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Don’t Play by the Rules

December 4, 2015

…And other suggestions for a successful family game night


by Mindprint Staff

Holidays with kids should equate to good old-fashioned family fun time. Games can be an enjoyable way to spend time together and provide happy memories for a lifetime. That is, if little Billy doesn’t end up in the corner crying while Cousin Janie wanders off to text her friends. So while we want to share our favorite games that can be enjoyed by all, we preface with advice to help ensure that the night lives up to your greatest expectations.

1) Don’t experiment. Just as you wouldn’t serve a new recipe at a big dinner without trying it beforehand, don’t open a brand new game for everyone to try together. Too risky. Select from games you know can be enjoyed by all.

2) Don’t feel obligated to play by the game’s rules. Make adjustments that will suit your situation. However, be sure everyone agrees on the modified rules BEFORE you start the game. For example, kids under ten can “pass” on words they don’t know or take extra time. You collect an extra $200 if you land on Go. Every family has house rules. Just make sure everyone you’re playing with knows them too.

3) Agree on the length of the game in advance. For example, play for one hour and the player with the most money wins the game. Or, play ten rounds and the one with the most points wins. Don’t let games drag on forever.

4) Similarly, regardless of what you agree in advance, don’t be afraid to abandon ship. If it seems like the majority is not having fun, suggest that you finish up the round or everyone takes one more turn and then move on to something else. To keep it fair, let the person who was winning pick the next game.

5) Agree on an impartial judge before the game begins. Invariably conflicts can arise and healthy competition can definitely bring out a different side of people. “Did she say it before time was out?” “We didn’t agree on that rule in advance!” “I didn’t know that we could do that when it was my turn.” Nominate an even-keeled person to be the arbiter if and when needed. Rotate the role as needed to keep the peace.

6) Consider avoiding games that have too much subjectivity. For example, we love Apples to Apples, but since there are no absolute correct answers, arguments can arise about favoritism. We recommend that you know your audience before you pick certain games and choose games the whole group can handle well.

7) Games that require simultaneous play tend to work best for large groups. Conversely, games that have long waits between turns often result in players getting up, starting side conversations, and potential disengagement.

8) Set up the teams or the rules so that everyone feels they have a chance of winning. No one wants to play a game they know they can’t win. If you notice that teams are mismatched, don’t be afraid to suggest finishing the round, tallying the score, and then changing up the teams.

With those simple caveats in mind, get ready, get set, and

Before you go, consider adding some of our top picks to your game closet. We provide the short review here, but the full Mindprint review is available to everyone with one more click.

Mindprint Top Picks for the Holidays

DixitDixit (ages 8 to adult)

Why we like it: Requires good imagination and reasoning skills but there is no reading and no timer so even the youngest child can win fair and square.  And play is simultaneous, so there’s no waiting for your turn.

Consideration: If you have a child who is shy about voicing an opinion, consider playing in teams.

bananagrams  Banagrams (ages 7 to adult)

Why we like it: Develops the same great flexible thinking, vocabulary and spelling skills as Scrabble, but since everyone plays simultaneously there is no opportunity to get bored while waiting for your turn.

Considerations: Younger children and weaker spellers will be at a disadvantage, especially with everyone playing simultaneously. Teams can be a good option or give younger players a head start.


WitsandWagers Wits & Wagers (ages 8 to adult)

Why we like it: A fun math and problem solving game that doesn’t feel at all like math.

Considerations: Life experience definitely has its advantages in this game, so younger players could feel outclassed or embarrassed by their answers it you don’t play in teams. Use the option of discussing the pros and cons of each answer as a group, so younger players can follow the logic.

Rollick Rollick (ages 8 to adult)

Why we like it: More fun than charades and has two levels of difficulty. It requires two people to work together to act out the clue, which we think is more fun and naturally creates a more level playing field for younger children.

Considerations: Requires more cooperation than traditional charades, so might not be the best choice if you have too many “independent-minded” players.


Doodle Dice

Doodle Dice (ages 6 to adult)

Why we like it: This unusual game requires a bit of skill and a whole lot of luck as players try to roll their six dice to reproduce the images on their cards. Players can take their time to consider all their options before making a decision.

Considerations: Requires waiting around while others take a turn. Adults might need to help younger children on their turns, but they need to find the delicate balance of providing the right amount of help and not having older children feel that it is unfair.

Long StoryLong Story Short (ages 12 to adult)

Why we like it: Requires creativity, storytelling, writing, decision making and other essential life skills all in the context of a fun game.

Considerations: Requires better listening and attention skills than most games. Because the winning answer is entirely subjective, there could be disagreements or hurt feelings. Be sure to play with the right mix of people to keep it fun and light-hearted.

PicturekaPictureka (ages 6 to adult)

Why we like it: Although this game is one you’d probably purchase for an elementary school student, the cute illustrations and novelty make it enjoyable for all ages. It has a nice balance of individual and simultaneous play.

Considerations: While younger children might want to play for longer, older children and adults might tire after a few rounds. Also, some answers will be subjective so be sure to have an impartial judge.

Want more ideas? Mindprint’s teachers and parents have plenty more where those came from right here.


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