Game Lab: Play this, not that

December 9, 2010

That time of year is creeping up on us again fast – the holidays.  You’ll visit with your family and relatives and after everyone’s caught up on the news of another year… what then?  Odds aren’t too bad that you and yours will sit down at the dining room table for a game.  That same old game.  You know the one.  The one you play every year.  The one that you… dare I say it… dread?

Let’s be honest here.  The classics are classic.  But a lot of them aren’t what we might call state-of-the-art in great game play.  So, why not kick your holiday family game play up a notch?  Take these recommendations and find the ones that work best for you.  I’m sure you’ll be delighted that you’ve found such a great substitute, a new family favorite for years to come!


Monopoly -> Acquire, For Sale

Roll and move and roll and move, buy this, land on that… Monopoly is pretty limited in terms of making fun choices.  Why not pump it up a bit, buying and selling hotels in the real estate classic Acquire or try another quality angle on the property game with For Sale?


Life -> Settlers of Catan, Formula D

Whrrr… spin the spinner, move the car, pink and blue pegs.  It’s a yawner isn’t it?  Let this old dog go and play a powerhouse of trading and maneuver that’s a modern classic, Settlers of Catan.  Not getting your driving a little car around a track fix from Settlers?  No problem – switch Formula D in for Life and tear up the track in super fun high speed Formula car racing.


Clue -> Mystery Express

I’m going to confess that I did it with the lead pipe in the dining room to the person who makes me suffer through this bit of the past.  Instead, put on the most excellent movie version in the background and have a game of Mystery Express instead – murder on trains is so much more interesting than a stuffy old mansion, anyway.


Operation -> PitchCar

Bzzt… pop!  It’s noisy, it’s messy… and is this even really a game?  If you want to test your reflexes, upgrade to a little competitive racing with a flick and go action in configurable, expandable PitchCar.  And the noisy part of this one is the cheering of the players, not the game board.


Cranium -> Bausack

The old saw party game has had its day… how about something new and tricky?  Bausack is all about stacking odd shape pieces, picking those you think others are brave enough to try – and fumbling enough to fail at stacking.  It’s tense, creative, and tricky just like the game you’re replacing.  And you won’t have to hear Uncle Kermit sing.


Sorry -> Ticket To Ride

You don’t have to be Sorry if you’re pulling out the award winning game of railroad building Ticket To Ride!  Accessible, easy, colorful, and fun, Ticket To Ride is a great substitute here.


Candyland -> Zooloretto, Gulo Gulo

Candyland is full of charming whimsy, but it’s not really going to pull it together in terms of keeping the adults and the kids at the table and happy – it’s just too basic for the older set.  A great alternative game like Zooloretto keeps the kids with cute animals as well as having engaging game play.  Or something fun and tricky like Gulo Gulo, where little fingers have advantages that adult fingers could only wish for.


Chutes and Ladders -> Forbidden Island

Still rolling and moving after all these years, this game doesn’t have much thought in it.  And maybe as much flavor as the old shoe leather to which it is mostly comparable.  Spice up the holiday game with a co-operative, colorful adventure to retrieve the hidden artifacts on Forbidden Island


Trivial Pursuit -> Wits & Wagers

Tired of losing to the smartest people in the room all the time?  Know-it-all aunts and uncles showing you up in front of your kids?  What you need is some Wits & Wagers, where knowing the answer isn’t as important as knowing who is going to know the answer – a much more lively party game to enjoy, even with a very large group.


Battleship -> Survive!

Is this one a trick to get people to learn coordinate systems or a game?  It had it’s day, but even though it means to represent the excitement of a naval battle, it’s always been a bit flat.  If you’re really looking to get your people out of danger in a fun situation, check out Survive! where you’ve got to get your tribe off the exploding volcanic island before it sinks into the sea.


Uno -> Blokus, Bohnanza

The rainy day standard for many, Uno is all about going out of cards… even if you don’t make a lot of interesting choices along the way.  Blokus is all about playing out all your pieces in a twist on Tetris-like piece placement, just as colorful but way more clever than Uno.  If you’ve gotta get your hands on some cards, why not trade silly beans in fantastic upgrade called Bohnanza instead?


Yahtzee -> Liar’s Dice, Can’t Stop, Incan Gold

Yahtzee is maybe the game of a bygone era, but there’s charm in a handful of dice bouncing on the table; if only you were doing more than just keeping track of what came up in this one!  Why not bluff and push  your luck with great alternatives like Liar’s Dice or Can’t Stop!  Or, for those more inclined to replicating the adventures of one Dr. Jones, push your luck with traps and monsters in Incan Gold.


Cribbage -> Lost Cities

I’ve enjoyed a great game of Cribbage for years so I can’t easily say anything too critical of it – a solid old parlor classic.  But sometimes it’s fun just to switch it up with something else, something with a bit more color, a bit more back and forth instead of just tallying points – and that’s Lost Cities, a modern legend in the two player realm.


Chess -> Through The Desert, Hey! That’s My Fish!

Chess is black and white, plain Jane brain grinding.  There’s a serious game in there – too serious.  If you’re just looking to unwind with your friends and family, why not pick up a little more colorful, playful, thematic sort of abstract strategy game, the kind you can play with 2 or more than 2!  Great choices are Through The Desert, the game of candy colored caravans (don’t eat the camels!) and Hey! That’s My Fish!, a tricksy penguin vs. penguin fish fest that will even hold the attention of younger players… and both games offer the strategic depth and complexity of their more staid brother if you want to play hard.


Scrabble -> Qwirkle

Are you really going to be consulting a dictionary when you play games?  There’s a time and place for some serious verbiage in competitive Scrabble, but for all your relaxing tile laying needs you might want to dial in some crafty matchmaking work in a rising star like Qwirkle instead.


Out with the old, in with the new…

Classics are great.  They’ve got kitsch, memories, and maybe a few of them aren’t even too bad if we put them in the context of the history of games.  But there are so many marvelous new entries in recent years, things that have won lots of awards around the world, lit fires in the video game world as well as the tabletop, and just generally out-fun the old school.  Give some of this new stuff a try the next time you’re with your family.  You won’t be disappointed.