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My very favorite thing to do with my school-aged kids these days is to play card games and board games. Recently, I taught Petunia a card game called Spite and Malice that I used to play with my great-grandmother and my grandmother. It warms my heart to share stories with her of how "pulling a great-grandma" means holding an ace in your hand when there's space to play it (which is against the rules), connecting her to a family member who died many years before her birth. I can almost taste my great-grandma's homemade potato soup as we play these games.
I'd love to hear what your family's favorite games are. Meanwhile, below, I've listed our family favorite card and board games, followed by a quick mention of some favorite DS and Wii games since we're a Nintendo-loving family.
But first, I offer a reminder to think about enhancing family game night by packaging these with supplemental gifts to enhance the in-home play experience. Food gifts, especially, are great for family game night. We have a s'mores set that often comes out for these nights; fondue, popcorn, hot chocolate, and accessories to go with those are lots of fun! What goes best with the gift of a game, though, is the gift of your time to play it with the recipient -- something that costs nothing to give but is, indeed, priceless.
Without further ado, here are my suggestions for games your family will love this year:
- Set: If you don't have this game yet, you need it. It's a Mensa game of visual perception that involves everyone playing at once -- no turns -- to deduce and to collect patterns. I used to play this one for hours with friends in college. This year, I asked Santa for the newest version of Set, Set Cubed, which combines the usual visual perception game with strategy for an enhanced gaming experience. The Set card game is appropriate for about ages 8 and up (and adults will love it, too -- it's not just for kids!).
- Scrabble Slam: Petunia and I could play this one for hours. It's a high-paced four-letter word card game in which players race to change words as they rid their hands of cards. This game is appropriate for about 3rd grade and up, but, like Set, is great for adults, too.
- Blink: This is a fast game that's easy to learn; it involves each player racing to get rid of his/her cards by discarding matching card patterns. Dash (age 5) can play this one (though he's slower than Petunia and me, which frustrates him); it's better for more equally-matched opponents, like Petunia and me.
- There's a Moose in the House: This game is billed for ages 8 and up, but Dash has played it with Petunia and me since age 4. For 2-5 players, it's basically a silly twist on a matching game that's fun for the whole family.
- Slamwich: This is a game where speed wins. You play to win sandwiches concocted of unlikely sets of ingredients -- somewhat unappetizing at times! -- while stopping thieves and munchers from stealing the game. This game won a toy award and is billed as being great for reading readiness, as it involves visual discrimination, sequencing, and anticipation. I can see it, so I gift it to a lot of kinder-aged families; I think it's probably best for 5-10 years or so, though parents can certainly join in the fun (and be defeated by smaller, faster hands!).
- Qwirkle: Last spring, I heard Po Bronson talk about his latest tome, NurtureShock; and, in his talk, he mentioned that games like Set and Qwirkle, both already favorites on our shelves, are proven to increase children's IQ. Score! Petunia and I could play Qwirkle for hours. Like Set, it's a visual perception game, but it combines that with elements of strategy as well as domino-type interweaving of tiles. It's addictive! Dash is starting to learn to play, so I'd say this game is great for about 1st grade and up; adults will enjoy it too.
- Chocolate Fix: This is a single-player game in which the player follows clues on a card to place pieces in the proper pattern. Also mentioned by Po Bronson (as were the Rush Hour games), this game reminds me of timeless paper-and-pencil logic puzzles. Petunia and I love it; Dash is a little young for it yet, so I'd say this is appropriate for about 3rd grade and up.
- Square Up: Dash received this is a 5th birthday gift, which is about the right age to start playing it. It's a one- or two-player game in which players shake a cube of blocks (kind of like one side of a Rubik's cube), then compete with giant "slide puzzles" to get their pieces in the right order. Petunia has taken it out to play with friends, and I've even challenged the Guv to a couple of races. The game comes with two cubes to shake and two slide puzzles; it's a competition to finish whichever puzzle you shake, not a head-to-head battle, but it's fun enough that our family's picking up another set so that we can all four race the clock together.
- Clue Harry Potter: It's hard to improve on a classic, awesome game like the original Clue, but here, the Parker Brothers game company has delivered in spades. The board is bigger and involves more rooms than the original plus has the added twist of wheels, spun on most turns, that open and close doors and invoke dark magic. It's difficult to explain, but, basically, you should know that this game adds a couple of layers of complexity and takes more time than the orginal Clue; it also requires more players (at least 3). Petunia at age 10 is barely old enough to have the patience for it but enjoys it a lot when we do play.
- Blokus: Dash and I are Blokus addicts. While the pieces are shaped like Tetris ones, the point of this game isn't to interconnect them but, rather, is to have them barely touch (corner-to-corner only) as you attempt to cover enough of the board that your opponent can't use his/her pieces. For up to four players, it's harder with more people playing. I love how it pushes Dash to think about spatial relations, and he can even beat me sometimes when he's quite focused. This is a great sit-still-and-think game for ages 5 and up.
Nintendo DS Games:
- Anything from UbiSoft's Imagine series: Petunia right now is addicted to the Imagine games; she's added 4 to her Santa list already! She has the boutique owner one and another fashion-related one (if I could find them in her room, I'd say which ... ahem, Santa is watching!). The premise of these games is that the player is the teacher, zookeeper, fashion designer, babysitter, etc., designing and enacting experiences, keeping tabs on trends and unlocking codes to higher levels. Most of these games are girl-oriented and probably best for about 3rd grade and up.
- Brain Age: Petunia received this game as a gift, and I thought she'd be unexcited about it; it's a "school" game in which math, reading, logic, and other puzzles are used to "train" one's brain through exercising it. How wrong I was! Petunia likes competing against herself to better her Brain Age, and she plays this game just as much as she plays her Mario ones. Go figure! This is a great holiday gift, keeping those math skills fresh over a long break. ; )
- Anything Mario: Whether New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64, or anything else Mario, these are the games that I play on Petunia's DS. I love me some Mario! The endless worlds, hidden areas, spectacular challenges, and fun just never stops with these games. A Mario game is a must-buy with a child's first DS.
Nintendo Wii games:
- Animal Crossing: City Folk: A couple of years ago, Petunia and I attended a media event sponsored by Nintendo and tested this game; on the way home from the event, we stopped at Best Buy to purchase it, and we've loved it ever since. This game never gets old. It's a lot like a Sim City game in which you're building your own community, managing your own house, health, and wealth, and interacting with others. Dash has been able to enjoy it since age 3, and the Guv enjoys the "turnip trade" ... This is by far our favorite family Wii game, as it has something for everyone.
- Playground: Our other most-played Wii game is Playground; paper airplanes and darts, especially, are mad-competitive around here. These games are shorter and easier to keep Dash's attention.
- Rayman Raving Rabbids: This game is a whole lot of silly fun. Gladiator dome? Check! Bunnies on the potty? Check! Flinging a cow through the air? Got it! OMG, we laugh so hard when we're playing this game! I'm dying to pick up its newest version, Raving Rabbids Travel in Time, to see what crazy silliness is next on deck!
- Wii Sports Resort: This game requires the new motion plus remote accessory, but boy, is it worth it. We each have our favorites: Dash, swordfighting; the Guv, table tennis; Petunia, air sports; and me, wakeboarding. Often, two of us will play real ping-pong while the other two take turns with this game -- an active, family-play evening!
- Wii Fit Plus: This game requires a balance board, which is tricky for Dash to use. That said, Petunia, especially, gets a kick out of a lot of its games, especially kung fu, and I like that she gets some measurable exercise while she plays. (Okay, it's not much -- but she's not sitting on the couch as she plays, either, which counts for something!) I like the ski games quite a bit.
Next up: Part Three: Gifts of In-home Experiences (Cooking, Gift Clubs, Home Decor and More)
This is cross-posted on Good Stuff Rox.