When you hear the words “games” or “gaming,” you probably think of video games. Playing games over the Internet or through a variety of electronic devices has become the new normal for our society. In fact, according to the Entertainment Software Association, Americans spent $20.77 billion on video games and video gaming systems in 2012.
If you are seeking an unplugged, low cost – or in some cases, no cost — alternative to video games, it’s time to consider an old-fashioned, old school family game night. Playing board games, guessing games or card games as a family is a great way to have fun, to learn and to connect with each other. What’s more is that with a little creativity, family members of all ages and abilities can participate.
Many families find that scheduling a regular night for family games helps it to get off to a good start. Choose what night is best for your family – perhaps a weekend evening right after dinner – and ask your family members to make it a standing commitment.
Ask your children for ideas for what to play, with the caveat that the game must be low-tech (batteries for buzzers, maybe) or no-tech. If you have a lot of suggestions, you may want to set a schedule or a rotation so that everyone gets the chance to play his or her favorites.
Many games designed for four to six players can be played with larger groups if you use team play. Pairing family members into teams is also a great way to get the younger members of your family involved and active in games that may have been designed for ages 12 and up.
For example, my family enjoys playing the game Cranium (see list for more details), but many of the questions are difficult for young children. When we pair a teenager with a younger sibling, however, the team can be hard to beat. Even the youngest members of your family can help roll the dice or move the play pieces for their team even if they can’t answer the questions. And you’ll be surprised at how quickly they pick up the rules.
My family especially enjoys trivia question games, and if you are like us, you’ll find that you can go through the packaged questions in some of these games quite quickly. It’s no fun playing the game after you have heard the questions. We have found luck in purchasing booster packs at thrift stores or on e-Bay. Keep in mind your players’ ages, however, when you buy older question packs. No one in our family is very knowledgeable of 1990s pop culture, for example.
Here is a list of some of our favorite games and why we like them:
Apples to Apples
A perfect choice for a large family or for a party, this game of comparisons will definitely start some good conversations. Players select one of their noun cards to match with someone else’s adjective card and then must explain their reasoning. Lots of fun for all ages and a different game every time.
Bunco and Yahtzee. These are both dice games, so they are easy for all ages. Although they are quite different from each other, each of these games is also strangely addictive and fun!
Charades. All you need are a pad of paper and pen to jot down categories and ideas (such as favorite books or movie titles) and two or more teams of players to play this classic family game. We’ve found that even people who think they are shy will get into the fun of acting out and guessing silent clues.
Cranium. This is a fun and active game for a variety of ages, interests and skill levels. Players draw cards in the categories of Data Head, Star Performer, Word Worm and Creative Cat, which prompt them to answer trivia questions, act out characters charades-style, draw with their eyes closed, hum popular tunes, or mold things out of clay. We get very competitive with this one, and the laughs flow freely.
Pictionary. Don’t worry if you think you’re not much of an artist. This game is actually more fun if you’re not! Play the actual board game or create your own version with categories and plenty of pencil and paper.
Scattergories. Each player must fill out a list with answers in different categories that all begin with the same letter. If no other player matches your answers, you score. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, this game is timed, and when you try to come up with some not-so-obvious answers, you may run out of that precious commodity.
Taboo. Trying to get your team to guess the phrases on your cards without mentioning any of the forbidden clues is more difficult than you’d think. Plus you get to listen to your opponents carefully and buzz them out if they say the “taboo” words. Lots of fun!
Check the family room closet or your attic for these time-tested favorites as well: Monopoly, Scrabble, Password, Clue, Twister, Life and Sorry. And don’t forget to add in a round of Candy Land, Memory or Chutes and Ladders especially for the little ones.
While the main reason we enjoy playing games together as a family is the fun we have together, there are other benefits.
Some games require using strategy or logic to make your decisions. It is fun to watch a child use deductive reasoning in choosing what roll of the dice to mark down on his list in Yahtzee, for instance. Other games, such as Monopoly or Life, involve a glimpse of real life decision-making.
Many games involve historical information that can help your children learn some interesting facts. We often get out the globe or the atlas during a game or get sidetracked with a discussion about a certain president or war battle.
Learning the rules of a game and following them is an important life skill. In a society in which increasingly “everyone is a winner,” we have both winners and losers in our games. However, we strive to win and lose graciously.
In a plugged-in world in which on any given evening Mom is on her laptop, Dad is on his tablet, a son is watching TV or a daughter is listening to music on her iPod, playing a board game will put you back in touch with each other on a face-to-face basis. When it comes down to it, playing unplugged games can keep you plugged in to each other as a family.