Monday, November 3, 2014

Family, Thanksgiving, and Games

Two years ago, I wrote this blog post about some of my favorite family games, and about how important games were to me growing up. Two by Two is no longer one of the games we regularly play, but amazingly all of the others continue to be huge family favorites in our household.

Many things in my family's life have changed in the past 4 years since I opened Labyrinth. My son has changed schools twice, and is now a middle schooler loving his newest school. He is getting more independent every day. I went from working about 20 to 30 hours a week to working about 80 hours a week. My father passed away. The holidays are nuts, and we don't always get the family time to which we were accustomed. BUT, one thing has remained the same: we all still love to play games and do puzzles as much as possible - every chance we can get - especially during the holidays. Games and puzzles make holiday, family gatherings more fun.

Luckily, another awesome thing about opening Labyrinth is that we've made wonderful new friends, and we've had the opportunity to try hundreds of new games. I am incredibly thankful for our fantastic staff, amazing customers, tremendous community and most of all for my absolutely. terrifically awesome and supportive family. I thought now as we enter into a month all about thankfulness, we might all want to spend a little more quality time with our friends and families. You may even want to try out some of these newer family favorites.


I'm pretty sure Splendor is going to end up one of my new favorite games of all time. It's definitely my favorite of this year. It is a pretty simple, fast game in which you are collecting precious gems, represented either by colored poker chips or cards, and you try to build a collection that will help you buy more expensive gems, earning you points and eventually helping you win the game hopefully. The game is simple enough for kids as young as 8 or 9, possibly even younger if they are used to playing games, and is really fun for adults. It takes under an hour to play, and can be played in as fast as about 1/2 hour if people make quick decisions, and plays very well with 2 to 4 players. There are only 4 different things you can do on a turn, and the game is very different each time it is played due to the fact that strategy is very dependent on how the cards are revealed.

Sushi Go

This cute little card game comes in at a very close 2nd place for my favorite game of this year. It is super easy to teach, and almost everyone I know loves it. It was re-released this year by Gamewright, one of my favorite family game publishers. The game is a card drafting game in which you try to collect various sets of sushi for points. If you are a gamer, think easier, faster 7 Wonders. Everyone starts out with a certain number of cards (determined by number of players). Each player chooses one card from their hand and pass the rest of their cards to the next player either left or right depending on the round. Then, they choose another card from their new hand. This continues until all the cards are drafted and revealed. Special groups of sushi score points each round, and pudding can help or hurt at the end of the game. This is a fast, easy-to-learn card game that is best with 3 to 5 players, although it does offer an acceptable 2-player variant. We've regularly played with children as young as 5 and 6. WARNING: It will make you want sushi.

Forbidden Desert

This game actually came out last year, but it continues to be my favorite of the cooperative trifecta which also includes Forbidden Island, its thematic prequel, and Pandemic, a more adult-themed game by the same designer. Each of these three games include similar, but also some unique, game mechanics in which all of the players are trying to work together to reach some goal before the game beats them. In Forbidden Desert, you are archaeologists searching for an ancient flying machine as your group is beset by a horrible sand storm. Cooperative games are a great family choice if some family members still do not handle winning and losing well, or if you feel that perhaps some teamwork may help improve family morale. If you are a fan of Forbidden Island or Pandemic, and want to try to up your game a bit, I find Forbidden Desert to be more challenging and more interesting than the other two. I especially like the movement of the board as the sand storm changes direction, the way you must uncover the coordinates of the hidden machine, and the need to make sure everyone shares water or the game is lost. I feel that optimal usage of each player's special role is even more crucial to successfully winning this game. If you have never played a cooperative game or have younger children in your family, I would start with Forbidden Island. And, if the current Ebola scare is making you want to save the world from horrible epidemics, Pandemic has been our biggest board game seller of the year. I would recommend Forbidden Desert to families with children as young as 9 or 10. We've played Forbidden Island with kids as young as first grade. I usually don't play Pandemic with kids until middle or high school, mainly due to the somewhat frightening theme.

Battle Sheep

This game from Blue Orange, makers of Spot It and Gobblet Gobblers, has been a huge hit with our families and after-school classes this year. It is a quick and easy abstract strategy game in which 2 to 4 players try to move their stack of sheep tokens around the board, leaving a sheep behind in each field hex as they go. The purpose is to try to control the most territory by the end of the game when no more moves are possible. My favorite part of this game is that the board is made up of movable groupings of hex tiles so that crazy board layouts are possible. This really adds a fun twist to the spatial aspects of the game. This is a great game if you want something fast and strategic for a family with younger children or even older elementary/middle school students. I think kids as young as 4 or 5 could easily get the concept of this game. They may not be able to win at first, but they should be able to quickly pick up some of the strategies. If you like games like checkers, chess, tic tac toe, or Gobblet Gobblers, this would be an excellent option.

Camel Up

And, last but certainly not least, is a brand new game that we've only just received in the store. Camel Up is very quickly becoming a favorite in my family and with the folks at our Thursday game nights. This game can played with 2 to 8 players, making it a terrific choice if you have a large family. In the game you bet on which camel will win various legs of a race as well as the entire race. Camel movement is hard to predict and is decided by rolling one die (1, 2 or 3 spaces) for each camel in a random, unknown order. Thinking about the possible probabilities can be mind blowing because camels can stack on top of one another and will carry any camels that end up on top. It is a super cute game with ingenious mechanics that lasts about 1/2 hour. It is this year's winner of the very coveted Spiel des Jahres award, Germany's game of the year, which has become recognized as the most important award in board gaming. I haven't had a chance to play with many children yet, but I would imagine that 7/8 year olds could easily grasp the rules. My 10-year old child has been begging to play every day since we got it. The game always ends in riotous laughter. A better ending really can't be hoped for in family gaming. 

Other games that my family has been playing a lot lately include Machi Koro, Stratego, and Evolution. Whatever the interests and make up of your family, I'm sure that we have some games and puzzles that will help make your holiday season even more fun! Have a great Thanksgiving, and thank you for supporting your friendly, local, game store!

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