Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Games for a family of three (or four)

A co-worker recently asked me for recommendations for boardgames that she and her family might play together.  They have a 17-year-old son.  They need something that is perhaps more than just a "gateway" game, but not by much.  They play Settlers of Catan, but that seems to be about as complicated as they want to get.  They like Apples to Apples, Taboo, and Catch Phrase, but those games are more suited to a larger group.

I like fielding questions like this, because it forces me to think in terms of why certain games appeal to some people more than others, and what works for a given "gaming context."  Here is what I came up with for her.  Although I specifically looked for approachable games for three players, all of these work for four players as well - hence the paranthetical caveat "(or four)" in the title of this post:

  • Robber Knights is a fun little discovery that I found on sale at funagain.com.  I just checked, and they're still selling it for just ten bucks (plus shipping).  It is a tile-laying game that is easy to learn but has a fair amount of strategy, too.     
  • Carcassone is perhaps a better tile-laying game - certainly much more popular, and an award-winning game as well.  Also easy to learn.  (The first game or two, the rule on how to count points for farmers can be confusing, but once you get it, you get it.)   Also on sale at funagain, for $24.
  • Guillotine is a card game that involves a little logic but is not a "brain burner" - light-hearted and fun.  The theme is a little off-beat; players are executioners during the French Revolution trying to get points by executing the most prestigious nobles.  But the illustrations are so comical and the tone so light-hearted that you really don't think of it as anything dark or serious.  Although out of print, it is still available at funagain at a very reasonable price.
  • San Juan is a card game that I have only played a couple of times and don't own but wish I did.  I think of it as a good "gateway" game into Puerto Rico, which is a better overall game but more complicated.
  • Struggle for Catan is the card-game version of Settlers of Catan that I mentioned at work.
  • Forbidden Island is an exciting co-op game (that is, a game in which the players are a team trying to accomplish a mission and "beat the game" together).  The players are trying to steal four ancient artifacts before the island that they are on sinks into the sea.  I think we found this one on the shelf at Barnes and Noble (which is not a bad place to look for good games, come to think of it).
  • Castle Panic is another co-op game that is easier to learn and almost as much fun as Forbidden Island.  Castle Panic works very well if it's your first co-op game ever.  Players are trying to defend a castle from surrounding goblins, orcs, and trolls that are trying to break down the walls and destroy the castle towers.
  • Ticket to Ride is a very popular railroad game, also available at Barnes and Noble.  Hard to go wrong with this one.
  • Trains Planes and Automobiles is the game I designed, published by Blue Square Games.  Easy to learn and fun to play.  Not a brain-burner, just a good family game.  Players travel around North America by road, rail, and air, completing assignments as news reporters.  Unfortunately, it's not carried by funagain.  It's hard to find on amazon, but it's there, as well as a few other places (some at considerable discount):
    http://www.coolstuffinc.com/p/Board%20Games/Trains%2C+Planes%2C+and+Automobiles/Acc-BSGTrainsPlanesandAutomobiles/#Trains, Planes, and Automobiles 

Okay, admittedly, that last one comes off as a plug, but the fact is that I specifically designed TPA for just this kind of audience - family game, not a game-player's game, just for fun sitting around the table.  And I included all the links to different retailers only because the damn game is so hard to find without tripping over DVDs for the movie with a very similar title.

Almost immediately after I sent the email, I thought of a few more ideas:

  • Clue - hard to believe they haven't played this already, but it's a staple in my book.
  • Clue: The Great Museum Caper - still a favorite of mine and a good three- or four-player family game - lots of suspense in this one
  • Uno - another staple
  • Pirateer - a long-time favorite in our family
I would be curious to know what other ideas and recommendations readers might have for this kind of family.


Tomorrow I will be going to HistoriCon, a miniatures gaming convention customarily held in Pennsylvania but this year hosted in nearby Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Though I am primarily a boardgamer, I've been known to push soldiers around a table and carry a tape measure from time to time, so the next couple of days will see me in the company of lead-heads.  


  1. Great ideas, Paul! The Fluxx games are also easy and fun for 3 or 4 people.

  2. My husband and I actually like Forbidden Island because it's one we can play just the two of us if we don't have people over. (We don't have kids yet.)

  3. Kathy, yes, the Fluxx series is another good recommendation. Why didn't I think of that?

    Marcy, I agree, Forbidden Island works great as a two-player co-op. In fact, some people think games like FI and Pandemic are easier to win with two people than with three or four - although I'm not so sure.

  4. Oh, yes, Bohnanza, another good one!