My family loves board games.
I have said and typed it many times before, particularly this time of year, when dark evenings, cozy fires, winter break and holiday get-togethers loom gloriously ahead like a vast expanse of purple Cranium clay.
Each holiday season I try to add a few games to our growing collection, which usually means visiting my pal Gwen Ottenberg at Imagine That Toys in Wichita. Incredibly, the visit usually results in some happy new board/card/dice-game discovery and in me shouting, “This is the best game ever!”
That game this year is Tenzi – a collection of 40 colorful dice in a nifty plastic tube that fits perfectly into a Christmas stocking and has three qualities that constitute the trifecta of family games: easy to learn, quick to play, fun for everybody.
Here’s a little more about that game and a few others to consider if you want something new to play this winter. Some are available at Ottenberg’s store, 29th North and Rock Road. Others can be found online or at local discount stores:
• Tenzi (Tenzi, $14) – Everyone gets 10 dice. Someone says, “Go.” Everyone rolls and rolls as fast as they can until someone gets all his dice on the same number and yells, “Tenzi!” Other ways to play, including Splitzi, Stealzi and Team Tenzi, are explained in the rules and on the manufacturer’s website.
• Suspend (Melissa & Doug, $17) – Like a cross between pick-up sticks and Jenga, this tricky balance game requires players to alternately hang notched pieces on a tabletop stand, being careful not to topple the sculpture.
• Spontuneous (Spontuneous Games, Inc., $25) – Does a single word or phrase often prompt you to burst into song? Like that time your son asked who Barry Manilow was and you spent the next 10 minutes singing “Mandy” and “I Write the Songs” over breakfast? Or was that just me? Anyway, this game for ages 9 and up requires players to sing portions of songs containing a certain word. Billed as “the game where lyrics come to life!” it also is known as my children’s worst nightmare.
• Swish (Think Fun, $14) – This spatial card game challenges players to be the first to make matches, or “Swishes,” by stacking as few as two or as many as 12 of the transparent cards so that every colored ball “swishes” into a hoop of the same color. The player with the most matches at the end of the game wins.
• Perplexus (PlaSmart, $25) – The idea is simple: Maneuver a small marble around challenging barriers inside a transparent sphere. Only one person can play at a time – alert! alert! great only-child gift! – but it can be surprisingly cooperative as others watch, suggest and otherwise get into the act. Also available: Perplexus Twist and Perplexus Epic.
• Catan Junior (MayFair Games, $35) – This modified version of the popular “Settlers of Catan” game is designed for players as young as 5. Another selling point for busy families: Games take 30 minutes or less.
• Wits & Wagers Party (North Star Games, $30) – The latest version of this popular party game can be played by individuals or teams, which makes it great for family get-togethers. After a question is read – for example, “What percent of the world’s surface is water?” – players guess the answer, then place bets on whose guess is closest without going over. Think of it as poker meets Trivial Pursuit.
• Dixit (Asmodee, $35) – Some games, particularly European ones, are too beautiful to resist. This one features 84 cards with paintings by French artist Marie Cardouat that serve as springboards for creativity and game play. Each player gets six cards. One player (the storyteller) begins by coming up with a sentence, phrase, title, sound effect, etc., that goes with one of the images in his hand. (For example, “Once upon a time…”) Players try to pick an image in their hands that closely matches what the storyteller said, and depending how the group votes, players move forward along a game board.