Great Alternative Board and Card Games for Families

Great Alternative Board and Card Games for Families

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  1. If you haven’t played many board games since you yourself were a kid, you might be surprised to learn that the market has expanded considerably. So-called "European style" games – strategy games based on a simple set of rules – are becoming popular in the United States. Some inventive American game manufacturers have also produced unique card and board games for families seeking a break from Monopoly and Pit.

    While some of these games are recommended for ages 10 and up, you can always have younger players double-up with an adult or teen partner.

    The Settlers of Catan

    The most famous of the European style games, Settlers of Catan comes from German game designer Klaus Teuber. You and your fellow players are settlers in a strange land, represented by a grid whose hexagonal tiles represent scarce resources. By collecting resources, you build settlements, cities, and roads, collecting points along the way. The first player to reach 10 points wins the game.

    Sounds simple? Think again. The game’s rules mandate that no player can build any settlement or road within two spaces of another player. The edges of the game board contain harbors that allow players to trade their resources at favorable rates; control of these harbors can mean the difference between victory and defeat. Players win points not only by building settlements and cities, but by scoring "victories," such as building the longest road or the largest army. These goals and limitations force players to think carefully about their strategy from the get-go.

    The core game supports up to four players, but an expansion pack allows up to six to join in the fun.


    Like Settlers of Catan, the card game Dominion is a European style strategy game. The deck is divided into Treasure cards, Victory cards, Kingdom cards, and Curses, collectively known as the Supply. Each player’s turn consists of three phases: Action (play a card), Buy (purchase one or more cards with Treasure cards), and Cleanup (discard and draw new cards). When either the Province Victory cards run out, or any three Supply piles are empty, the game ends, and the player with the most Victory points wins.


    Families with younger kids of reading age will enjoy Fluxx, the card game that’s different every time you play it. The game, which supports up to six players ages 8 and up, starts with only two rules: draw one card, then play one card. There is no goal in the game until a player plays a Goal card, which usually involves acquiring one or more Keeper cards. The Keepers are picture cards with silly themes (Birthday, Toast, Cookies) that players lay in front of them on the table.

    As play continues, players lay down New Rule cards, which can change how many cards are drawn or played, or how many can be held in a player’s hand. They can also set additional conditions for victory. The fact that any player with a Goal card can change the game’s objective at any time means that everyone is playing against a moving target. Fast-paced and often crazy, Fluxx is light on strategy, but big on random laughter.


    If you and your family hate competitive board games like Monopoly, you may appreciate a cooperative game like Pandemic. Instead of competing against one another, the players in a cooperative game work together against their common opponent: the game itself!

    In Pandemic, you and up to four other players are researchers at the Centers of Disease Control. Four diseases – yellow, red, blue and black – threaten to overrun the world. Each member on your team is assigned a unique role – such as Scientist, Medic, or Dispatcher – that gives him or her unique abilities. Your team must strike a balance between battling back the diseases as they morph into worldwide outbreaks and epidemics, and collecting the cards necessary to cure each disease.

    Pandemic sports three different difficulty levels. Even at the novice setting, it isn’t easy to beat: there is only one way to win (cure all four diseases), and three ways to lose!

    And More!

    These games are only the tip of the iceberg. Find your local independent game and hobby shop, and ask them to recommend other titles that will keep you and your kids entertained for hours on end.

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