Gather around the table my friends and let me tell you a story. A story of a time when families didn’t watch the television all day and night, when children played games without consoles and conversations were king. Some of you may not remember the no-holds-barred funtimes of a family game night; some of you may remember it fondly and continue the tradition with your friends and families still. As a lot of families are still reeling from the economic downturn, they’re looking for inexpensive ways to spend time together making memories without breaking the bank. Games can cost anywhere from $10-$50 and provide so many nights and lazy afternoons of entertainment that they certainly pay for themselves.
Here at the Synthesis we wanted to help revive the family game night so we set out to review some popular, not so popular, and downright unpopular games on the market so you can choose a new/old game for your next family game night. We’ve reviewed the geekiest of the geeky, the traditional, the easy, the complicated, the party starters, and the kid-friendliest games available right now. A huge thanks to Trent at Bat Comics for helping us get started on our quest and for answering all of our questions! He’s a great local resource for all the hottest games.
Apples to Apples
Ages: 12 and up
Nerd Factor: 2 out of 10
This card game is a classic family pastime. It’s so easy to learn, but can take a lifetime to master. Cards are divided by color into categories of nouns and adjectives. If it’s your turn, you draw an adjective card. Your opponents present nouns from which you judge is the most relevant to your adjective. Emotions run high when you choose a card that other players disagree was the most appropriate choice. Too bad for them, you were the judge.
This game is simple, but it’s also psychological warfare. Players will campaign hard for their submissions or occasionally campaign for someone else’s to secure it being vetoed. The trick is knowing your judge. Don’t choose what you think is the best answer, choose what they think is the best answer.
My crowning achievement in this game was when a judge drew the adjective, “American.” My competitors presented seemingly unbeatable nouns such as “Fourth of July” and “Fireworks”, but I was able to win the round with “Corn Fields.” Know your judge.
Rating: 3 out of 10 nerds
Zombies, robots, aliens, dinosaurs, ninjas, wizards, pirates, and tricksters all together in one game?! My 8 year old (and my inner 8 year old) were dying to play this brand new game from AEG. It was a surprisingly easy set up and the rules were pretty simple. Each faction has its own special ability; ninjas sneak onto a base right before it’s scored, zombies keep coming back from the discard pile…cool skills like that. We had a blast playing Smash Up. It’s not a big time investment, it can be quickly — learned, a fun party game for a funny family game night.
Rating: 4 out of 10 nerds
There’s a Fluxx game for every genre, Oz Fluxx, Cthulu Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx, Pirate Fluxx, whatever your thing is, Fluxx makes a version for you. Since we’re huge Star Wars geeks, we went with Star Fluxx. All the Fluxx games play the same way. It’s a goal oriented card game, and the rules are simple; the only rule is that the game is constantly in flux. Get it? You can play a Brain Parasite, Evil Computer, Scientist or any number of funny space-themed cards. And once you teach your 8 year old to play, you’ll always have a Star Fluxx buddy when you go on camping trips.
Settlers of Catan
Rating: 5 out of 10 nerds
This game was first published in Germany in 1995 and has now sold 15 million copies worldwide. It’s so popular that a documentary film titled Going Cardboard is paying homage. The players build settlements by spending resource cards that are produced on their specific piece of land. There’s also a robber, you’re allowed to trade, and it’s a race to 10. There are oodles of expansions and spinoffs and though it might sound like it’s a game for the uber nerd, it’s actually really easy to get the hang of right away. After a few glasses of wine you’ll be cracking jokes about your neighbor’s wood. Beware, can induce a Settlers of Cantangover.
Ages 10 and up
Nerd Factor: 6 out of 10
Gubs might be the most hilarious card game ever. Gubs are imaginary creatures with a variety of unique characteristics; they can’t swim, they ride toads, and they’re deathly afraid of wasps to name a few. The winner of the game is the player with the most “Gub” cards when the game ends, which is triggered when the three cards with the letters G, U, and B have been drawn.
Each player begins the game with one Gub card already in play, but there are multitudes of ways you can expand your Gub army or cripple your enemies’. There are attack cards that lure an enemy’s Gubs to your side, or if you’re feeling particularly vindictive you might choose to go ahead and murder a Gub with a spear. To prevent the untimely demise of your Gubs, there are also defensive barriers you can use to protect your Gubs such as giant mushrooms, velvet moths, etc.
All hell breaks loose when a player draws an “Event” card that can dramatically change the game in a heartbeat. All it takes is one “Flash Flood” or a “Rumor of Wasps” to completely dismantle everything you’ve been working towards. It’s unfortunate that so much of the game relies upon luck, but it’s also a great way to level the playing field between beginners and veteran Gub-ers.
Cards Against Humanity
Ages: GROWN-UPS ONLY
Rating: NSFW or anywhere else
This is definitely the naughtiest game you can play in mixed company. If you don’t feel like you’re going to hell after you’ve played this game, you’re not doing it right. It plays just like Apples to Apples, a card game that’s incredibly simple to learn and a ton of fun on its own. But Cards Against Humanity takes it to the extreme. It’s hysterical and horrifying all at the same time. Right now this game isn’t available in boxed card form, but the makers of this game are willing to give it to you for free, if you want to make the cards yourself. All you have to do is download the PDF, do some craft magic, and tadaa! You now have your very own copy of the most offensive card game known to man.
Fantasy Flight Games
Rating: 9 out of 10 nerds
Put on your dork goggles if you’re gonna play Elder Sign because you’ll have to read for an hour before you start. Of all the games, this game was possibly the most disappointing. It’s a Lovecraftian cooperative adventure game based on Lovecraft’s stories about the “Old Ones…” including Cthulu. You get to be pulp investigators working together to collect enough elder signs to save the world. The game itself, the cards, every detail was cool as hell; the art and the backstory, totally awesome. But something about the game play just left me lacking. Elder Sign is a watered down version of the extremely popular yet complicated Arkham Horror. It took an hour for us to get through the Elder Sign instructions, so I’m assuming I’d have to take a class to learn how to play Arkham, but it might be worth it?
Steve Jackson Games
Ages: 10 and up
Nerd Factor: 8 out of 10
Synthesis managing editor, Sara Calvosa, was kind enough to spring for this game so I could review it. After only playing it once I can already tell I’m going to be very depressed when she takes it away to give to her kids.
In this card game, the object is to be the first player to advance your character from level 1 to level 10. The fact that this game rewards players for “leveling up” instantly places it at a solid 8 on the nerd factor. The way you advance in level is by defeating monster cards, which range from something as easy to defeat as a level 1 “Potted Plant” all the way to the dreaded level 20 “Plutonium Dragon.” Each monster rewards its slayer with a certain number of treasures proportional to the difficulty of said monster.
If you’re not confused to the point of wanting to default back to Apples to Apples yet, congratulations! We’ve arrived at the best part of the game, betrayal! Often when an enemy player is fighting a monster, you have the opportunity to sabotage them with a variety of “Curse” or “Item” cards causing that player to die. After someone dies the surviving opponents take turns looting the corpse of all the fabulous items the recently deceased had worked to hard to accumulate. Brutal!
Middle Earth Quest
Fantasy Flight Games
Nerd Factor: 11 out of 10
Middle Earth Quest takes place in the J.R.R. Tolkien universe sometime between the time periods of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Idealistically the game is played with four players, three of which control the hero characters who fight against the fourth person who controls the evil “Sauron” character.
Each hero has unique quests and abilities that they can utilize to try and stop Sauron from spreading his dark influence across the land. Equipped with a variety of monster tokens, shadow cards, and other nasty ways to cripple his opponents, Sauron is super fun to play if you’re an evil bastard. After each round, the “story tokens” at the top of the game board advance through three stages. Once a team’s tokens reach the finish, the game is either immediately over or ends in a Ringwraith bloodbath, depending on a couple of other complicated rules that will most likely bore you to read about.
Overall the game is kind of fucked because it’s heavily tilted in Sauron’s favor. However, in the rare event that Sauron is defeated, this imbalance makes victory extra tasty for the heroes and especially humiliating for the dark lord.