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TIMELY TOPICS - What games should I play with my family this Christmas holiday? (or, Why do I keep buying games to play with my Family that they refuse to play?)

-matt s.
United States
Eugene
Oregon
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So, something I've been pondering is how to get my family to play different games beyond a certain handful. Part of the question lies in WHAT would they like to play? This is a bit beyond the typical 'gateway' gaming question, more of a 'what the heck can I bring that everyone might want to play?'

Over the past 3 years I have purchased numerous games thinking 'my wife might like this' or 'this might be fun with my parents'. Then, I bring them out and describe them briefly and their eyes glaze over and they want to play something else instead.

Where I'm coming from
My perspective here comes from gaming with my wife and parents who live in Washington state (~4-5 hr drive from our home in Oregon). We get together at least 5-6 times per year, primarily for Thanksgiving, Christmas and my kids' birthdays, and we usually have some potential gaming time mixed in. I've introduced some gateway and non-gateway games in the past and it's always hit or miss. It's difficult to know what will work for everyone.

So, when the question comes up of 'what game should we play?' it invariably gravitates to the same games: Ticket to Ride (usually US map, occasionally one of the others), Dominion, Crokinole, Banangrams (although my Dad refuses to play that and most anything with a speed element), Blokus (played rarely) and ZOT (a form of Oh Hell!).

I like playing all of these but I also like to mix it up a bit from time to time.

ZOT we played for years and I'm a bit tired of it.

TtR (which we introduced to my parents 3+ years ago) is always good although I would prefer to play some of the other non-US versions more often.

Bananagrams was a big hit at a family reunion where everyone is into word games, but my Dad just doesn't like the speed element of it.

My Dad likes more 'thinky' or 'puzzly' games. We love to play Odin's Ravens although we've not played as much lately. My Mom and wife love playing Flowerpower but again it hasn't been as much lately. Plus, both of those games are 2-player only so not for all of us as a group.

A couple of years ago I taught my Dad Dominionand he totally latched onto it. In fact, we got my Mom to try it and she loved it too. They even had it set up permanently at their house for a couple of months surprise until my Mom got tired of it. Part of the problem was she refused to play with some cards - mainly some attack cards and also those that tended to force longer chains. I bought them an expansion (Intrigue) but she still seemed put off by some of the cards/combos. So, we play it infrequently now as a group.

Crokinole is great (and we even got my Dad a board last year with the Mayday games pre-order deal) but it doesn't get played often. We did have a good time at it during Thanksgiving but I am a good bit better than the rest of them and try to dial it down a bit but sometimes that's difficult to do....

Anyhow, as you can see, that leaves TtR, Crokinole and Zot the main games we play. We have experimented with some many other games over the past couple of years - many of which I will note here and there below. I will admit that I ruined Rummikub by crushing everyone the one time we played (oops - wasn't so tuned into the 'dial it back' thing back then)

Oh, and we play some games with everyone including the kids such as Apples to Apples (almost every time we get together) and Rat-a-tat-cat (not so much lately - hmmm, there's a trend here). We even pulled out Pictionary to teach my kids for the first time and had a blast.

Where we've headed
When I first started getting into gaming, my friend, Chris (cdefrisco), taught several games to my wife and I, one of which was Pirate's Cove. I enjoyed it and my wife REALLY seemed to enjoy it, which surprised me. So, she got a copy for Christmas. Unfortunately, it has been played exactly 1 time since we got it. We played with my parents and they both hated it. I think they didn't like the direct confrontation. So, it sits on the shelf - yet another purchase my family refuses to play

Interestingly, my Mom has been willing to dabble in some new directions. She and I played Tobago at Thanksgiving with the kids and she seemed to enjoy it, although I think the game went on longer than it should due to her and the kids taking a long time to take turns.

She gave Oregon a go last year but we only got a partial game completed although she seemed to enjoy it. I'm a bit concerned with that one though as now I've been playing it online a lot (and am ranked 18th currently out of 1000+ players) so would have to play very lightly to make sure I don't accidentally crush like in Rummikub.

Gaming Exploits with my Dad
Over time, I've come to realize my Dad is the most willing to try just about anything and is able to do well with some more complex or different types of games.

Now, to give some perspective, he has always been into computers, gaming systems and video games. Yes, he is over 60 and he plays video games. He probably plays them more than I do because it's something he can do by himself easily for short (or long) periods of time on the computer.

We owned an original Pong game way back when. We had an Atari 2600 when they first came out and later an NES. He bought pinball machines and an Asteroid Deluxe machine when I was a teen. Like me, he loves racing games, but he also loves a good adventure game, puzzle games, pinball games - you name it he's probably played it.

He even used to play games like Loom and Monkey Island. Later, he got into Doom, Duke Nuke Em, Tomb Raider and Quake. He played all the way through the original Zelda on the NES. He has more modern games that I don't even know what he plays (as I've veered directly away from them in favor of board games). And, now he has moved the large screen TV upstairs and bought himself an X-Box for Christmas to 'play with the kids'.....surprise laugh wait....shake

And now that I think about it, I guess he DID teach me how to play Chess when I was growing up, so he's always been into somewhat more complex games.

What usually happens during our visits is my wife and Mom will go out to lunch and then shopping and will be gone for several hours. This leaves time alone with my Dad and kids. So, we have played games like Nexus Ops, Dungeon, Qwirkle, Jaipur, Pastiche, Haggis, and some others that aren't coming to mind. These are not 'heavy' games, but certainly different and he usually does well in them even on a first play.

Heading in new directions
I'm not one to generally play the same game over and over and over again - I like more variety, to try out new games, or play known games with new people.

As a result, I try to get my family to play new and different games. I think my Dad is pretty much up for anything, as long as it doesn't have a speed element - he will flat out refuse to play that type as he likes to think about his moves.

Interestingly, my wife is the most resistant to 'new' games, if I can get her interested at all. She games when we're visiting with my parents, but it's difficult to get her to the table otherwise. My Mom is open to newer games, but generally not in the evenings when she's tired and wants to game more to relax and socialize at the same time.

It's a board game mine field I'm trying to navigate: something my wife is willing to play, something that's not too complicated for my Mom to play, and anything without speed elements for my Dad.

Last month at Thanksgiving I taught my Mom and Dad 10 Days in the USA. My wife bowed out. My Dad won with me 1 turn away from winning. And my Mom got mad, threw down her tiles and stormed off (i.e. she hated it).

Wow.

I'm generally not accustomed to gamers getting so emotional about games. Gamers typically go 'oh well' being happy to have played, win or lose, and are ready to move on to the next game or even try again to see if they can do better.

Family gaming with my parents and wife is not quite as simple unfortunately. They sometimes get emotionally involved and can push their limits sometimes - way beyond what they are used to or even desire, even if it seems like a 'simple' game. Ironically, some more complex games seem to be 'ok' depending on theme or interactions.

Where to go from here
I have to follow-up with my wife on this, but when I was playing Tobago with my Mom and kids, I think I heard my wife say something to the effect of "I don't like to think too much when playing a game". Whether that's what she truly said/meant or not, it did get me thinking - simpler games must be better for her. I think this also suggests playing the same games more often (i.e. playing more often means you understand it better and don't have to 'think' about it as much).

Also, my Mom seems to like card based games, and games with quicker/faster turns. I have a feeling she is also in the same boat of not having to think too much. Apparently 10 Days in the USA was 'too much' (well, too frustrating at least).

So, I'm starting to change my perspective on what my non-Geek family members (i.e. my wife and Mom) might like to play (and when I say 'might like to play' I mean, 'might like to play that is different for a change')

The the problem here is more about me I think - my expectation to get them to play more/different games. They tend to like to be comfortable with games and not be required to have to think too much and I want change and more complexity.

Over the years I have purchased many games thinking 'I bet my family might like playing this'. Then, I'll bring it. I'll set it out on the table. I'll show it to them. I'll show them several. Then we play Ticket to Ride. Or worse, Zot. And the new games go back on the shelf or into the tote. *sigh*

So, I seem to have a bit of a dilemma here - *I* want to be able to try out some new games. My family does not necessarily want to try out some new games. New games. No new games. Crap.

I guess a compromise is in order, and some more careful planning about new game selections, if I bring out any at all.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this yet - it's been a good thought process for me. I'm not sure any of you reading are in the same boat as me or not, or have come to similar conclusions, but if you have any ideas on where this is leading me let me know.

Here's my stab at this for me: 'simpler' card based games, quick turns, not too much thinking, probably shorter rather than longer (say 45-90 minutes per game).

Interestingly, this seems to lead me in a couple of directions:
* More modern card based games
* Co-operative games (short turns + encourages social interaction which I think my Mom likes)
* Maybe some shorter puzzly games
* Maybe simpler dice-based games

Here's a short list of games I've been thinking about:
* Bohnanza (although just played recently with my kids and they were just 'ok' with it - I kinda liked it but we had to stop mid-game just as I was getting into it)
* San Juan (perhaps still a bit too much)
* Forbidden Island, maybe Pandemic (we played Forbidden Island with my parents and kids and had a good time before - I need to bring it out again)
* Castle Panic (my Dad enjoyed it and I think it goes in the same direction - quick, fast, easy to learn and play)
* 7 Wonders (might still be too much)
* Blue Moon City (great theme, general mechanics are easy, but some complexity in the card play might be too much)
* Downfall of Pompeii (I think we actually played this a long time ago, but not sure what the feelings were at the time)
* Zooloretto (played once a long while ago - maybe need to bring out again)
* Lucky Loop (simple dice-rolling fun)
* Micro Mutants (fun dexterity game, although more with the kids)
* Mosaix (just picked up this simple to play puzzly game)
* Oregon (if I don't play too hard)
* Show Manager (no one seemed to want to play this before though - just a better sell is needed? I'm wondering if there is too much screwage)
* Straw (simpler card game but I still haven't played it myself and it seems maybe 'too' simple for my tastes)
* Andromeda (just arrived yesterday so haven't played myself yet, but is also by Alan Moon and somewhat luck based??)

I know not to bring ALL of these but want to narrow it down to a handful that might be easy sells. Any recommendations/suggestions would be great (preferably with games I already own)

Final thoughts
Now, one thing you may have noticed is that I've actually been able to get my family to try out a good variety of games - quite a few in fact. You may even say the are NOT non-gamers as a result. This may be true with my Dad, but with my Mom and wife I'm on the fence.

FOLLOW-UP
So, I thought about this independently of the list here and have a different list where I need to simply and also need to try to keep size down due needing to pack luggage and gifts in the SUV as well.

With just Dad:
* Tigris & Euphrates (chess-like, more depth/thought involved plus I've been talking it up for a while)
* Haggis (small, card based, played before and would like to play again)
* Jaipur (small, card based, might even try to play this with Mom)

With my Parents and Wife:
* Showmanager (fast, card based, although worried about screwage)
* Pandemic (co-op, card based)
* Straw (small, fast and simple, card based)
* Oregon (quick turns, card based, relatively easy play)
* Mosaix (small, fast, puzzly, dicey)
* Potion Making: Practice (relatively small, card based, although did not go over well with Geek gamers, but might be good for parents)

With the kids:
* Apples to Apples Sour Edition (my wife picked this up for the kids - has a twist with also picking the 'worst' card)
* Forbidden Island (relatively small, fast, card based)
* Rat-a-tat-Cat (small, fast, card based)

Other Possibilities:
* Micro Mutants (fun dexterity, but box is kinda big)
* Tsuro (got for xmas and haven't played yet so not sure....)
* Pizza Box Football (dicey fun and Dad loves football - haven't played yet but thrifted a decent copy so want to try)
* Dominion (with Hinterlands which I just got for Xmas and added to my combo box!)

Ok, ok, I know the list got a little too long. But I LIKE TO HAVE OPTIONS! Even though I know the X-Box may be the big hit over board games this year shake

And, even if they never want to play the games I keep buying and bringing for them to try.....I can dream, can't I?

Have a Happy New Year!
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