Unplug with Family Game Day

Unplug with Family Game Day

When it comes to games, pick one that’s too complex and younger players may get frustrated and opt out. Pick one that’s too luck-based and the game can get boring quickly. For other activities, physical ability and just plain life experience and knowledge can be a barrier to fun. 

We tested dozens of indoor and outdoor games to find ones with just enough depth and just enough luck to keep your family looking forward to the next round and the kids engaged. And we threw in some puzzles as well. We didn’t include recommended ages because that can vary wildly. You know what your kids can handle.

When to take it inside: In the two-level Mountains Out of Molehills (The Op Games), players first draft directional cards and then play them in sequence to move moles in the underground area. The space where each mole finishes its move causes a corresponding bump above ground, increasing the size of the molehill there. Large hills can mean big points – but going too high causes them to topple and increase the size of neighboring molehills.  

Some adults may remember Jarts, that now-notorious game that was banned because of the dangers of throwing things that have heavy metal tips. Well, safer versions are now available including Lawn Darts (Funsparks), which glow in the dark so the fun can continue after the sun goes down. 

Try Kubb (available from multiple manufacturers). It’s a bit oversimplifying to say that it’s all about throwing batons to knock over wooden blocks but that’s the essence of this lawn game. That some say date back to Viking times but is more likely to have been launched in the 1980s. 

What to take it inside: Fairy Tile (iello) is a surprisingly strategic game in which you add land tiles to a kingdom map and move a princess, a knight, and a dragon in order to match criteria on story cards. But while you are trying to get the princess and the dragon to meet in the forest, your opponent may be working to get the knight and the dragon to both be on a mountain. As with chess, each of the characters moves differently so your move or additional tile may throw off your opponent’s plans. .

In another terrific tile-laying game, Shifting Stones (Gamewright), the setup is simple: A grid of nine two-sided squares of various colors is laid out and each player is given a quartet of cards with patterns on them. The goal is to match the patterns to those on the board by flipping and/or swapping tiles. The catch is that a flip or a swap will cost you one of your cards. And more challenging patterns yield more points.

The goal of Mass Transit (Calliope Games) is to get a batch of commuters home. You do that, cooperatively, by playing cards that can either extend the routes – whether by bus, boat, or train – or allow you to walk to stations along those routes. Once there, strategic choices need to be made to make sure that you get everyone to their destinations. Warning: You’ll likely not get everyone home on your first game or two. But with a fifteen-minute-or-so playing time, it’s easy to say, “Let’s try again.”

Who wins is kind of beside the point in Galaxy Trucker (Czech Games Edition). In this two-part game, the fun comes from, in the first half, quickly cobbling together a ship from random parts and then, in the second, seeing what happens to your spacecraft when various calamities befall it. Forgot to put a shield on your starboard side? That could be a problem when you encounter a meteor storm. Low on engine strength? Your opponent may fly past you and claim bonuses. On the other hand, if you loaded up on crew quarters during the frantic building of your ship, you may have enough people on board to take over an abandoned space station for a reward. A big plus is the game is scalable: You can play a simple game or go for three rounds with increasingly larger ships – and greater obstacles and treasures.

Prefer puzzles? Ravensburger has a terrific line of options ranging from 24 pieces up to a thousand. The latter’s Villainous line celebrates Disney baddies, with individual puzzles dedicated to Maleficent, Jafar, Scar and more. And for 3D challenges, your team can build replicas of the Chrysler Building, Big Ben, and the Eiffel Tower.

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