Turkey Day Gaming

Sam Kerriton writes:

Dear Father Geek,

HELP! My brother and his wife and three kids (two boys, 10 and 8, and a girl, age 5) are coming to my house for Thanksgiving. I’m not looking for cooking advice but gaming advice! What games can you suggest I play with the kids and parents that are NOT “gamers”? I know of several “gateway” games, but could really use some solid suggestions. Have any?!

Looking GREATLY forward to your response!

Thanks for writing in Sam. Deep fry the turkey. Delicious!! Oh wait… that is the cooking advice that you do not need.

I am pleased that the boss gave me this question to answer since it is a situation that every one of us is commonly in. Well over half of my modest collection is comprised of games that I would not even place in my top 100. I would never choose to pull them out when I have the serious game nights with my gamer friends. I acquire many of them because I think they are games that I can get to the table when I have company over. They are the types of games that non-gamers will at least tolerate, and maybe even enjoy.

I find myself in your exact situation for most family gatherings. My two boys are still very young, but I have a collection of six nieces and nephews that are between the ages of 7 and 11 that come attached to some parents that only agree to a game when I coax them into it.

The following recommendations I have for you are focused on the older two kids and also games your brother and his wife have a good chance of enjoying at some level. I do not mean to exclude the five year old girl, but in some cases, she should probably be paired with a sibling or parent. You know her attention span better than me, so I will leave that to your judgment.

Additional Criteria include:

  • Quick Play — It is a lot easier to convince family to sit down for a 20 minute game before or after dinner than it is to schedule an afternoon.
  • Easy to Teach — Unless you are a gamer, you have about three minutes tops before you lose the interest of anybody you are explaining rules to, especially kids.

This first list are games I have personally tried with visiting family to varying degrees of success. The list is not in any particular order:

Bang! by DaVinci Games

Bang! This is a fun card game that depicts a wild west shootout. Everything is symbol driven, but although it does not require reading skills, it’s often just as complex to interpret the symbols as it would be to just read the effect. There is very little strategy involved with the game, but if the group of people you are with are willing to get into the theme a little bit, it can be fun. It is somehow gratifying to shout out “Bang!” as you take a shot at your neighbor.

The game has 3 or 4 expansions, which you can get all bundled together if you buy the Bang! Bullet.

RattleSnake by Fantasy Flight Games

This is a wonderful little game that is basically just playing with magnets. It is fun for the whole family and can be finished in less than 10 minutes. You try to get rid of all your magnets by laying them such that they touch a certain colored snake and do not attract neighboring magnets. It’s that simple. The five year old would have no problem playing this. Furthermore, you can combine two sets together to make a larger board just for more magnet chaos and to allow for more players.

Castle Panic by Fireside Games

I picked this one up at Gen Con this past year and I am finding it works great for this exact type of Thanksgiving situation. When I visited family in Kentucky, the kids there absolutely loved playing it with me. It depicts a tower defense style game on a board. The players are defending a castle in the center from an onrushing hoard of goblins, orcs, and trolls. Gameplay and rules are simple and the cooperative nature makes it easy to teach. It is not very challenging if you use the basic rules, but is still a fun 20 minutes as you repel the baddies.

The Great Dalmuti by Avalon Hill. Designed by Richard Garfield

This is a familiar concept where each player simply tries to empty their hand of cards by placing a lower ranked set of cards (low numbers are better) over the last played. The beauty of this game is that it is played in consecutive rounds. Each round positions you for the next, so you can play as long as you want, quit at any time, or even have players enter and leave the game without disrupting anything. I have spent many hours playing this with family, and it surprisingly sucks you in.

Ca$h ‘n Gun$ by Asmodee Editions

This game is a rollicking good time. Any game that encourages exuberant shouting is bound to draw in kids and non-gamers. The setup is simple, you all play a greedy bank robber who just finished a job with a team. How will the loot be split up? Let the guns decide. There is not much here for strategy, but it is fun, and plays in about 15 minutes or less. The only downside I would point out is that you may not want to glorify to a five year old the act of pointing an orange foam gun at somebody and shouting “Bonzai!!!”.

The following list of games are ones that I think would work really well and are on my list to try as soon as I can:

  • Tichu — A trick taking card game
  • Forbidden Island — A Pandemic-lite, cooperative board game for all ages
  • Gumball Rally — Reviewed on this site, and one I think would work great
  • Monopoly Deal — Also reviewed on this site. I cannot wait to give it a try for Thanksgiving this year.

I look forward to comments from readers with more suggestions for family games. Like you Sam, I am always trolling for ideas.

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About Brian

Euro Board Game Aficionado, and Father of Two, Brian played many family board games while growing up, but launched a foray into real geek gaming in 4th grade with his exposure to Risk, and then many sessions of Axis & Allies. Gaming in all forms has always been woven into his life with different phases including: video games starting with the Atari 2600, role playing Marvel Super Heroes, launching massive Battletech scenarios, blowing his small amount of bank on Magic: The Gathering, and then finally strategy board games. Settlers of Catan (1997) was his first introduction to the Euro-style game, and he has since been forever hooked. He embarked on a new stage of life in late 2006 with the birth of his first of two boys, and now cherishes the opportunity to learn the game of parenting. His desire is to raise two respectable men who still want to play a game with daddy even when they are father geeks themselves. Brian goes by the handle Vree on Board Game Geek.

2 Responses to Turkey Day Gaming

  1. Glad that you find BANG! to be a fun party game. You are correct that it does have limited strategic gameplay, especially when playing with those who care little (and play little) of the game. I also love its theme, and the gameplay overall is pretty good. One thing many BANG! players, including myself, have struggled with is the player elimination–especially when it occurs at times in the first round. One unofficial expansion, Death Mesa, has been created to address this issue. If you ever dislike the player elimination element, I recommend giving it a try! Go to: http://bangcardgame.blogspot.com/p/death-mesa-expansion.html

    • Cyrus says:

      Very nice, Martin! I agree with you in regards to the player elimination, unless it involves my younger brothers. Then there isn’t so much a “struggle” as their is “glee” and “evil delight”. Maniacal laughter is also present, in abundance. Yeah, holidays are a bit different in my house…

      We’ll have to try Death Mesa out! Thanks for letting us know about it!

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