Why do we love to play games so much? Every day at lunch we play a game together around the dining table, and whenever we have visiting friends and family, we play again in the evening.
Games are a break from the passive thinking of video-watching, and unlike reading, it’s a shared social experience. And we’re trying out new games constantly, learning new strategies and tactics and exercising our brains.
But the realities of trying to plan a Family Game Night are often reluctant family members, wandering attention spans, and short time commitments. We’ve been there, done that! In this post, we list our top 8 favorites games, which are well-suited for 2 or more players, can be played relatively quickly, and don’t take too long to learn. We hope that this breakdown of our favorite games inspires your next Family Game Night!
Why board games? Actually, we think Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, might have said it best:
Board games are one of the longest-standing traditions on earth – the first board games are as old as written language. Thousands of years later, they’re more popular than ever and can be found in every corner of the world. This is because games have a universal ability to bring people together. They can cross language barriers and generations. They’re one of the few activities that level the playing field by connecting people of all ages. (I learned this the hard way when I recently lost a game of Go Fish to a friend’s 5-year-old.)
But I believe the real power of games is their ability to bring us into the present. Today, it’s easier than ever to isolate. We can spend hours scrolling the endless feeds on our phones, binge-watching shows, and disconnecting from those around us.
The best games provide an antidote to the isolation. There’s an escape that happens, whether you’re playing hockey or a game of Trivial Pursuit, that pulls you out of your day-to-day and forces you to be present with the people around you. Games teach us how to handle defeat, they spark creativity, and more often than not, they bring out a childlike sense of joy.Brian Chesky, quoted in airbnb magazine
Top 8 Games
Why 8? Because these are the games we play in heavy rotation. We wouldn’t want to drop any of them from the list and we wouldn’t want to grasp at straws to add more. These, quite simply, are the games we like to play at family game night – in no particular order:
Forbidden Island – a cooperative game
We fell in love with this game, our first cooperative game. The concept is that you’re all trying to take the treasures off a sinking island and all get off the island together. Everybody loses, or everybody wins. We were even more thrilled that our friends and family enjoyed it as much as we did. It can be played with 2-4 people and a game takes about 30 minutes (perfect for lunch). They say ages 10+ but my 6-year-old nephew was able to play along with us just fine – after all, it is cooperative. There’s not a lot of fancy set-up, and it’s so novel to be able to play WITH your friends and family to beat the game, rather than trying to beat each other.
Forbidden Island game site >>>
Cribbage (or Euchre) – classic card games
It seems like in America and Canada the top two card games are cribbage and euchre – and there are cribbage families and there are euchre families, somewhat grouped geographically. We are a house divided – Valerie’s family comes from the Midwest and were euchre players, Geoff grew up in an Oregon cribbage family, which seems to be concentrated more in the West and East. We love both games. But you can play cribbage with 2-6 players and euchre is limited to 4 only. Since we are only two players at lunch, we play cribbage almost daily (a game takes up to 30 minutes). That’s why we’ve created so many unique cribbage game boards!
Cribbage rules >>>
Euchre rules >>>
Hive – perfect game for 2
Like chess, this bug-themed game can only be played with 2 people and it’s a strategy game of trying to capture the monarch (the queen bee instead of the chess king). Also like chess, each kind of bug, like rooks, knights, etc, has special abilities and inabilities. But – unlike chess, the game goes quickly (10-15 minutes), and you build the board on the go with the hexagonal honeycomb-shaped tile pieces. It’s not formal or fussy and there’s almost no set-up. For two players cramming in a quick game at lunch, this is just about perfect – but the strategy is so intriguing (somebody wrote a doctoral thesis on Hive strategy!) that you’ll want to play over and over again.
Hive game site >>>
Azul – for visual people
Azul is perfect for those in the family that roll their eyes at counting pips or adding up cards. It’s a visual game inspired by Portuguese tiles where you build up a tile with various patterns by taking from a shared tile pool in the center and strategically collecting them to create rows and columns for points. It’s for 2-4 players and play time takes 30-45 minutes. Like all our favorite games, it’s a good mix of luck and strategy, and the colorful tiles are visual and creative.
About Azul >>>
Catan Dice – next-level Yahtzee
We love Catan, but the reality is, it takes a while to set up and learn. It can be too much of a lift for reluctant family members. Enter: Catan Dice! 1-4 people can play Catan Dice in 20-40 minutes. It’s a travel version of Catan that introduces the ideas of Catan but is relatively simple to learn – like Yahtzee but with a board game component. Like Yahtzee, you roll the dice three times to try to get your desired combination of dice and add up the points on a score sheet. Unlike Yahtzee, the dice are formed of resources, and the resources collected fill in the Catan tiled landscape with wheat, sheep, ore, and brick.
Catan Dice game site >>>
Catan game site >>>
Mexican Train Dominoes – for easy conversation
This version of dominoes is the perfect combination of luck and skill, and it doesn’t require a lot of concentration. Players build off a central domino, playing in rounds from double-twelve down to double-zero, taking turns matching the pips in their personal domino chain (“train”) until the first person runs out of tiles. The “Mexican Train” is an additional shared public train that is open for all players to play. This version of dominoes is easy to play and hold a conversation at the same time, and the multiple rounds mean the game can go on all night, or be split up with pauses. A typical game is 4-8 players with a set of double-12 dominoes, but it can be played with anywhere from 2-13 players, depending on the number and type of dominoes you have.
Mexican Train Rules >>>
Walnut Studiolo’s Travel Dominoes >>>
Carcassone – medieval geekery but easier than Catan
This is a more approachable family game than Catan but it has a lot of similar elements. Like Catan, this game is made from medieval landscape tiles that make a different map for each game, and players are aiming to collect resources. Unlike Catan, during the game you build up the board tile-by-tile, so there’s very little set-up time, and the resource collection and points are more simplified. It can be played with 2-5 players in anywhere from 30-90 minutes, so it can extend a lunch break. Also like Catan, there are many expansion packs, which can add more players and complexity if you want to explore the Carcassone universe further.
Carcassone game site >>>
Dice: Farkle / 10,000 – for unlimited players
Any number of players can play Farkle using 6 dice and a notepad. It’s like Yahtzee with each player pushing their luck to roll the right dice (triples, 1’s, or 5’s). But unlike Yahtzee, the points are simplified and you can roll as many times as you want – so long as you get the right dice. In this sense, each roll is more of a personal gamble, and it’s fun to witness different people’s gambling styles.
Farkle rules >>>
Walnut Studiolo’s Travel Dice >>>
As you can see, we ❤️ games! We hope this inspires your next Family Game Night – and we’d love to hear about your favorite games! Shoot us a line or leave us a comment with your favorite games for family game nights.