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The Best Family Games of 2024


Tom Goodhand: Calico

Cosy quilt making with differing difficulty levels

Calico is a properly cosy pattern-making game with plenty of options to ratchet the difficulty level up or down.

The theme is so harmless and gentle that anyone can get onboard - you’re making a lovely quilt to attract cats. And then sew on some buttons for decorations. The more cats and more buttons you get, the more points. Simple.

While the theme is utterly inoffensive, the gameplay can be fairly taxing. Different cats have different pattern-building conditions you need to meet - some of which are dastardly - and there are a lot of different ways you can score, with different scoring mechanisms at conflict with each other, leading to tough choices.

But what makes this a great family game is the options you have to simplify. For beginners - or younger family members - one scoring mechanism can be removed entirely, and your basic ‘starter’ cats are pretty easy to satisfy and settle on your quilt.

Let’s Summon Demons - one for sinister families

A great game for slightly older - and more sinister - children. This one comes with a content warning. Essentially, in Let’s Summon Demons you’re tempting children and animals to come and join you, so you can then sacrifice them to summon a demon.

Probably not one to play with younger kids or the religiously sensitive!

But, if your family members are old enough and wicked enough to think that sacrificing (amongst others) Rotten Donnie (a fast-food munching blonde child with more than a passing resemblance to a former US President), Sweet Alice (as in, in Wonderland) or even Sweet Jesus (yes, you can sacrifice him) is a lark - then this game is a wickedly good fun.

It’s a dice game where each player takes it in turn to roll the dice and - in almost all cases - if you hold a card that matches the number on the roll, you get to do stuff. Great for the easily restless, as you’re rarely just sitting around waiting for someone else’s turn to be over. The die get passed around quickly, and each roll matters to each player.

The cards themselves all reference characters from history, religion or popular culture (from Steve Irwin to Louis Armstrong) and you can combine your cards to create a useful little evil engine to quickly amass cards, souls (the currency in the game) and ultimately summon three powerful demons to win.

Cockroach Poker - bluffs bluffs and more bluffs

Cockroach Poker is a silly game. A very silly game.

Deal out a deck of 64 cards. Each card displays one of eight animals (toad, bat, rat, stink bug, cockroach, scorpion, spider, fly). All you do is pass a card to another opponent around the table, face down.

As you pass you tell them what the card is and they have to decide if you’re lying or telling the truth. If the receiver catches you out, you take the card back and play it face up in front of you. If they call it wrong, they play the card face up in front of them. Or, alternatively the receiver can peak at the card, then pass it on to a different player, either sticking with the original player’s claim, or making a new claim of their own.

Play continues until one player has four of the same card in front of them, and then ends. It’s that simple.

While the mechanism is easy, the gameplay is fun, allowing for bluffs, double-bluffs and plenty of time eyeballing family members to decide if what they’re claiming is a bat, is really a rat. And in no time at all - if your family is anything like my family - ‘no, this is a toad’ will become a household catch phrase.

Cat Days - quick two player fun with a good heart

Created to help raise funds for an animal shelter, Cat Days is a quick two player game all about (you guessed it) cats.

It’s easy to teach (the rules fit on a playing card), quick to play (you won’t be going more than 15 minutes) and blends some simple solo playing with the occasional chance to scupper and annoy your opponent (and who doesn’t like annoying their family members from time-to-time?).

The gameplay is simple - each player needs to play a cat on each day of the week. But some cats come with restrictions or effects that happen when you play them. For example, the Nervous Cat - while a high scorer - can’t be played next to another cat and - in contrast - the feral cat scares off the cats on adjacent days.

For big chunks of the game you just get on and do your own thing, but some cards allow you to tempt cats over from your opponents (the cardboard box), discard a cat (laser pointer) or just reduce a cat’s score to zero (by playing the charming grumpy cat on top of it).

A great one for cat lovers to pass a little time on a rainy spring day.

Abigail Bradish - Downforce:

When it comes to getting a game to spark the interest of all three of my kids, it’s a total shot in the dark at what will grab the attention of every one of them. My mutinous crew are aged between 7 and 14 and that can be quite the gap to bridge. It’s got to be something with enough oomph for the eldest, but not too difficult for the youngest to grasp, it also needs to be enticing enough to peel them away from a device!

Although not a new release, Downforce is an out and out favourite in our house, we often rock up at our local games store to utilise their free library of games, my intention was to play a new game we hadn’t tried before and their intention was always to play downforce. Every, single, time – so you know it’s got a pull. Downforce is a clever racing game where you’re in charge of trying to propel your car (or cars) over the finish line first for the highest cash reward, however finishing first doesn’t guarantee you win the game. Along the way you’ll be asked at certain points to wager who you think will win, you’ll get a higher monetary reward for correct predictions.

Each player also has a special ability to go with their cars, at the beginning of the game each car is auctioned off and you’ll need to bid for them and whatever special ability comes with it. Here’s the kicker, you’ll need to be careful as the price you pay if successful is deducted from any winnings you have at the end of the game. So bidding too hard and fast to get the best ability or multiple cars may leave you without much profit and cost you the game. Since my daughter asked Father Christmas for this game last year (and he kindly obliged) the kids go to game at the games shop has now become Camel Up, which is another excellent and very similar movement and betting game… maybe I should stop introducing my kids to games that involve gambling!

A release from last year that has certainly captured the attention of my youngest and his friend is Hunters of the lost creatures. This is a bit of a push your luck card game where you’re trying to capture the best scoring creatures, or combo of creatures to fill your wildlife park with. You’ll be choosing one of your hunters at the same time as your rivals to attempt to ensnare one of the (up to) 4 fabled animals on show, but choose wisely. If more than one player tries to capture the same animal, you’ve all made too much noise and it goes into hiding and no one gets it that turn, and if everyone playing tries to capture it, the chosen beast is so scared runs away forever! In addition to the creatures there are special cards that allow you to steal and swap cards from other people’s parks and a hideous troll worth a whopping minus 10 points that nobody wants hanging round there establishment.

This is a lot of game packed in a little box with the most hilarious creatures to catch along the way, it even comes with a couple of blank cards for you to make your own but I’m nowhere near imaginative enough to confidently use them. The illustrations are bright and vibrant and given the pun-tastic names the kids love to choose their hunters for each game. Whether it be the limbless pirate ‘Cpt. Knut Shore’, butterfly catcher ‘Haywood U Cuddleme’ or Club Wielding ‘Brak Yonek’ theres no shortage of amusing names and imagery in Hunters of the lost creatures, it definitely taps into our families humour demographic!

Hannah Blacknell - Rhino Hero

Have you ever played Jenga? Of course you have, it's great, but what if the building of the tower was more precarious? Rhino hero is a tower building game where you use cardboard walls and roof cards to build up the tower.

To set up you simply give out 3-5 roof cards to each player and place the stack of foldable wall cards and the starting card in the centre of the table. The start card is two sided, with a two wall of a single wall option to alter difficulty. The first player will place walls onto the indicated grey lines, and then place one of their own roof tiles onto the top. Play then passes to the left who will then place the walls and their own roof tile.

Some of the roof tiles have special actions like miss a go, change direction or pick up another roof card. My favourite of them though are the rhino cards! If someone places a rhino card then you must place the walls up and then subsequently place the rhino meeple on the icon. Trouble is the pesky rhino will be hiding in the most tricky of places and getting him out will not be easy! The more rhino moving occurs the more unstable the tower becomes. The loser is the one who makes the tower topple and hilarity that ensues you can thank me for later!

Sophie Jones - Sushi Go Party:

Family board games can be hard to find, especially when you have a big family of varying ages and abilities. For me, Sushi Go Party is one of the best. Not only is the tin a beautiful addition to my shelf but the game is also fantastic. With a player count of 8, you’re ready for those large family gatherings.

To begin, players choose their sushi menu. This dictates which cards will be in the game. Each type of sushi has its own ability which players can use to earn points. Once the cards are shuffled and dealt the game begins. Players will choose 1 card from their hand to play and then pass their deck clockwise. Once all but one card has been played the round ends. Players tot up points and move along the conveyer belt board. After 3 rounds the winner is declared.

The great thing about the sushi menu is you can choose what kind of game you want. You can adapt the menu for your player count, ease of play or, if you have a competitive family, you can crank up the sabotage sushi. The runtime for each game is around 20 minutes so you can have lots of quick games or sneak one in before dessert.

Sushi Go Party is aesthetically pleasing to look at with bright colours and cute sushi roll designs. It’s also really easy to teach and play. With each card telling you how to use it and an easy drafting mechanic you can pick up and play this with any family member. The welcoming design gets everyone to the table and once their there, they have to play! With 181 sushi cards, a high play count and hours of fun. Sushi Go Party is a must to add to your collection for those family occasions.

Arnaldo Amaral - Azul and That’s Not a Hat:

To me, “family” board games must be easy to teach and learn at all ages, be fun for everyone and help to create great family memories at the table. Now, obviously any “best” list is always subjective to the writer’s taste, so please take my recommendations with a pinch of salt. When thinking about games fitting the above criteria, there’s a couple that almost immediately sprung to my mind and those are Azul and That’s Not a Hat.

At this point and considering you’re reading a blog post about board games, Azul will most likely not be breaking news. With over 2 million copies sold worldwide, you probably cross paths with one of the few different implementations at least weekly, and there’s a good reason for it: it just is damn good. Released in 2017, Azul is an abstract, tile drafting and placement game with set collection bonuses for 2-4 players. The game can be explained in 5 minutes, and it will give you endless amounts of fun. It can be a bit mean, but what family gathering isn’t? It’s all part of the banter, and that’s what creates good memories around the table!

That’s Not a Hat has got to be in the top 3 best games released in 2023. Honestly, it looks like a 5-year-old designed this game in preschool, but it is the most fun card game I have ever played. And the easiest! It’s incredibly awesome! It consists of a simple deck of cards with images and it’s a memory game where players give gifts (cards, facedown) to each other while trying to remember who gave what and which gift they have in front of them. If players can't remember, they must bluff their way to avoid a penalty point. Sounds easy right? Well, it isn’t! But it’s hella fun to try!

Thinking about other games in our collection that play great with family, there’s at least 3 more I’d like to recommend: Mysterium, Camel Up and Modern Art!

Mysterium is, shortly and badly explained, Cluedo. But better, in fact way better. In Mysterium, one of the players takes the role of the ghost of the murdered victim while the other players take the roles of mediums who must resolve the crime. Unable to talk, the ghost player must communicate with the mediums through visions, which are represented in the game by illustrated cards. The mediums must then decipher the images to help the ghost remember how he was murdered: Who killed them? Where did it take place? What weapon caused their death? The more the mediums cooperate and guess well, the easier it is to catch the right culprit in the end. This game works particularly well for Halloween, but honestly it is great fun all year round.

In Camel Up (Second Edition), up to eight players may bet on five racing camels, trying to deduce which ones will perform better in a quick race around a pyramid. The earlier you place your bet, the more money you can win, but higher is the risk. The game is hilarious, as camels don't run neatly, sometimes landing on top of another one and being carried towards the finish line. On top of it, there’s two crazy camels running the wrong way who might end up carrying your camel back to the start! The 3D board and the plastic pyramid dice roller are nice production additions as well which will cause an impact on the table and get everyone in the mood for it. It is easy to teach, easy to play, highly replayable and a blast with the family around!

Finally, we have Modern Art. Long have gone the days where Monopoly was the only auction game around (and that’s IF you played with the auctions as supposed to, cause loads don’t ahah). If you like auction games, Modern Art is a must have and a classic too. The game is much older than a lot of people know. Released in 1992(!), Modern Art was the first auction game designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia, one of my all-time favourite designers, and still to this day my personal favourite. It has a simple objective, end up with the most money. All players take part in different styles of auctions, buying and selling paintings trying to make the highest profit. After each round, paintings are valued by the number of paintings of that type that were sold, affecting profits. It is slighty heavier than my other recommendations, so maybe not as much for all ages, but for older teens and adults, it plays great and has loads of player interaction, which is what all family gatherings should be about! It’s strategic, clever and tons of fun.

John Hunt - Sea Salt and Paper:

Having just come back from holiday I can definitely advocate for this as our top family game for this year to date. Yet again it has proved a charming staple, and despite it being a light set-collection game, hours have been whiled away playing this together at 2, 3 or 4.

The mechanics are super simple. Start with a hand of none, two visible cards as the two discards and a draw deck. Each turn either take one of the cards on the top of the discards or draws two and discard one.

Set collection falls into 4 types, a series of pairs which when completed are laid and trigger an instant effect, like have another go. A series of different accumulators: 0 points for one, 3 points for two and so on. Some score multiplier cards, like an extra point for every fish card. And finally the four mermaids, which are an instant win if you get then all, but more commonly give an and of game colour bonus. In all this, the pairs are laid when you get them but the rest are hoarded until you or another player goes out.

And this provides the final spice – when someone reaches or tops 7 points in tableau and hand they go out, but are given the choice of a final gamble. Simply stop, and allow everyone to lay down what they have, or invoke ‘Last Chance’ giving all other players one turn to better their score, with an associated scoring benefit/penalty depending on the outcome. Winner is first to target score over a number of hands based on player count.

The cards themselves are beautiful photographs of maritime origami: sailors, fish, penguins and so on. Almost all are unique and while art direction isn’t really a proxy for theme in this case is it so strong it sort of is. Certainly it makes it even more of a pleasure to play, while the game itself is quick, light and satisfyingly sprinkled with just the right amount of push your luck and take that to while away the hours.

Pete Bartlam - The Quest for El Dorado:

Family games?

What do you want in a family game? Something easy enough for children to understand yet still gives older players enjoyment. Straightforward rules that yet provide variety in play and interesting decisions. Short set up and game time and because you are likely to play many times a great variety of options so no two games are the same. The theme should be colourful and exciting and no nastiness.

Ladies and Gentlemen I give you The Quest for El Dorado!

It’s a Jungle out There

This brilliant game, from legendary designer Reiner Knizia, pits you against fellow explorers on an Indiana Jonesesque adventure through the South American jungle to find the fabled lost golden city. Played across a tableau of up to 7 large, hexagonal Terrain Tiles strung together, there’s an almost endless variety of routes for your plucky hero to choose.

Cards provide the means to navigate the three terrain types: Machete for the Jungle, a Paddle for Water and Coins to smooth your path through Native Villages. Each adventurer starts with the same 8 basic cards and chooses which to play from a hand of 4 of them. Cards each have a monetary value as well and any cards left after moving can be used to buy an upgrade card from the market and so improve your deck. Your hand is then replenished and it’s the next player’s turn. Quick turns with interesting choices to make and yet not Analysis Paralysis inducing!

With cave exploration as an optional extra for hidden benefit and an almost infinite variety of set-up combinations so Grandad doesn’t memorize a perfect path this is the perfect game for a small family gathering.

So put on that battered fedora and head off where the hand of man has never yet set foot!

Doo-de-oh Doo-doo!