Family Game Night: A Game-aholic Mother's Humorous Confession

By Jenny Gardiner

These cool wintry nights of late have conjured up images in my head of cocooning with my brood, crackling fire in the hearth, ready to play Monopoly, chess, Jenga or some other classic Milton-Bradley special.

There's only one problem: I am a game-aholic. I have a real challenge when it comes to board games. It's not that I necessarily have to play them. It's that if I do play them, I have to win. Now, I have children. And for my kids I am fully prepared to surrender my dying breath. To hurl myself before a runaway bus to ensure their safety and well-being. But I just can't let them beat me at Parcheesi, War, or Scrabble!

I don't know when this win-at-all-costs notion became so vital to me. I have fond recollections of playing Sorry, Yahtzee, Masterpiece, and Hearts with my family when I was a child. I don't think that I was fixated on crushing the opponent back then.

Way back when Trivial Pursuit (old edition) was all the rage, I so dominated that game that winning was a non-issue. My brain's motherload of useless trivial knowledge was finally successfully put to the test with that one. Even Pictionary was fun during its heyday, although my drawing left a bit to be desired.

Lately I've taken to enjoying most the games in which you blurt out the answer: that way I can ensure that I am at least the loudest at the game board, even if I don't actually get to win. So not only do I annoy my fellow players, but I also leave them with a ringing in their ears that retreats only days later. I worry that if this keeps up, I could cause serious injury to someone.

I guess my way of avoiding the heated game-type fervor is by staying away from games altogether. Usually I politely decline and sit with a book whenever my family chooses to play. But every now and then, I succumb to the temptation. One roll of the dice leads to another, and the next thing you know, I'm sucked into the vortex of that old "crush the opponent" mentality. In the word game we play with the kids, I take their word "hair" and make it "chair" and gloat my way to the bank.

I think the solution to my problem is some sort of 12-step program. Perhaps while I'm at it, I'll just tackle all the other addictions in my life. Sort of like an Over-Everything Anonymous kind of thing. One thing I'm worried about though: during the downtime at these rehab places, I'm not going to have anything to do. Hmmm, I guess I'll have to pack a few board games and a deck of cards to bring along…

But honestly, I love playing board games with my family. Not only is it a great way to have fun together but it's also a great learning opportunity for the kids whether your goal is to improve their math or help them be a gracious loser and winner. Our family loves the classics just as much as the new games on store shelves so I've collected here a baker's dozen of our favorites to inspire your holiday shopping and snowy day planning!

Apples to Apples
Ages: 12 and up
Manufacturer: Out of the Box Publishing
Price: $19.99

It's as easy as comparing "apples to apples" ... just open the box, deal the cards, and you're ready to play! Players must make creative connections between Red Apple Cards containing the name of a person, place, thing, or event and Green Apple Cards featuring a characteristic and the results are often hilarious! This game of comparisons is receiving rave customer reviews and was a national competition winner with Mensa, the high-IQ organization. There is also a Junior and Junior Plus version along with expansion kits and party versions of this popular game.

Balloon Lagoon
Ages: 5 and up
Manufacturer: Cranium, Inc.
Price: $19.95

It's all the fun of a day at the carnival! Four fast-paced activities keep kids (and adults) challenged and amused as they race to collect balloons, flip the frogs in the pond, spin the wheels to match the picture, fish for letters in the lake, match the treats as they spill out of the snack shack, and do it all before the musical merry-go-round timer stops. It's the perfect combination of skill, chance, and thinking. For the very youngest Cranium Cariboo and Cranium Hullabaloo are hits and older kids love the wildly popular Cranium, Cranium Cadoo, and the new Cranium Zigity card game.

Age Range: 7 and up
Manufacturer: Milton Bradley
Price: 15.99

Plot your strategies and fire the torpedoes! This classic game is familiar and fun even after over 20 years. The design mimics the view a submarine captain would have, complete with a glimmer of radar waves. This strategy game is simple enough for kids but can be played at many levels. Best of all, while there is tiny pieces the game is self-contained in a latching plastic case making it a terrific car toy for the ride to Grandma's house for the holidays.

Ages: 8-12
Manufacturer: Hasbro Games
Price: 14.99

For more than 50 years, this mystery's kept everyone guessing! Poor Mr. Boddy's been murdered in his own stately home! Who could have done it? And how? And where? Was it Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Revolver? Or did Miss Scarlet commit the crime in the Library with the Candlestick? Collect evidence and think carefully in this treasured whodunit!

Cogno: The Alien Adventure Game
Ages: 7 and up
Manufacturer: Double Star
Price: 29.95

Cogno combines space fantasy with real science in a way kids can't resist and parents love. Using wits and strategy in a race across the universe, kids learn about science and astronomy as they encounter mysterious planets, a swirling black hole, a parallel universe and other challenges. Easy-to-follow rules and 20 to 50 minute playing time make this a winner for families!

I Spy Word Scramble
Ages: 7 and up
Manufacturer: Briarpatch, Inc.
Price: $19.99

Kids of all ages are SPYing a word, turning over a sand timer and scrambling to spell that word by sliding interlocking letter tiles into place before time runs out. How many words can you spell in two minutes? That's the challenge and delight in this f-u-n game based on the modern classic books created by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo and published by Scholastic. Released in May 2004 the game has already received Dr. Toy's "Best Smart Play/Smart Toy" award.

Monopoly, 75 Years of Mickey Mouse
Age Range: 8 and up
Manufacturer: USAopoly
Price: $35.95

It was 1934, the height of the Depression, when Charles B. Darrow of Germantown, Pennsylvania, showed what he called the MONOPOLY game to the executives at Parker Brothers. Can you believe it; they rejected the game due to "52 design errors"! Unemployed like most Americans, he kept working at his game and the rest is history! This newly released commemorative Mickey Mouse 75th Anniversary Edition gives this family board game staple a fresh spin. Other special themed versions include Lord of the Rings, Shrek, and even junior games based on dinosaurs and Toy Story.

Age Range: 6-12
Manufacturer: Milton Bradley
Price: $15.99

Build a better mousetrap and you can catch your opponent's mouse before yours is caught in this classic game! As you travel around the board, collect pieces to create your trap, then put it together and start up the whole crazy chain reaction - this is no ordinary mousetrap! Having stood the test of time, this is a must for every kid who loves to tinker.

Mythmatical Battles
Age Range: 9-12

Brushing up your math skills was never so much fun! This dueling card game for two players or two teams blends mythology and multiplication to create an innovative game that taps into the craze for trading cards. Each deck has 55 cards featuring gods, heroes and monsters from Greek, Celtic, Norse or Egyptian mythology. Each card has one multiplication equation for its attack strength and one equation for its defense strength. The player with the most cards in the Plunder Pile at the end wins. Mythamatical Battles is a great new twist on flash cards!

Old Century Stretch Run
Ages 8 and up
Manufacturer: Front Porch Classics
Price: $59.95

It's post time and the thrills of thoroughbred horse racing await you in this exciting game of chance and strategy. Move your cast metal marker, a jockey atop his steed, by throwing the die or playing a card. The wooden case unfolds to become the racetrack complete with a richly detailed view of an old-time stadium. Advanced rules allow for racing styles, handicapping and wagering. Whether you win or place, this game is a winner for Albemarle horse lovers. Named a Top Ten Game of 2004 by Dr. Toy.

Ages 12 and up
Manufacturer: Hasbro
Price $24.99

It's hard to believe that this popular game has only been around 15 years. Now, this game of quick draw is updated with a new twist. Pick a card with a word on it and then use the Anniversary Challenge Die and do what it indicates. Maybe you'll roll… Draw a picture using only one line never lifting the pencil from the paper or perhaps you'll need to draw with your left hand or even with your eyes closed!

Rush Hour
Ages: 8 and up
Manufacturer: ThinkFun
Price: $16.99

Beep! Beep! Can you maneuver through Rush Hour & escape the gridlock? This wonderful sliding-block brainteaser is bumper-to-bumper fun for puzzlers of all ages! Players set up the cars and trucks on a game grid to match 1 of 40 color-coded challenge cards, and then try to maneuver the red car to escape the gridlock. Sharpen sequential thinking with four levels of play. Some other wonderful variations are Rush Hour Jr, Railroad Rush Hour, Safari Rush Hour, and you can even buy expansion packs with more challenge cards.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Game
Ages: 3-6
Manufacturer: Briarpatch
Price: $19.95

Create a new butterfly every time you play with this game based on the beloved Eric Çarle picture book! Players spin to select colored shapes, then use the pieces to decorate the beautiful butterfly. This is a great way for little ones still in the pupa stage of game playing to learn their colors and shapes.

While recovering from her competitive issues, Jenny Gardiner plays family board games and writes from her home in Keswick.

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