Suzanne Tobias

Put away the Monopoly and try these new board games

My family has been watching lots of election coverage lately. The debates, speeches, polls and pundits have prompted plenty of worthwhile discussions.

But like many Americans, we’re growing weary. We sigh a lot. We shake our heads. We dream of a more innocent existence.

The other day I glanced at the bookcase where our board games sit – its shelves crammed not-so-neatly with Cranium, Racko, Apples to Apples and Word on the Street – and I declared a moratorium on politics, at least for one night.

Board games heal the soul.

You gather around a table and face one another. You figure things out. You win and lose. You laugh and shriek and share stories and make memories.

That’s why each holiday season, I try to add a few games to our collection. For guidance, I call Gwen Ottenberg, owner of Imagine That Toys in northeast Wichita, who loves games at least as much as I do. Maybe more.

“Ready to play?” she says, welcoming me into her store.

You bet. As always.

In past years, we’ve played Tenzi, Timeline and Pyramix. This year, she had a new stash of hopefuls, which we played and enjoyed and demonstrated on video.

Here are some games to consider this year if you’re looking for holiday gifts – or just something to ease the pain of this presidential election.

▪ Shaboom! (Haywire Group, $19.99) – With its hodgepodge of multicolored dice, cubes, checkers and tiddlywinks, this game looks as if it was fashioned from pieces of a board game graveyard. Face off against opponents in a series of challenges that test your speed and agility. First person to complete the task, slap the card and yell “Shaboom!” wins the round. Ages 8 and up.

▪ Brynk (Winning Moves, $19.99) – Can you place your pieces on the teeter-tottering base and get the sculpture to stay? Or will you upset the balance and watch it come crashing down, Jenga-style? We envision college kids having a ball with this game. Another great feature: All the pieces store inside the cylindrical container. Ages 7 and up.

▪ Imagine (Gamewright, $15.99) – Imagine Pictionary with a head start. Combine, overlap or even animate the special transparent cards to form objects that your teammates try to guess. A simple triangle can become a shark fin, dunce cap, pie slice or megaphone. The possibilities are endless, and this game is more challenging than it looks. Ages 12 and up.

▪ Slapzi (Carma Games, $19.99) – Remember Tenzi? It was the stocking stuffer of the year in 2012, and if you’re anything like me, your family is still playing it between the morning cinnamon rolls and the turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. Slapzi, a new card game from the creators of Tenzi, is, like Tenzi, simple to learn and fun to play. Draw a clue card – “something you can eat” – and be the first to play one of your double-sided picture/word cards to win the round. Be the first to play all your cards, and you win the game. Ages 8 and up.

▪ Pass the Pigs: Big Pigs (Winning Moves, $19.99) – My family loves playing Pass the Pigs, except for one little annoyance: If those dice-sized piggies fall off the table, they’re hard to find. And if you have dogs like ours, who assume anything dropped from a table is fair game to eat, you can soon be shopping for a new Pass the Pigs game. But now – Big Pigs! The oversized foam swine in this edition can hit all the same poses their little cousins do, but bigger and better. Ages 7 and up.

▪ Original Rubik’s Cube (Winning Moves, 14.99) – Several years ago, the Rubik’s Cube folks overhauled their iconic cube, replacing the traditional stickers with plastic. “No fading, peeling or cheating,” they declared. Well, what’s the fun in that? Ottenberg reports that the original, 1980s version of Rubik’s Cube has been re-introduced this year, to the delight of retro toy fans, problem solvers and (shhhhhhh) cheaters everywhere. All ages.