My Top 10 Favorite Board Games

Ok, friends. Buckle up. I’m about to take you on a journey I never in a million years thought I would be as involved in or writing a blog about. Board. Games. I feel like my inner nerd just doubled in size just mentioning blog and board games in the same paragraph.

When I married my husband, I knew he was a nerd. As a nerd in many ways myself, I am attracted to nerdism. I can admit that. I will say, that two areas of his nerdery were areas I had little interest in: computers and video games. I made a vow to not poo-poo these hobbies, as best I could, other than request that our budget not be ruined by them. Oh, and I kind of put my foot down that we weren’t going to have a guest room with 5 computers in it. I kid you not, he whittled it down to TWO. Ha! We had more than one video game system, and he stood in line for hours to get a Wii when they first came out. I played plenty of Mario Cart and bowling and guitar hero with him.

Over time, after the Wii craze, he started slowing down on the video/computer game obsession. The reasons why aren’t very important. But in their place, he started to develop a new love of board games. And soon he moved from the basic games you might see in Target or Walmart, to games you might never hear of unless you set foot in an actual board game store. Did you know there are BOARD GAME CONVENTIONS??

Now, I have always enjoyed board games. And I still do. But I will say, the hobby can go down as steep a path of obsession as online role-playing games and video games. There are INTENSE board games out there! Not to mention expensive ūüôā You may not have known there exists board games beyond your local box store inventory…but over the last few years…I have been brought into the other side of “gaming”.

Now, some married couples are both deeply involved in the hobby. I am one of those wives that ¬†enjoys some of it, but will likely never be as intensely engrossed in it. Andy has learned, as much as I SAY I like board games, I’m definitely not into ALL of them…maybe not even some that he thought I would like. As we have been talking about it recently, and hearing the tales of two other¬†couples we are friends with who have about the same level of interest as we do, I have realized some specific criteria I do or don’t like in a game, and a few reasons I (and maybe many other women) may have those criteria.

Shockingly, I heard these words come out of my mouth: Maybe I should write a blog post for your blog (yes, my husband has a blog about board games…nerdery abounding…but the coolest nerd you will ever meet), with my top ten board game choices. ¬†Of course, he nearly started doing back-flips right then. Ha! So this post is not only going on my fledgling of a blog (hopefully not deterring my few readers from ever coming back!) as well as thetotallyboard.com!

I admit, I’m already writing a novel…a major blog mistake. But, this may be the ONLY time I ever formally write about this…so I’m gonna get all my thoughts out now! ¬†Before I share my list, I’m gonna share a little insight into why I do or don’t like certain games. It may shed a little light for any husbands who love games to know ways to include their wives by choosing games that they may be more likely to like…and maybe the timing of when you ask them to play.

My Personal Preferences of Board Game Attributes

-I need to not feel overwhelmed. You know that phrase (or book title) “Men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti”? Well it’s TRUUUEEE. My brain does not shut off for a board game. So whatever I’m carrying through my day and trying to process in my head to be done tomorrow, comes with me into learning a new game. ¬†I don’t like games with a million variables, that have 10 different cards with different ways to earn points in the end and 6 distinct steps to each and every turn. I’m still thinking about how to help my toddler learn to share, and that I have diapers to clean before bed, and dishes to be done, etc… ¬†So complicated games…even not complicated, but just new games, are often not on my interest level.

-I also don’t like games that make me feel stressed! If you give me too many options, too many ways to advance my strategy and plans, but not enough time to implement them…major stress and disappointment! Shocker: I hate Agricola. This is why! It’s not all that complicated to understand. But there are too many options when you are too restricted with how many you can do, and barely enough time to get them done. Stresses. Me. Out. ¬†I like the smaller version of it better. But the level of stress the original caused me has left a negative taste in my mouth, even for the lighter version.

-I like clever mechanisms. Maybe what some board game geeks would consider gimmicky. But it definitely helps me to be interested if I think, “How was someone so clever to come up with that idea?” Some games feel so overreaching and over thought, for the sake of having a serious, compelling game. But a game doesn’t have to be so complex to be clever and interesting.

-Collaborative games are fun! I would enjoy trying more of these. Especially when I’m new to a game, I might be more inclined to learn a collaborative game…because I don’t have to figure out a strategy by myself for a game I’ve never played. ūüôā

-To be honest, I enjoy light hearted themes. ¬†I’m prone to brooding and heavy thinking. So if I want to play games for FUN…I need themes that lift me out of the dark moods.

-I like colorful games with bright artwork.

-Did I mention that I don’t like over complicated rules?

-I’m not a big fan of games with war themes or heavy fantasy, even though I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan. Not because I’m anti-war. But I just don’t like playing war games.

-Honestly, you may say I’m one of those people that perpetually stay in the “Gateway Game” stage. Let me inform you of a little secret, those of you who are not board game geeks. If you haven’t heard of Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan, you may have not even made it to the “Gateway” to the deeper¬†board game world. These are games that are a little more unique and developed than the games you may be playing from Target, like Cranium, and Sorry, and Scrabble. But they are still simpler than some of the more involved games that are out there. ¬†It is probably safe to say that I am happy at that level of gaming. And I’m quite content playing most of the games from Target and Walmart, including all the classics like Scrabble and Monopoly, and BOGGLE (<3<3<3!!!!). But in case you haven’t heard of some of the games that start to branch out into the world of board games as a HOBBY, many of my faves listed here are in that “gateway” category.

Okay….finally.

The Top 10

#10.  Wasabi

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You build sushi recipes on a grid, and you may be laying ingredients on top of opponents, or having your ingredients covered, as you run out of space on the sushi mat. Earn points for complete recipes. Simple. Puzzle-like. Cute graphics. Favorite food. Kind of a given.

#9.  Acquire

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My family actually played this some when I was younger. It’s a bit Monopoly-like, as for theme, but more about building hotel chains and buying stocks in them. It’s about as heavy as I would get with money and stocks as a theme, but it also has a puzzle-like aspect, as you are building hotels on a grid, based on number tiles you blindly pull from a bag, much like Scrabble or Bingo. One of those games you do a lot of quiet planning in your head.

#8. Ingenious

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If you like puzzles and games without themes, you’ll like this. It’s a fun little problem-solving game where you lay color and shape tiles, attempting to get as many same color/shape connected for more points, but you are limited by space and opponents’ pieces. It’s fun for my little logical mind.

#7. Whoonu

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I know. It’s a party game. But it’s actually only for up to 6 players. It is a cute little game where you get a handful of cards with various nouns on them, and you have to choose which card BEST describes the interests of one player in the group. That player takes everyone’s choice of card and places them in order of what they least like to most like, and you get points based on what order your card got put in. A fun way to get to know some friends you may not know well, or enjoy the friends you really know too well.

#6. Las Vegas

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It’s a dice game. Not like Yatzee. Easy to play. Win money by having the most dice on specific bets. But there are variables that create a lot of chance with the dice rolling and limit your options. ¬†Little bit of strategy. Little bit of change. Good fun. Also easy to transport and easy to teach.

#5. Kingdom Builder

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I’m not sure why I like this one so much…It is borderline for the types of games I generally don’t go for. I think it’s a fun theme, with town building, but I don’t have to “feed my family” or sell “resources” for points. There’s enough puzzle-building aspect to it to make it less theme-y, and more like a puzzle to be solved in time. There are a lot of variables that can change…those darn cards with different point earning options, that I don’t like in many games. But this one seems to keep those in balance. The game board is different each time. I typically want to play this more than once in a sitting.

#4. Terror in Meeple City (formerly known as Rampage)

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I. Love. This. Game. We got it when it was called Rampage. I guess they had to change the name for copyright reasons. Still so fun. It’s not only THEMED in a godzilla kind of theme….it is literally a 3-D game with monsters that destroy buildings by jumping on them (being dropped by you), kicking things at them, and hurling vans at them. You get points for collecting all the dead meeples that fall from the destroyed buildings. ¬†It is so fun. But enough rules to make it not a 10 year old boy game (though, they would probably like this anyway). ¬†It’s just clever, light hearted, and loads of fun.

#3. Jamaica

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The artwork in this game is splendid. The method of using the cards for play is a little wonky, as you have more than one pile in front of you, and it feels a little weird. BUT, the concept is so fun, and it just seems more tightly developed than some of the other pirate-themed games I’ve seen so far (or been coerced into playing). ¬†It has a classic follow-the-circle board game mechanism, but the twists come with forward and backward movements, challenges in battle with other pirate ships that land on your space, and some secret loot cards that make the game a little adventure. ¬†I’m not totally sure why I love the game so much…but I really do.

#2. Camel Up

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So, I just learned to play this…and I’m addicted. We played it Friday night…and I’ve wanted to play it every night since. I like it so much, it’s number two on my list! Its a camel race that they players bet on for the winner and the loser, and the victories each leg of the race. The major variable is that the camels stack on top of each other if they land on the same space, and then the order in which they make next moves can thwart the entire anticipated outcome, even up to the very end. It takes at least one run though to really get the concept, and thereafter, it’s addicting because you want to see how weird the race outcome will be on the next game.

#1. Ticket to Ride

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Yes. It’s my favorite. Still. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty good at it. You build train routes to various cities for points, while trying to avoid being blocked by others building their own routes. There are penalties for taking on routes that you can’t complete. I like these games that involve planning and scheming to build something, not knowing what your opponents are planning.¬†¬†I like that with each turn, you can only do ONE thing, but that the options aren’t infinite, either. One maneuver adds the tiny bit of stress necessary to make it challenging. Not having too many options to choose from makes it not overwhelming. Just the right balance. It’s a game that any body can learn, and easily becomes family-favorites. It’s also got a pretty good phone app version, which I play a fair amount.

Honorable Mentions

In no particular order, these are games that I really enjoyed and have been interested in playing more than once, a few of them really close to making it in the top ten.

Quelf– I know, it’s a classic party game, following the heels of the Cranium craze. But I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed to the point of hysterics while playing this game, especially with family. It’s definitely a favorite of mine.

Wits & Wagers- Another party game (especially the “party” version). It’s a fun trivia game where you don’t really have to know the answers, but you place bets on the closest answer. Pretty fun!

Scoville- This is new to me…have only played it once. A little heavier than I typically like, but the theme is so cute and clever, and it’s so colorful. I enjoyed it, and will probably enjoy it more the second time around. Basically, you plant pepper varieties in order to cross-breed peppers and make chili recipes. Well, there’s a little more to it than that. But it’s pretty cute. I’m sure cute isn’t the descriptions the game designer was going for. But it’s what I think.

Nuns On the Run– This one is so similar in concept to a game I played growing up called Scotland Yard (which, I actually may like BETTER, so it should probably be on the list!). But the theme of hiding and being chased by nuns in a convent…it’s too funny to not enjoy it. It could be a tiny bit less complicated as far as rules go for my tastes. But once you play it once or twice, that’s hardly noticeable.

Escape– This one is also new, to me. I’ve only played it twice. But so fun! ¬†It’s a collaborative game…which I think is a brilliant concept. Playing TOGETHER to beat the game. Not that I don’t enjoy a good dose of competition. But it’s refreshing to not always have to play against my neighbor. Anyway…the game comes with MUSIC…kind of like playing musical chairs, the music determines the timeline of what happens. You are racing against the music to get out of the temple by rolling a handful of dies. It’s a bit frenetic. But so fun!

Smash Up– I’m not huge on deck games. But this one is pretty fun, especially with all the expansion options. I don’t know how to explain it, really. But, husbands, if you’re into deck-building games, and you want your wife to maybe like at least one of them…this may be it. Especially if a princess or kitty theme could persuade them.

Stratego- This is an old one, and I haven’t played it in a long time. But it’s about as far as I will go in terms of battle-themed games. It’s a little “Battleship”-esque, as there is a board with little flip up soldiers. I’m not sure this one would be popular with all women. But it has a simple method, and I like it enough to play more than once, so that’s something!

Alhambra-This is a pretty simple room-building game. Not too heavy, despite how big the box may be for it. I like games that involve problem solving in a puzzle fashion.

Via Appia- I admit it. The main reason I like this game is just the cool little pusher mechanism. You are basically competing to build a road with stones, to get the the end first and with the most points. The way you get your stones is by pushing little coin-sized “rocks” from the quarry off a little platform with a broad, wooden dowel pusher thingy (technical term). It is very much like those coin-pusher arcade games…and every bit as maddening! And that is what makes it fun!

Machi Koro- Another card game. The colors and graphics are so cute. I’m not even sure how to describe the rules of the game. I’ve only played it once, but would play it again…again, because they are cute. Sometimes my criteria are that shallow.So sue me.

Pandemic the Cure- This one is another collaborative game. I’m not sure I would totally enjoy the full Pandemic game…because it seems like a lot more involved than I typically like. But this one is fun. It’s a dice rolling game, and you are trying to cure various viruses before they become epidemics by rolling dies and working together to make decisions. I enjoyed it. And the dice are pretty. I am truly not always this shallow. I promise.

Tokeido- The artwork is serene and gorgeous. It’s not a hard game. But it’s peaceful, and lovely to look at.

Get Bit- Super cute little game, where you are trying to avoid losing your little character’s limbs to a shark in the water. ¬†Easy game to learn. Light hearted, albeit gruesome, fun. ¬†Might also be good as an OT game….

My Favorite Occupational Therapy Games

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I’m an occupational therapist by trade, and I work with adults mostly, but have had some experience in pediatrics/schools. Games are an awesome mode of teaching, both those that need therapy, and those that don’t. So I am always thinking like an OT when I think about what games would give my own kids good experience and development.

In general, almost any kids’ board game is awesome for so many skills. They almost all have manipulatives that aid in fine motor development, even if it’s just cards, or spinners, dice, or game marker pieces. Turn taking is critical for so many social skills and self-control. ¬†Communication is vital in board games, and games provide a fun, safe, stimulating opportunity to teach communication and social skills. And of course, there are so many academic skills you can learn in game format, and you can turn any game into learning opportunities by talking about details…colors, numbers, counting, reading, etc. ¬†OT’s can use games and puzzles for problem-solving, visual scanning, etc….in young and old patients. I am sure you get the point. Grown ups (even those with dementia!) and kids like to engage in games, so there are many opportunities. Here are just a FEW of my favorites:

Mancala: You can play by the rules, or just modify it and use the board and the beads as a fine motor task. Great for in-hand manipulation skills, pick up skills, translation from fingertip to palm and vice versa, etc. Great for kids and adults alike. ¬†Plus, it’s just so pretty, and sensory-satisfying with those clinky, smooth, shiny glass beads.

Just about any Haba game: I haven’t even explored all of their games, but Andy has gotten three for the boys so far, and we have more on our want-list. GREAT games for toddlers…easiest first games ever, with rules that can go from free play to structured turn-taking. Big pieces, easy to grab. The orchard game is about sorting and the animal game pictured is a stacking game. Gideon loves them. And his speech therapist even spring-boarded off of him playing one day to elicit communication.

Magician’s Nephew: Such a cool game. I wish there were more clever games like this when I was younger. You maneuver your character carrying a marble on their head along a board that is riddled with magnets underneath. It’s like a minefield. If they trip on a magnet, they fall forward and their marble falls off, and they start again. The goal is to make it to the center cauldron to drop their marble in on target. Oh, and you are pushing your character not with your fingers, but with a little pusher tool that is tricky, and forces lots of care and finesse with your hands.

Tiddly Winks: I played with this game a ton as a kid, and when I was working with kids in OT, I discovered it at my folks house and snagged it. To go into all the great things it requires fine motor-wise would bore you. But it’s super fun. Every kid I worked with on it liked it. You have four little plastic discs and one larger disc. You use the larger one to flip the smaller ones into the air toward a target. ¬†I have recently seen someone on Instagram playing it, but it looks like a newer version where the target is a cup, as opposed to a plastic target with concentric ridges with point values increasing toward the middle, like ski ball. ¬†If you can get your hands on an older version, it may be worth your while, especially if you are a therapist or your kid has a long way to go with their fine motor skills. Otherwise, you can make your own version. A broader target brings quicker success and affirmation.

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