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10 of our favorite games right now

I am not really a game person. I love the idea of games, but I prefer reading, conversing, writing...just about anything to playing games. That being said, I think playing games as a family is a wonderful bonding tool. And these days the games market is hot. I'm not talking Matel and Milton Bradley, here. The unevenly weighted, entirely chance games of our youth bring out the worst in most of us. Losing a game of Sorry is a bitter childhood pill to swallow. It's just so unfair. But if you skip the game aisle and Target and go to a local retailer or do your research before shopping on Amazon, the modern Indie game market is something to behold. And even I enjoy family game night in the winter—it's second only to family movie night, which comes with popcorn.

(1) Castle Panic. This is a cooperative strategy game from Fireside Games. Monsters of varying strengths and abilities are storming your castle and you must work together to stop them. Take turns drawing cards of differing attacks and defences and work together to figure out the best way to use them to keep the hordes at bay. The game is fairly well balanced, so while winning isn't a given, strategic thinking will carry the day. 

(2) Betrayal at House on the Hill is a mostly cooperative tile and mystery game. All players work together to explore the haunted house until evil turns one of them against the group, then the remaining loyal members must work to defeat the betrayer before it is too late. The game layout is different every time, created as players roll dice and lay house tiles as they go, but the number of games is limited to the number of story lines provided in the book. An expansion with additional story situations is available.

(3) Forbidden Desert is a completely cooperative game. Having crash landed in the dessert, players must work together to recover the pieces of their ship, buried under sand, before their water runs out. The game is well balanced enough to be challenging but not impossible, and can be played at a variety of difficulty levels.

(4) Forbidden Island is another cooperative strategy game very similar to Forbidden Desert. Players must recover hidden treasure from a sinking island and escape via helicopter before no land is left. Play is much easier than in Forbidden Desert, but can also be played at a variety of difficulty levels.  

(5) Carcassonne is the first truly competitive game on the list. It is a strategic tile game in which players take drawing tiles and placing them strategically so as to eventually earn the most money from their lands. Strategic play includes considering land placement and land usage. Players keep track of their points throughout, and can earn bonus points for especially strategic play in the end. Play is well balanced and challenging without being confusing, and the original game can be expanded with a variety of challenging and hilarious add-ons.

(6) Agricola All Creatures Big and Small is a competitive strategy game for only two players. Make decisions about running your farm—what to build, how to keep your animals, what animals to keep—to out earn your opponent. Game play is definitely challenging, but it's well balanced enough to be fair and fun. Plus, cute animal tokens.

(7) The Scrambled States of America is a fairly funny family game. Players keep a handful of state cards and try to apply them to description cards turned over one at a time. The player with the most correctly played state cards in the end wins. When I purchased this game I had hoped it would be a fairly good tool for learning about U.S. geography, but it's not really a good learning tool per se. Description cards tend to include aspects of the written name or card art as opposed to geographic terms, although I suppose it would be a good way to learn the names of the states and their capitals. In general, charming, quick, and enjoyable.

(8) Apples to Apples (or Junior) is a game of ingenuity and hilarity. Players keep in their hand several cards with names of people, places, or things, or simple phrases on them. A round judge flips over a topic card with its own phrase on it and players anonymously lay down the best matching card in their hand. The round judge decides who wins the round based on their own criteria (funniest, most exact, most absurd, etc.). The role of judge passes with each turn. The best part about this game is the humor, and while it is intended as a competitive game, it can easily be played just for fun with no scoring involved.

(9) Facts in Five is another game of ingenuity and hilarity. Before play, five topics and five letters are selected and players each prepare a grid. They then have two minutes individually to fill the grid in with one answer for each topic that begins with each letter. At the end of play there is no one winning answer; all players judge the acceptability of answers given and each players receives points for all their acceptable answers. Final scores are tallied exponentially, so the more right answers in a column or row, the better. Although scoring is a little convoluted, play is a great mind challenge, and can be hilarious at times. This is definitely a game for adults, not because of inappropriate content, but topics will be too difficult for most kids. we have skirted this issue by creating our own topics. Also, it looks like it may be out of print.

(10) Dungeons and Dragons. I add this one here somewhat reluctantly only because we have not broken into this as a family yet. We tried a few years ago, but Calvin was a tad too young and I was a tad too impatient for Jon's novice Dungeon Mastering. This year, though, Calvin is taking a history class with our homeschool group that is taught using D&D, and he's loving it, so much so that we have made plans to play with family friends who have promised to teach us the ropes. So I'm including it because two out of three of us already love it, and family play is definitely in our future.

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