JONATHAN F. SULLIVAN
Board games have seen a renaissance in the last 20 years. Fueled by games from other countries, where board gaming is a hobby enjoyed by adults as well as children — and supported by sites like BoardGameGeek and the web series TableTop — many people are enjoying an afternoon or evening competing with friends and family with dice, cards, and little plastic pieces.
While we practice social isolation, board games can be a fun way to bring the family together. Even better, board games are a great investment that can be played for years to come.
Some of these games are available at big box stores (which have started carrying a wider selection of board games in recent years); you might also support a local business and see if your FLGS (friendly local gaming store) has copies and is accepting orders right now.
1-8 players | ages 4-7 | 15 min
Jim Deacove; published by Family Pastimes
If you’re like me you’ve spent countless hours flipping cards and moving pieces along a candy-coated road with your young children. Fortunately, there is a better alternative.
Max is a delightful game for young children in which they roll dice and help three small animals (a bird, a chipmunk, and a mouse) escape the eponymous cat, Max. Unlike Candyland, kids have to make real choices by deciding which animals to move and when to use Max’s treats to lure him away from the critters. Even better, the game is cooperative: players work together instead of competing against one another to achieve their goal!
2-4 players | ages 6+ | 45 min
Susan McKinley Ross; published by MindWare
An “abstract” game (that is, a game without a theme or story), Qwirkle sees players matching colorful shapes in rows not unlike a game of dominoes. Each row and column can only contain one of each shape and color, with points scored for adding on to and completing sets, or “qwirkles.”
Qwirkle is a simple, leisurely game that feels like it should be played on a porch in the summer. It’s also a good example of one of the pleasures of playing board games: just holding the large, chunky tiles is a wonderfully tactile activity that you can’t get from video games.
2-4 players | ages 14+ | 30 minutes
Steve Finn; published by IELLO
In this game, players take on the role of medieval monasteries seeking to build the best libraries by collecting cards that represent books, scribes, and pigments. Each player collects sets of cards and seeks to raise their value (by changing the colored dice while lowering the value of their opponents’ collections).
In the first phase of the game, players take turns choosing cards to keep, give away, or save in the “auction pile.” In the second phase, the players bid on cards from the auction pile to round out their collections. The player with the highest-valued collection wins!
King of Tokyo / King of New York
2-6 players; ages 8+; 30-40 minutes
Richard Garfield; published by IELLO
In this board game version of King of the Hill, players become giant monsters and robots seeking to rule the titular city. They take turns rolling dice to power attacks, score victory points, and gain energy to buy special powers.
Players have to make smart decisions about when to take control of the city, when to retreat and heal, and when to let the other monsters duke it out. The last monster standing — or the one who reaches 20 victory points first — wins and is crowned the king!
Ticket to Ride
2-5 players | ages 8+ | 30-60 min
Alan R Moon; published by Days of Wonder
Winner of the Spiel de Jahres (German Game of the Year award) and considered a classic of modern board gaming, Ticket to Ride has players competing to build train routes between American cities by collecting and playing sets of colorful cards. Bonus points are awarded for completing specific routes and for having the longest uninterrupted route at the end of the game.
Once you’ve mastered the American map there are lots of expansion boards available to buy, including India, Europe, the Nordic countries, and more, some of which introduced new mechanics such as ocean routes and tunnels.
The Catholic Card Game
4-10 players; ages 8+; 30+ minutes
Matt and Lisa Martinusen
A Catholic version of the popular party game Apples to Apples, players take turns as the judge and drawing a yellow “prompt” card. The rest of the players then secretly play one of their white answer cards. The judge picks her favorite answer and that player gets a point. The real fun is in the usually hilarious juxtaposition of the prompt and the answers.
While the suggested age is 8+, the real target audience for this game is teens and young adults who will get most of the references (such as “terrible Catholic podcasts” and “selling my youngest sibling for a profit”). Along with the base game, there are three expansion sets available which were designed in cooperation with Fr. Mike Schimitz, Matt Fradd, Life Teen, the Crunch podcast, and others.
Jonathon F. Sullivan is the director of parish ministries, services, and catechesis for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana. He and his family are avid board gamers; you can view his collection of games at BoardGameGeek.com.
PHOTOS (Top to bottom): iQoncept/Shutterstock, all other Jonathon F. Sullivan