Labyrinth

Do you like solving mazes? What about if they are constantly changing? If both of those sound interesting you should give one of our family friendly titles, Labyrinth, a try. Each player has a small deck of treasures that they are trying to collect before the other players. The only problem is there might not be a clear path for your character to walk to get to your current goal.

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On your turn you will take the one extra piece that is currently outside the maze and slide it into one of the slots on the side of the board, which will push all of the other tiles in that row until a different tile falls off. After doing so you move your pawn as far as you can in the direction of your goal. Hopefully as far as you can go is all the way to it! After you finish moving you just give the new extra tile to the next player in turn order and go round and round until someone has gotten all their treasures!

With such simple rules Labyrinth is very accessible for all ages. Easy enough for smaller kids to enjoy while also allowing for adults to not only use the tiles to get ahead in the game but also to make it more difficult for their opponents to reach their goal as well.

Starfall

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Sometimes all you need to make an enjoyable game is just a few simple choices. In Starfall, when it is your turn, you only have 3 choices you can do with your one action. Those three choices are putting out a new disc into the sky, decrease the value of one of the discs already in play, and then lastly you can use your stars to buy one of the available discs.

Each of the discs have different spacey elements shown that score different. If you get lots of comets each of them slowly grows in value. You can get some planets for moons but each moon has to have a planet. (Evidently no multiple moon planets in this galaxy!) Others are just worth stars that can be used to buy other discs.

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While the game has very few choices, deciding which one to choose can be a thinker. Putting out a new disc you want to buy might not last until your turn. The decision between making something cheaper or just buying it is one of the hardest to make. You have limited currency to spend on getting discs so you want to get your bang for your stars, but if you make it cheaper someone might buy it first. It doesn’t help that sometimes if there isn’t room in the sky you could be making it much cheaper than it already was.

Starfall’s simple choices that require thought is why it is one of our favorite games to teach. People can start playing in less than a minute and then have the fun of making those tough choices throughout the game. Just don’t ignore the comets - if someone gets a lot of them they can sneak in a victory!

Animal Upon Animal

Simplicity in game design sometimes makes some of the better games. In Animal Upon Animal the concept of the game is simply to stack all your animals on top of one another before anyone else. But can you find a place to stack all of the various animals that won’t cause the entire stack to fall?

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On your turn you will roll a die that tells you what you will do for your turn. Some of them are quite simple like stack one or two of your remaining animals on top of the pile of animals already in play. Another has you expand the base which starts out as just a crocodile which can be pretty tight base for all the pieces. The last action on the die is to hand one of your animals to an opponent to stack for you and they suffer any penalties!

We always enjoy games that can be played with all ages without having the make accommodations or not play to your best skill level in order to give the younger kids a chance at winning. After playing this at some events we feel like we have met some future engineers since they have stacked animals in ways we didn’t think possible. Just make sure not to knock everything down when you celebrate!

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As the game has gained popularity there have been a great many iterations of the game. Some are simply changing the animals used making you learn how to use the new shapes like in Crest Climbers. Others add quite a bit to the game like a spinning base to make it even harder to keep the stack steady like in Here We Turn. There is also a two player version with super tiny pieces but we still enjoy the classic Animal Upon Animal the most!

Hey, That's my Fish!

One of the most ruthless games that you can play with kids! On a large grid of ice flow tiles the players will compete to see who can get those most fish before all of the ice is gone. Movement rules restrict where you can go and once you get cut  off from the rest of the ice then that penguin’s fate is sealed! Sometimes that can be a good thing though, let me explain.

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Everyone’s penguins start on a single fish tile one by one for the set up. Then you on your turn you move one penguin in a straight line in one of six directions from the tile it is currently on. You can go as far as you want in that direction until you either hit a lost tile or another penguin. Then you have to stop. After your move is completed you take the ice flow tile that you started on slowly chipping away at the available paths on the board.

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Using the movement and the disappearing ice flows you can strand some penguins on small ice flows with not that many fish making it more likely for you to win. However, on the reverse you can also block off everyone else from a lucrative pile of fish for only you to collect!

Cutely marketed for children this game is fun with all groups, parents and children, kids, and even a bunch of adults. Granted with a bunch of adults it gets even more cutthroat! Although admittedly we have seen the glee on some kids faces when they turn the table on their parents as well.

Codenames and Codenames:Pictures

One of the most popular party games in recent years, Codenames and its sequel Codenames: Pictures are a great team based word games. The game doesn’t get as raucous as some other party games and doesn’t expect you to draw or even know trivia!

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Each team is trying to locate their agents in a field of cards spread out on the table. One player on each team knows which cards are theirs and which ones are bystanders, their opponents agents, or the spy. On each turn the person in the know gives a one word clue and the number of cards on the table that match that clue.

One by one teammates will select cards on the table hoping to choose correctly. SInce the clue giver can’t make any comments, the only thing they have to guide them is those one word clues. If they get one of their own agents they can continue guessing. A wrong guess ends the turn - unless they pick the assassin then they immediately lose!

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The original Codenames uses a set of 25 cards with words on them for the teams to guess, and the sequel Codenames: pictures uses a slate of 20 pictures instead of words. When we first heard about the pictures set we thought they would be generic clip art style photos. Instead they are very unique pictures that give lots of openings for connecting the different cards.

Whether you want to connect words together or some interesting pictures Codenames can be tons of fun for any group of people. Simple rules and lots of laughs over some ridiculous connections make Codenames and Codenames: Pictures our favorite party games.  

Mascarade

Everyone is at a Mascarade trying to use their powers to become wealthier than the others. Every character has special abilities to use on their turn.  In some games you would have to be that character in order to use those abilities. But in Mascarade you can bluff about what character you are playing as sometimes you might not even know what character you are!

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There are three actions players can take on their turn. They can use one of the powers available in the game (not all characters are used each game) and then all of the players in order decide whether they want to claim that power as well. If no one else claims that power you use the power without revealing your character. If other player(s) claim they are also that role then everyone flips over their card and anyone who is that character uses the power and then everyone who lied pays a fine to the court.

Instead a player can trade or pretend to trade character cards with another player. By doing the trade under the table you are the only one who knows if you switched cards with the other player or kept your original card. Sometimes we get too absorbed in being sneaky that we forget whether we switched cards or not!

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The last thing you can do on your turn is just look at the card you currently control. While this can be informative it is likely to cause players to trade with you before your next turn removing any advantage you had by knowing your character.

Mascarade is a fun game of trying to figure out what role you have or faking it until you can get the 10 coins needed to win the game. Lots of similar games require you to be able to lie or bluff convincingly,but this one can be won with just good manipulation of the characters! If you have a group of friends and are looking for a quick deduction game you can win without being deceptive this is a game to try!

 

Ingenious

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Simple abstract tile laying games are one of our favorites because they are easy to understand for new players and have some strategy for seasoned ones. Ingenious is one of those games we bring out when we want something a little different from our other favorite tile laying game--Qwirkle.  In Ingenious, everyone has a hand of double hex tiles with two colors on them (they are also unique shapes to be color blind friendly) to play to rack up points.  The gameplay is simple, but the strategy is what makes Ingenious fun.

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When  you play a tile, each direction branching out gets you points depending on how long that branch matches the color from the tile. If you put your tile into a group of the same color you can get a ton of points from all directions! But make sure not to focus too much on any one color.  At the end of the game your score is the color that you scored the least points in (if you max them all you instantly win). So while some moves might make you a ton of points you need to be sure not to get shut out from a color by your opponents when you aren’t looking. Often once someone has gotten more points than anyone else in a color they might try to close off any point scoring possibilities for that color to make sure that they keep the lead.

Ingenious winds up being a rather simple game that can get quite cutthroat if the group wants it to be and/or it can be quite relaxing as the players just try to get the best score they can at a relaxing pace. If you enjoy thinky abstract games or if you enjoyed Qwirkle, then you should give Ingenious a try!

Word on the Street

Word on the Street is another game that successfully integrates learning and gameplay to make a great game both for adults and kids. Two teams work to claim letters from the middle of the street. Being able to quickly of words that fit the category will help your team claim victory, but make sure you know how to spell them!

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The game begins with all of the letter tiles down the middle of the board. Not all of the letters - the vowels and some rarer letters are not included. The opposing team will flip over a category and your team must come up with a matching word.  Categories can be as simple as “something that you can open” or as hard as “____.”

The speed element of the timer slowly ticking down can make your brain freeze as you try to think of a word that will move the most letters and match the category. The best words use the same letter multiple times to tug on a letter repeatedly. Plurals are also quite nice until the S has been taken by one of the teams.

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Word on the Street is great for adults, kids, and families. The game definitely can test our ability to spell every time we take it off the shelf. But more than just spelling, it also tests our vocabulary in a fun way. Lots of educational games can be far from fun, treating teaching as being more important than being fun. Word of the Street however finds a nice balance of the two to make a fun and tense game between two people or two teams.

Dr. Eureka

Games using dexterity and speed elements without risking life and limb have been making more and more of a splash into board games. Dr. Eureka takes those elements and also requires logic and planning (quickly) in order to win the game. Everyone starts with the same set up of test tubes and marbles and must be the first to arrange the marbles into a different formation.

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Each player starts with three test tubes filled with three identical marbles in different colors. Someone flips over the top card from the deck which shows a new arrangement of marbles. The challenge is you aren’t allowed to remove the marbles from the test tubes other than to move them to another test tube.  The person who completes the new arrangement first wins the card.  If you ever drop a marble (which will happen) then you are out for the round.

The game ends once a player wins the most cards from the deck. However, like lots of other silly fun games, you can decide to play as long as you want if you are enjoying trying to solve these puzzles. We’ve had lots of fun trying to solve these puzzles and have found it is accessible for most ages with adults occasionally losing to smaller children.

Can't Stop

You just can’t beat a good dice chucker. One of the classic press your luck games, Can’t Stop, quickly tests how much you can push your luck in order to win. Each turn you roll four dice and pair them by value. Depending on what you roll you slowly move up a game board shaped like a stop sign.  The goal is to cap off three numbers before anyone else.

Each turn you have three safety cones used to indicate movement for the turn. After you roll the dice and pair them you have to move (or place) at least one cone. Numbers that have already been capped become invalid for movement. Once you have all three of the movement cones on the board, those are the only ones that you can move. You can keep rolling as long as you want, but if you ever roll dice and can’t make pairs all of the progress you made is lost. Instead if you decide to stop before you bust, you change out the movement cones for your own and you can never lose that progress.

While Can’t Stop is entirely made out of dice rolling there are still choices to be made. Rarer rolls are easier to cap off while the most common roll of seven takes a lot of rolls to reach the top. Then fun of the game is the tension of deciding whether or not to roll again. Especially when you get close to the top of the column. Do you keep rolling to try to capture the number or do you take the lower risk of waiting until your next turn and keep your progress?