Is this a common scene in your house? Dad is watching a football game on TV, Mom is on Facebook, the teenager is on her phone, and the younger kid is playing on the Xbox or Wii. Perhaps you’ve thought about finding something the family could do together rather than focusing on their own separate screen.
Maybe you’ve thought about playing a board game, but the idea of a long, dragged-out game of Monopoly or Risk fills you with dread. Can’t muster any enthusiasm for a game where the only decision you make is what color pieces to play and all you do is roll a die and move that number of spaces? If so, you’ve not discovered the world of modern board games.
Board games today have come a long way from the roll-and-move games of years ago. These games offer a variety of themes and new mechanics, and a key part of their design is providing players with choices to make every turn. There are even cooperative games where all the players work together towards a common goal and win or lose as a team. Board Game Geek is the resource for modern board games, and their 2016 Gift Guide focuses on some of the best modern board games to start playing as a family. Here are some highlights.
King of Tokyo
In King of Tokyo, everyone plays a giant monster, robot, or alien out of some Godzilla movie. Using six custom dice, each player on their turn rolls three times like Yahtzee, keeping the dice they like and rerolling the ones they don’t. The dice allow a player to collect destruction points, gain energy (for buying special powers), heal their wounds, or damage their opponents. In order to win, a player must destroy Tokyo by getting 20 destruction points or by being the last monster standing. The game is easy to learn and quick to play. For extra fun, the expansion King of Tokyo: Power Up! adds small decks of cards for each monster that give them unique powers.
Forbidden Island/Forbidden Desert
Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where players are a team of adventurers racing to rescue four treasures before the island sinks beneath the waves. Each player has a different role and different abilities, and working together is essential to collect the treasures and make it back to the helicopter. As you get more experienced with the game, you can up the difficulty level for a bigger challenge. A sequel game, Forbidden Desert, provides a more-challenging game of racing to find artifacts before they are swallowed by sands blown by a desert storm while also making sure everyone has water to survive.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple
Escape: The Curse of the Temple takes exactly ten minutes to play. It is a real-time cooperative game directed by a soundtrack where everyone is playing at the same time. Players are exploring an ancient temple, discovering gems, and looking for the exit. Each player has a set of dice that they are rolling to explore new rooms and meet the challenges to collect gems. Some challenges require several players to work together. Twice during the 10-minute game, the soundtrack begins a countdown, and players must race back to the starting square before doors slam down. Those who don’t make it back in time lose one of their dice. After collecting enough gems, players have to find and then race to the exit and meet the final challenge before the temple collapses at the end of ten minutes.
In Codenames, players form two teams, and each team has one player who will be giving clues for their team. A 5 by 5 grid of words representing the codenames of two teams of spies is spread out, and the two clue givers have a card that identifies which codenames belong to each team. The clue givers take turns giving a one-word clue and a number that identifies how many cards that clue refers to, and that is all they can say. Their teammates then try to identify which card(s) the clue refers to. If they correctly identify a codename for their team, they can continue to guess. If they identify a codename from the other team or pick a civilian (i.e., a card that belongs to neither team), their turn ends. Also lurking among the 25 cards is one assassin who ends the game immediately if it is picked.
Sushi Go has each player trying to accumulate the highest scoring sushi collection over three rounds. Each player starts with a deck of cards, picks one card from it, and passes the deck to the person next to them. Scores are based on the number and types of cards each player collects, and each type has a different scoring mechanism. Nigiri are worth one, two, or three points, but if you also have a wasabi card for a nigiri, it triples its score. Sashimi score 10 points, but only if you have three of them. Maki rolls only score points for the player with the most or second-most of them. One dumpling only scores one point, but two dumplings score three, and even more bring even higher points. Chopsticks don’t score any points, but let you put the chopsticks back in a deck and take two cards. Pudding don’t score points in any round, but they are worth +6 points to the person with the most and -6 points to the person with the least at the end of the game. The game has a constant battle of deciding whether to pick a card that helps your score or one that denies points for others.
In Love Letter, players are trying to woo the princess, but she has locked herself in the palace and so you must rely on others to deliver your romantic letters to her. With only 16 cards, one is removed from play, and one is dealt to each player. On their turn, a player draws one card and plays one card, taking the action on the card played. Actions allow you to eliminate another player by guessing their card correctly, looking at another player’s card, protecting you from other players targeting you, and more. A round lasts only a few minutes, and the winner of the round is either the last player standing or the one with the highest value card. Win the majority of rounds, and you win the game. If wooing a princess doesn’t sit well with all of your family, there are re-themed versions using The Hobbit, Batman, Adventure Time, Archer (probably not for younger kids), and even a Christmas-themed version called Letters to Santa.
The end of the 2016 Board Game Geek Gift Guide includes links to gift guides from other years and other online sources. The Boardgames subreddit on Reddit provides friendly support and suggestions. They also provide a helpful wiki that includes a New to Boardgames page and suggestions on what to get.