I recently asked for some suggestions for board game topics I could write about. Phil Gross answered my plea and suggested I write about the best game to play with your in-laws. I loved the idea, but I wanted to open it up a bit wider and talk about games that are great for all the family, young and old, blood relatives and in-laws alike.
Let's try and frame that question a bit more. We're basically looking for games that are quite easy to explain and have very little rules complexity. We probably also want games that don't require too much maintenance and play relatively quickly. I always think that time is often the biggest barrier for people, because they don't want to have to worry about spending a lot of time on a game they might not enjoy. Shorter games also allow you to try lots of different ones, so you can find one that fits the group of people you're playing with.
We will also have to consider the age range. After all, family does mean kids and grown-ups alike. So we probably want to find games that kids enjoy and that have age-appropriate content, but that still offer the adults something that they will enjoy. I suppose we're looking for the equivalent of a DreamWorks film which has adult humour, without being an adult film, while at the same time offering a lot of action and kids' entertainment, without being too childish for the grown-ups.
I think that covers it pretty well and is already quite a high ask. So let's look at what games I can think of that fit those criteria.
Classic Family Games
Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest Monopoly or Mouse Trap. Yes, those games do tick a lot of the boxes we want to be ticked for a good family game. However, they also haven't aged very well and I don't think they offer quite the right amount of interest for older players. Instead, I'm going going to suggest Carcassonne.
I can't believe I still haven't reviewed this evergreen tile-laying game that is still going strong. It's such a brilliant game that really suits the whole family. You don't really have to explain much to get going. You can explain most of the rules as you go along. It's also such a visual game that it will click pretty quickly with everyone.
Placing tiles in Carcassonne is very much like doing a jigsaw puzzle. There is the tactility of the thick cardboard tiles and the lovely wooden meeples. There is the actual puzzle-solving part of finding the best place for your tile, as well as the best orientation for it. You also end up with a lovely map at the end of the game, just like you end up with a beautiful picture after completing a jigsaw. So even if you're not very competitive by nature, you'll still enjoy making the map and imagining the reasons for the three churches being built right next to each other.
There are many different versions of Carcassonne now and many expansions that you can mix into the base game. That way you can make the game as long or as short as you want. You can even play a co-operative version now, if you really don't like the competitive and sometimes cut-throat nature of the game.
A game that I would consider a modern classic is Ticket to Ride. It's another game that I haven't reviewed and that is great for the whole family. It might not be suitable for very young kids, but it still covers a wide age range. You can choose between the various versions of the game for different kinds of experiences, but whatever one you end up playing, they're all pretty easy to teach and don't take too long to play. It might require a little more patience from younger players though.
Ticket to Ride is a very visual game. You have the map right in front of you and you can see where everyone's tracks are. Finding places on the map can sometimes be a little tricky, but then again, it's a great way of improving your geography knowledge. It's almost an educational game in that sense.
For me, it also ticks the nostalgia box. If you're my age, you will probably have played a game where you travel around a map, usually roll-and-move style, and need to get to certain destinations along the way. Globetrotting is a pretty simple, yet somehow magical and enticing, theme. Ticket to Ride uses that to create an interesting and exciting gameplay experience that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.
Modern Family Games
Now let's venture into the present of hobby games. What I want to suggest next is a roll-and-write game. No, it's not Yahtzee. Instead, I want to talk about Aquamarine, a game that I did review. I'm not generally a huge fan of roll-and-write games. They often seem more like filling in a spreadsheet than playing a game. For games from the genre to get my attention they need to capture my imagination. I don't want a game that says that it will take me on a scuba dive into a beautiful reef. I want a game where I actually really feel like that's what I'm actually doing and Aquamarine does that perfectly.
The rules are really simple and you need only the tiniest smidgen of algebra knowledge just to work out the difference between two dice results. That's it. The rest is about working your way through the reef to see the fish, explore shipwrecks and generally have a wonderful time swimming through the water. You may even feel a bit claustrophobic as you reach new depths. Instead, you may find playing Aquamarine meditative as you get into the rhythm of rolling dice, drawing your route, marking off oxygen and looking at where you want to go next.
Sticking with the watery theme, I would also suggest Deep Sea Adventure as a great family game. Simple rules, quick playing time, plenty of dice rolling luck to level the playing field and generally a lot of fun. You can also adjust the way you play according to the audience, making it more or less cut-throat as you see fit. The game looks great on the table, has wonderful components and is just perfect as a family game.
How About You?
So that's my list of family games I would suggest people add to their collection. However, there are many more that I haven't mentioned. Are there any you love to play with the family? What are your favourites? Are there any games that you think look like the perfect family game, but really disappointed you when you played them? If so, what were they and why did they not work out? As always, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Let's try and collate a long list of family games together.