With the winter holidays come holiday cheer and for many of us, gatherings with family and (non-gaming) friends. Alas!
We are optimistic folks of course. We studiously examine our shelves, seeking that small cardboard box of magic pixie dust–the game you can play with non-gamers. You are seeking the perfect family game.
What makes a good family game?
A good family game should have enough going on that you as a gamer don’t mind playing it but its complexity is not out of the reach of your non-gaming social circle. With this in mind, four criteria are critical:
(A) The rules needed to play can be taught in three sentences or fewer.
(B) The components teach (or at least reinforce) the rules.
(C) The victory condition can be stated in one sentence.
(D) The game must contain an engaging dexterity or social component.
Here are my three top picks and how each measures up against these four criteria.
Debra and I were introduced to HABA games around 2005. We were at a small gaming convention in Atlanta and we tried one of them out. Now a shelf is dedicated to these yellow boxes of joy. King among them is Tier Auf Tier–Animal Upon Animal.
(A) The essential rules are perfect: Roll the die, place pieces so they don’t fall, pieces must be in the same plane.
But what about the faces of the die, you may ask. They can be taught as they come up. There is no need to cover them in advance.
(B) The components do not teach the rules as such. However, like all HABA products, they are attractive and exude a spirit of whimsy and fun.
(C) The victory condition is utterly simple–be the first one to run out of pieces.
(D) The dexterity element of this game far exceeds its closest American counterpart Jenga: They provide an immediate set of tactile feedback when placing each piece. Watching your grandmother smirk as she leaves you to place your round sheep atop a precarious ladder of wood will be all the proof you need.
High school gaming consisted almost consistently of Hearts, Spades and RPGs. It was in college that I began to branch out. One of the first we tried was Scattergories. It has since served as one of our lead social games. The conversations which spring up around this game are frequently the best part of the experience. Six strangers can sit down for a play and end the session with a connection. And is that not one of the main reasons we come to the game table in the first place?
(A) The essential rules are straightforward: draw a category card, roll the letter die, write a word or term for each category in the blanks provided. Compare with everyone else and score your unique answers.
(B) The components are a large fraction of the rules–the die sets the letter, the category card sets the categories, the sand timer declares when you stop. Your answer sheet is also your score sheet.
(C) Score one point for every answer you have which no one else used, high score wins.
(D) The phase in which players compare answers is a perfect opportunity to gain insight into your friends. In one case we were absolutely clobbered by a Brit. His everyday vocabulary differed from that of us Yanks and that gave him a major edge!
It was in 2002 that Ray introduced us to 6 Nimmt! Its mathematical core combined with its reliance on player-reading skills made it a standby for light gaming. 6 Nimmt! has now been released under many names and newer themes but my heart still has a warm spot for the bull headed edition.
(A) Clear and concise rules. Pick a card from your hand. Reveal simultaneously. Place cards from lowest to highest onto the board. Claim a pile if you place the sixth card but leave your card behind.
The results of these rules can become a bit involved in application but on their surface, they are simple. Again this is ideal for our purposes.
(B) The components of 6 Nimmt! are simply a deck of cards. The numbers however are extremely easy to read and the cow heads stick out prominently on each.
(C) Score one point for each cow head you collect, low score wins.
(D) Most of my favorite games involve an element of playing the other players. This is the core of 6 Nimmt! You have two cards left–one low and one high. Can you depend on your opponent to play that medium card and take the stack? Or will she go low? Or does she have you bamboozled? Good stuff all around!
What about you? What is your favorite game to play with non-gamers? Share it in the comments below!