In the wake of a two-decade long technology boom, board games have found themselves on the short list of objects destined for oblivion and the phrase “when I was your age, blah, blah, something about walking two miles, barefoot in the snow to play Monopoly.” Poor board games. What must it be like living in the shadow of your stronger, bigger brother, iPad and your much prettier sister the Wii? For a while puzzles and the Rubik’s cube sat in the corner with Scrabble and felt sorry for themselves, but now it seems that they’ve had a good cry and are ready to rally.
“Hey!” they said, “Actually talking face to face with people is fun! We make you better prepared for school and social interactions! We make you smarter! Yeah, we’re kind of a big deal.”
Well played Scrabble, well played.
The board games are right, friends. Some games have rested on their laurels and are content to leave it up to dice and fate (I’m looking at you, Candyland) but others are games that allow mini board game lovers to employ critical thinking skills like observation, interpretation, inference, and meta-cognition (a.k.a. thinking about how you think.)
There’s some deep philosophical and cognitive stuff going on behind the scenes when people are engaged in a rousing round of chess. Don’t worry, we’re not going to push chess on you, although that Bobby Fisher kid seemed to think it was pretty okay.
The good news is that games have actually risen in popularity in recent years. There are some that are already on our radar like Apples to Apples, which has a junior version, too. But here are some other options if you’ve already been through those red and green cards a thousand and one times and are looking for something new.
Blokus (pronounced like “block us”) is an abstract strategy game for two to four players in which each player has to fit as many of his or her 21 red, green, blue, and yellow pieces of varying sizes and shapes on the board as possible. It looks a little like Tetris in real life. The first piece played of each color is placed in one of the board’s four corners. Each new piece played must be placed so that it touches at least one piece of the same color, with only corner-to-corner contact allowed — edges cannot touch. However, edge-to-edge contact is allowed when two pieces of different color are involved. When a player cannot place a piece, he or she passes. The game ends when no one can place a piece. This one won the Mensa Select award and the 2004 Teacher’s Choice Award. It utilizes spatial intelligence as well and analysis skills. It’s recommended for ages 5+ but is definitely still a challenge for adults too; we could all use a little brushing up on those spatial intelligence skills. It might be a good idea for the players under eight if you play on teams or all together. My six year-old cousin flipped the board out of frustration. Important sidenote: He was winning at the time. Other important sidenote: It was really funny and cute. Said cousin recovered his composure remarkably quickly and then went to pretend he was a robot alien dragon.
I like this one because it goes to the other end of the spectrum, to the more creative side of cognitive thinking. In this game, players use their imagination to get teammates to guess a word by using items like pieces like wooden sticks, glass beads, colored cubes, wooden people and string. A card is drawn. Then the “morphologist” has 50 total pieces at their disposal to help teammates guess the word. There are twists like making noises or becoming one of the pieces used to create the word. This one is also recommended for 8+ but can be modified for younger players by working cooperatively or having more than one morphologist at a time
Spot It! Doesn’t use a board, just cards but this board-less board game is too much fun not to mention. Spot It! is a simple pattern recognition game in which players try to find an image shown on two cards. Each card in Spot It! features eight different symbols, with the symbols varying in size from one card to the next. Any two cards have exactly one symbol in common. To begin, flip a card. Whoever spots the symbol in common on both cards claims the first card, then another card is revealed for players to search, and so on. Whoever has collected the most cards when the 55-card deck runs out wins. There are multiple themed versions of this game including Halloween and baseball themes. When I played with the aforementioned younger cousin, I’m happy to report that nothing was flipped over in a blinding but adorable rage.
I have to give a shout out to at least one of the old school games since by many of my younger board game teammates standards I am, in fact, old, and because for those littlest of gamers in question this is a pretty good one. It moves quickly and teaches close observation as well as deductive reasoning. You may know it but in case you were out playing tetherball while I was playing Guess Who? here’s how it works. It’s recommended for two players ages 6+. Each player starts the game with a board that includes cartoon images of 24 people and their first names. Both players select a card of their choice from a separate pile of cards containing the same 24 images. The object of the game is to be the first to guess which card one’s opponent has selected. Players alternate asking various yes or no questions to eliminate candidates, such as “Does this person wear a hat?” Players flip down pictures of characters as they rule them out. I swear this game also promotes good memorization skills. I haven’t played this game since I was a second grader and I still remember how the character Sam looks — like Larry David and a turtle had a baby, in case you were wondering. You’re welcome for that image.
Don’t forget, some of the most educational (and fun!) games are those old school games we had to trudge through the snow to play with the dinosaurs. Many such as Scrabble, Clue, and Scattergories now have updated and/or kid-friendly versions. You can also check out the list of Mensa Select recipients.
Have a happy geeky game night!