Timer set, Name Your All-time Favorite Family Games, READY, GO!

(Quickly)…SORRY!…Spoons…Scattergories…Pictionary…Apples to Apples…Fitz It…Balderdash…Chase the Ace…QUIPLASH…Fish Bowl…STOP! Times up! (Word of caution: this was the fastest part of this post, so skim through to a game you want to read more about OR put your feet up, relax and read the whole 16 minute post).

Our family loves playing games. Everything from intense one-on-one chess matches to lively guess-shouting charades, the competitive and creative blood runs deep. I grew up in a game playing family. During visits with relatives “The Minister’ Cat” was our favorite. I never questioned the oddity of the name until now. After the big holiday meal we sat around the living room patting our lap and snapping our fingers in a rhythm (pat, pat, snap, snap, pat, pat, snap, snap). My aunt started with, “The Minister’s Cat is an ACTIVE cat.” Pat, pat, snap, snap; then my grandma would say, “The Mister’s Cat is a BORING cat.” Pat, pat, snap, snap; next person, “The Minister’s Cat is a CRAZY cat.” This was the most fun a child could have with grown ups at grandma’s house. It was either The Minister’s Cat or my sisters and I would be performing “The Bubblegum Skit”or chalk-drawn hopscotch in the garage. Fast forward to today, the skits, charades, and a whole host of other games are played when we all get together.

With the holidays approaching, kids returning from college, and relatives gathering, I thought this would be the perfect time to share our favorite games. Some require nothing more than pencils and scratch paper or a deck of cards, others can be found online for not too hefty of a price (since they came out years ago). Every Christmas I give each of my kids a new game, trying to stay current with pop culture (What Do You Meme) and the latest trending version of classic games (Hogwartzopoly), continuing to build on our game collection. Some of those still remain in their plastic wrapping because we often choose our all-time favorite, worn-on-the-cardboard-corners games. I love when I open one of those and find slips of paper from previously played occasions where we were crying laughing. So before you head out to the stores or go online to shop for the latest jazziest titled game, I suggest you give these a gander. If your family is anything like mine they may already be some of your favorites. If not, give them a try.

My criteria is simple:
-super competitive but not so much that it causes arguments (or tears)
-we laugh a lot throughout the game (and even years later when I come across the answers)
-no awkwardness in mixed company (ages, political views, etc)
-if something has way too many instructions or multiple options for each turn, we pass (or create or own version using the question cards)


NUMBER 10: “SORRY! The Classic Game of Sweet Revenge”
I chose to start with this game because it is the one that laid the foundation of good sportsmanship. When our young children played Candyland and Chutes & Ladders, I realized the movement around the board was luck of the draw with no decisions impacting other players (no strategy). SORRY! Involved pulling a card, choosing spaces to move, and if the opportunity presented itself, sending another player’s token all the way back to start. The object is to get all your colored tokens home first. With my kids there was one big rule, “No crying. If anyone starts crying we will stop immediately and put the game away.” This was my effort to thicken their skin when their sister or brother sent their token back to start and laughed in sing-song way, “SORRY!” They soon learned what came around went around (the classic game of sweet revenge). I did have to close up the box a time or two when emotions flared.

I grew up playing SPOONS all of the time. Don’t let the plain name fool you, this is a fast-paced, intensity-building, physical game. A deck of playing cards and spoons from the kitchen were all that was needed. There should be one less spoon than the number of players. Sitting on the floor, or at a table, in a circle, fan the spoons evenly in the center. Nobody should have a closer reach than anyone else. Think of this like musical chairs, but instead of chairs it’s spoons; and instead of music it is a card game that is being played until the first spoon is grabbed. One player is the dealer of each round, and deals four cards to everyone, including himself. The main object is to get four of a kind. Dealer starts by picking up a card from the deck looking at it and either decides to keep it and exchange it for a different card to put face down for the person on his left, or he can opt to pass it along to the left. This silent picking up-looking-putting down a card process is continuing clockwise. Players must always have only 4 cards in their hand. When a player gets 4 of a kind, he quickly subtly sneaks his hand forward and takes the first spoon. The moment one spoon is nabbed then anyone can go for a spoon (without having four of the same cards). So it turns into a spoon fetching frenzy, leaving one person spoon-less. There is nothing like being focused on your own cards and almost having 4 of the same, only to look up and see the empty space where all the spoons are already taken. For that round the loser gets and “S” and you collect all the cards, shuffle the deck and the next dealer starts the whole new round. Each round the loser gets a letter, “S-P-O-O-N-S” and you lose! My sisters used to make the loser eat some unappetizing combination of food on a spoon. Or we would put the loser through the spanking machine (all players stand legs apart and the loser crawls through getting lightly spanked and giggling the whole time). SPOONS is fun at any age! Stay alert and be quick!

NUMBER 8: SCATTERGORIES. (Just celebrated its 30th anniversary)
This is not too complex but does require concentration in a timely manner. Being able to read and spell is a must. Each player has a different pad with categories listed with a space next to each (i.e. animals, cities, tools). A special die is rolled that has different letters on each side. The timer is set. Whatever letter is facing up is what every word you come up with in each category must start with. (ie. If the letter S, you could write: skunk, Sarasota, saw). This is not as easy as it appears, especially in the short amount of time you have. After the time ends. You go through each of the categories sharing aloud your answers (or lack there of). If another player wrote the same word as you, then your answers cancel each other out. If the whole group “approves” your answer then you earn a point. Tally up your points at the end of that round, and the next round is a different paper with new categories and a new letter rolled. Back to the group “approval” I mentioned; sometimes players try to pass off a word that is a stretch for a category. I think of this every time I clean the house. The category was “chores” and the letter “G” was rolled. My answer was “General Vacuuming” (you know, the kind you do lightly around the house without moving furniture). Unfortunately my answer was not approved, but I still like to tell my mom on the phone that I need to get off to go do some general vacuuming.

A game that does not need much explanation, you draw pictures to provide clues for your team to guess the correct answer. This lands on my favorite list because we have some very talented artists in the family (and some not so artistic doodlers). Side note: we came across a different incarnation of this game called “Telestrations.” Think of the secret-whispered-in-the-ear game of Telephone, with drawings instead of whispered words. You end up with some pictures that differ greatly from the original word.

My kids love this popular game. I believe they like the part of the game where they are convincing others that their “green apple” adjective best pairs with the “red apple” noun card. In our house it can get a little loud. Many variations of this game are out there. There is a children’s version and an adult version (and other similar adult versions that shall remain unnamed due to their offensive nature). The original Apples to Apples never gets old.

This game is one of those spin offs, where convincing the other players of your answers is part of the game. It is like dominoes, but instead of dots it’s words. All the word cards lined up must combine to describe a certain word (they must “fit” together and within the growing crossword/domino like grid). Given the random words you are dealt, this is no easy task. You need to stretch your imagination and be skilled at selling it to your opponents. I highly recommend Fitz It, inexpensive and fun with clever creative players.

The enjoyment of this game is highly dependent on the creativity of the people playing it. Fake definitions, fictional movie summaries, and made up song titles are just some of the inventive tasks involved in Balderdash. It is one of my absolute favorites to play with my adult kids. They bring to the table years of homework looking up definitions, so they are talented at mimicking definitions for obscure words. Some clever game designer took the old game of “Dictionary” and renamed it, boxed it up and this is Balderdash.

First rule of Chase the Ace, NO CRYING! My kids learned this game from their Grandpa. All you need is a deck of cards and dollar bills. Each player starts with a smooth flat dollar bill in front of them. A dealer passes out one card to each player. The Ace is the worst card (thus the name chase the ace), and the second worst card is the Queen. The King is a wild card and you instantly win out of the round, which keeps you safe. The object of each round is to not hold the highest card at the end of the go-around. The player to the left of the dealer starts by either staying with the card in his hand or passing his card to the left to trade for that person’s card. If his card is low he should keep it, if it’s an ace he definitely needs to get rid of it. The next person makes the same kind of decision and keeps or swaps with the player on his left. It goes all the way around until the dealer, who can swap with a card from the top of the deck. All players show their cards at this point. Whoever has the highest card is the one who loses the round and must fold one corner of his dollar bill. If a person loses with an Ace then they must fold two corners. The cards are collected, and new dealer deals for the next round. Whenever a player has all four corners folded they lose and are eliminated, their dollar goes into the pot. By process of elimination the pot will grow larger with bills as the number of players decreases. The last one standing wins the pot of bills! You would think we were playing for a lot more money than 7 dollars, but as this game goes on the thrill builds and the hunger for the money pot is palpable! But no crying.

I am not technologically strong, nor do I like the idea of cellphones being out when our family is together, but the exception is this game. I will not attempt to explain how this is played. Ask your tech savvy kids. It involves the Playstation and Jackbox games. Your cellphone merely acts as a controller where you enter your answers. The television hooked up to the playstation with Quiplash acting as the game show host. There are a variety of games. Again this is one of those that is much more enjoyable with clever answers. As I said, I would not normally include a family game that involves cellphones, a television or a playstation box, but this is really fun!

With all of the game playing my family has done over the years, I am always looking for new games (and buying them as Christmas presents). Last year I was introduced to FishBowl by some friends on a trip; I am still laughing recalling the game. It is one of those that gets more fun as the game goes on, in three stages: first like the game Taboo, then like Password, and finally like Charades. The random words used over and over again are written by all of the players and placed into the “fishbowl”. There are two teams, whose object is to have their team guess correctly as many as possible before time is up (one minute). Remembering the words from previous rounds is as important as deciphering the team member’s silent charade. This is also a case where the creatively thought out words make the game more fun to play.

Honorable Mention:
MTV Throwback Music Party Game (my sister and I loved playing this over zoom last Christmas, because what’s not to love about 80,s and 90’s music?!).
Who’s The Dude (basically a charades game that comes with a blow up doll so all the charades are acted out with the inflatable “dude”, quite silly, fun and potentially inappropriate).

WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY’S FAVORITE GAME? Share it with us in the comments! You got to the end of this long post, you win!

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