UPDATED NOVEMBER 2022. Why do we love to play games so much? Every day at lunch we play a game together around the dining table, and whenever we have visiting friends and family, we play again in the evening.
Games are a break from the passive thinking of video-watching, and unlike reading, it's a shared social experience. We're trying out new games constantly, learning new strategies and tactics and exercising our brains.
But the realities of trying to plan a Family Game Night mean reluctant family members, wandering attention spans, and short time commitments. We've been there, done that! In this post, we share our (opinionated) list of favorites games to overcome those challenges. These games are well-suited for 2 or more players, can be played relatively quickly, and don't take too long to learn. We hope that this breakdown of our favorite games inspires your next Family Game Night!
Top 14 Family Games
Why 14? Because we came up with 8 in 2019 and each year we've updated with this list with two more: +2 each in 2020, 2021, and 2022! These are the games we play in heavy rotation, and it's hard to pick just two to add each year. We wouldn't want to drop any of them from the list and we wouldn't want to grasp at straws to add more. These, quite simply, are the games we like to play as a family.
In no particular order:
Forbidden Island: a cooperative game
We fell in love with this game, our first cooperative game. The concept is that you're all trying to take the treasures off a sinking island and all get off the island together. Everybody loses, or everybody wins. We were even more thrilled that our friends and family enjoyed it as much as we did. It can be played with 2-4 people and a game takes about 30 minutes (perfect for lunch). They say ages 10+ but my 6-year-old nephew was able to play along with us just fine - after all, it is cooperative. There's not a lot of fancy set-up, and it's so novel to be able to play WITH your friends and family to beat the game, rather than trying to beat each other.
Forbidden Island game site >>>
Cribbage, Euchre, Scopa!: classic card games to cherish and pass down
It seems like in America and Canada, the top two card games are cribbage and euchre. There are cribbage families and there are euchre families, somewhat grouped geographically. We are a house divided - Valerie's family comes from the Midwest and were euchre players, Geoff grew up in an Oregon cribbage family, which seems to be concentrated more in the West and East. We love both games. But you can play cribbage with 2-6 players and euchre is limited to 4 only. Since we are only two players at lunch, we play cribbage almost daily (a game takes up to 30 minutes). That's why we've created so many unique cribbage game boards!
But we think the Italians are on to something with the game of "Scopa!" It's fun and fast to learn, and we find it's always a hit with a small party. Especially the part when you yell out loud "Scopa!" as you sweep the cards from the table. A regular deck of cards works fine, but if you find a special Scopa deck, such as one by Modiano of Italy, you'll come to love the beautiful historic artwork, too.
Cribbage rules >>>
Euchre rules >>>
Scopa! rules >>>
Shop Walnut Studiolo's Cribbage Boards >>>
Hive: a chess-like strategy game, perfect for two
Like chess, this bug-themed game can only be played with 2 people and it's a strategy game of trying to capture the monarch (the queen bee instead of the chess king). Also like chess, each kind of bug, like rooks, knights, etc, has special abilities and inabilities. But - unlike chess, the game goes quickly (10-15 minutes), and you build the board on the go with the hexagonal honeycomb-shaped tile pieces. It's not formal or fussy and there's almost no set-up. For two players cramming in a quick game at lunch, this is just about perfect - but the strategy is so intriguing (somebody wrote a doctoral thesis on Hive strategy!) that you'll want to play over and over again.
Hive game site >>>
Azul: pattern-making strategy for visual people
Azul is perfect for those in the family that roll their eyes at counting pips or adding up cards. It's a visual game inspired by Portuguese tiles where you build up a tile with various patterns by taking from a shared tile pool in the center and strategically collecting them to create rows and columns for points. It's for 2-4 players and play time takes 30-45 minutes. Like all our favorite games, it's a good mix of luck and strategy, and the colorful tiles are visual and creative.
About Azul >>>
Morels: an enduringly interesting card game with a mushroom foraging theme
Another game for 2 people only, but we just love this game. We love forests, we love mushroom foraging, and we love this card game where we "wander" through the "woods" collecting wild mushrooms and frying them in a pan with butter or cider (and avoiding the deadly poisonous mushrooms, too!). It's a 30+ minute game by an indie designer and fellow fungus-phile, and it has plenty of strategy to keep the game enduringly fresh and interesting.
Morels on Board Game Geek>>>
Catan Dice: introduces the concepts of The Settlers of Catan in a faster game
We love Catan, but the reality is, it takes a while to set up and learn. It can be too much of a lift for reluctant family members. Enter: Catan Dice! 1-4 people can play Catan Dice in 20-40 minutes. It's a travel version of Catan that introduces the ideas of Catan but is relatively simple to learn - like Yahtzee but with a board game component. Like Yahtzee, you roll the dice three times to try to get your desired combination of dice and add up the points on a score sheet. Unlike Yahtzee, the dice are formed of resources, and the resources collected fill in the Catan tiled landscape with wheat, sheep, ore, and brick.
Catan Dice game site >>>
Catan game site >>>
Tock: Canadian version of Pachisi uses dice and cards
A "race" game similar to the ancient game Pachisi of India, Ludo in England, and Parcheesi (TM) and Sorry! (TM) in America, this is the Canadian version. We love the colorful board and the unique "heaven" shortcut in the center. Played with regular dice and playing cards and using marbles as tokens. Sold by Canadian hardware company Lee Valley Tools and made in Canada.
Tock Game Board at Lee Valley Tools >>>
Tock Rules of Play >>>
Mexican Train Dominoes: for easy conversation
This version of dominoes is the perfect combination of luck and skill, and it doesn't require a lot of concentration. Players build off a central domino, playing in rounds from double-twelve down to double-zero, taking turns matching the pips in their personal domino chain ("train") until the first person runs out of tiles. The "Mexican Train" is an additional shared public train that is open for all players to play. This version of dominoes is easy to play and hold a conversation at the same time, and the multiple rounds mean the game can go on all night, or be split up with pauses. A typical game is 4-8 players with a set of double-12 dominoes, but it can be played with anywhere from 2-13 players using Double 6, Double 9, Double 12, or higher, depending on the number and type of dominoes you have.
Plus, in 2021 we created a travel version of Mexican Train using quarter-size playing cards!
Walnut Studiolo's Mexican Train Domino Rules and Free Printable Scoresheet >>>
Walnut Studiolo's Handcrafted Travel Dominoes >>>
Carcassone: medieval world-building like Catan, but faster and easier
This is a more approachable family game than Catan but it has a lot of similar elements. Like Catan, this game is made from medieval landscape tiles that make a different map for each game, and players are aiming to collect resources. Unlike Catan, during the game you build up the board tile-by-tile, so there's very little set-up time, and the resource collection and points are more simplified. It can be played with 2-5 players in anywhere from 30-90 minutes, so it can extend a lunch break. Also like Catan, there are many expansion packs, which can add more players and complexity if you want to explore the Carcassone universe further.
Carcassone game site >>>
Dice - Farkle / 10,000 / Yacht: classic games for unlimited players
Any Number of Players
Any number of players can play Farkle using 6 dice and a notepad. It's like Yahtzee with each player pushing their luck to roll the right dice (triples, 1's, or 5's). But unlike Yahtzee, the points are simplified and you can roll as many times as you want - so long as you get the right dice. In this sense, each roll is more of a personal gamble, and it's fun to witness different people's gambling styles.
Some families prefer Yahtzee -- so have you tried Yacht? The scoring is slightly different but it's the original version of the popular game that was trademarked by Milton Bradley.
Abandon All Artichokes: a enduring card strategy game with a gardening theme
A 20-minute card game for 2-4 players, ages 10+. We were personally biased towards the vegetable gardening theme, and each vegetable has a different "superpower" to help the winner harvest fresh veggies and get rid of artichoke cards. (Why do artichokes gotta be the villains? They aren't telling.) There's strategies to develop and a fast pace, but it can be played easily with two people at lunch over and over again without getting boring. Plus, vegetables!
Abandon All Artichokes on BoardGameGeek >>>
Abandon All Artichokes game site >>>
Sushi Go: fast, fun, and cute
A fast-playing card game for 2-5 players, ages 8+. We were a little skeptical about this game because it looked a little too cute, but now that we've played it, we understand the many awards and 5-star reviews it's earned. It's fun! The drawings are super cute, and there's enough strategy to keep things interesting, even for two people.
Sushi Go game site >>>
Horse Racing Game: for a Kentucky Derby theme night
A game that combines cards, dice, poker chips, and a horse race?! That would be desktop derby, a very old game with a fun piece of equipment to play on. The original game was called Derby Day, and it was released in 1915, but there have been many, many variants on the game since, including computer versions. Line up the horses, divvy up the cards for your "stakes", roll the dice to "scratch", and tally up your wins at the finish line to build your "pot". Make a batch of mint juleps or sweet tea for a Kentucky theme night. For 2-6 players, a round doesn't take very long but if you're playing until all your poker chips are gone, then it can go on all night!
Horseracing Game on The Grommet >>>
IOTA: brain floss for adults and kids alike
The tiniest tin carrying the cutest little square cards: it looks easy. It's not! Players hold only a few cards in their hands at a time and try to make domino-like arrangements of the cards on the table. The cards are placed in order by same or unique combinations of colors, shapes, and numbers, with a bonus for making matching combinations of four. A Mensa Select winner, it seems easy at first but as the table grows, each move gets more complex.
IOTA on Board Game Geek >>>
Why board games? Actually, we think Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, might have said it best:
Board games are one of the longest-standing traditions on earth - the first board games are as old as written language. Thousands of years later, they're more popular than ever and can be found in every corner of the world. This is because games have a universal ability to bring people together. They can cross language barriers and generations. They're one of the few activities that level the playing field by connecting people of all ages. (I learned this the hard way when I recently lost a game of Go Fish to a friend's 5-year-old.)
But I believe the real power of games is their ability to bring us into the present. Today, it's easier than ever to isolate. We can spend hours scrolling the endless feeds on our phones, binge-watching shows, and disconnecting from those around us.
The best games provide an antidote to the isolation. There's an escape that happens, whether you're playing hockey or a game of Trivial Pursuit, that pulls you out of your day-to-day and forces you to be present with the people around you. Games teach us how to handle defeat, they spark creativity, and more often than not, they bring out a childlike sense of joy.Brian Chesky, quoted in airbnb magazine
As you can see, we ¤ï¸ games! We hope this inspires your next Family Game Night - and we'd love to hear about your favorite games! Shoot us a line or leave us a comment with your favorite games for family game nights.