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Die, Monopoly, Die! Five Fun Games to Play With Your Family

Editorial Note: During the holidays last year, we ran a piece by Sean on board games – a favorite hobby of his when he’s not traveling the world, seeking out the latest and greatest opportunities in natural resources. His article was so well received that Sean has decided to follow up with a new crop of game recommendations. If you’re looking for fun ways to spend time with your friends and family this holiday season, read on.


Has this ever happened to you?

Your family and friends get together over the holidays and, during a lull, someone suggests playing a board game. Monopoly! Let’s play Monopoly! After all, it’s fun for the whole family.

And so you play Monopoly. And it’s okay… at first. Then it drags on. The winner pulls ahead, lording it over the rest of you. The game keeps going on… and on. You’re losing, but you can’t quit. The game pulls you along like a helpless victim tied to a slowly moving car.

And then, someone who isn’t winning gets belligerent. Heated words are exchanged. In extreme cases, the game board is flipped over.

Who the heck wanted to play that game anyway?

America is very good at many things, but board games ain’t one of them. Especially Monopoly. Man, I hate that game.

Now for the good news…

Our nation (and the world) is experiencing a board game renaissance. There are AMAZING games you can play now that really are fun. They will make your family get-togethers happier.

These games are killing Monopoly, one die roll at a time.

Here are five to consider…

Robo Rally

This is a deceptively simple game stuffed with constant action. Up to eight people can play. Hence, it is one of my favorites for family gatherings. The game says ages 12 and up, but I’ve seen a 10-year-old kick butt at this thing.

The basic game: Each player controls a different robot in a race across a dangerous factory floor. You navigate your robot to goals in a specific order. Along the way, you can power up with weapons like lasers to wreak havoc on other players.

The trick: You “program” each movement by placing a string of cards face-down. If you get one move wrong, this will cause a cascade of “bad decisions” by the robot. For example, you could plunge into a pit of doom. (Don’t worry, you restart the next round.)

The beauty: Everyone moves all the time. There’s no sitting around. And there are multiple boards so replay possibilities are endless.

You can buy Robo Rally at Barnes & Noble or Amazon, so you can run out and buy it right now for your family gathering.

Camel Up

In this game, eight players bet on up to five camels racing around a pyramid in the desert. For ages 8 and up.

The basic game: Players take turns rolling a die out of a pyramid to see which camel moves next. The camels can land on one another, and thus “springboard” ahead. Players make bets on which camel will win or lose.

The trick: The earlier you place your bet, the more you can win. Sounds easy, right? Let me tell you, winning this game is not easy at all. That said, I’ve seen a 9-year-old win big. Dang you, Genevieve! Dang your little black heart.

Seriously, there are no real penalties for betting on the wrong camel. So while you may enjoy victory, you won’t reget losing, either.

The beauty: Last round’s laggard could be this round’s champion. The camel in the lead changes constantly. Also, this game is over in 20 minutes (sometimes less!), and I like fast, fun games.

You can buy Camel Up at Amazon.

Pandemic: The Cure

The basic game: Four diseases threaten the world. It’s up to your team to save humanity. By rolling and allocating dice – and using individual special abilities – you keep “hotspots” in check and research cures.Does your family have horrible fights over games? Then play one of the versions of Pandemic; it’s a cooperative game. Everyone wins… or everybody dies!

The trick: The Cure is more dice-oriented than other variations of Pandemic (there are a bunch of them), and it’s my favorite. Cooperation is key. A prima donna player will get you all killed. As will a string of unlucky dice rolls.

The beauty: It’s only 30 minutes either way, so you can always try again. Fast, furious fun.

You can buy Pandemic: The Cure at Barnes & Noble. You can also buy it at Amazon.

Paperback: The Card Game

This is a word-building card game for two to five players that takes about 45 minutes to play. The box says ages 8 and up, but I think age 10 is more reasonable. You’ll finish in about 45 minutes.

The basic game: You are a paperback author trying to finish novels for your editor. Complete westerns, science fiction, romance or even the rare best-seller. You…

  • Use cards to form words
  • Score those words
  • Use your points to buy more cards
  • Repeat.

The trick: It really helps to have a good vocabulary. Hence, I like this game a lot.

The beauty: I’m mentioning it because it gives the old bears among us a chance to show the young cubs who really has the sharpest brain. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

You can buy Paperback: The Card Game from Amazon.com.

The Castles of Burgundy

Do you prefer games where you don’t know who will win? Then you want this game, because there are secret points scored at the end – and that really determines the victor. For two to four players, ages 12 and up.

The basic game: You take tiles to build your estate. By strategically trading and building, you gain prosperity and rack up points. Every tile has a function, and scores you a series of points. The game is played in five phases, each consisting of five rounds.

The trick: There is dice rolling in this game, but the real trick is allocating those dice correctly to get resources. Also, I find it best to specialize in one area. This game can lead to “strategic freeze,” when people don’t know what to do next. So, it’s best played with an open bottle of burgundy wine.

The beauty: It’s a gorgeous game, and there is a lot of strategy. This is the “thinkiest” of the games I’ve reviewed here.

You can buy The Castles of Burgundy at Amazon.com.

I could recommend a lot more games. But these five are tremendous fun. And they will improve your family time during the holidays. Unlike, say, Monopoly.

Die, Monopoly, die!

Merry Christmas and best wishes for a wonderful new year,

Sean


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