Wednesday, November 28, 2007

bored? how 'bout some board games?

As a family, we enjoy games a lot. We play cards. (My favorite, by far, is bridge; Tonia enjoys that well enough, but prefers Rummy.) And friends of ours have introduced us to so-called "German" board games. They are available as short or long games, games for 2 or for larger groups, games with varying degrees of difficulty and a variety of themes. What they have in common is that they have a relatively high degree of interaction. These are accessible to our 7 and 9-year olds. (They are competitive in most of them and enjoy all of them.)

For example, consider the game of Life. It's easy/light fun, involves a few very basic choices (career vs. higher education; go left or right at the fork in the road), and allows children to build some basic math and money skills. But within the game itself, there's no interaction (except the end of the game when you compare final totals). Aside from hanging out with your "competitors", you might as well play the game in a closet. With Monopoly, there is more interaction: you get a property, so I don't; you and I can trade properties; I pay you rent if I land on your property.

The "German" board games are distinct in that there is always a high degree of interaction. Everyone is involved in every round-- or if people take separate turns, then everyone is involved to a significant degree in others' turns.

It is relatively difficult to find these games in stores. You won't find many of these at Toys R Us, but a store like "Something to Do" will carry some. Of course, you can find them on-line-- and often, at a significant discount, through websites like ThoughtHammer and Tanga. Info about games, including appropriate age ranges, length of time, type of game, and reviews are easy to find at BoardGameGeek. (In lining up the links for this entry, I noticed that the Geek rates 4,000 games more highly than Monopoly and Life!)

Here are very brief reviews of the games we have acquired and played in the last six months. I can't do justice to the games through a (brief, written) description. So, you'll have to take it on faith that these are worth the bother of breaking out of the games orthodoxy.

The five favorites that we own:
-Settlers of Catan: a great, longer (2-hour) game to start with-- as 3-6 players obtain resources through production and trade in order to build roads, settlements and cities

-Robo-Rally: 3-8 players "program" robots and try to reach a set of flags before other players; robots get in each others' way and damage each other with lasers; "board elements" like walls, conveyor belts, gearwheels, and "pits of death" complicate the path; a great game with a lot of variability in terms of length and difficulty (depending on which of many board or board combinations you choose)

-For Sale: A terrific short (20 minutes), easy game in two phases-- buying and then selling properties; 3-6 players bid against each other to obtain houses and then compete against each other to sell them

-Incan Gold: A fun, easy, short game for 3-8 players focusing on risk and rate-of-return; players explore a temple and split the booty, trying to get out with as much as they can before they would be killed by various threats; as explorers get nervous and leave, there's more for those who risk and remain inside

-Double-or-Nothing: Similar to Incan Gold with its emphasis on risk and rate-of-return; in IG, players reveal their decisions simultaneously, but here, 3-6 players reveal their choices sequentially

Two games Tonia and I have enjoyed tremendously, but have not played with our kids or acquired yet:
-Ticket to Ride (Europe): a moderately easy/difficult, but longer game-- as people collect resources to fulfill train routes

-Power Grid: a longer and more complex game-- as people collect natural resources and acquire power plants, using all sorts of technology to provide energy to cities

Six games that we have and enjoy in our family, but not as much:
-Sunken City: a moderate-length (1 hour) game for 2-4 players; our kids really enjoy the theme-- hunting (quickly) for treasure before being sacked by Neptune

-Ark of the Covenant: a moderate-length game of some complexity for 2-5 players; people build cities and roads, protect sheep, and are affected by the prophet and the Ark

-Saga: a relatively short game for 2-4 players as players sack and protect kingdoms

-Dancing Dice: a relatively short, fun, easy, light Yahtzee-like game for 2-6 players (although I can't imagine it being as much fun for 2), based on the theme of dancing

-Jericho: a short game where 3-5 players build walls and use trumpets to knock down others' walls

-Moby Pick: a tough little memory game (you have to remember three characteristics of most cards); great for kids, but requires even more concentration than an average memory/matching game (if you're not careful, your kids will thump you!)

If you have any questions, recommended games, etc.-- please let me/us know!


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