Family board game nights are a great way to spend an evening bonding with loved ones. But it can be tricky to find games that are deep but still accessible, and fun for both kids and adults. Thankfully, there are plenty of immensely clever games out there that take mere minutes to learn, and yet have enough meat on their cardboard bones to appease the strategy-hungry among us.
For family game night, theme must also be considered. It may not be appropriate for younger players to blast zombies in Zombicide, and the dry renaissance setting of something like The Princes of Florence may bore some. They’re both great games, but not for everyone. There are plenty of more lively and exciting themes out there, though, like giant monster fights and high speed car racing. These are our picks for the best board games for family game night.
- Number of Players: 2-4
- Play Time: 45 min
Takenoko is a game about taking care of a very hungry panda. Players spend their turns watering plots of land to grow bamboo that the panda will then eat. There are lots of ways to score points, such as placing land tiles in a certain patterns and feeding the panda specific colors of bamboo.Because there is more than one way to score points, the game does not shoehorn players into one strategy. With colors that pop and towers of bamboo that reach far above the table, Takenoko is just as fun to look at as it is to play.
- Number of players: 1-4
- Play Time: 30-45 min
There are few games with quite the wide appeal of Cascadia. For starters, it’s got a wholesome theme of exploring the ecology of the Pacific Northwest. The mechanics are very simple, involving you picking one of four pairs of animal token and terrain hex to add to your growing map. The aim is to satisfy a random range of scoring cards by getting animals into particular patterns, and they range in difficulty from an easy family version to challenging gamer-level objectives. There’s even a fun solo campaign where you’re tasked with crossing off a range of variants and objectives. If there ever was a game for absolutely everyone, this is it.
King of Tokyo
- Number of Players: 2-6
- Play Time: 30 min
The best way to describe King of Tokyo is “Yahtzee meets Godzilla.” In this monster mash-up, players control one of a stable of greatest-hits monsters straight out of science fiction past. The goal is to take control of Tokyo while fending off the other monsters. Attacks and special abilities are carried out through dice rolls which lends a bit of suspense to the giant-sized boxing matches. Of course, controlling Tokyo makes you a target, and no monster can stay in the city for too long without taking lots of damage. It’s up to you to recognize when to retreat and when to press the attack, but beware: other monsters are out there and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
- Number of Players: 2-4
- Play Time: 15-20 min
Released in 2017, Kingdomino is the most recent game on this list. It also won the coveted Spiel des Jahres, the German board game of the year, cementing its place as a go-to family game for years to come. Players take turns claiming tiles to add to their kingdom, but it’s not as simple as picking a tile and moving on. The tile you choose directly affects the turn order for the next turn, so you must be careful when making your decision lest you leave a valuable tile on the table for your opponents. Your tableau is limited to a five-by-five grid, which adds a spatial awareness element to the game as well. Because of its short play time and how easy it is to learn the rules, Kingdomino is an ideal choice for your next family game night.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg
- Number of players: 2-5
- Play Time: 40 min
You’d never imagine that concocting phoney potions in medieval Germany would be this much fun. Each game has a different set of effects on a range of ingredients that you can add to your snake oil, and it’s down to you to sniff out the likely combos and get brewing. But there’s a catch: you do so by adding your ingredients to a bag and drawing them blindly, gradually pushing up the tally of dangerous cherry bombs. Pull one too many and your whole batch will be ruined for the round. This combination of weighted push your luck and light strategy is an absolute winner for families, bringing you both tension and tactics as you compete to drum up the best draughts.
- Number of Players: 1-6
- Play Time: 20-30 min
Over the last couple of years, roll-and-write games have experienced a Renaissance of sorts, and Railroad Ink illustrates why they’re so popular. Roll some dice, drop the shown track pieces onto you personal dry erase board, and repeat. Watching your rail network grow is a big part of Railroad Ink, but the true carrot on the stick is the prospect of beating your old high scores. Since everyone uses the same dice rolls, the playing field remains even. It’s also fun to see how your opponents develop their own networks. Solo games are just as fun, too. There are two versions of Railroad Ink to choose from: the red version adds in volcanic eruptions and meteors that can destroy your railroads, and the blue version includes lakes and rivers as new scoring features. Whichever version you choose, this fast and fun roll and write is sure to be a hit with the family.
- Number of players: 1-6
- Play Time: 45-60 min
In Tiny Towns, players are mayors of newly developing villages and are tasked with planning and building the town’s cottages, taverns, factories and more. On a turn, the active player chooses one of the available resources, then all players take one cube of the matching resource and place it in their town. Those cubes stay there, taking up precious space, until you can match the pattern on one of the building cards. Then, you place the building in your town and gain its effect, usually in the form of end-game points based on the building’s scoring conditions. Because everyone at the table takes a resource on every turn, there’s little to no down time in Tiny Towns. Keeping players engaged while forcing them to meticulously plan their buildings makes this family game a brain burner in the best possible way.
- Number of players: 2-4
- Play Time: 30-45 min
A game that is as beautiful as it is enjoyable, Azul is a contest of planning and opportunity. You’re a mason in 15th or 16th century Portugal, and King Manuel I has asked you to decorate his palace with strikingly colored tiles reminiscent of Spain’s Alhambra. On a turn, you choose all tiles of a single color from one of the available groups of four, and the rest get sent to a common area that can be pilfered later. You must insert your chosen tiles into rows on your player board, and when you complete a row you’ll add one tile to your palace wall. Points are scored for meeting various pattern requirements, like covering all tiles of one color on your wall, or completing an entire row or column. Filling up your display is satisfying in a way that few tile-laying games can boast, and the play time is generally short enough that multiple plays in a night are not uncommon. It’s not hard to see why Azul won Germany’s game of the year award in 2018.
The Crew: Mission Deep Sea
- Number of players: 3-5
- Play Time: 20 min
Trick-taking games like Whist are well-known, but The Crew takes the concept to a new level by using it in a cooperative card game. You’ll work together over a long series of missions that require you to win tricks that meet certain objectives. One player might have to win a trick with a blue 5 in it, while another must not win any of the first 5 tricks. The catch is that you can only ever tell your fellow players about one card in your hand: the rest must be kept secret. This straightforward concept hides a surprising amount of tactical depth as you try to trump and throw-away cards to ensure the right players win the right tricks.
- Number of players: 2-6
- Play Time: 30-45 min
In 2017, Restoration Games reproduced Wolfgang Kramer’s 1996 classic Top Race as Downforce. It’s a racing game where the winner isn’t necessarily the one whose car comes in first place. Players’ hands are filled with cards that depict various combinations of colors and numbers, and playing a card moves the corresponding cars forward that number of spaces. Throughout the race, you can bet on which cars you think will do the best, netting you a sweet bonus to your score. The game is over in about half an hour, and provides a surprisingly satisfying mix of luck and strategy, a tough balancing act for many family games.
The Isle of Cats
- Number of players: 1-4
- Play Time: 60-90 min
Who doesn’t love an adorable cat? The evil Lord Vesh, that’s who, and it’s up to you to fit as many sinuous felines on your boat as you can before sailing them away from him to safety. This is really an excuse for this great game of polyomino arrangement, with the gorgeous artwork for the sinuous felines filling the shapes. You must pack your boat as best you can, trying to cover rats, fill holds and satisfy a random assortment of scoring conditions. As a bonus, the box includes two games modes: a family one and a rather more complex and challenging full game that sees you have to buy and deploy traps and tricks to lure the cats before stashing them safely on your ship.
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