Family Vacation Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the game’s final prototype. The art, game bits, and the rules discussed are all subject to change. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 10+)
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Approximately 45 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Load the family in the car, crank up the tunes, and roll down the windows! It’s time for a family vacation roadtrip!

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek rejected!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

The “traditional family vacation” requires the entire family to pack themselves into a car full of luggage and then travel for miles and miles to see “something”. Then the car is turned towards home. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but for those who get to experience it, a family vacation is an event that will create many happy memories, embarrassing stories, and moments that will make any family come closer together, regardless if the biggest ball of twine is seen or not.

Family Vacation, by Philip duBarry and published by Jolly Roger Games, will reportedly be comprised of 1 game board that represents the United States, 6 Family boards, 16 Bonus Attraction tiles, 20 Photo tiles, 50 Interest tiles, 6 Plane Ticket cards, 20 Hometown cards, 24 Adventure cards, 60 white chips, 6 Car pawns (in 6 different colors), 25 Player pawns (in 6 different colors, 4 of each), and 1 Countdown Tracker pawn. As this is a review of a prepublished game, we will not comment on the game component quality. What we were given in the box looks great, though, and the proposed artwork is solid.

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Family Logistics

To set up the game, first place the game board out in the middle of the playing area. Have all the players sit around it with space in front of them.

Second, each player is given 1 Plane Ticket card, 1 Family board, 1 Car pawn, and 4 Player pawns of the same color as the Car pawn. The Player pawns are placed on the player’s Family board on the “3” space (there will be one for every family member) and the Plane Ticket card is just placed by the player’s Family board until used.

Third, shuffle the Hometown cards and deal 1 to each player. Players should look at this card, but keep it hidden from their opponents at all times. The player then takes their Car pawn and places it in the space on the game board that matches the player’s hometown as indicated by the Hometown card. The remaining Hometown cards are removed for the duration of the game.

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Fourth, shuffle the Adventure cards and place them on the designated spot reserved for the deck on the game board, face-down.

Fifth, set the Bonus Attraction tiles to one side of the game board, face-up. These can be left in a stack or spread out. Place the white chips to one side of the game board, as well.

Sixth, place the Countdown Tracker pawn on the “First Home” position located on the game board, place 1 Photo tile on each of the Photo spaces on the game board, and place the 2 Mexico and 2 Canada tiles on the game board, as well.

Seventh, randomize the Interest tiles and have each player draw 2 at a time blindly. These two interest tiles are placed to the left of each of the family members on the player’s Family board, starting at top. Continue to draw 2 tiles at a time going around the table until all the family members on the players’ Family boards are filled. The one exception to any Interest tile placement is that a Family board can never contain anymore than 2 of the same Interest tile. If a tile drawn would add a 3rd tile of the same type, the player should simply return the tile and draw another one. Any unused Interest tiles are removed for the duration of the game.

That’s it for game set up! Pick which player will go first and hit the roads!

The Joys and Perils of Family Vacations

The game is played in rounds with each player taking a turn during a round. A player’s turn is comprised of two steps which are summarized here.

Step 1: Move the Car

The player’s Car pawn travels across the country using the many interstates and highways that connect their hometown to all the interesting attractions. A player must always move their Car pawn into a new space. A “space” is defined as any major city hub (with lots of attractions), just a city, or a road.

When traveling on a road, the player will reduce all of their family members’ “happiness” (the number next to each family member) by -1. The lower the number, the more grumpy the family. These numbers also represent the points the players have collected so far, which will fluctuate throughout the game. The one exception to this rule is moving and using Route 66. There’s enough on Route 66 to keep family members entertained, but not happy, resulting in no change to any family members’ happiness. The same goes for any stretch of road that has a star on it (indicating a local attraction).

Note that when a player moves their Car pawn onto a road space that is already occupied by an opponent’s Car pawn, the player will reduce their family members’ happiness by an additional -1 because the road is now packed with traffic!

Step 2: Collect Happiness!

Depending on where the player moves their Car pawn, they could earn points and increase their family members’ happiness, unless they are traveling on an open road, in which case, that has already been explained. The spaces are summarized here.

  • City Space: A Car pawn, once placed on a city space can visit any unoccupied space in the city that is of interest to one of their family members and is still available. If it is available, the player takes a white chip and places it on the interest location signifying that is no longer available. The player then adds a number of happiness to the family member who has that interest and to the other family members, as well, who are happy that one of their family is happy (indicated on the Interest tile). For example, if the Interest tile listed +3/+1, that would indicate the family member who had that interest would get +3 happiness and all the other family members would get +1 happiness. Players cannot visit a space that is of no interest to any of their family members, but can always visit the dinning (food) interest for a +2 to all family members’ happiness.
  • Bonus Attraction Space: These are spaces that have a famous landmark that is worth pulling over and seeing, but only if the player’s Hometown card lists the attraction as something of interest to the family. If the player is the first to visit the attraction, they collect the matching Bonus Attraction tile and place it next to their Family board to be counted as points at the end of the game. The attraction space is then covered with a white chip.
  • Photo Space: Photo op, anyone? There are many scenic places to stop and take a bunch of photos for the family album. These spaces are marked with a Photo tile. When a player lands on the photo space, and there is a Photo tile there, they collect the tile and put it next to their Family board to be counted as points at the end of the game. Empty photo spaces are treated the same way as any space that is covered with a white chip.
  • Airport Space: Every player is given a one-way plane ticket they can turn in to immediately transport their family from one airport space to another airport space. This is a very fast and efficient way to travel long distances, but the family misses out on all the attractions and sights they would have seen if they had driven.
  • Hometown Spaces and Covered Spaces: If the player should ever land on their hometown or on any location that has a white chip, they draw an Adventure card. Adventure cards can be beneficial (give happiness or offer an opportunity to collect more happiness by completing tasks) or detrimental to the family fun (be reducing happiness). An Adventure card is immediately resolved and discarded, if possible, or kept by the player (face-down) to be used later in the game. It all depends on the card. Most Adventure cards help more than hinder, so players shouldn’t be shy about stepping out of their comfort zone while on their family vacation and go exploring.
  • Canada and Mexico: The United States’ neighbors to the north and to the south can also be visited by the players. The first to visit Canada or Mexico will collect the +10 happiness tile and the second player will collect the +5 happiness tile. Players cannot claim both. If the player is on a city space, they resolve it as normal in addition to collecting the bonus tiles for the other countries.
  • Local Attractions: Some of the Adventure cards let the player visit a new attraction (much like the ones on their Hometown card) for extra points. If the player lands on these, they take the Adventure card and place it next to their Family board for scoring at the end of the game.

After finishing their turn, the next player going clockwise takes their turn. This continues until the endgame is triggered.

Triggering the Endgame

Once a player has visited at least one of their bonus attractions noted on their Hometown card, they can return the family to their hometown and end their vacation. This starts the endgame and the endgame countdown. Other players may return to their hometowns at anytime after an opponent has triggered the endgame, even if they haven’t visited a bonus attraction.

For the player who triggered the endgame, they no longer move their Car pawn on their turn. Instead, they advance the Countdown Tracker pawn by one and collect +1 happiness for all their family members. Any other player who also returns home can no longer move their Car pawn and they cannot take any additional actions during their turn, but they do collect +1 happiness for each of their family members when the Countdown Tracker pawn is advanced.

Once the endgame is triggered, players have 7 rounds until the game ends.

Ending the Game

The game ends once the Countdown Tracker pawn is moved to the last space on the countdown track. Happiness is adjusted accordingly and all players now add the total number of their family members’ happiness (add the numbers together that are under the Player pawns), add any bonus points for cards, add any points for Hometown card bonus attractions that were visited, and the bonus provided for the number of Photo tiles collected. The player with the most points wins the game!

To learn more about Family Vacation, visit the game’s Kickstarter page or visit Board Game Geek to read the full rules.

Prediction

Family Vacation should be very easy to teach to all of our play test groups. The only limiting factor that would stop any of our gamers from enjoying this game is the inability to read. Players must be able to read their cards and review all the locations they want to visit on the game board quietly to themselves  It will also help if the players are familiar with their geography, but only because it’ll make the game go faster.

Just based on the game rules, Family Vacation looks much simpler than Ticket to Ride, a board game that many consider a “gateway game”. There are still choices to be made, however. This is a very straightforward route game where the players will need to race across the United States as fast and as efficiently as possible to make the best possible family vacation. The more time they spend on the open road between destinations, the less happy the family will be. Eventually there will be a point where the player will determine that they have a very good chance of winning and will trigger the endgame. At that time, all the other players will have to push their virtual pedal to the metal and race to collect as many points as possible before the game comes to a close.

So, yes, it does appear easier than Ticket to Ride, but also sounds NOTHING like Ticket to Ride. In fact, it sounds like a lot of fun. But fun for whom? Most certainly the Child Geeks and the Parent Geeks. I can see Family Vacation being eagerly approved as a “family game” and a casual one for the Parent Geeks to play with their peers. I doubt the Gamer Geeks are going to approve Family Vacation. This is not a game that has great depth or requires complex strategy.

Teaching the game is very straight forward and is best done with a quick example using a Family board, a Car pawn, and a few of the cards. I demonstrated a player’s round, showed how points were counted and how points were lost. None of the players we sat down with had any issues with the game and the only questions we had were primarily focused on reinforcing what I already told them. Specifically, you can only visit locations attractions your family is interested in and once you visit certain locations, they are no longer available to the other players.

And so, as I set up our first game with my oldest little geek, I asked him his thoughts on Family Vacation so far.

“You know what this reminds me of? A giant scavenger hunt, but instead of collection things, I’m just finding and visiting those things.” ~ Liam (age 8)

I suppose Family Vacation does somewhat resemble a scavenger hunt. It is most certainly a race and the players do have to find the locations that are closest to them for points. So, yes, I agree with my little geek.  But this is also a game about logical thinking and risking long routes in hopes of big points. Let’s see if our time with Family Vacation is well spent or horribly wasted.

Final Word

The Child Geeks had a great time with Family Vacation and did very well playing it. They immediately grasped the importance of traveling across the country as quickly as possible because the game automatically informs the player if they are taking actions that makes their family happy or not. Child Geeks are no dummies, and they shifted their gears to take as few roads as possible, visit as many attractions that were on the way, and then race for home. For the most part, this strategy (if you can call it that) worked and there were several games where the Child Geeks triggered the endgame, much to their delight. The game plays fast and the Child Geeks never felt bored. They did, however, whine a great deal when another player took a spot they wanted. Even with the majority of Adventure cards that gave points, the Child Geeks always felt robbed when another player took a spot they were going for. Regardless of their feelings of being occasionally cheated, the Child Geeks thought Family Vacation was fun and voted to approve it.

My little geek gives me a knowing look as he adds happiness to his family

My little geek gives me a knowing look as he adds happiness to his family

The Parent Geeks also thought the game was a fun one, but only as a family game. At a peer level, Family Vacation didn’t really interest them. It was too simple and way too straight forward. The Parent Geeks did have to think through their moves to make points, but not a great deal. This made the game exceptionally casual, but it failed to keep them engaged. None of this was seen as a problem if presented as a family game, however. Indeed, the Parent Geeks took the opportunity to talk to their Child Geeks about trips they had gone on, neat locations around the areas on the game board, and laugh as their Child Geeks introduced their family members by name. All the while, they played the game and every Child Geek and Parent Geek who did so had a great time. The Parent Geeks voted to approve the game, despite it not being of interest at a peer level. Family Vacation did very well with the entire family (the game sits 6) and that was enough for them!

The Gamer Geeks, as you can imagine, didn’t care for the game. Way too simple, way too straight forward, and way too limiting. The Gamer Geeks didn’t like that locations and destinations went away, despite fully recognizing that the game was a race of sorts. They also thought that the small number of Hometown cards (currently 20) would reduce the level of replayability. In the end, the Gamer Geeks thought the game was a good one, but not a game that was worth playing at their gaming table.

I will give the game a bit more love than the elitist gamers. Yes, as a Gamer Geek I don’t think there is much to Family Vacation. It is, however, a very well designed game. The players do have to think about their moves or they lose points if they travel too far without seeing something of interest to their family. I really liked this and thought it was a great game mechanism that reinforced the game’s theme and narrative. I also liked the race aspect, despite the fact that locations magically disappear once a player visited them. I totally agree with the Gamer Geeks on this one and would have preferred to have seen the locations on the Hometown cards be worth less points if an opponent reached them first. However, even while playing a 6-player game, there were always locations for me to visit to collect points.

In some ways, the hardest part of this game is knowing when to call it quits and return home. Players will make points more often than lose them. The game wants you to win, be happy, and that’s addictive. If you are still being awarded points, why would you want to stop? Despite the lure of more points, a player will eventually feel the need to return home and trigger the endgame, but there is nothing ever forcing a player to make that choice.

Family Vacation is being positioned as a “Euro-style game”, and it most certainly is. It’s also a very approachable game and one that can be easily taught and played by Child Geeks as young as 8-years-old. I think it’s a great addition to any family game collection and a worthy new entry into the list of “gateway games”. As a Parent Geek, I greatly enjoyed it, but it left me wanting as a Gamer Geek. I don’t think this game was ever intended for Gamer Geeks, however, despite the very well designed and executed game play clearly coming from an individual who is very familiar with games. While it won’t be a big hit on a Gamer Geek’s table, Family Vacation will most certainly be a game that will be enjoyed at the family table.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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2 Responses to Family Vacation Game Review (prepublished version)

  1. RJ says:

    My family played it and liked it but we wondered why the family car didn’t need to get back to their hometown….it seemed silly to leave the car in say, New York, when your hometown might be Midland. We modified the game to say that once you say you are on your way home, you have to get home, but other than that, we enjoyed it 🙂

    • Cyrus says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read the review and to leave a comment, RJ.

      Hmm…

      Unless the rules have chanced since I played the prepublished version, the endgame is triggered when a player returns to their hometown. Players are not required to return to their Hometown, but doing so allows them to advance the track to end the game on their turn.

      Given this, you are correct. Players do not need to return to their hometown, but the game will not end until at least 1 player does.

      I am most pleased to hear that you and your group have resolved the issue by creating a House Rule that keeps the game balanced and stays with the game’s theme!

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