Welcome to the 2018 Zatu Selections - our very own board game awards. This article focuses on the Family Game of the Year 2018 category. These are the board games that are perfect to play with the whole family, whether it's because of the simplicity of the game or through the bright and colourful artwork.
Family games need to be children friendly, each to learn and enjoyable for all. As with all of our Zatu Selections, these five games were selected by members of our writing team.
Luke P - Stuffed Fables
The first in the line of Adventure book games from Plaid Hat Games. Jerry Hawthorne, the best storytelling game designer, returns having been highly praised for his innovative and charming game Mice and Mystics. Stuffed Fables takes you all on an adventure in seven stories as the stout and heroic stuffies, the toys of a little girl that sleeps in bed while the adventures unfold.
The game delivers a thrilling narrative driven by player choices. Players explore a world of wonder and danger, unlocking curious discoveries. The chapters of Stuffed Fables explore the many milestones of a child's life, creating a memorable tale ideal for families. Open on the table in front of the players is a large book filled with stunning artwork. Pages will make up the ‘board’ of whichever section of the adventure you are all within. A player will read out the beautifully written story that will engage the mind of children and adults alike.
Players will draw coloured dice from a bag on their turn. The colour will denote the actions they can take in their turn. As a team you will work towards whatever objective you have in each part of the story. Aiding you in your immersion are some of the most fantastic miniatures in the board game industry today. Cute toys with a gritty edge to them represent your stuffies and your enemies. Players can encourage each other by sharing dice or their precious stuffing.
In addition to fighting minions, each page of the storybook offers numerous points of interest, charming characters to interact or trade with, as well as many unusual challenges. And each page is but one chapter that folds into a branching, overarching story with a multitude of items and a special discovery deck full of surprises.
Stuffed Fables tells fantastic stories and promotes co-operative gameplay on a grand adventure. As a father that loves to read my children stories and populate their minds with worlds of fantasy and magic this game engages the reader and immerses them in the world in a way many games wish they could manage.
Martin A - Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra can be enjoyed as a gateway game with attractive components and relatively short duration that often leads to immediate replay. At the same time, it presents a puzzle that experienced gamers will enjoy thinking through.
A set of experienced players will enjoy evaluating and manipulating the odds of getting the glass they need, and depriving rivals of ideal options. A set of inexperienced players will find the game easy and engaging to learn. A mixed group will also work well.
So, why does it work as a family game? Firstly, it should take much less than an hour to play and play passes quite quickly round the table, unless you're playing with an experienced gamer who suffers from analysis paralysis. Each turn presents the player with some relatively straightforward options and these usually involve taking glass of one colour from one location and placing them onto one section of your player board - simple. There is often lots of glass to choose from, but the actual action is easy to understand.
Secondly, the game is visually attractive and the chunky bits of glass (actually plastic, fear not) have a nice tactile quality. Youngsters should find the game mentally and visually engaging. Thirdly, in my experience, it is one of those games that people are happy to play again as soon as they've finished. Finally, without being destructive, the game does give you opportunities to inconvenience each other by forcing awkward choices. Youngsters should see the appeal of grabbing the last few pieces of glass that someone else needs or dodging a bad choice and leaving it for the next player.
All in all, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a great "gateway game" for introducing youngsters and non-gamers to the incredible variety that board gaming offers.
Will M - Ticket to Ride: New York
Ticket to Ride is a favourite gateway game for many, but in 2018 a cut-down version called Ticket to Ride: New York was released and promised to be a 10-15 minute bite-size version of the game. I was sceptical of this on two counts: Could it really play in only 10 to 15 minutes? And if so, would the gameplay experience suffer immensely?
The answer to question one was yes, it plays wonderfully in about 10 minutes and no, the experience doesn’t suffer – granted it doesn’t have the long-term strategic route planning of regular full-size Ticket to Ride but it plays at a fun and frantic breakneck speed with shorter routes and fewer taxis – did I just say taxis? Yes! Instead of the usual train carriages this version comes with wonderful taxi pieces and when the board clogs up towards the end of the game it really feels like a Manhattan traffic jam!
A small new mechanic in this game is the use of tourist attractions, which are permanently on the board in the shape of coins with a one on them - each player scores one point for each tourist attraction that is connected to one or more of the routes they claimed. This adds another way to score points in addition to routes and destination tickets, and can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing.
This game is ideal for families who want to play a quick game before bedtime or to entertain kids with a short attention span – I play it with my family and I recommended this to friends of mine to play with their kids, and unsurprisingly they love it! It also earns bonus points for me for putting a picture of what appears to be “The Fonz” on the front cover!
The Game Shelf - Reef
Reef was released this year, from the same publishers as the incredibly popular Azul from 2017. Azul was a tough act to follow, but Reef really won us over. It's slightly less cut-throat than Azul, especially at the two-player count we frequently play at. It also scratches a bit of an engine-building itch, although it's not strictly in that style of game.
Reef looks great, plays really smoothly and is really rewarding when you execute a brilliant sequence of turns. In Reef, each player is building their own coral reef, by playing cards from their hand to place two coral pieces and score based on the current state of their reef. On your turn, you can either play a card from your hand, or draft a card from the centre of the table. When you play a card, you must add the two coral pieces indicated on the top half of the card, then you score based on the bottom of the card, for example gaining one point for every green coral visible in a top down view of your reef. More challenging patterns score more points and at the end of the game, the player with the most points is the winner.
The rules of the game are unbelievably simple, but the meat of the game is in creating a chain of events that allows the cards to play off each other and means you score well at every opportunity. For families, the game has eye-catching bright colours and really simple to teach rules. However, behind the simple rules, Reef has hidden depths that keep both the adults and kids at the table engaged and make it very re-playable.
Nick W - The Quacks of Quedlinburg
My choice for Family Game of the Year is a little heavier in terms of gameplay that most family games, but it is easy to play and variable in terms of the complication you can add to the game. The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a push your luck game with a silly name, but when you play all naming choices are forgiven.
Each player is given a large board with numbered spaces in a swirl starting in the middle, into these spaces you will place ingredients drawn from a bag trying to get as far from the middle to the outer rings as possible. Each ingredient has a number on it that tells you how far it can be placed from the last one, but if you get too much value from the base white ingredients your potion will explode. Exploding isn’t the end of the world, especially not in the early rounds, but it will hamper you more and more.
As the rounds progress you get the opportunity to add different ingredients into your bag, these ingredients will have different effects on your potion making abilities and rewards. What is great is that there is a number of different set-ups for these ingredients which adds to the variety but also the complexity of the game.
The way the game works makes it easy to explain to younger children the benefits and potential consequences of their actions meaning they can enjoy it and you can too. And because it is a slightly heavier game it can be played and enjoyed on game night too! P.S - it also won the Kenner Spiel this year, so you know…