January 19, 2019

In Praise of Family Game Night

“For some families, game nights are at the very core of who they are and how they live together. From generation to generation, brothers and sisters and cousins in game families have shared in-jokes, swapped anecdotes, and passed down the legend of that time Grandma accidentally drew something kind of racy in Pictionary. When they gather around a game board, they’re at their smartest and their funniest, and they make some memories.

And then there are those families whose kids melted down during one game of Monopoly, and they never pulled a board game out of the cabinet again.

No matter where you are on this continuum, Slate’s list of the 40 best family games is for you. The past two decades have seen a renaissance in family-friendly tabletop gaming, with new games taking the best elements of the classics, then reimagining and improving them. Some of the more popular modern games have become franchises, spawning expansion packs, special variant editions, and mobile apps. There’s no reason why any parent these days should wish for a fun family gathering and then come back from the store with Scrabble, Battleship, or Clue. There are so many better options out there: games that are more fair, more exciting, and more likely to provoke memorable conversations afterward about the choices everyone made.

To make this list, I polled Slate’s staffers—those with kids and those who simply once were kids—and tried out a mess of new games previously unfamiliar to my game-crazy family. The games on our list run the gamut from the old-fashioned to the state-of-the-art. Some are expensive, and are improved by spending even more money on their optional add-ons. Some are cheap enough that you could find them in the dollar store—or even play them for free. What they have in common is that they follow my Five Commandments for a Great Family Game:

Games should be the right length. Long enough to allow players to develop strategy and potentially to come back from early setbacks, but not so long that everyone gets sick of them before they’re over.

Games should be fair. If you sit in a specific seat, or go last, you shouldn’t be disadvantaged.

Games should be action-packed. It’s more fun when there’s something for players to do on every turn, or even on other players’ turns; it’s frustrating to be skipped because you lack the resources to make any significant moves.

Games should help you learn something. “Educational” games are often boring, but some of the most entertaining games offer either implicit or explicit lessons about reasoning, sportsmanship, math, ethics, and teamwork.

Games should encourage spontaneity. Games that favor creativity and conversation make each experience more personally rewarding to all of you than games that are played the same way every time. After all, you’re not playing with just anyone. You’re playing with your family, so it’s more fun to play a game that lets each of you shine.”

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