Computer and video games and their ever-greater realism get most of the attention these days. What most people don't realize is that non-computer games, the kind that have you sit down face to face and actually spend some time with other people, have been getting better, too.
There's no need to suffer through another largely random game of Monopoly or get into another argument over whether you can use the word qi in Scrabble. And even people who know about modern classics like Carcassonne or The Settlers of Catan can find something new to be excited about this holiday season.
Here are some top contenders:
For two to five players but plays best with at least three. Ages 8 and older. $36. Rio Grande Games.
The object of this game is to stock your zoo with cute animals, but underneath are rules that, although simple, force players to think ahead and make tough decisions. It's as e_SDHpchallenging for adults as for kids. This game won the German board game critics' “Game of the Year” award last year.
Best for four to eight players, ages 7 and older. $22. Asmodee Editions.
This could be the game to capture the computer gamers who think table games are boring because they lack action. Each player gets a stack of cards and flips them over in turn. If two players flip over cards with the same symbol, the race is on to see who is the first to grab a wooden stick placed at the center of the table. The game can lead to scratched fingers, but it's an addictive experience equivalent to a couple of cups of coffee. This game from France is rarely stocked in stores but can be found online.
Box says three to eight players, but it would work best with at least four. Ages 13 and older. $20. North Star Games.
A lighthearted party game that's an alternative to Pictionary, Cranium and the ilk. One player asks the others a question, say, “What would be the worst possible pizza topping?” They write down answers, then vote on which answer they think is the most likely to be picked by the questioner as the best. In a test with adults, the answers quickly got raunchy, but everyone had a good time.
For three to eight players ages 8 and older, but it's so simple that even younger kids can take part. $20. Funagain.
Ostensibly, this game is about exploring a jungle ruin for treasure, but it's really about weighing risk and reward. Each turn, a player makes only one decision: Do I head further into the ruin, or do I head back to the safety of the camp? It seems like an easy call, but to win, you also have to guess what the other players are doing. Believe it or not, this simple game simulates the competitive pressures and risky behavior that precipitated the latest financial crisis. And you can tell your kids it's about being Indiana Jones.
For one to four players, ages 10 and older. $35. Z-Man Games.
In an unusual setup, the players of this game don't compete — they cooperate to beat the game and save the world from devastating diseases. They take the roles of medical professionals who travel the world to find cures and treat the sick. A suspenseful game that emphasizes teamwork and planning, it's only slightly more complicated than Monopoly. The creepy theme could make kids see the world as one big hotbed of disease, but the art isn't graphic and the effects of disease are kept abstract.
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries
Ages 7 and older. $50. Days of Wonder.
She's got a ticket to ride … to Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki! This is a sequel to the ingeniously simple and successful Ticket to Ride, which has players e_SDHpcompete to blanket a map of train routes with their rides. Nordic Countries is optimized for two to three players, while the older game comes into its own with three or four. There are a few twists to the rules that are missing in the original, but it's still an easy game to learn. And with the new map, you'll learn so much about the geography of Scandinavia.
For three to six players, ages 10 and older. $50. Fantasy Flight Games.
This game is terrific at emulating the desperation and paranoia of the sci-fi TV show. The players start out as humans, cooperating to save the last remnants of the race from destruction by the robotic Cylons. The twist is that one of them might secretly be a Cylon who is sabotaging the team. This isn't really a family game, because it's relatively complex, takes two to three hours to play and has dark themes. But fans of the show should be more thrilled than Starbuck scoring a hit on a Cylon Raider.