By Cristina Stanger, Self-Advocacy Liaison, WRFN
*This article was originally published in the Family Pulse Newsletter January 2021*
As we all look for healthy ways to cope with pandemic protocols this winter, I feel that hobby board games have a lot to offer. They are one of my special interests, though, so I am a little biased. They offer benefits for all ages as a framework to practice turn-taking, good sportsmanship, critical thinking skills, creativity, and most of all, they’re FUN! As an exceptional individual, they also offer me other, more subtle, benefits: a shared activity that makes social interactions easier, an activity with clearly defined parameters and expectations, and a visual and tactile sensory experience in a quiet environment. For me, board games serve as a means to connect with others in an engaging way.
While many of us have fond memories of playing classic games like Monopoly, Checkers, or Uno, board game designs have truly evolved, and there are many other modern options available these days. Did you know that in some games, like Carcassonne, you build the game board with tiles as you play? Or, did you know there are cooperative games, like Hanabi, where all players work together to beat the game itself?
Given current public health guidelines, I thought I would highlight two specific categories of games. The first are games that people with a wide range of ages, abilities, and attention spans can enjoy together, involving as many people within a household as possible. For those who wish to engage with other households in a safe way, the second are games that can work really well virtually. At the very end I’ve briefly listed titles I recommend in other categories as well. A few of these are even available to borrow from a collection at the Waterloo Public Library. And a special thank you goes out to Marc and the team at J&J Cards and Collectibles (friendly, local game store) for their feedback in creating this list. Happy gaming!
Particularly Inclusive Family Games
These games are language-independent (no text), they involve simple yet meaningful decisions, have sturdy components, play in a short time frame, and are engaging for a diverse group of ages and abilities. It’s nice to gather around a table together for a fun, shared experience.
Tsuro (2-8 players) - Lay tiles to build out a path for your pawn to follow without colliding with other players or travelling off the board. While there is player-elimination involved, with a 10-15 minute play time, there isn’t much sting in losing. Last pawn standing wins!
Hues and Cues (3-10 players) - Describe a colour to other players without using its specific name. With 480 different swatches on the board, the closer the other players guess to the target swatch, the more points you both get! Note: This can still be played by those with a colour deficiency (colour-blind).
Drop It (2-4 players) - Drop geometric shapes into a vertical panel to score the most physics-defying points. It offers rules variations for different levels of difficulty in play. Note: The dexterity element does require some fine motor skills.
Games that Play Well Virtually
These games can work as long as one household has a copy of the game with a person who is willing to manipulate the game components, and all households have access to a video conferencing platform. Some games may require digital files of the rules or player sheets to be sent to players in advance. I have used these games as a means to interact with my friends and family remotely, and we’ve always had a good time laughing and playing together.
Just One (plays best 5-7 players) - A cooperative game where players give one word clues to get the ‘guesser’ to guess a target word, but any duplicate clues cancel out and leave the guesser with less information to work with. This game can generate a lot of interesting conversation.
Codenames (plays best 4-8 players) - A team game where the ‘spymasters’ try to give their teammates clues to select certain words on a grid, while avoiding others. Which team will identify all their ‘codenames’ first? The game publisher even offers a free online platform so you don’t need to do any camera work to display the board: https://codenames.game/
That’s Pretty Clever! (plays best with 2-4) - Similarly to Yahtzee, dice results will determine what you can mark off on your player score sheet. The active player will select a die on their turn from a pool of coloured dice; any lower numbered dice remaining are available to their opponents. Set off chain reactions as you fill in some spaces that give bonuses in other areas. Most points wins! Note: Some dice colours may be difficult for those with colour deficiency to distinguish, but the dots (‘pips’) on the dice are different colours, to compensate.
There are other great games that can be played virtually if each participating household has a copy, such as Karuba, My City, Dominion, and Tiny Towns
Cristina Also Recommends (titles listed from simplest to more complex):
Children’s games (co-operative): My Little Orchard, Outfoxed, Zombie Kidz Evolution
Family games: Kingdomino, Point Salad, Ticket to Ride, Dixit, Forbidden Desert, Azul
2 player-only games: Jaipur, Schotten Totten, Onitama, Patchwork, Star Realms, Targi
Strategy games: Lords of Waterdeep, Catan, 7 Wonders, Wingspan, Concordia
Attacking-type games: King of Tokyo, Small World, Unmatched, Kemet