Stuck at home with the family because of coronavirus and looking for things to do? It's a perfect time to join the boardgame renaissance and dive into one of these top five family boardgames. These games and the hundreds of others now available, teach valuable critical thinking skills, and most importantly are a welcome distraction from the digital – and viral – age we live in.
Grizzled old veteran boardgamers such as myself would call most of these games, gateway-games. Easy to play and as the name implies, a gateway to the hobby.
Here's the list:
Catan, aka Settlers of Catan: It's hard to believe but this game has been around for 25 years. Catan is the first German style, or "Euro" game, to crossover into the U.S. market. Germans have had a long history of enjoying boardgames with families and many of us in the hobby during the 1990s would import these games from German online sellers and search out translated rules. Catan was one of the first of these games to be brought to the US market and take off.
In Catan you play one of two to four settlers of a small island, don't worry if your family is larger there's an expansion that lets you play with up to six. The island consists of hexes that represents different types of land where resources can be gathered, wood in the forest, ore in the mountains, brick in the clay pits, wheat in the fields, and sheep in the pastures.
Each hex has a randomly assigned number on it. On your turn you roll and everyone gets the resources on the hexes they have a settlement placed on the number rolled. On your turn you get to build settlements, roads, cities, or development cards with the resource cards you've collected. You can also trade with other players for their resources. You'll get the hang of it and be saying, "I'll give you a sheep for two wood," in no time.
The winner is the first person to reach 10 points. Catan is a great way to teach your family networking, resource management, and valuable trading skills. Plus it's a heck of a lot of fun.
Ticket to Ride: 'Ticket to Ride' is the first game of the boardgame renaissance to go mainstream. It was one of the first of the new style boardgames to find its way into Target and Walmart. In the game you are building out a rail network by drawing cards of different colors. When you have the right number of cards for a particular rail link you lay the cards down, rummy style, and build out that link.
You score more points for longer links. But there's a catch. Each player also has secret network cards that are worth points at the end of the game if they can complete them. The other players don't know which card you have.
Ticket to ride is a game where you only need to know how to count, and see colors. It's a perfect gateway-game. And if you like it there are more versions set all over the world.
Space Base: I've tried for years to find the right game to get my parents, who love playing card and dice games, into the hobby. The game that finally did it, after 25 years of trying is Space Base, they play the game multiple times every night. Like Catan, in Space Base there is little down-time as you get to do things on other players turns.
In the game, you're the admiral of a fleet of ships setting out on a cross galactic voyage. You have ships of different values from one to 12 – the numbers you can roll on two six sided dice. On your turn, roll the dice and add activate one or two cards using the two dice. Roll snake eyes, you can either activate your two card once, or your one card twice.
Here's the cool part, your opponents get to activate all the cards they've got in those slots on the top row of their board when you roll. You put cards on the top row after you've bought a new card for the slot. Often your most powerful actions happen on other people's turns.
If waiting for the other four people to go in Monopoly is why you hate boardgames, the constant player interaction in this game is a treat.
Dixit: Dixit is a great game that will appeal to the more creative people in your family. It's a game that falls in the charades family where you're guessing based off of things people do. In this case it's the beautiful piece of art you lay down.
Players have a hand of art cards. When it's your turn, you lay down a card and say a phrase. For instance, if there's a lion and a metal funnel in the picture you may say "The Wizard of Oz." Then other people will play image cards that match, as best they can, your phrase.
The cards are randomly arranged, and players get points for people who guess that their card was the card the active player – you played.
Wingspan: The newest game on this list is also the most educational. Wingspan was the runaway hit of 2019. In it you are running your own bird sanctuary. As you build out your sanctuary the actions you can take grow. In the hobby this is called an engine-building game.
The birds have powers that are based upon their real world traits. This is a science lesson disguised as a game with Audobon fieldbook quality art.
Your birds need to eat, lay eggs, and yes even kill other birds in order to survive. It's tremendously more fun than a game about birds should be.
Don't have these games yet? Don't worry, most of them are readily available on Amazon and other online retailers. It should only take a day or so for them to be delivered. If you've found yourself hooked on the hobby after trying these games, check out BoardGameGeek.com. It's the world's largest on-line community of boardgamers and has the most extensive database of games available.
Jump in, and have fun.