It's important to play board games with children, blogger Catherine Newman wrote recently, "precisely because they're so pointless." "It communicates to your kids a desire to spend time with them," she said, "for no other reason than to spend time with them."
Well, amen, Catherine, and Hi-Ho Cherry-O!
We love board games at our house, too. And no matter how much I talk about how games instill Very Important Life Skills and blah-blah-blah, the fact is, they're just fun. Whenever my husband and I play games with Hannah, 12, and Jack, 10, we talk and we laugh. And that's enough.
Every holiday season, we try to add at least one game to our growing collection. This year, we decided to try out a slew of new games — products released since last Christmas — and share our thoughts in case you plan to shop for a new game or two. Here are some favorites:
(Ages 8 and up, one or more players, $30)
In this boardless, electronic version of Scrabble, players race to create three-, four- and five-letter words in 75 seconds. Hasbro's "Wonder-Link Technology" recognizes words when tiles are placed side by side. It also senses duplicates and won't give you points for those.
We liked the fact that you can play solo or against others on any flat surface. And I love its portability: Five tiles stack easily into a small, sturdy box, making the game perfect to take on the road or just out to eat, where you could play several rounds before the waiter brings your meal.
(Ages 7 and up, one or more players, $30)
Remember Simon, the light-up memory game that drove your parents crazy during road trips? Loopz is like that, but cooler. Instead of pressing a button, you move your hands through four semi-circular, motion-sensor rings to keep the sequence going. Ways to play include "Reflex Master," where you try to tag the most lights before time runs out, and "Music Studio," in which you play Loopz like a musical instrument.
(Ages 6 and up, 2-4 players, $20)
My tween daughter would give this game two thumbs way up — if they weren't stuck through red and yellow rings and attached to her friend's shoulder and knee. We had loads of laughs and gave our major muscle groups a good stretch with this new twist on Twister, which swaps dots for rings and has players connect body parts with other players. Five versions allow players to compete individually or pair-against-pair, and the race option is a great outdoor activity. Keep the camera handy.
(Ages 8 and up, 2-6 players, $35)
My kids thought they were so over Monopoly — the bills, the railroads, Baltic Avenue and that $75 "luxury tax," not to mention games that take forever. It's all so very quaint and 1935, isn't it? So at first they groaned when we unpacked Monopoly Revolution, the latest in a long line of updates to the classic board game.
But this 75th anniversary edition, which features a round board, debit cards, modern pricing and an electronic banker, had the kids wheeling and dealing again. The basic rules are the same, so games can still take hours. But we appreciated fun updates, like Kool & the Gang's "Celebrate," which plays whenever you pass Go.
(Ages 9 and up, one or more players, $15)
Hasbro's new "extreme trick shot game" challenges players to sink a plastic ball into a cup by banking it off a table, wall, chair or stairs. When you make a shot you hear cheers and see flashing lights — because apparently, it's a new law for all games to require batteries.
Jack, my 10-year-old, liked the game. Hannah said you could have the same fun more cheaply with a regular cup and ping-pong ball. I couldn't help noticing the game's resemblance to frat-party classics Quarters and Beer Pong, but please note: The instructions specifically warn against pouring liquids into the Cuponk cup.
(Ages 12 and up, 4 or more players, $25)
For the first time since it was introduced in 1998, Cranium has been refreshed with 600 new, more timely question cards and a three-in-one game board that can collapse or expand depending how long you want to play — 20 minutes, two hours or longer.
(Ages 12 and up, 2-4 teams, $30)
A colleague swears it sounds like a bladder condition, but the name comes from the German term "Besserwisser," which means "know-it-all." Already a hit in Europe, the new American version combines trivia — 20 categories' worth, including architecture, geography, film and politics — with strategy. Steal questions from opponents, swap categories, or trick opponents into believing what they think are your weaknesses, then employ those tactics to get ahead. (Or like us, just grab question cards and quiz each other. Pointless but fun.)