Board Game Buyer’s Guide: The Best Family Games Around

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This year, the Geek & Sundry editorial contributors have come together and collaborated to put together several curated lists of games. Whether you’re looking to pick one up for yourself or as a gift, these titles are some of the best the tabletop industry has to offer and we heartily recommend them.

There’s no better way to spend quality time with family and friends than by bringing board games to your holiday shindig. While most homes have well-worn copies of Monopoly or Clue, you can up your family party game by introducing everybody to modern games that are easier to learn, deliver more fun, and flat-out look cooler than the dust-covered titles that threaten to turn your holiday into a snoozefest.

Here are a few family games that will turn any holiday get-together into a memorable game night.

Potion Explosion

No matter where you bring this game, it’s guaranteed to cause your family and friends to do double takes when they see that dispenser full of colorful marbles. They’ll be spellbound by the wizardry you and your opponents perform as you try to get the right combination of marbles to complete your potions.

It’s easy to get new players into the action, too, since they’ll likely be familiar with games such as Bejeweled and Candy Crush. Potion Explosion uses a similar mechanism where players take a marble and receive any resulting marbles of the same color that collide with each other. They then use these marbles to fill up their potion boards. First one to complete a pre-determined number of sets of potions wins.

From pouring marbles into the dispenser to hearing the click-clack of the marbles as you figure out your most optimal moves, Potion Explosion is more satisfying than its digital counterparts and will get even the most hardcore smartphone addicts to try some analog gaming.

MSRP: $49.99 – CMON


Learning about Charles Darwin’s theory has never been more a fun or engaging. Bring Evolution to the table and players will experience a real sense of accomplishment as their species survive and thrive during a game.

Players start with one species and using a card drafting system, improve their animals with new traits such as horns or hard shells that will stave off predators. Or, they can go from the hunted to the hunter with traits like pack hunting and ambush to feast on their opponents. At the end of each round, they’ll gather around the watering hole trying to find enough food to make it through another day. Any species whose population hits zero goes extinct; not to worry, though, since a player can begin a new species in the next round.

With a huge deck of animal traits and a lot of take-that action, Evolution is never dull and, of course, it’s a survival of the fittest.

MRSP: $39.99 – North Star Games

Codenames: Disney Family Edition

This is the family-friendly version of Vlaada Chavtil’s game that took the board gaming community by storm a few years ago. Teams try to guess hidden words based on Disney pictures with clues provided by their spymasters. The pictures are laid out in a 5×4 grid and, like the original Codenames, spymasters give a one-word clue paired with a number corresponding to the number of answers related to that clue. So, “Animal 2” could refer to Simba and the Cheshire Cat cards, but wait … isn’t Maid Marian technically an animal, too?

More advanced players can flip the pictures to their opposite sides, where words are used as answers, just like in the original game. But if you’re buying this game because it’s Disney, then you’re playing with the picture sides so you can appreciate all of the fine art from classic and modern Disney films as well as the Pixar movies.

Unlike the original game, there’s no assassin; however, the advanced game contains the “game over” option that works the same way. So, if your teammate selections the black X answer, then the game is over. No need to explain to Junior what “assassin” means when he chooses Tigger and causes you to lose the game.

MSRP: $24.95 – USAopoly

Zoo Ball

Most holiday gatherings feature the requisite sports games playing on the TV in the background. Even if you don’t have – or care to have – a fantasy football team to obsess over or a favorite basketball team to root for, you can find some common ground with your sports-ball-loving family and friends with Zoo Ball.

Two to four players face off in this dexterity game of flicking discs across the playing field. Each player has three defenders and one scorer; you can flick one to three of your defenders or your one scorer. If you manage to flick your scorer into your opponent’s goal then you score a point and all discs are reset. First to three goals wins.

Zoo Ball might not get your opponents to start a fantasy Zoo Ball league, but it will get your party to the table and inspire lots of laughter and trash talk, just like any good sports ball competition should do.

MSRP: $30 – Osprey Publishing

Loony Quest

The drawing mechanism in classics like Pictionary, Telestrations, and Cranium is always a big hit at soirees, but some people are intimidated by games that expose their lack of drawing skills. Thankfully, Loony Quest puts those fears to rest by having players draw to complete specific goals. There are no points for aesthetics or artistic talent here; you’re only trying to finish the round’s task as quickly as possible.

Players each get a transparent sheet and an erasable marker to try to complete each level of the Loony Quest world. It’s like a video game adapted into analog form, with your erasable marker as the controller.

The first stage will have you drawing a line from start to finish without hitting any of the bad guys. Easy, right? Well, drawing on a blank transparency is much more difficult than it sounds. After 30 seconds you’ll put your pens down and place your sheet on top of the challenge sheet. If you’ve completed the task you’ll get victory points, but if your line touches bad guys you’ll lose points. There are also power-ups that help you and bombs that hinder you.

Clocking it at a more-than-reasonable 20 minutes of gameplay, even the attention-span-challenged will love going on a Loony Quest.

MSRP: $29.99 – Asmodee

Ticket to Ride

Now considered a classic of modern board gaming, Ticket to Ride continues to bring new players to the hobby. It’s still my favorite to teach to people who’ve never played anything beyond Monopoly, due to its simple turn structure, top-notch components, and perfect amount of playing time.

Lay out that gorgeous map of the United States and after everybody’s chosen their trains, they’ll be ready to connect various routes based on the destination tickets in their hands. Players either pick up train cards or lay down their trains based on the train cards they’ve collected. There’s an elegance to the game that’s appealing to all audiences and there are a ton of expansions available that keep the game from getting stale, with new maps and mechanisms offering new challenges.

MSRP: $49.99 – Days of Wonder

You can pick up these games at quality game retailers. What are your favorite family games? Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned in for more curated lists, including the best games of 2017 and the most hotly anticipated games of 2018. If you want to stay on top of the best and newest of tabletop gaming, be sure to also tune in our weekly show  Game the Game hosted by Becca Scott on  Twitch and  Alpha.

Want more G&S recommended family board games?

Image credits: Ruel Gaviola, Raf Cordero, Charlie Theel

Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on  Twitter.

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