Don’t Hate the Player: Board games to play with the people you love

As an avid gamer, there is nothing I love more than introducing friends to the world of board games. For those of you who can only picture Monopoly or Dungeons and Dragons, there is an entire universe of board games in between those two extremes, with all different themes and requiring all different skill levels, that can take anywhere from five minutes (literally) to several hours to play. I have literally never attended or hosted a game night that wasn’t a success.

In a vacuum, the only thing I need a game to be is fun. However, as a father of two small(-ish) kids, my demands tend to be a bit more robust. These days, if I find the time for a board game, it’s during a family game night. Now, If you’ve ever sat down with children to suffer through another round of traditional kids games, then you understand the nightmare of “playtime” that lasts forever and more often than not ends in tears. Therefore, the perfect games for me right now are ones that can be enjoyed by multiple generations, whether they win or lose.

A tall order, I know, but I have a pile of games in my house that check all these boxes and then some. So if you’re looking for games that the whole family will (really and truly) enjoy, here are some suggestions:


1.      Dixit – Don’t let the weird name fool you; this is the most requested and frequently played game I own. The premise is simple: Each player gets six cards illustrated with beautiful, abstract art. One person offers up a title for a card in their hand, and everyone secretly hands in one of their own that could go by the same name. All cards are laid out, and players must guess which one came from that first player. The premise is simple enough, but the range of skills needed to play – imagination, deduction, bluffing, etc. – make it a game that never gets old. Also, the last time I played, my 6-year-old daughter legitimately beat three adults who were NOT trying to let her win. How cool is that?

2.      Dungeon! – Dungeon! is basically a gateway drug to D&D, but its seamless blending of strategy and luck makes it a classic. Players choose one of four character types, each of which offers its own strategy as they fight monsters and collect treasures. Everything is controlled by dice, and while that can be frustrating at times, every player gets plenty of chances, and ends the game with lots of great loot. This is my 10-year-old son’s current favorite game, and since both winners and losers alike are happy once it’s over, it’s one I’m happy to pull off the shelf when requested.

3.      Code Names – On the surface, Code Names is so simple that it almost sounds boring. Cards with words or pictures on them are laid out in a 5×5 pattern, and clue givers must get their teammates to guess which of the cards belong to them using only one word. However, the hidden genius of this game is how it seamlessly adjusts its complexity based on who’s playing. For young kids, it’s enough to lead them to one card at a time. However, as players get older, you can try to find ways to get your team to guess more than one per clue. Code Names comes in its original form, as well as Marvel, Harry Potter and Disney versions, so there’s one that’s right for any family.

4.      Flash Point – While Flash Point is a fantastic game on its own (you play as firefighters attempting to rescue people from a burning building), this entry is really more for the genre of cooperative games. Co-op games have all the players working together on one team, while the game (typically through the use of a special deck) does all it can to defeat them. Not only are these games very fun, they also provide fantastic opportunities to model collaborative thinking and graciousness in defeat (and believe me, you WILL lose from time to time). Other examples of co-op games include Matt Leacock’s Forbidden trilogy (Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Sky), and Dead Men Tell No Tales. Or, for a different twist on the genre, you could try:

5.      Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle – This game takes a story you (almost certainly) already know, and allows you to experience it (to a degree, of course). Working together, players build up their personal decks with ever more powerful cards as they try to fight off the villains from the Harry Potter world. With seven iterations to play (one for each book/movie/school year), it gets progressively harder and more complex as you go on, offering immense replayability and some surprisingly intense gameplay.

6.      Sheriff of Nottingham – This is a game I have never seen play out twice the same way. Each round, one player takes the role of the Sheriff, while the others play merchants attempting to get their goods to market by placing some cards in a bag and declaring what’s in them. You might be telling the truth, or you might be attempting to smuggle in illegal (but very valuable) contraband. The Sheriff can inspect any bag he wants, but bribery, bluffing and illicit dealing are all part of the game. Everyone gets a turn as the Sheriff, and by the end, you’ll have turned yourself in knots (in a good way) trying to guess the best strategy and outguess your opponents.

7.      Chronicles of Crime – The box for this game contains a slew of cards with elements of a crime on them – locations, suspects and objects – all with a QR code on them. When the time comes to play, you open up the CoC app and select the mystery you want to solve. You will then be thrust into a relatively open-world format, where you can search scenes, find clues, interrogate witnesses and consult experts as you piece together what happened and (hopefully) save the day. I took this out one day for a group of very reluctant kids, and when we were finished, they were begging to start another case.

8.      Doctor Panic – Finally, if you want some high-energy lunacy for a large group, this is the perfect choice. You have 12 minutes to save a patient in the ER, and the only way to do so is by having groups of kids perform crazy tasks and get interrupted by calls from their boss (delivered by a free app). Simply put, this game has NEVER failed to win over a big group of kids looking for something different.

As my kids get older, this list might change. But for now, when I’m looking for a fun family evening, you’ll find us around one of these games every time.