Serious Tabletop With The Family – A Few Of Our Favorite Games

by Mike Futter on Feb 17, 2015 at 09:30 AM

Like clockwork each winter when the weather turns cold, I get the urge to gather my family around the dining room table (sometimes against their will) for board gaming. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about our habits and preferences, which have led me to some great options if you’ve got kids and want to share some time away from the television.

Options for young, competitive gamers
My regular board gaming pal is my son, Paul. He’s six, has an active imagination, and adds color to whatever he’s playing to make each move part of an epic tale.

I’ve aggressively cultivated his desire to learn new games and identify those he loves the most. One of the biggest hits in the house right now is King of Tokyo, by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield.

It’s a quick-playing, accessible game that includes dice rolls, decision making, and giant monsters. The base game is fairly rudimentary, with each monster working identically. 

I recommend opting for the Power Up expansion, which gives each of the beasts unique evolutions that make choosing one at the outset much more meaningful. The rules are extremely straightforward with no “fiddling,” and games are over in about 20 minutes.

The goal is to whittle your opponents' life totals down to zero or score 20 victory points. Occupying Tokyo earns you victory points, but you also can't heal there. You'll need to know when to hold your ground and when to give up the prime real estate. Dice rolls determine how much health you gain, damage you inflict, and energy (currency) you earn each turn.

Reading is required, but less important if you are just playing the base game, as all the cards are played exposed. There is strategy involved, but just enough that the game serves as a good primer for young people that want to become masters of the dining room table.  

Another competitive game that has caught my son’s eye (and our attention) is Golem Arcana by Harebrained Schemes. I’ve always been enamored of miniature games.

I played Heroclix from Wizkids and I have some of Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing miniatures. We keep coming back to Golem Arcana because of its integration with a mobile app via bluetooth and microdot technology.

The figures look great and the objectives are varied enough to keep things fresh. Most importantly, we don’t have to remember to increase ability costs, accurately calculate movement, or even roll dice (though that is an option).

I suspect my son will grow into Golem Arcana’s more sophisticated strategic elements, but for now, it’s great to have a tabletop miniatures game that doesn’t require painting and assembly. The map tiles also eliminate questions of line of sight and obstructions.

The figures offer varied thematic elements, and Harebrained Schemes is adding to the line-up with additional lore, app revisions that allow custom scenarios, and tournament play. For my son, who adores Skylanders and Disney Infinity, this was a natural next step.

Read on for a game that teams the family up to fight monsters.

In late 2013, when I visited Minnesota and our home office, I had the chance to do some board gaming with previews editor Matt Miller. The diversion of choice was the Pathfinder Card Game.

This version of the Pathfinder RPG series is a narratively-rich adventure that eschews character sheets for card decks. It’s fully cooperative, so the adults at the table can assist the younger players by suggesting strategy.

It’s designed as a campaign, so your family members (or your gaming group) get to keep their earned skills and found loot. Once you finish the quests in the box, you can buy additional card packs to continue to the story.

I’m a sucker for great storage options, and was delighted to see that the base game box has slots for the later quest packs. Be warned that you might face a couple of false starts as you find the best combination of characters for your party. Once you do though, the game is tense and fun.

For an in-depth breakdown of what to expect from the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, visit our previous Top of the Table feature. For a more pirate-themed adventure, a separate campaign box called Skulls & Shackles offers the start to an entirely different but equally engaging adventure path, this one including fun classes like the swashbuckler and gunslinger.

Traditional game, contemporary trash talk
My family also tends to gather around for a classic game that involves a bit of physical dexterity. No, I’m not talking about Twister (especially after the incident of 2011).

Crokinole was conceived in the late 1800s in Canada. It has evolved and grown a following over the years among craftsmen and competitive players. There are annual world championships held each June (a promo video for last year’s is below).

Take that, League of Legends. In all seriousness, the games play quickly, there is a lot of playful trash talking, and the rules and scoring are so simple that kids of all ages can play. The idea is to get your tiny pucks into the center, while knocking your opponents' into the trench rim of the board and out of play. If your opponent has at least one piece on the field, you need to make contact with it or lose your own (even if you score a perfect shot into the center hole). 

While the boards made by high-end craftsmen (like ours shown above) aren’t inexpensive, they are certainly works of art. Many people hang their crokinole boards on the wall for display. There are less expensive choices available also, if you're more interested in having a game to play than a fine piece of woodworking to admire.

We’re constantly on the lookout for new games to play together. If you have favorites you play with your family and/or children, let us know.