(This article was initially written for publication in Berkeley Hills Living Magazine.)
One or two Fridays of every month, my sons and I visit the home of a couple we know, who open their home to “family-of-choice” -- friends and relations whose company they genuinely enjoy.
This couple’s game library hovers around 100 titles, and it’s common for someone to pull one off the shelf and invite everyone else to play a session or two. Sometimes we get ultra-competitive, more often we don’t, but we always have fun … together.
Ultimately, that’s what playing games is about: enjoying shared experiences with people whose company you’ve chosen. And that’s essentially what getting together for holidays and other family gatherings is about, right? So with the winter holidays upon us, there’s really no better time for games than when everyone’s gathered together anyway.
But what to play? Today the answers to that question are just as diverse as we are.
If you’re like me, you have a closet full of heavily worn games that were passed to you by your parents -- and perhaps by their parents before them. If the components are all there and the box is still intact, a game of Careers, Strat-o-Matic Baseball, or Mystery Date can be a fun window into the past; a catalyst for generations to talk about the times when those games were new. If they’re not in especially great shape, you’ll often be able to replace mainstay classics like Clue, Risk, or Scrabble with modern editions that offer additional flavor by updating imagery or providing optional rules.
There’s something of a board game renaissance happening these days. “Gadget fatigue” and a returning desire for social interaction have combined with easier design and manufacturing, enabling creators to make games with imaginative themes and play styles -- games that provide the perfect means to engage family members who may otherwise be glued to their phones. A few examples include Catan (manage resources and settle an uninhabited island), Azul (embellish the palace walls with mosaic tiles), and King of Tokyo (one of my personal favorites, where everyone’s a giant monster!), but there are literally thousands to choose from these days.
Maybe everyone gets along in your family, and maybe not. Holiday gatherings can test those bonds, but cooperative games (one of the newest and most popular styles) have the potential to bring people closer, because the players aren’t trying to beat each other -- they’re trying to beat the game itself. Stopping a deadly virus (Pandemic), defending a tower from invaders (Castle Panic), or surviving World War I (The Grizzled) -- and doing it together -- can be a fun way to find common ground.
AND IF NONE OF THOSE STRIKE YOUR FANCY
There’s always jigsaw puzzles ...
Looking for advice about how to pick a game, or want to tell us about some of your favorites? Leave a comment here, drop by the shop, or send us an email via [email protected].
- Erik Bigglestone, Evil Overlord