It's that time of year again. It's cold. It's dark. It's wet... and you're stuck in the house for a week with the kids for half term. So what to do? Break out the board games of course! Now you might be lucky enough to get away, but that just means they've got to be portable too! So, here's some thoughts to help you through without resorting to infanticide.
Alice's Garden from Lifestylegames is a this delightful tile placement game you must build the queen's garden, drawing Tetris-style tiles (4 adjoining squares) and taking turns to place, with different pieces scoring according to their final positions: Chessmen on the tiled path, pairs of mushrooms 🍄🍄, rows of trees 🌲 and groups of roses 🌹. Any gaps in the final garden will lose your points but luckily Gardeners 🃏 give you extra single square tiles in the endgame if placed adjacent to one another - just make sure you don't have any left over or... off with your head!
It's a really lovely game, lots of fun and we were all certainly taken with it. It's not dissimilar to other such polyomino games - we were immediately reminded of Patchwork Doodle - but is a bit more intuitive, particularly when it comes to scoring.
Negatives? Well, it's very compact - so, portable, but quite tricky for older adults and the visually impaired: the grandparents were keen to try it but found it problematic in that regard.
Still, a big hit with the kids of all ages, and of course me 😊
No, not the Marvel LCG: the go-to game in our bag of holiday goodies is the excellent and frankly hilarious Champions! from Repos Productions. This is a gloriously silly game of fantasy matchups between any characters or people you can imagine - the only restriction being that all players need to know who they are. This leads to preposterous and brilliant discussions over whether Gru would have pineapple on pizza 🍕 , if Pikachu thinks the world is flat or if Dame Judi Dench picks her nose.
Each round, you score if you correctly predict the winner from the collective vote (tie breakers are won based on an icon on the card, which is very effective but can be exploited by ruthless big brothers) and get bonus points if you correctly predicted the overall winner before the round started
It's a totally daft game and me & the 3 kids (aged 7-15) were all immediately hooked! Even the grandparents got involved, making... helpful suggestions 😁 little miss particularly enjoyed writing out and guessing characters.
This is a huge hit with us and highly recommended for the whole family! Family fun and of course as a warm-up or (drunken) party game with your mates too (also tested and approved, purely for research purpose 😉 )
In this two player Confrontations set you race to defeat your opponent. Although we're big DC Deckbuilding fans, we've not had a great experience with the Batman Vs Joker set, as it's just punchy punchy, but we LOVED this: the speedster mechanism means card draws speed up your deck, whilst destruction - and bringing things back- is integral and very fluffy. Interestingly, I won as The Flash by running (ha) the main deck down and scoring the most points despite Reverse Flash repeatedly defeating me in a fight - how very apt!
A real hit, definitely one we'll be tackling again and again - in fact we enjoyed it enough, maybe, to try the Green Lantern Vs Sinestro version too!
Speaking of little investments, we finally got our hands on the original version of Z-Man Games's classic bluff and deduction game. A disclaimer: we found it, sealed, in a charity shop for £1, but it's well worth paying full price for. We already have the Jabba's Palace and Infinity Gauntlet versions, but it's great to have the original and it's different enough to still have made its way right to the top of our regular game rotations. Each player is vying for the affections of the princess, by trying to guess the value of the card (from a deck of 16) in the hands of other players... However, 3 cards are faceup for all to see and 1 is a facedown Secret Admirer, so there's a delightful mix of bluff, guess and memory involved. Very accessible, and another great pocket game, for when you have to get out of the house and sit in a rainy cafe.
This is a rather nifty bluffing and guessing game which, luckily for me, requires almost no mathematical ability – just a good gut reaction and knowledge of how like your loved ones are to push their luck!
In this is elegant game for 3-5 players, each turn (of 5), you all pick a 3 digit number between 000 and 999 – highest number wins, but only if there’s none repeated below you. Only the first digit scores, so it becomes a fiendish guessing game – particularly as the turns progress, you can’t reuse digits within a round. It’s brilliantly simple, and utterly ruthless.
The rules are astonishingly simple – perhaps no surprise as it comes from the mind of Hisashi Hayashi (Trains, Rolling Japan, Samurai Gardener and many more). It’s an instant Japanese classic, lightweight game with great accessibility as well as being very portable (always important!) The physical product is also very high-quality with chunky, glossy boards and good dry-wipe markers (yes, I know that’s a weird thing to obsess over but honestly a rubbish marker can ruin a game!) It’s loads of fun and highly accessible – a total new family favourite!
Straight out the gate: this game is frankly brilliant. It plays a little like a cross between Dobble and Dominos, as it’s a rapid-fire symbol matching game. It can be played solo, team or versus in any of 3 modes: within 10 minutes we were all hooked from little miss age 5, through 11 and 13 year old, and even the missus who would normally choose a puzzle over boardgames any day!
It requires a little bit of maths but that can be as simple as tally marks (the things lockdown parenting teaches you about maths for small people!), and there are special action symbols to be remembered, but they’re fairly self-explanatory: bees are wildcards, burglar can steal your opponent’s turn, x2 double your points scored this turn, and there’s a circling arrow that gives you an extra turn.
All of us managed to get to grips with it, and it’s a definite hit.
This is an absolute staple in our house and goes everywhere with us – tiny, portable, comes with a handy carabiner for bags, extremely simple but fiendishly complex.
It’s essentially a take on Connect 4 minus the rack: you alternate tile placement on a table aiming to connect 5 before the other players – yes, you can play this with up to 6 (which frankly gets a bit bonkers, but still).
With many different set colours available, and in 2 or 4 player versions, it’s the king of travel games. It’s worth mentioning that Big Potato, who make this, also have a ton of print and play games available free if you register on their site! Good stuff all round.
All of the above games are of course available from Zatu right here!