The holiday gifting season is fast upon us, and many of us have kids in our family or friend groups who are hoping for something fun wrapped up to enjoy. Beyond gift-giving, if you’ve got a family of your own, you may be trying to come up with ways to keep yourself and the kids entertained over the holiday break from school. Whatever your situation, I’m confident that family board games are worth their weight in gold. They not only keep the kids happy, but they also provide a fun way for everyone to have some memories.
The board gaming hobby has no shortage of wonderful family games, but I’ve kept the focus here on mostly newer projects that you may not have heard of. As you consider which game might be right for your family group, make sure and check against the age recommendations listed, and zero in on something that all participants can enjoy, no matter how long they’ve been gaming.
Are you looking to get the children involved in their first game of dexterity, Fuzzies? Fuzzies, a great twist on the stacking/pulling game concept, has a lower tolerance for throwing wooden blocks at will than a Jenga-style game. Fuzzies uses balls instead of blocks. Once the balls have been packed into a tall, clear cup, you can stack them on a base and then remove the cup. This will create a perfect, clumpy mass. To remove the ball, players can use their fingers or a tweezer to lift it off of the top of the tower. You will be given a challenge when you knock off a few balls. For example, your opponent must use their non-dominant hand to win. You can play this one with children as young as 5 years old, if you take out the challenges. Just be prepared to spend a few minutes at the end of your play session gathering errant fuzzies – they’re sneaky little guys.
It’s a simple, but fun memory- and sensory game that offers a refreshing change from the usual. While it’s not likely to keep older players entertained for too long, it’s just the ticket if you have a busy group of younger kids looking for something new. Players each have a color of bug that they’re trying to collect, and each bug has its own unique shaped piece. Players peek inside the “shrub” where they’re hiding, and try to memorize where their colored bugs are lying. Afterward, you can’t see the bugs as you reach through a blind shield and try to pull out the correct options by feel. If you accidentally catch your opponents’ bugs, you’re just helping them win faster. Plus, there are little white bugs that “bite.” If you manage to pick up three of those, you’re out. No one should pretend that Bug Hunt is a complex or strategic game, but it does have a unique mechanic that I haven’t seen before, and kids I’ve played with enjoy the surprise of reaching in and trying to grab the right piece.
Battlecharged: Dragon Prince
Publisher: Brotherwise Games
If you’ve got older kids at home, there’s a good chance you already know about the excellent animated series called Dragon Prince, currently streaming on Netflix. You can watch the Dragon Prince right now or come back later. I’ll wait… Alright, back now? Wasn’t that great? This tactical miniature game is a great way to continue the stories of Callum and Rayla. The skirmish allows each character to have their own deck of cards, which gives them unique abilities. The fun part of battle is watching how each character reacts to the other. Battlecharged is by no means the most sophisticated miniature skirmish game on the market, and don’t go in expecting an extension of the show’s story, as this is purely about the battles. Brotherwise is a veteran game developer who has chosen to keep the battles accessible to new players to tactical encounters. There are also multiple battlemaps to help keep you interested in replaying.
Disney Gargoyles: Awakening
I’ve always considered Gargoyles one of the hidden gems of the Disney catalog. The dark themes and Gothic styling of that ‘90s animated show were a striking departure from the normal Disney fare. The voice cast included several real acting stars, which helped to make the dialogue pop. I’m clearly not the only fan, as Ravensburger has released this engaging battle game, in which players take on the role of the titular gargoyles as they battle the forces of Xanatos and Demona. Your minis can move among the Manhattan rooftops thanks to the 3D board. There are four different play styles available in the game. While three of the scenarios are collaborative, the final one is competitive. The high production value and clever combat and objectives make for a great session, no matter what storyline you are following. If sharing with kids who don’t know the property, I recommend taking a part of the holiday season to watch some of the show (it’s on DVD, but it’s also on Disney+ if you have that streaming option), and then use that as a catapult into a fun game night.
Space Cowboys is the Publisher
Jamaica is my favorite gateway game into thematic board games. This new edition, which was originally released in 2007, has very few changes (mostly a simplified approach to learning rules), but it offers an opportunity to grab a classic game that’s been a hit with many families. Jamaica can be described as a race game and as a game to acquire. Each player is responsible for a pirate ship that zips across the island collecting treasure and firing off cannons. The game plays fast and easy, but is far more interesting and strategic than many “roll-and-move” family games. If your crew has a few pirate fans in the mix, this is an approachable and fun game they’ll adore, and I promise the older buccaneers will have a good time as well.
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
Kingdomino, a stellar game that was released in 2016, received a lot of critical praise. In fact, if your kids are just a bit older, that’s still a top recommendation. This original game of territory-capturing is a smart twist on Dominoes. It has more strategic complexity and offers the additional fun of a theme for kingdom expansion. The game’s newer cousin, Dragomino, aims to make things even simpler as a welcome into this style of play. The role of a dragon trainer is to try and collect the largest number of eggs. This can be done by linking up similar colored territory. Dragomino’s gameplay is very similar to its older cousin, but features simplified scoring, no constraints on grid size (a big and challenging limit in the original), and art and colors that are simply more inviting. For your younger children and yourself, you should stick to the original. But if you’re looking for a genuine strategy experience that even the Kindergartener in your family can pick up, this will be perfect.
Men at Work
Publisher: Pretzel Games
Players are challenged to create a construction site while trying to prevent any inevitable disasters. The game’s tiny meeple builders mount the girders and create table tables that are hilarious to see, but doomed to fall. The cards are drawn by players who decide what pieces to place on the table and give specific instructions. If you do not knock over a piece, one of your safety certificates will be lost. You will be able to challenge the bosslady to become the employee of month. It’s a fun and surprisingly challenging stacking challenge. Although there are many rules, it is not too difficult for children. However, most people will enjoy the colorful and sturdy components as well as the bizarrely designed structures created during each session.
Publisher: Repos Production
Repos has some of my favorite party games in its catalog, including games I’ve previously recommended like Just One, Ca$h ‘n Guns, and Concept. So Clover is another memorable release from the studio and ideal for family get-togethers. Players receive a random assortment of cards with words on them, like “Banana,” “Shirt,” and “Firefighter.” You must write down keywords that link particular pairs of words. For instance, you might come up with the keyword of “Wool” to link “Sheep” and “Clothing.” Players then work together to try to guess the keywords. Clover’s cooperative nature helps to keep everyone civil, even if some of the children get too carried away playing competitive games. This word association strategy is fun and easy, however, everyone must be comfortable reading and writing. Expect a great time if your gaming group has reached this milestone.
Super Mario Edition: The Game of Life
Hasbro is the publisher
The Game of Life was an iconic board game from my childhood, long before I became involved in the thematic hobby of board games. In my experience, it’s rare that licensed spin-offs of old classic board games add much to the mix. The Super Mario Edition of Life surprised me. It retains the original fun elements (the looping tracks, spinners, and spaces), but it adds enough Mario spirit to make the game feel new. Instead of trying make it big and retiring, the players want to be able to finish the race against Bowser. There are many fun places for players to get power-ups, and others that require you to play minigames with your fellow tablemates. In addition, you’re trying to boost your chances of a win against the big guy by collecting stars, which add to your final spin as you try to hit the numerical win threshold. While I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the original game, I think the Mario theming here is honestly more appealing for most families than a story about collecting more money than your fellows. Don’t go in expecting complex gameplay, and I think this one hits a nice balance between nostalgia and modern fun.
Disney Hidden Mickeys
Funko Games Publishers
This amusing hide and seek game is great for young children. Players flip cards that feature images of the mouse and race to locate the correct picture. After the markers are found, you’re also trying to spy out hidden mickey symbols on the cards themselves to score points. The game considers the typical behavior of children very young and encourages them get up from their chairs to search for hidden items. But there’s also a focused component of play, where they need to slow down and look carefully at the cards. For Disneyphile families with young players, I suspect you’ll find this little gem gets a lot of requests for repeat play.
I hope one or more of the above games helps to brighten your family’s holiday season. If you still aren’t seeing anything that’s the right fit, don’t hesitate to drop me a line, and I’ll be happy to help you figure out an option. Our recent roundup includes great video games for families. And if you’re looking for some more grown-up tabletop fare, you’ll find plenty of recommendations in our Top of the Table hub, which you can reach from the banner below.
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