Grandparents are awesome. Many of them might be board game fans-in-waiting, too. Older generations are more likely to prefer tabletop games overplaying on those newfangled console gizmos.
If they’re more used to the likes of Rummikub and Ludo, you need to ease them into the modern side of the hobby. Nana might not be able to grasp the likes of an economic beast like Brass: Birmingham. Grandpa might not care about the theme of a game based around Terraforming Mars, or Game of Thrones.
However, many grandparents grew up in environments where playing traditional 52-card games was the norm. They might be a dab-hand at Bridge or Rummy. Chances are they already know the mechanisms of set collection, trick-taking, and hand-management.
They might be familiar with the likes of Chess or Backgammon. This means they know the concept of ‘Abstract’ board games. Come to think of it, your grandparents might have more of a head-start than you first realised!
We’re going to assume you’re not a grandparent yourself, but are rather thinking of games to play with your own. But no need to fear! We have the ideal list of games that work great with grandparents. So, read on and join us as we aim to tick the following boxes:
- ‘Gateway’ in nature. Simple to grasp and teach.
- Not too heavy on an off-putting theme.
- Short-medium length gameplay.
- Enjoyable for both grandparents and grandchildren alike.
Why? This tile-laying game is like a jigsaw puzzle. You place your tile, and at least one edge has to touch a matching terrain. You’re aiming to build big castles and long roads, surround monasteries, or claim large fields. The latter of those scoring opportunities (placing meeples as farmers) can be the toughest to digest. The answer? ‘House rule’ it for the first game that you won’t play with the farmers' rule. Then add it in, for game two.
There is a whole host of expansions you can buy for Carcassonne, if it goes down well with your folks. The ‘Big Box’ offering has many add-ons and game-changers in it. Alternatively, there are different stand-alone varieties you could try. Amazonas, South Seas, and Safari all provide the core tile-laying mechanisms. Each offer their own tweak on the tried-and-tested formula, though.
Carcassonne has stood the test of time. Its tiles are nice and chunky. The artwork is simple, and clear to digest. Roads, castles, monasteries, fields. We’d wager most grandparents out there know of the concept of Dominoes (the game, not the pizza company). Once they make that connection, the familiarity will set in, and then you’re away.
High Society is a fun auction game, designed by Reiner Knizia (back in 1995). Players aim to buy cards to boast about their wealthy status. The aim is to collect the most points, but not to be the poorest player come the end of the game. Otherwise, you’re classed as a faux pas, and eliminated by default!
Each player starts with the same valued hand of money cards. One by one, a status card (worth points) is up for grabs. Players bid, continuously upping the ante using their money cards. A player will win and pay, while everyone else gets back their losing bids.
The twist is that there are some bad cards in the deck, too! These are cards that players will have to bid on not to take into their possession. In these examples, everyone pays to avoid the card, and one person doesn’t pay but accepts the card’s penalty.
High Society is simple and quick (it’s only about 15 minutes) and will have everyone at the table chuckling. The cards are bigger than regular playing cards – no tiny text to read. It’s the ideal game to play with wily grandparents!
Another card game that grandparents would love is 6 Nimmt! (German for ‘Take 6!’) Like High Society, 6 Nimmt! is a game from the 90s, but it’s one with which we’ve had great success. It features themeless hand management, with a pinch of luck and judgment.
The deck consists of numbered cards, 1-104. Each player gets a hand of 10 cards, while four start face-up on the table. Simultaneously, every player picks one card to play. Whoever plays the lowest card goes first. This player has to place their card in one of the four rows, next to the number it’s closest to but higher than. (If the four rows had the numbers 2, 56, 71, and 74 in them and you played 73, you’d have to place it after the 71, for example.)
Each player places their card in numerical ascending order. Then the players pick another card, in the same format as before. If ever a player places the sixth card in a row, they have to take the cards in that row as penalty points. The card they played to trigger this then becomes the starter card for a new row. The round lasts 10 turns, and then players add up the cost of any cards they had to pick up. Numbers that end in multiples of five or 10 come at a further cost, as do double-digit numbers (like 11, 22, 33, and so on).
6 Nimmt! might seem like a simple game of chance, but it’s about playing the odds and taking a gamble. Although we will say, the more players at the table, the more chaotic it becomes. It can play up to 10, but this might be too crazy! Somewhere between four and seven players is the sweet spot.
Yes, you read that right. That’s not a typo… We did mean to write Battle Sheep! This is nothing like Battleships. This is an abstract area control game, where up to four players aim to spread out their flock of sheep.
Together, all players take turns to lay out a modular pasture that consists of hexagons. Then players stack 16 sheep (in the form of coloured poker chips) onto one hex on the outer edge. Player then take it in turns to move their stack of sheep, moving in a straight line. In doing so, they have to split their stack into two piles: one remains, and the other relocates.
The aim is to not get ‘penned in’ and to have placed all sixteen of your sheep out around the board. (Bonus points if all your sheep are sitting next to one another.) This is easier said than done – Battle Sheep can be competitive! (Grandparents, if you’re reading this: go easy on your younger grandchildren!) It’s all too easy to get blocked into a corner if you’re not careful.
Battle Sheep is like a sibling to Hey! That’s My Fish. It’s a similar game, but almost the mechanisms in reverse. We picked this over Hey… That’s My Fish because Battle Sheep has larger components. There are no fiddly fish pieces to squint at or remove. This might appeal to those grandparents that like older games such as Chequers.
Tsuro is a beautiful abstract tile-laying game. There is a touch of hand management going on, too. Up to eight players can join in, with the aim here to be the last person standing.
Each player starts with a hand of three square tiles. Their dragon piece starts on a path, on the edge of the board. All tiles have multiple pathways on them, leading either left, right or straight ahead. On their turn, the active player places one tile, which elongates at least two pathways. Any dragon(s) adjacent to this new tile has to move along any pathways created. Sometimes this leads to dragons weaving all around the board, even exiting it. In which case, sorry, you’re eliminated!
Tsuro is marvellous in its simplicity. Place a tile, move your dragon (and other players’ dragons too, if you’re sneaky). Try to stay on the board for as long as possible! The tiles are big and clear to read. The components are wonderful and chunky, and the game lasts no longer than 20 minutes. Tsuro is the kind of experience where your grandparents will ask you for “One more game?” straight after.
Like Carcassonne (mentioned earlier), Azul makes our list, too. Both titles are Spiel des Jahres winners, and it’s no coincidence that we’ve picked the two of them. The Spiel des Jahres is an annual award, presented to the best family board game design of the past year. The requirements to win such a coveted award include being simple to learn and teach. That means many past winners could have well made it onto this list!
We picked Azul because of its obvious parallels to Sudoku. Up to four players draft coloured ceramic azulejo tiles to create a 5x5 grid pattern. No two tiles can be alike in vertical or horizontal columns, like the Japanese logic puzzle. The pieces look and feel gorgeous (they’re made of thick resin), but there is no real theme to speak of here. It’s about scoring points off well-placed tiles.
Azul is quick to teach and learn, but like all good games, difficult to master. Games tend to last between 30-45 minutes, usually lasting five rounds. Designer Michael Kiesling has struck gold with Azul. A sequel, Stained Glass of Sintra, came out a year later. And this year a third game in the series is about to hit the market: Summer Pavilion. No doubt it’ll be a big hit at Essen Spiel 2019, and beyond that in 2020…