could try Zombie Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx, Martian Fluxx, Star Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx, Holiday Fluxx, Batman Fluxx, Cartoon Network Fluxx, Cthulhu Fluxx, Monster Fluxx, Oz Fluxx, Nature Fluxx, or Eco Fluxx. Each version is a stand-alone game, so you don’t have to spend a bunch of money buying add-ons to get your favorite version. Each version will cost about $10-15 on Amazon.
Try one or all this Thanksgiving!
This Thanksgiving, there is no reason to have board game-related injuries inflicted by siblings or cousins. (We have all had flipped Monopoly boards and Scrabble letters thrown at us.) Board games should bring families together, not tear them apart. Whether you seek the craziness of Fluxx, the wittiness of Balderdash or the “artistic” creativity of Telestrations, there is a board game out there that will be a great fit for your family.