Jul 10 • 12M

The Top 5 Family Board Games

The best games (some of which you may not have heard of) that we have found during the pandemic to give a re-frame to the seeming monopoly of Monopoly.

 
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Rich Bolus
Hi, I’m Rich Bolus. Join me as I explore insights from parents and experts to help navigate the messy, amazing, and often hilarious adventure of raising kids.
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How are you doing? I hope you are well.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster for us for the past few weeks.

We’ve had a medley of full-family flu which dovetailed straight into full-family COVID. To say that the pace of things has been taken down a notch is an understatement.

I have no idea how single parents manage and I fully take my hat off to any of you out there.

Anyway, the one plus of being essentially in lockdown with the family for the past few weeks has been to dive back into board games and I wanted to share with you the best of what we have found.

During one of the many Victorian lockdowns in response to the pandemic one of the former podcast guests, Aaron Lewtas put me onto a game that I had never heard of called Azul.

Having grown up with pretty much only Monopoly and Cluedo that was where I was anticipating we’d go for family entertainment at the dinner table.

However, Azul was different, yet delightful.

Anyway I proceeded to call my local games shop and one of the members of staff there did a fantastic job of taking me through a host of board games, their relative merits and shortfalls and making me realise that games have come a LONG, long way since Monopoly.

I settled on buying two games, Ticket to Ride and Azul.

We’ve also since got into Settler of Catan as well as Pandemic and surprisingly enough gone back to a classic from my childhood, Cluedo, just with a Harry Potter spin.

If some of these board names sound completely bemusing to you, don’t worry, they did to me at first.

However, if you are still in the mindset of Monopoly as being your got-to family game, I recommend you take a look at these newer games to help you maybe re-frame where games are at today.

Here are the top 5 games in our household at the moment:

  1. Ticket to Ride

  2. Azul

  3. Settlers of Catan

  4. Pandemic and

  5. Harry Potter Cluedo

Now keeping in mind that our kids are 12, 10 and 7.

I’ve really tried to cover the best games for all of the family.

The one exception is Pandemic, it’s listed as 8 and above and I reckon it might be closer to being for 10 year olds and above.

So what’s so good about them?

Ticket to Ride is a railway themed board game where players collect train cards to claim routes between major cities on a map of America (there are also other regional versions like Ticket to Ride London).

It might sound like it’s for train spotters, but it’s not.

The overall objective of the game is to score the highest amount of points. Each turn you pick up train cards or claim routes between cities with the cards you already have.

You can score more points by linking up a bunch of cities to form a route and there is a bonus for the longest route too.

At its simplest level it’s pretty straight forward and can be enjoyed by younger family members. You can however take it to another level and start sabotaging other players’ attempts to complete routes which gets quite fun.

This has been a favourite of my eldest and also has also been a favourite with grandma too.

Personally I’d give it 7/10. However due to the frequency with which both my eldest (12 yrs old) and youngest (7 years old) request it (as well as it being a hot favourite of grandma (hmm years old) I think Ticket to Ride deserves 9/10.

Next up is Azul. Now this might sound and look totally exotic and I guess it is. Essentially it’s an abstract strategy board game designed in 2017. It’s based on Portuguese tiles called azulejos. Players collect sets of similarly coloured tiles which they place on their player board. When a row is filled, one of the tiles is moved into a square pattern on the right side of the player board, where it earns points depending on where it is placed in relation to other tiles on the board.

The thing I like most about this game, and I have to say, it’s probably my current favourite, is that you don’t have to think in words. All you are trying to do is create patterns of beautiful tiles in order to score points. I find it’s quite relaxing and strangely gratifying. Scores also build quickly towards the end so there can be quite a quick reversal of fortune which always keeps you on your toes.

I’d give Azul 8.5/10

Number three comes in with Catan or Settlers of Catan as it was previously known.

Catan is a multiplayer board game developed in Germany in 1995. In it you take on the role of settlers, trying to build and develop settlements and roads on an island that is made up of different terrain types, while trading and acquiring resources. The different natural resources (wool, lumber, grain, ore and brick) can be used to build your settlements or traded with other players.

You gain victory points as your settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of victory points, typically 10, wins. This game is one of the first German-style board games to achieve popularity outside Europe. And has had more than 32 million copies made and translated into 40 languages as of 2020.

The first time I heard of this game it was a colleague who with a friend spent countless hours using deliberate practice to hone their ability to play this game in an effort to win the Australian championship and earn tickets to the Catan World Championships in Germany. Yep, that’s also a thing, and I totally get it now. Although I can’t imagine where I’d find 6 hours a day to train for something like that. Needless to say, it’s a game that can get very competitive and can also be evolved with expansion packs to keep things fresh.

I’d give Catan 8/10.

Pandemic is up next and is completely different to the others in that it is a cooperative board game in that you are all working together as different members of a disease fighting team travelling the world to eliminate 4 types of disease during a global pandemic.

I have to admit I didn’t quite have the stomach to buy this game during the height of the actual pandemic—I think I was opting for a bit of escapism at the time. However we’ve since got into it and really love it.

You each play a different role such as medic or researcher to operations expert or quarantine specialist. Each role has individual strengths which the whole team can draw on to treat infectious outbreaks and develop cures.

I have to say that this game has probably the highest barrier to entry from a getting your head around it perspective, but once you get into it you can keep amping up the difficulty and I have to say it’s a totally different dynamic working as a team towards a shared objective. It can get really exciting too. Especially since we’re all so highly attuned to pandemics these days.

We’ve loved playing over the last few weeks and I love the collaborative nature of it.

I’d give Pandemic an 8.5/10 if it was a bit easier to get into, so it gets relegated to a 7.5/10

Lastly, we got given the Harry Potter version of Cluedo and whilst I was a bit skeptical it is pretty good fun.

If your kids are remotely interested in Harry Potter it is a fun game to play, with clever adaptations to the original Cluedo game such as using the flu network instead of hidden stairways and has additional twists thrown in by means of rotating discs under the board which can close off or open doorways etc.

I’d give Harry Potter Cluedo a 7/10.

So there you have it.

  1. Ticket to Ride

  2. Azul

  3. Settlers of Catan

  4. Pandemic and

  5. Harry Potter Cluedo

In that order.

I’d love to hear any games that your family are fond of as this small selection has really opened my eyes to the great new games that are available these days. Please drop a line in the comments section below.

I hope you have a great week and as ever, enjoy your caffeinated beverage ;-)