Thursday, August 2, 2012

Selecting Games for Family Vacation

Once a year, my wife's family gets together for a summer vacation. Now that there are two grandchildren in the mix (my daughter and my nephew), vacation planning has become less about going out and doing things and more about sitting around the pool/beach or other baby-friendly environment. Though we still get an evening out here or there while someone in the family takes a shift sitting for the sleeping kids, most evenings are relegated to sitting on the deck and playing a board game.

Because of this frequent nightly event, the family turns to me with suggestions because I, after all, am the "game guy" of the family. Unfortunately, being a "game guy" comes loaded a mixed bag for this situation. yes I can suggest a wide-range of board games for this group to play to break up the Monopoly/Trivial Pursuit stand-bys. But this audience is familiar with the ol' stand-bys and anything beyond that carries the sense of game-geekery that turns off the group from a potentially engaging night. I wonder if somaliers have this problem when trying to get friends to try a really excellent vintage, but they would really just like to stick with the box wine.

Check out how the light cascades through this Boone's Farm
For this year, I have gathered together an assortment of games to try out. I picked them out specifically for this audience, but with the mindset to appeal to a wide range of age and interests.

Here are the games that I subjected the family and what their response was:

Settlers of Catan: The masterpiece that changed board games forever. 1995 Spiele des Jahres award winner. It is such a great game because adults and children can play together without the children being lost or adults being bored (play Candy Land as an adult, I dare you)

Being 30-something means playing board games in the backyard while in slacks and dress shoes.

  • Family Reaction - Whoa, what is this? German? This is already too complicated. Hexagons? Dice rolls? Mostly just arm flailing and wreckage of people giving up. Overall, a complete catastrophe with most players assuming that German children must be physicists and engineers from birth to get this game.
    Gunther, your model of the neodymium molecule fails to address the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. How do you expect to finish the 1st grade with this work?
  • Evaluation - maybe too much game for this crowd out of the gate. Too many things going on and it gets confusing very quickly if you are used to Trivial Pursuit or Boggle.
My new favorite game

Cards Against Humanity: This game can best be described as the evil version of Apples to Apples. If you've never played Apples to Apples, the game is simple. You need a group of players, and each round, one player becomes a judge. The remaining players use cards in their hands that have a word or phrase to best match the card put on the table. Players get to argue their match and the judge makes the final call. In Apples to Apples, you sometimes get combinations that are unintentionally hilarious whether from the pairing or how someone makes the argument for it. I've seen "Operation" be used as an example of "Selfish", or "Bangkok" paired with "Dirty". All fun with the party you are in, and only as risque as you'd like. Cards Against Humanity throws the subtlety out the window and just comes up with the worst possible combinations that are still inappropriately funny. 
  • Family Reaction - surprisingly positive. They understood what they needed to do just from a 1-minute description of the game. Outside of a few uncomfortable pairings somehow everyone enjoyed being ragingly un-PC for an evening.
  • Evaluations - Huge success. Though one must be careful as to who they play with. It must be a close group of friends and no one can be too sensitive. Something in this deck is made to offend you directly, so get over it before you even open the box.
Not as cool as it used to be.

Apples to Apples: I brought this version of the game just in case Cards Against Humanity didn't go over too well. But after you play CAH, there really is no going back. This one sat in the corner collecting dust. If Apples to Apples is a party playing Twister, Cards Against Humanity is the party from Eyes Wide Shut.

Should have been a sign to not work with your significant other. And then there's Vanilla Sky.

Ticket To Ride: This game was selected for the family not only because it is another Spiele des Jahres award winner, but what you do on a turn is very simple when compared to Settlers. In Ticket to Ride, everyone at the table is creating lines of railroads across the country. You have point-to-point locations you are trying to tie together. Each turn you can either build 1 track, get more resources, or get more locations. Pretty simple.

Sort of like the land grab in Monopoly, only you are  not stuck in Atlantic City

  • Family Reaction - completely loved the game. Similar to Cards Against Humanity, they grok games that can be explained in a minute or less. Some of the players at the table are killer player types and for some reason they enjoyed blocking pathways as fast as they could, giggling the whole way. And one of these was my wife.
  • Evaluations - This is an excellent entry level game for folks into the realm of good, modern board games. Consider this a gateway game to Settlers. Though gauging my specific audience, I would go from Ticket to Ride, then Carcassonne, then Settlers.

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