Best Board Games For Winter Fun
With the cold winter months quickly approaching, you’re no doubt looking for ways to keep your family busy when you’re all trapped in the house together. (By “trapped,” I of course mean “spending quality time.”) And what better way to entertain everyone than with a fun, challenging board game?
My two boys, Sam (11) and Jack (9) absolutely love playing games, so the three of us were very excited to test out a few and see what we liked the best. Please note that they beat me at every single one of these games, but I will not let my bitterness influence any of the following reviews because I am a mature person. (But couldn’t they have let me win at least one round of something? Is that too much to ask from your children?)
Here are the games we tried out:
Centuries old and played around the world, Mancala is a “count-and-capture” game designed for two players. There are many versions of it, but the one we played was called “The Game of Collecting Gemstones.”
Our Mancala was very simple in design; just a wood, foldable playing board with carved out holes to hold the “gemstones.” The object of the game is to move all of your gems out of your small holes and into your large pocket (or Mancala) before your opponent does. It’s deceptively simple because, as we discovered, it actually requires sharp counting, strategy and planning skills to win. Sam really liked this one. Ages 6 to Adult. Price $9-10.
The Good: Portable, great price ($9-10), challenging
The Bad: Only two players, kids who aren’t drawn to slow strategy games might be bored
I’m always leery of anything touting itself as a “hilarious party game,” but we actually had a lot of fun playing Apples to Apples Junior, this card game of comparisons. Players hold Red Apple Cards with words on them like “Unicorn” or “Ghosts,” then the judge (a position that alternates each turn) plays a Green Apple card with a one-word characteristic on it like “Chewy” or “Scary.” Players must then play the card they think is the best match and the judge determines who’s right.
The fun part is when the players try to convince the judge why their word works best. One of the best lines from our game was Jack telling me, “Swamps totally works with Relaxed because alligators are never stressed out because they do yoga!” Well, maybe you had to be there. Ages 9+. Price $18-22.
The Good: Verbal, fast action, high potential for humor and laughs, easy to play
The Bad: A little pricey at $18-22 considering it’s just stacks of cards.
This “abstract strategy” board game, Blokus, has won every award in the book and I can see why. The kids and I were immediately engaged in the challenge of placing our colored, differently shaped pieces on the 400 squares of the board/grid so they touched at least one other piece, but only at the corners. The winner is the player who has the fewest pieces remaining.
Blokus develops logic and spatial perception because kids have to eye the board and figure out where their pieces will fit. However, they’re so wrapped up in doing so, they don’t notice how hard their little minds are working. Gotta love that. Ages 5+. Price is $16-$30 range.
The Good: Challenging, but fun. Easy to understand.
The Bad: A big pain to clean up if it’s knocked on the ground.
Another multi-award winner, Qwirkle is a game where players “Mix, Match, Score and Win.” Consisting of 108 wooden tiles, each with a brightly colored shape on it, players score points by building lines of tiles that share the common attribute of either color or shape. It’s sort of like Dominoes.
Both boys liked playing this, but didn’t love it because it’s pretty slow and repetitive. It takes a long time to finish, considering players have to get through 108 tiles with only 1-2 tiles played a turn. Also, someone has to keep score and write down points on paper, and that kind of complicated what should be a simple game. Not a favorite. Ages 6+. Price $17-34.
The Good: Tiles are kept in a drawstring pouch, so very portable and can be played on any flat surface. Easy to understand.
The Bad: Not very challenging, time consuming, must keep score on paper.
This is a fun, fast-paced matching game that the boys really loved playing. (And they keep asking me to play it again.) Players are given coaster-sized cards, each with illustrations of eight objects on them. They then try to spot a symbol that appears on both the changing center card and their own card. (The instructions also include five different variations on this basic game.) Spot It! requires visual perception and matching skills and can be played almost anywhere. It also comes in themed versions, like MLB and NHL, animals and Spanish. Ages 7-12. Price $12.
The Good: Fast, easy, great price, can be carried in your purse.
The Bad: Kids might constantly bug you to play it with them.
Skippity is an extremely easy game to learn and to play. Similar to Checkers, players cover each square on the board with “skippers,” or little discs that come in five different colors. They then take turns making straight-line leaps with any disc over any other discs to capture the colors they need to make a complete set. The player with the most complete sets win.
The boys had fun playing this, but at ages 9 and 11, it was a little simplistic for them to really get into. Kids younger than they are would probably enjoy it more. Ages 5+. Price $20.
The Good: Easy, quick, colorful.
The Bad: Best for younger kids, flimsy and sort of cheaply made
Sam and I were excited when we opened up Set, a “visual perception” card game that’s won over 25 best game awards. However, try as we might, we just couldn’t figure out how to play this game. Per the wordy directions, players start by putting 12 cards, each with a different visual shape, color, number or shading on it, on the table. They must then find a “Set” of three cards that are either different or the same. Sounds easy enough, but the directions then show a picture of a green diamond, a blue outlined diamond and a red outlined diamond and note, “All three cards have the same shape, different colors and the same number of symbols, but they are not all the same or all different in shading; two are outlined and one is not.” Huh? Instant headache.
But based on the awards given, I’m sure this game is worthwhile and we’ll definitely give it another shot. Wish us luck. Ages 10+. Price $13.
The Good: Portable, since it’s just a card deck. Award winning.
The Bad: Pricey for a stack of cards. Very hard to understand using the included directions.
If I had to pick one game as my family favorite, I’d have to go with Blokus. It’s one of those games that you know you’ll be better at each time you play it. But with all of these choices, you’re sure to find the perfect game to keep your family entertained this winter. Good luck and have fun!
Lastly, would love to hear what board games you enjoy playing with your family. Please share.
Photo source: iStockphoto/Thinkstock