There are certain games that are synonymous with family gatherings. Everyone has memories of sitting around playing Monopoly for hours on end, possibly ending in triumph or, more likely, ending in a table being flipped. There are those games that everyone associates with family get-togethers and those family members who win every time. If you want to bring new life to your gaming sessions, then try these alternatives to classic games. They have similar characteristics but will revamp your evenings.
No list of alternatives to classic games would be complete without addressing the go-to game for families: Monopoly. Despite being the number one cause of family arguments, once people get together, they immediately grab for it. I am a Monopoly fan myself, but there are some common complaints. It takes too long. Once you are losing, it is difficult to pull yourself back. You can be knocked out and the game will still go on for hours while you wait. Power Grid is a perfect alternative.
Taking around 2 hours, Powergrid is still not a short game, but it won’t be the marathon that Monopoly can be. Across a map of Germany, you claim as many cities as you can and buy resources to give them power. Like Ticket to Ride, you are playing on a board with cities and paths already mapped out for you. It is the player who can power the most cities who ultimately wins the game, hence the comparison to Monopoly. You need to claim the most beneficial cities to help build your empire. Though just because one person has taken the best tactical position does not mean that someone else can’t claim it later. By the end of the three stages, up to three players can have their tokens on each city. I think this is a neat solution to Monopoly’s issue of Mayfair equalling victory.
The play order changes each round depending on who has the most cities. This means that the person who is doing the best has to pay more for resources, has more people to bargain with when claiming power stations, and gets the last choice when placing cities. As much as possible, Power Grid redresses the balance between the person who seems to be streaking ahead and those who are a little slower off the mark. It has all the money and resource management skill of Monopoly while making gameplay fairer. And the best bit, everyone gets to play all the way until the end.
The classic game of Pictionary is all about your drawing ability. And therein lies the problem. If you don’t have any artistic talent, then your teammates can get frustrated and it becomes another reason that people aren’t talking to each other. Never fear - our alternatives to classic games have got you covered. Telestrations, unlike Pictionary, is not a team game, so the only person who suffers is you! However, this game is more about the act of playing, not actually winning.
Telestrations is a cross between Pictionary and Chinese Whispers. Everyone has their own flipbook and attempts a drawing. It then gets passed around and people guess what the drawing is supposed to be. Then the guess is drawn by the next person. The routine of "draw, pass, guess, pass, draw, pass, guess" continues until the book is returned to its original owner. You earn points based on your ability to guess correctly or to draw humorously. As a group, you should decide whether you want to score based on skill or amusement. The game can be adapted to suit any group’s need.
While Pictionary can cause fractures between teammates, Telestrations encourages everyone to laugh together. Its focus is silliness rather than success. It needs the same skill and logical deduction as Pictionary, but without the chance to let your team down. Instead, giggle as you try to work out how the clue got from France to a picture of a detective. And if you have no children in your group, there is the option to play Telestrations: After Dark. It has the same gameplay as Telestrations, but has more… adult suggestions.
Uno is a simple game to play with kids or like-minded adults. It is fast-paced and easy to follow, which means it is a hit with big groups. Exploding Kittens follows the same pattern of collecting and playing action cards. Where you can torment your opponents with a 2+ card in Uno, Exploding Kittens gets rid of any subtlety with the Attack card.
Your aim in Uno is to be the first person to get rid of all your cards. Exploding Kittens, on the other hand, is last man standing. You want to hoard cards and target your friends until you are the only person who hasn’t picked up an Exploding Kitten. It has the same energy as Uno. Circling around the group, you play your cards and then pick another up, hoping desperately that you don’t explode. You can make enemies by attacking, skipping, nopeing and stealing. Or you can be kind and just ask for favours. But this game was never won by being kind…
The thing that makes Exploding Kittens really stand out is its artwork. Designed by the people at The Oatmeal, each card is delightfully ridiculous. Collect Tacocats, Cattermelons, Beard Cats or get occasional help from the Unicorn Enchilada. It is just as simple and fast-paced as Uno, but Exploding Kittens adds a bit more drama. There is more opportunity to be callous, but what is a family gathering without an argument?
I played Risk once and have refused to ever play it again. After getting knocked out very early on, I spent the next few hours watching others play. This is a bad position to put a competitive sore loser into. Scythe requires domination in the same way that Risk does but, as with Power Grid, everyone gets to play until the end of the game.
Each player gets to claim a faction in this alternate history game. You have your own character with a gigantic sidekick. Depending on how you want to play, there are various ways to dominate the board. You can be the most popular, the most industrious or the most aggressive. It is the player’s choice if they go along the route of battling for territory, like in Risk, or if they try a more peaceful approach. As with most board games, you will find out a lot about your friends and family playing Scythe.
Risk relies on luck, but Scythe is all strategy. Decide where you want to advance, where you want to protect and where you want to settle. It is vital to keep an eye on your opponents as they might not be playing the same peaceful game that you are. It is involved, strategic, and gripping. Scythe requires a lot of strategy, so it might not be for the light-hearted, but I would take it over Risk any day!
Cluedo is the classic detective game, but there just isn’t enough shouting. Enter Secret Hitler. For Cluedo, you are moving around a board trying to work out who murdered Dr Black. In Secret Hitler, the players are placed into two teams: Liberals and Fascists. The Fascists know who is on their side while the Liberals have no idea who is who. You need to concentrate and look for every little clue to discover who is on your team. In order to win, you will need to find the Fascists and kill Hitler.
It is a tense game of deductive reasoning. Everyone will try and keep their identity hidden, but each team has their own objective that can give the game away. Fascists want to enact fascist policies, while Liberals are trying not to elect Hitler. All the players will claim to be a Liberal, but there is no way to really know. It is far more high energy than Cluedo and relies far less on logic. Secret Hitler comes down to how well you know your friends and how good they are at lying.
Cluedo can sometimes take too long. Once you know the answer, you have to make your way to the correct room to make your accusation. This can be frustrating and time-consuming. However, in Secret Hitler, the moment you think you know who Hitler is, you could shout it out. If anything, it is encouraged. Add a little drama to your games night with logic, deduction and Hitler.
The last of our top alternatives to classic games is Onitama. Set out on a similar board to chess, but with a much smaller grid, Onitama requires the same foresight and tactics as the original game. With four pawns and one king, your aim is to capture the opponent’s king or steal their starting spot. As you dance around each other, it can feel like chess on a smaller scale, but the main difference is the way that the characters move.
Instead of having set movements for each piece, you are only allowed to move using the patterns on the selected movement cards. The cards rotate between each player, so you know how your opponent will be moving on their next turn, but of course, they know the same about you. Onitama turns into a dance. You can attack, retreat or try to feint, but your moves are always laid out in front of you. Never worry about the other player knowing more official strategy than you, because what they are about to do is right there. It has all the elegance of chess while getting rid of any imbalance in knowledge.
Like many of the other games on this list, chess can go on for a long time. For the unskilled player, there can be real analysis paralysis. You feel like you should think through every possibility. Even if you don’t know the Queen’s Gambit, you spend your time analysing every tiny detail. Onitama takes all of the skill and strategy of chess, but it is much, much quicker. Be sure to check out these alternatives to classic games!