Wednesday, November 24, 2010

5 Games to Help You Survive Your Relatives

It's the holidays. You like games. Your relatives? Probably not so much. Liking games, that is. You might play a variety of different game genres, but you're not likely to get a lot of 40K in with Aunt Betsy. Instead, here are some fun and light board and card games you might want to whip out to pass the time while you avoid discussing politics, Aunt Betsy's naked backscatter scan, or whatever new way they've found to torture you this year. I want to focus on five that should fit the bill, but also have a small bill at the checkout counter. As much as I would like to suggest you pick up a $50 game like Ticket to Ride, the risk is too high if they balk at playing. Here are five muggle friendly games around $20:

Forbidden Island
Players work together to stop the island from sinking. They've each got a role to play in this fun, stripped down version of the more gamier Pandemic. You might also get some of the kids to play, if the relatives balk, as the age for this games is 10 and up (around 8, if your relatives have smart kids). Forbidden Island will be THE family game of the year this holiday season and it's for good reason. Lots of gaming goodness for around $15. If your family is more gamer oriented, consider jumping right to Pandemic or Ghost Stories. This is a cooperative game, so if they're clearly not going to do that, skip Forbidden Island. Go directly to Saboteur.

In this card game, you take the role of dwarves mining for gold. It works best in larger groups of 6-10 players. There is a cooperative element, like Forbidden Island, but some of the dwarves are saboteurs, attempting to undermine the group by diverting them away from the gold, creating collapses and breaking the other miners equipment. The identity of each miner is secret so there's some hilarity and mayhem as players attempt to figure our what's going on. It's similar to Bang! in this way, but a bit easier to play. Consider Bang! if you've got gamer relatives, or jump straight to the Battlestar Gallactica board game for an even deeper experience as you identify whose the cylon. These are known as cooperative games with a betrayal mechanic.

This is an older card game, but it's still very popular. Players take on the role of executioners during the French Revolution, attempting to execute the high value nobles while letting the innocents go free (and reversing that for your opponents). You manipulate the line order to your advantage using various cards in your hand. It plays well with up to 5 players and isn't half bad one on one. Despite the grim game premise, game play is your fun, "screw your neighbor" type experience, while the cards are cartoony. If you are looking for a more grim game, and your relatives have a sense of humor, consider picking up Gloom, in which you force your family to suffer until you have enough points to kill them off (how I feel about watching sports, followed by Thanksgiving dinner). Some other classic "beer and pretzel" card games that mght be good picks: Killer Bunnies, Munchkin and Zombies!!!, but they're around $25-30.

Felix: The Cat In the Sack
This is a bluffing game where you play mice trying to buy the good cat in the sack, while getting your opponents to buy the bad cats, the dog or whatever you can manipulate them into taking. You do this through a simple bidding system in which you know the values of some of the cards, but not all. It's a cute, clever little game that's a staple at our board game nights. It's for 8 and up and costs around $15. It compares well to For Sale, although your relatives might find a game about real estate as repulsive as Gloom.

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (Red Box)
Do I dare suggest D&D for a family gathering? Yeah, pull it out. This is a stretch, and you're likely to only get interested teens to give it a try, but you might just start a family tradition. This new $20 D&D starter set is their best one yet. It's not perfect. It's not going to play itself or allow you to learn the instructions in five minutes like some of my other suggestions. However, if you've played D&D 4E, or really want to learn this new system, you should be able to get a lot of value out of this box set and easily introduce new players to the game. Making characters is part of the fun, but you might want to have some pre-generated if you think your audiences attention span may be limited. Consider leaving the game behind if you find a lot of enthusiasm. Everything you need to play is in the box, just make sure you read up ahead of time. Paizo is talking about having a Pathfinder starter set for next years holiday season, so consider waiting if that's your flavor.

Other games that come to mind: Mille Bornes (because my family played it as kids, you probably have a game like this), Citadels, Carcassonne and the ever popular, but $42, Settlers of Catan.

Let us know what you plan to play this holiday season with your relatives.

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