The Quest for the Perfect Family Game: One Man's Journey
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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My holy grail, my eternal quest is to find the perfect family game for my perfect family. (Well, I think they’re perfect.) It is not easy. Under one roof there are very different personality types to please. Here are the ones I’m working with:

Me: Well, I’m perfect, of course. I love all kinds of board games and have since I was a kid. I know, however, that there is no way that I’m going to get a game of Republic of Rome or 1776 going among my family members, but I would like to find a stimulating game that ALL of us would play without extreme coercion and actually enjoy.

Wife: She’s perfect too. Problem is that she is not really into board games. She grew up playing Canasta. (So did I, actually, and I am better than she is – but that’s a whole other story.) She is willing to play games as long as they are not too long, not too complicated, and not like work. She really plays for the opportunity to have family time. For that reason she and I don’t play games with just us very often. Sometimes an evening game of Lost Cities or Yinsh, maybe, but that’s about it.

Gaming Daughter (GD): Also perfect. She is a chip off the old block. She had Parcheesi mastered at 5 years old and now that she's 9 there is no such thing as a “geek game” that she will not plunge into with abandon. She focuses like a laser beam on the rules, learns them completely, then proceeds to cream me. I love it.

Non-Gaming Daughter (NGD): Perfect (what did you expect?) We look alike, act alike, talk alike. But we do not approach gaming alike. In fact, my 7-year old Non-Gaming Daughter would rather not approach gaming at all. Board games are much too limiting for her. She likes stories, and art, and imagination. She always seems to have a hundred things going on in her mind. Focusing on one thing is just too limiting. As she likes to say, “I’m not fond of geek games.”

Thus I began my quest. At first my wife kept telling me to stop buying games for the kids. Let them wait for their birthdays or Christmas, she said. What? These games aren’t for them! They’re mine! Mine, do you hear! Anyway, I include here only those games that I have purchased with the aim of bringing the whole family together. Truly geeky games, like Puerto Rico, San Marco, Colossal Arena, etc. I buy also, but only to play with GD. I always feel a bit guilty about that, but I’m hoping the rest of the family will grow into them. (That’s the ticket…)

These games are arranged roughly chronologically. Please do add any suggestions as to which game I should next bring to our family’s gaming table. Then when I get those exasperated sighs and blank stares I can blame you!
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1. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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Here comes the cliché wide-up, and the pitch… Yes, this was the game that got me interested in Euros. I was certain that it would be too much for my (then) 8-year-old daughter (GD) but she took to it like a fish to water. She plays just like an adult (except she gets up periodically to dance around and sing a song.) The non-gaming daughter (then 6-years old) (NGD) wouldn’t consider playing it. We tried to edge her into it by letting her “play on someone’s team” but it didn’t work. She ended up taking all the spare wooden pieces under the table and building a nice little village. This started my obsession with finding the perfect family game – one that my whole family would gladly sit down to play together.
 
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2. Board Game: Heroscape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:270] [Average Rating:7.42 Unranked]
Tom Madden
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Missouri
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The combat, terrain building, and even back story appealed to my GD. She loved the game and we have played it together many, many times. My wife, though, played only once and that was enough for her. Too geeky. My NGD has no interest in playing, although she does enjoy collecting the unused figures and having a little tea party next to the battlefield. Those who are eliminated from play are also cordially invited to attend.
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3. Board Game: Reiner Knizia's Amazing Flea Circus [Average Rating:5.79 Overall Rank:6210]
Tom Madden
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Both girls are willing to play this one, but we adults won’t. It is just too boring. We just don’t get the thrill of setting up cat and dog spectators to stare at our discard piles.
 
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4. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:366]
Tom Madden
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Saint Louis
Missouri
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This sounded like it might work. Lots of interaction, pretty pictures on the cards for NGD, but plenty of strategy for GD. It flopped. My wife found it dull and NGD refused to keep her hand in order. (They just didn’t seem to go together that way.) GD and I ended up playing the Bean Duel over and over until we eventually tired of it. It never gets played anymore.
 
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5. Board Game: Gulo Gulo [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:945]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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Pay dirt – almost. NGD loved the fact that you get to set up the board however you like. (Although she sometimes likes adding various forks in the road that present some difficulties…) She also like that her long and slender figures gave her a real advantage. This quickly became her favorite game. GD, though, found it dead dull. I can’t shake the feeling that NGD only loves it so much because it sends her sister into fits every time it comes out. Anyway, at least it is a game that the whole family will (even reluctantly) sit down to play.
 
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6. Board Game: Pirate's Cove [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:1020]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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I figured this was a long shot. The rules seemed a bit long and there were a lot of pieces. Still, it had plenty of that “oozing” theme that people keep talking about. Oddly, though, everyone seemed to like it after a few plays. The problem is that after a few more plays you realize that behind the theme there is not much of a game here. NGD, who isn’t all that keen on pirates in any case, refused to play anymore. Despite some initial fun, no one mourned its passing from our family table.
 
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7. Board Game: BANG! [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1016]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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GD loved it. Wife and NGD tolerated one game with a number of other players and then swore it off. Too mean. We visited a family with young boys six months later and introduced it to them. (By “we” I mean me and GD.) They loved it, playing it over and over again. They asked where they might be able to get their own copy. We gave them ours. At least it will be well loved.
 
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8. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:124] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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For my NGD’s birthday (aside from many other things she enjoys) I gave her two games. This was one of them. I had high hopes that she would click with this. What was I thinking? She just stared at me as I explained the rules. As the game progressed it was punctuated by numerous sighs (not meant to be train whistles). Finally, when the game ended and NGD actually won, she walked away and said she didn’t want to play it again. She never has. My wife and GD actually do like this game quite a bit so the three of us play it every so often. But NGD won’t consider it. I ended up trading a bunch of Magnetix blocks to NGD for this copy of TtR. She considered that more than fair. (She drives a hard bargain.)
 
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9. Board Game: Fearsome Floors [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:908]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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The other game I gave NGD for her birthday. At first she really liked it. The fact that you get to make up the board and build your own monster is right up her alley. She played several games with the rest of the family, but finally got bored and refused to play again. Since my wife and GD only marginally liked the game we don’t play it very often anymore. Shame, really, because it is fun. At least I think so.
 
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10. Board Game: Frank's Zoo [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:1193]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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At first this was a disaster. NGD found it beyond dull and she refused to sort the cards in her hand, causing plenty of downtime for all as she searched for an elephant or orca. The fact that she often won made no difference. It collected dust for six months before we brought it out again and NGD appeared to have grown into it. She liked it, although she still found the number of cards that one has to hold and manage in a four player game to be excessive. (She is only 7 after all, and has little hands.) We play one or two hands every once in a while, but there is no way I can get them all to sit long enough for two players to have 19 points as the rules say! I’m hoping that over time this may become more of a family favorite.
 
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11. Board Game: A Dog's Life [Average Rating:5.54 Overall Rank:12386]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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Both girls like dogs. In fact, at the time they were pestering me mercilessly to get them one. (They finally won on that score… we have a big Samoyed now.) I introduced this game with the modified house rules available on BGG and it was an instant hit! Finally, a game that the whole family loved! The girls thrilled to searching through garbage, peeing on street lights, and begging at restaurants. My wife thought the dogs were cute. I was eager to explore the strategic differences between the various breeds. Unfortunately, though, after many plays I discovered that the differences were not that pronounced or thought out. (I honestly cannot win with that little poodle…). Although the kids would still play this game happily, I usually avoid it if possible. So, this is not the perfect family game for us (since I don’t like it much) but it is pretty darn close. As an added bonus, the girls now know how to say “dog pee” and “trashcan” in French!
 
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12. Board Game: Escape from the Hidden Castle [Average Rating:6.44 Overall Rank:2024]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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This is a great game for kids and adults to play. It’s fun, easy, and short. Unfortunately, it only works sporadically for my family. My wife just isn’t interested, so I usually try to get a game going with the two girls. GD focuses on the strategy of getting her people into +3 rooms and whether the risk ratio is favorable or not with -1 rooms. NGD, on the other hand, tells us which pieces are married to each other and always dubs one of them her “Brave Lady” (said with a cockney accent), who foolishly taunts the ghost. This remains in my arsenal of games I can get both daughters to play – at least sometimes.
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13. Board Game: Monsters Menace America [Average Rating:5.96 Overall Rank:3224]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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NGD was on a Godzilla kick, having just seen one of the movies. I pulled this game out of my secret stash in the basement and opened it up. She loved the pieces. As I learned the game, though, I began to despair. Too many turn phases. Managing the military and a monster seemed to be a bit much as well. To my surprise, though, NGD waded through it all. Both she and her sister liked the game quite a bit. Their unconventional (and not very effective) strategy was to draw military technology cards every turn in order to get Capt. Colossal or the Mecha-Monster. It became a sibling rivalry for them. When they got them, they would generally not let them be endangered by fighting monsters…. My wife played a few times too. She thought the whole game was dumb, but she was a good sport. We haven’t played it for awhile now. That is probably because I don’t find it all that exciting. But it does work as a family game for our family!
 
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14. Board Game: Igloo Pop [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:2547]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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This was a big hit at first. We played it over and over and over again and had a blast! But after that one happy day I could not get either daughter interested in it again. Both of them considered it to be too babyish. Come to think of it, those igloos are a bit like rattles…
 
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15. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:390]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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I don't know why this game didn't click with us, but it never did. We gave it plenty of tries, but nothing.
 
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16. Board Game: Dragonland [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:2779]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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This came well recommended for kids and we do generally like Knizia. (Well, all but NGD, who immediately sniffs a “geek game” when she hears that name.) As soon as I started reading the rules, though, I gave up hope of ever getting the whole family behind this one. Still, I gave it a try. NGD loved the gems and (especially) the rings. GD liked the strategic elements of scoring and movement. I agreed. My wife also liked it! So it was a winner, at least for about four games. NGD, in fact, turned out to be quite a master at collecting sets and often won. After that the general enthusiasm level began to decline and we haven’t played it in awhile. Too bad, really.
 
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17. Board Game: Niagara [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1092]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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Gems, beautiful water, wooden boats. This one has everything. NGD loved the colors and bits. GD only cared that it won the SdJ. My wife was intrigued by the design. Me too. Our first game did not go very well. NGD was really getting into it, but then one of her boats went over the falls – the first one to do that. She marched off in a huff. After a lecture about good sportsmanship, she eventually returned and played another game and won. This game really seems to have it all for us. It is pretty, simple, not overly long but it has a level of strategy to keep the geeks happy. I expect this to hit our family table many more times. This is as close to my perfect family game as I have found.
 
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18. Board Game: Cartagena [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:846]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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Easy, short, and based on pirates. Sounded like a winner! GD played it intensely once and then declined future games. NGD played it once too and then swore it off. Too boring, she said. My wife wouldn’t try it. Guess I’m trading it…
 
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19. Board Game: Plunder [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:3900]
Tom Madden
United States
Saint Louis
Missouri
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This is my next project. I’ve read the rules, I’ve read the strategies and comments on BGG. Maybe this weekend. Could this be the end of my quest? Hmm.. I hope not!
 
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20. Board Game: Citadels [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:316]
Angela Frampton
United States
Fresno
California
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Try this, I thought it would be to aggessive but after 1 game they loved it Actually the first time my 15gd cried and the 11ngd almost left in a huff. Actually they love to assasinate each other and steal from Mom. lol
 
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21. Board Game: Marco Polo Expedition [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:3331]
Stephen Glenn
United States
Virginia Beach
Virginia
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Another of our favorite family games.
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22. Board Game: Circus Flohcati [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1360]
Stephen Glenn
United States
Virginia Beach
Virginia
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Fast, fun and cute.
 
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23. Board Game: Queen's Necklace [Average Rating:6.45 Overall Rank:1698]
Robert Zurfluh
United States
Cranbury
New Jersey
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This makes for a great family game. There are a lot of elements in this game. Strategy, bluff, luck...and all three of these are well balanced. The components are really, really good. My son requested it a lot when he first started to read. Cool cards....lots of stuff to read. Has some addition skills for younger kids.

Highly recommended family game. Very lightweight, and everyone can win.
 
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24. Board Game: Shadows over Camelot [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:317]
Michelle Zentis
United Kingdom
London
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You might try this one. It's got pretty bits (including knights) for NGD and enough going on to entertain the rest of you. As an added bonus, it's a cooperative game, thus possibly enhancing family unity. Opinions differ on this game, but my group always has fun playing it.
 
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25. Board Game: Oriente [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:5651]
Clark D. Rodeffer
United States
Ann Arbor
Michigan
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It's a bit confusing at first, but then Oriente becomes a nice family game for four or more.
 
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