Fun For the Whole Family: Reviews of Three Board Games

Santa was good for family cohesiveness this year — he brought us lots of things to do together. Delphine got a build-your-own-catapult kit, Cordelia got a giant puzzle of Toronto, and we got three board games. We haven't opened the catapult or the puzzle yet, but the games have already seen a lot of use.

Apples to Apples, Jr.

Apples to Apples, Jr. is one of those games that makes you feel slightly stupid for having paid for the game and all the packaging, because there's nothing special about the game parts that you couldn't fabricate yourself. The creator's genius is in coming up with the game and getting it into production. And in this case I don't feel too bad about paying for it, because it's a really fun game.

What you get in the box are two sets of cards: red (nouns) and green (adjectives). Each player gets five nouns, and one player is the judge and selects an adjective. The non-judge players have to select from their hand the noun which most exemplifies the chosen adjective, and submit it without revealing which noun is theirs. Then the judge chooses—using criteria of their own choosing—the winning noun. Players are encouraged to advocate for their cards, and the game is more fun if the judge deliberates out loud.

We've enjoyed this game every time we play it, with every age group. It's best for readers, but even Cordelia can play if she has someone to help her with the words she isn't sure of. There is an adult version of the game which I can only imagine is extremely fun.

Lego Champion

We have Lego Creationary, which I kind of like but I'm not really good at Lego, so I don't love it. I wasn't sure about Lego Champion, but we all like it way more.

The board is a track made (by you) of Lego, and each turn adds another piece to the board. Each turn also involves a challenge, a game the whole team plays to determine who will move forward a bonus amount.

There are five possible challenges which vary wildly in difficulty. In On Target everyone throws a Lego brick and tries to hit a target. Bluffing Bricks is a guessing game where everyone takes three blocks and then players take turns guessing how many of a particular colour there are, or calling the previous player's bluff. In Topple Tower players take turns balancing a successively larger Lego creation to the top of a tower: the first player plays one piece, the second player plays a two-piece object, the third plays a three-piece object, and so on. The trick is that you can't interlock your object to the tower. The last player to add to the tower without toppling it wins the challenge.

In Codebreaker, the challenger (the person whose turn it is) makes a three-brick code, and then other players have to figure it out by asking yes-or-no questions. And finally, in Speed Builder the challenger builds an eight-brick structure in secret, and the rest of the players race to duplicate it exactly.

Our favourite challenges are Topple Tower and Speed Builder. Bluffing Bricks is a little hard to understand, but once you've worked it out it can be a clever and fascinating exercise. I think you have to be quite a big of a game theory nerd, though; last night we played it with some friends and it was so confusing we ended up substituting Lego bowling when Bluffing Bricks came up on the dice. (Lego bowling is surprisingly challenging, it turns out, because the bowling ball (the dice) is cube-shaped and bouncy.)

The game play for Lego Champion is fairly quick and we've played it successfully with ages from six to adult. (Although Cordelia tends to amuse herself between turns by building things with the extra blocks.)

Trivial Pursuit Family Edition

For a long time I've imagined that it would be really nice if there were a trivia game with different questions for kids and adults. I looked here and there (although not on the Internet) for such a game with no luck. At the local games shop (which is admittedly really nerdy, catering mainly to the Chess, Go and D&D crowd and only reluctantly carrying a selection of mainstream board games) they had Nickleodeon and Disney Trivial Pursuits which depressingly advertised, "DVD Included! No reading! No adult participation required!" Well thank goodness for that.

Imagine my surprise when I found Trivial Pursuit Family Edition at Toys! Toys! Toys!, the second tackiest toy store in town. It is exactly as I imagined it, Trivial Pursuit with two sets of cards, one for kids and one for adults. The board is changed slightly to speed up game-play: half of the "roll again" spaces are now shortcuts to pie spaces, but even so Delphine and I have found that our two-person games drag on a little.

The kid questions are pitched perfectly for a well-read eight-year-old, so Delphine really enjoys it and gives me a run for my money. I am not sure how well this game would go over for a kid who doesn't read a lot or watch a lot of education TV. Cordelia basically can't play because there's too much reading and she doesn't know enough yet, although she has a nice time being on someone's team, for a while at least.

My only problem with this game is that it's American and the questions are heavily skewed to American history and geography. I suppose it's too much to ask that there be a Trivial Pursuit Canadian Family Edition...