By Chuck Mitchell
Kids love board games. They are fun. They tell stories. They introduce new challenges and let players try out new roles. They teach life skills – math, reasoning, prediction, negotiation and more. Best of all, they make family memories for a lifetime. We all know the classics, from Monopoly to Clue to Life, but the board game industry has exploded over the past 20 years, and those willing to do a little digging can find a wealth of new opportunities for family fun.
Player “adventurers” explore an Incan temple for treasure. In each of five rounds, they secretly choose to either continue exploring for treasure, risking dangers that will take it all away, or return safely to camp with their share of the treasure. The game comes with cards and small tokens representing the treasures. It teaches basic math skills, as the players have to divide the treasure each round. No reading required. List price $25.99.
King of Tokyo takes the gameplay of Yahtzee, adds layers of strategy and tops it off with a theme of monsters attacking Tokyo. Players count and strategize as they take turns rolling six dice, then deciding whether to score victory points, gain energy for special power cards, heal their monster or attack the other monsters. The “bravest” players occupy Tokyo to earn extra victory points. The winner is the player who survives or the first player to accumulate 20 victory points. List price $39.99.
A beautifully illustrated game where players lay tiles in front of their colored tokens to lay a path, and each tile has unique patterns of twisting lines. The goal is to keep the token on the board and players are eliminated when their token goes to the edge of the board or collides with another player. As the board fills with tiles, it becomes harder to control your token, because the empty spaces dwindle and other player tiles may take your token in unexpected directions. The simple gameplay will delight younger players, while older children and adults enjoy the layers of strategy. List price $30.
Indigo takes the same game mechanic as Tsuro and adds strategy and depth. Players place tiles (with twisting lines) to lay paths, allowing them to move gemstones from starting locations on the board into their own scoring areas at the edge of the board. On a turn, each player has to place a randomly chosen tile onto the board, hoping to score gemstones for themselves while blocking their opponents. Players score 3 points for indigo gems, 2 for green and 1 for yellow, and when all gems are off the board, the player with the most points wins. List price $35.99.
Designed to give players as young as age 5 an introduction to the Settlers of Catan game series. Players explore the high seas and the first player to control seven pirate hideouts wins. The board has a ring of islands, and each player starts with two pirate hideouts on different islands. Each island generates a specific resource (wood, goats, molasses or swords). Players use the resources from their islands and from die rolls to grow and expand. List price $30.
An elegant, modern classic — easy to learn, fun to play and difficult to master. Players collect cards showing colored trains, and then use the cards to claim railway routes on the board map. Longer routes earn more points, and the biggest points come from finishing your destination tickets (goal cards to connect two cities). Each turn, players have to make a difficult choice. Should I draw train cards, claim a route or draw more destination tickets? The base game is a North American map, a 10th anniversary special edition was released this year, and there have been many spin-offs with new maps and rules. List price $50.
Cooperative games are essentially puzzles for a group to solve, and the players all win together or lose together.
A beautiful way to introduce your younger child to cooperation, reasoning and planning. There are four animals in the game. All the players work to get a bird, a mouse and a chipmunk safely to their tree home at the end of the gameboard path. The tomcat “Max” is a natural hunter who chases the other animals. All the animals move based on random dice rolls, which give the players a chance to discuss options about which animals to move. Special “cat treats” to slow down Max and “shortcuts” for the other animals add to the fun and strategy. List price $15.99.
A two- to five-player cooperative game that takes place in a mythical desert city. Players work together to recover a legendary flying machine and fly away before the desert sands grow too high or they run out of water. Game players use special powers, coordinate with teammates and employ every available resource to deal with an ever-shifting board. List price $24.99.