In search of better board games: saying no to nostalgia

Short Version:
When adults get together to play games, they too often play a trivia game, a card game or video games. Why? Perhaps because the American gaming market is dull. If you look beyond KB Toys, Target and Toys R Us, you will find board games which challenge both kids and adults. Even in the realm of simplistic toddler games, there are many choices you won’t find in American stores.

Marketing photo of The Kids of Catan game by Klaus Teuber, for ages 4 and up.Long Version:
I’m getting rid of my Monopoly game today, and my Game of Life, too. And a bunch of others from my childhood. I never want to play them with Little Miss.

I grew up in a board game family, and I still have a lot of my old games. While doing some house cleaning I started pondering the Monopoly box sitting in my closet.

Monopoly was a source of strife growing up. Games were owned by individual siblings (all brothers) and each brother meted out his own brand of justice. Well, insofar as we could remember back to the last game argument. Family game law was eventually inscribed on the games themselves. The Monopoly box cover bears this penciled declaration: “Billy is not allowed to play!” Missing from my childhood home was the concept of a communal game closet where games were not owned; they were shared.

After an 18 year lapse, one of my brothers introduced me to a couple board games invented in Germany — The Settlers of Catan and Hunters and Gatherers.

I would later learn many of the best games originate in Europe where gaming is a much bigger deal. We’re talking about an atmosphere where the game designer gets the treatment of a film director. The designer’s name appears above the game’s name on the game box. I don’t mean “Parker Brothers” or “Milton Bradley.” It’s the real designer, such as Klaus Teuber or Klaus-Jergen Wrede. Don’t worry, the games are also sold in English language versions.

I’m playing board games again, every other week, with a group of friends we enlisted. These games are often rated for 8-years-and-up, but they have scaling complexity which makes them great for adults, too. Try saying that about Monopoly or Life.

I tried playing Battleship with Mom a couple weeks ago, and it was duller than dull. I never realized how dumbed down and simplistic the American gaming market tends to be. Although, some old standards still hold up (says Mom), such as Scrabble and Boggle.

Our collection of games has slowly increased with additions such as Polarity, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Deflexion, Hare & Tortoise, Coloretto, Carcassonne (plus umpteen expansion sets) and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers.

Here are some of the games I’m eyeing for Little Miss when she hits the 4 or 5 year mark (but knowing me, I’ll start trying at 3).

Each of those game links go to, an authoritative game site and player community. On each game detailĀ  page I first look at the game summary, then the user-submitted photos and the “Reviews” link in the Forums listing. The game summaries are often lousy, written by whichever user submitted the game information first. The user-posted reviews in the forum section provide great information about game components, game mechanics and playability.

I’ve been buying games from a local store, as well as Thought Hammer for its steep discounts and standard shipping rate. For first-timers, it’s easier to browse a retail web site first, looking at a small selection of popular games sorted into categories such as Family Games and Kids Games. ( lists hundreds of discontinued games.) At the bottom of each Thought Hammer detail page is a handy link to a corresponding page at

Anyhow, I suppose my issue with Monopoly is that it’s 90 percent luck (dice rolls) and 10 percent strategy. Toddlers need luck games to compete with adults, but when Little Miss gets to be 6 or 7 I want her using her brain a bit more. I would like nothing more than to infect Little Miss with a love for board games, sitting around the dinner table chatting, strategizing, and provoking thought.


9 Responses to “In search of better board games: saying no to nostalgia”

  1. bish says:

    I hear you! I can’t wait for my 18-month old son to play ‘real’ board games with me. Sadly, I think my copy of Shogun is going to gain a little more dust before it gets broken out.

    February 2nd, 2006 at 7:41 am

  2. Kevin says:

    Great list of games that I have never heard of.

    I recently figured out that they have a Goonies Movie game. I now need to set aside some money to get it one day off of EBay where it is rarely sold.

    My wife and I just got back into playing board games and we cant wait until Rylan can join us. DVD Trivial Pursuit and Scene-It! movies have been played excessively lately but recently we toned it down for a great game of Uno.

    February 2nd, 2006 at 7:43 am

  3. Cathy says:

    I find what you said about Monopoly causing strife in your family interesting. A few years, I read a great article about the company that makes the Cranium line of games. Basically, they made they same observation you did about traditional board games, and instead aim to make games that are fun for everyone and encourage kids to root for rather than destroy each other. We’ve had Cranium (for adults) for a few years and like it a lot. My son isn’t old enough for a Cranium game yet, but we plan to buy all of them as he reaches the appropriate age level for each game.

    February 2nd, 2006 at 4:35 pm

  4. Ticia says:

    Other good games to get:
    Sequence; Five Crowns; Imaginiff; Clue- yes it’s a traditional board game, but it has great higher level thinking skills, and there’s a new card game version that’s fun and good for travel;
    Apples to Apples; Once Upon a Time
    Several of these are card games or not very competitive games that are great for large groups, and also encourage creative thinking.

    February 27th, 2007 at 12:07 pm

  5. JC says:

    A great strategy/action game for 8+ (i think) is Scotland Yard, if you can find it.

    June 6th, 2007 at 12:15 pm

  6. KG says:

    Other excellent games are San Juan and Puerto Rico from Rio Grande Games. They are too advanced for younger children but I love playing them at our adult game nights.

    March 7th, 2008 at 7:57 am

  7. Mary says:

    I stumbled upon this from your nostalgia posting. I really enjoyed your review and agree with your opinions regarding many “mainstream” board games. And I was pretty excited to see your links to

    My husband is part of a weekly board game group. Many of the members have very sizable collections (the friend who hosts it has hundreds of games). They even have a convention a few times a year at one of the player’s ranch where they play board games (and goof around) all weekend.

    As for our collection for our children, the HABA games are awesome. A little pricey, but the pieces are generally made of wood and other sturdy materials and the quality of the games is just awesome. One game we have for our four year old is called Pirate Blast. It is an awesome game that involves pirate ships, cannons, and treasure. You move your ship by blowing it with a bulb syringe looking device (I guess they are just meant for sucking out snot). We have classics like Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, and Hi-ho Cherry-Oh. But I really like the out of the ordinary games that you don’t always find at your local Walmart.

    As for me, I’d have to say some of my favorite games, older children and up can enjoy, include Small World, Wasabi, MicroMutants, Munchkin Quest, and Ubongo.

    January 11th, 2010 at 10:41 pm

  8. anjii says:

    I missed this thread the first time around, but as a board game fanatic, I MUST chime in ;)

    Although I’ll admit we own a bunch of mainstream games (kids and adults), I’ve also been searching out “better” games. (Still hoping to find the Busytown game you reviewed here in Canada!) Gotta admit I’m a BIG trivia fan too, lol!

    We love Cranium games (for all age groups)! And I have to fully second the votes for Scotland Yard, and Sequence, as well as Apples to Apples (which is not challenging, so much as a wonderful social game). In addition, anything Briarpatch is great (like the Goodnight Moon game), Also some oldies like Breakout, Land Grab and the Green Aliens from Outer Space (or something like that, lol)

    January 12th, 2010 at 1:35 am

  9. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    We prefer Apples to Apples Jr in our family.

    My son is absolutely ADORING his Christmas present, Haba Orchard. It gets played at least once every day.

    January 12th, 2010 at 10:28 am