Reconnecting Though Tabletop Gaming When the World is in Lockdown
One thing that all relationship experts agree on is that spending quality time together is vital for the health of any relationship. In my experience, clients agree and are generally on board with this, the difficulty often lies in the logistics.
Most clients I see for relationship coaching are in the busiest and most taxing stage of their lives. They are juggling the double whammy of having young children that require near constant caretaking and most are also helping with the caretaking of aging parents. They are doing this while both working full-time jobs outside of the home whether it is because they both choose to work or because it has become increasingly more difficult to support a family on one income.
In the pre-pandemic world these clients could at least count on being able to pay a babysitter once or twice a month and escape the house for a kid-free night. In this new post-pandemic world where we are being asked to stay home whenever possible, we are hesitant to allow babysitters into homes for fear that they will carry COVID with them, and we are under more stress than ever, relationships are feeling the strain.
Boardgames have come a LONG way since the days of Monopoly and Clue, and several of my clients have seen great improvements in their relationships by exploring this together. Here’s why boardgames are great for relationships:
Learning something new together creates excitement and connection around a shared interest.
Infuses playfulness into the relationship
Time spent playing is more quality time than watching a movie because you are more present with one another while you are doing it.
One word of caution before I dive into offering some suggestions for your upcoming game night, be mindful of the types of games you choose to play. The goal is to connect and have fun together so even if there’s a game you’re dying to play but you know your partner(s) will hate it, maybe save it for a post-pandemic game night with friends. Similarly, if you or your partner(s) perhaps have a slightly unattractive highly competitive side, consider sticking with collaborative games that require you to work together instead of against one another.
Here are some suggestions for games to get you started. I’ve tried to compile a varied list in hopes that there would be a little something for everyone.
Within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the boughs of towering trees, among meandering streams and mossy hollows, a civilization of forest critters is thriving and expanding. From Everfrost to Bellsong, many a year have come and gone, but the time has come for new territories to be settled and new cities established. You will be the leader of a group of critters intent on just such a task. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host—you have a busy year ahead of yourself. Will the sun shine brightest on your city before the winter moon rises?
Everdell is one of my favorite games. It is a beautifully designed dynamic game that brings together city building and worker placement game mechanics (explained more below if you are not familiar with what this means). On their turn, players can take one of three actions:
Place a Worker: Each player has a collection of little critters that perform actions when they are placed on the board in various locations. On your turn you can choose to place one of your critters, which will help you gather resources, draw cards, or take other special actions.
Play a Card: Each player is building and populating a city, which will be represented by the cards they played on their turns throughout the game. The cards that are played in your city generate resources, grant abilities, and ultimately score you points at the end of the game.
Prepare for the next Season: As you prepare for the next round (season) all the critters that have been placed on the board to perform actions during the previous season are returned to you and new workers are added. The game is played from winter through to the onset of the following winter, at which point the player with the city with the most points is the winner.
Everdell can be played with 1-4 players and takes about 45 minutes to play with 2-players. It’s easy to learn and has a lot of replayability, meaning that there’s enough variability from game-to-game to keep it interesting. Although Everdell is a competitive game it’s not one of those cut-throat type games where super competitive players will be able to easily sabotage their competitors. Each player tends to focus more on playing their own city as best they can as opposed to focusing on what the other players are doing, which also has the drawback that there isn’t a lot of player interaction, what I’d consider to be the only downside to this game.
If you want to go all out with this game there is a Collector’s Edition that includes some extra cards and upgraded game pieces.
There are also a few expansions available so if you really get into this one you can invest in some additional components that can change the game up a little.
The forces of evil are threatening to overrun Hogwarts castle in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, a cooperative deck-building game, and it’s up to four students to ensure the safety of the school by defeating villains and consolidating their defenses. In the game, players take on the role of a Hogwarts student: Harry, Ron, Hermione or Neville, each with their own personal deck of cards that’s used to acquire resources.
By gaining influence, players add more cards to their deck in the form of iconic characters, spells, and magical items. Other cards allow them to regain health or fight against villains, keeping them from gaining power. The villains set back players with their attacks and Dark Arts. Only by working together will players be able to defeat all of the villains, securing the castle from the forces of evil.
—description from the publisher
If you are a fan of Harry Potter this is a great cooperative game and is another of my favorites. This base game has you play through 7 successive game adventures that increase with difficulty. As you progress through the games you will unlock new secrets and gain new abilities that will assist you on your journey to save Hogwarts from the Dark Lord.
This base game is for 2-4 players (increased to a maximum of 5 players with the Charms and Potions Expansion). Playing time varies depending on which of the seven game adventures you are playing through because the number of villains you need to defeat to win increases as you move up. It is recommended for players 11+ but my 7-year-old daughter played with us without too much trouble. This is a good game for kids that are a bit younger because it’s collaborative which makes it easy to help them. Since you either win together or you lose together it also encourages teamwork and you won’t have to worry about anybody being upset that they came in last place.
There are two expansions for this game, the Monster Box of Monsters expansion, which adds Luna Lovegood as a player option and adds four more adventures to the base game. The Charms and Potions expansion adds Ginny Weasley as a player option, allows the game to be played with a new maximum of 5 players, and adds another four adventures.
If you like the sound of a deck building game but aren’t that into the Harry Potter theme, then perhaps Dominion might be more your speed. In Dominion you are a monarch and are trying to build the biggest and most beautiful kingdom possible but so are the other monarchs. You are racing to get as much of the unclaimed land as possible. “To do this you will hire minions, construct buildings, spruce up your castle, and fill the coffers of your treasury.”
Each player starts out with an identical small deck of cards. In the center of the play area is a selection of 10 stacks of Kingdom Cards that the players can “buy” as they can afford them. You must choose carefully which cards to buy and then play them carefully to find the most efficient way to accumulate the most victory points by the end of the game to win.
The base game comes with 25 stacks of Kingdom Cards, which means that even with just the base game there’s an immense amount of replayability. If you do get bored with the variety of cards available, however, there are currently TWELVE expansions available. Some expansions only have 12-13 stacks of Kingdom Cards while others have 25-30. Each expansion has a different theme and some introduce new rules or make adjustments to game play in order to always keep things interesting.
Dominion is for 2-4 players, takes approximately 30 minutes to play, and is recommended for ages 14+. It’s heavy on strategy and reading so I don’t think it would be great for a very young crowd, but I do think that as long as you’re careful about the mix of Kingdom Cards you choose you would be fine to play with kids as young as 11. They might struggle with the strategy of how best to play the cards off one another but I’m a big proponent of learning through experience and this is something they’ll pick up the more they’re able to play these types of games.
This one might hit too close to home right now, or it might be great for the irony factor, but I’d recommend Pandemic even if we weren’t in a Pandemic because it’s a really solid game. In Pandemic, several virulent diseases have broken out simultaneously all over the world. The players are disease-fighting specialists who are trying to treat and cure the four plagues before they get out of hand.
This is a cooperative game where each player plays a specialist that brings different special abilities to the team. On each turn, a player can use up to four actions to travel between cities, treat infected populaces, discover a cure, or build a research station. A deck of cards provides the players with these abilities but sprinkled throughout the deck are Epidemic! cards that accelerate and intensify the diseases activity.
Pandemic is for 2-4 players and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s recommended for ages 8+ and even though this isn’t one I’ve played with my kiddos, I’d say that age range is pretty accurate considering it’s a cooperative game.
In addition to the original, there’s a huge line of other Pandemic games. Of note, they’ve come out with three Pandemic Legacy games. Legacy games are kind of a choose your own adventure board game where you play the same game repeatedly but each time you do the out come of the previous games (and any choices you make) affects what happens as you continue. In addition, there are secret numbered boxes and tabbed sheets that hold additional components and stickers that add to the game and change/alter rules as the game progresses. Legacy games tend to have a rich story that unfolds as you play each game. So far I have played the Pandemic Legacy Season 1 (there’s also season 2 and season 0) and the way it is set up is that it unfolds in 12 segments, one for each month in a year, making this a great date-night game that you could set a goal to play once a month.
Carcassonne is a tile placement game where tiles picturing pieces of southern French landscape are placed face down and players then take turns drawing them and choosing where to place them adjacent to the others that have already been played. The tiles must be played in such a way that cities are connected to cities, roads are connected to roads, etc. Each player then gets to choose whether to place one of their limited supply of meeples on one of the scoring areas (a road, city, abbey, etc.). When the scoring area that they place their meeple is complete, when the road has a beginning and an end for example, that meeple scores points for its owner and is returned to be placed again.
Carcassonne is easy to learn, fast paced, and is another game that has many expansions so there’s a lot of replayability. You can purchase the base game which comes with The River and Abbot mini expansions or you could get the “Big Box,” which includes the base game and 11 expansions!
Carcassonne is for 2-5 players, takes about 30 minutes to play, and it only takes about 5-10 minutes to set up and put away. It’s a great family game because it’s easy to learn, there isn’t a long wait between turns, and game play doesn’t last too long so you won’t lose the younger ones who may not have the best attention span for drawn out games. The box says 7+ for the suggested age and I’d agree that’s a good guidepost.
In Sagrada, each player has their own gridded player board that they turn into a beautiful stained-glass window by drafting transparent colored dice to add to their board. Each board has some restrictions on which colors or shade (dice value) can be placed there and dice of the same shade or color can never be placed next to one another. Scoring is variable each game based on which scoring cards are randomly selected and are based on players achieving various patterns and dice placements. Players also score points for the sum value of dice on their board in a particular hidden goal color that was randomly chosen at the start of the game. Points are lost for any spaces that were left unfilled because the player was unable to legally place one of the dice that were available in the spaces that they still had open.
The player with the most points at the end of the game, wins.
This game is part skill and part luck. The dice are randomly chosen from a bag and rolled. The players take turns pulling the dice each round and then the players take turns drafting from the dice that have been chosen. Each player does get a limited number of skill tokens that can be exchanged to use one of the available special tool cards that are randomly selected at the beginning of the game. These cards have abilities that allow the player to break or bend the rules of the game to successfully fill their player board.
I’m fond of games like this that come with a lot of pretty little manipulatives. There’s something about all the pretty colored rainbow dice that just make this game all the more fun for me. It is a bit heavier than Carcassonne but sets up in about 10 minutes and plays in about 30 minutes. You can play the base game with 1-4 players, but they do have an expansion available that can increase the player count to 6. Suggested age is 14+ you might be able to go a bit younger if you have an especially precocious 12-year-old.
My final board game for you today is called Copenhagen. This one is actually a new one for me, but it’s quickly become a favorite. Copenhagen is a Danish city that is traversed by canals and harbors. Part of it, Nyhavn (New Harbor), is famous for the colorful gabled houses along the water. In the game Copenhagen, players must collect cards that they can turn in for polyomino tiles (like Tetris tiles) of different shapes and colors that they then use to beautify their houses. Players gain points for completing rows and columns on their player board (house) and get double points if their row/column is all windows.
If you love Tetris, then you’ll like this game. It is fun to figure out how to get the best combination of pieces to fill up your board in the most efficient way. Reading through the rule book took less than 10 minutes but I found the game play to be easy to understand but have enough strategy to make it feel challenging.
Copenhagen can be played with 2-4 players and takes only 20-40 minutes to play. It’s a great family game with a minimum age recommendation of 8+ which I think is pretty accurate. There currently are no expansions for this game but it also just came out in 2019 so it is still very new.
With over 150 games currently in my tabletop game collection, there are many more that I could suggest, but I think that this is a solid list to start with. I would love to hear what your favorite games are so please take a moment to leave a comment and let me know. And if you decide to try out any of these suggestions please come back to let me know what you thought!
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