For my list, I decided to list games that I think would be good for mixed ages and that would give a good variety of games to start from. The thing is, every family and every person is different. But I think these games would help a family figure out what kind of games they enjoy.
Carcassonne or Alhambra. These are both tile placement games.
In Carcassonne, you’re trying to build a countryside, with roads, cities, grassland, etc. Each feature scores differently and, at the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. Typically, this game is my number one suggestion for a “gateway game,” which means it’s the first one I recommend to people wanting to get into games. No reading required.
In Alhambra, you’re trying to build a palace (an Alhambra). There are four different currencies that you can collect to use to build your structures with. Tiles each require a specific type of currency, depending on how they’re pulled from the bag. Players earn points for the type of buildings they build and also for the longest wall they have. Minimal reading required.
Carcassonne is more all-ages but I really love Alhambra. Kai has played it before and enjoyed it, so some younger kids can definitely play. If you’re just looking for an intro game or if your family is primarily younger, I’d go with Carcassonne. If you’re looking for something more complex, I’d suggest trying Alhambra.
King of Tokyo and King of New York together (since they’re kind of like the same game, with King of New York being more advanced) are one of two items to make all three lists.
King of Tokyo is a game where you’re playing as monsters, trying to destroy each other. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of people enjoy the theme. It’s mainly about rolling the dice and attacking or healing. There are cards, too, to allow for some variety. This game requires some reading but since cards are out in the open.
King of New York is a lot like King of Tokyo but a bit advanced (and, obviously, you’re in New York). You’re monsters, attacking the city. This one also adds in military units that can cause you, the monsters, problems. This also requires a small amount of reading.
We’ve never played these with anyone and had them be disappointed by play.
The Duke is the other item to make all three lists. It is a two player game that’s vaguely like chess, but with more options. (And I think all of us like it better than chess.) The pieces in this game are square tiles that you flip when you move. Each side shows how the piece can move while that side is showing. Minimal reading required.
Castle Panic is basically a tower defense game made into a board game. You’re trying to defend the castle in the middle from everything that’s attacking it. And it’s cooperative – you either all win or you all lose, making it excellent for those kids who have a hard time not being the winner when someone else is. Also, because you can all see each other’s cards, only one person has to be able to read.
Tsuro is one of the games that our family has played the most and I was honestly really surprised that it was not on anyone else’s list. We have jokingly called it “The Spaghetti Noodle” board game. You’re building paths for your player marker to move along with tiles that have all sorts of lines on them (that’s the spaghetti noodle part). Basically, you’re trying to be the last person to leave the board. Sometimes you can send your opponent off the board. Sometimes, you have no choice but to send yourself off the board. It’s a very quick and light game. No reading required.
Ticket to Ride is one of the more popular “designer” board games. Players collect cards that they use to place trains on railway routes. Each player is also working towards specific goal cards (different goals for different players). Some reading required.
Lords of Waterdeep is a worker placement game with Dungeons & Dragons style “flavor”. Complete quests and build buildings to gain points. The gameplay is really simple and it’s a lot of fun. I also like how “scalable” this game is – it plays well with two people or with several people. Reading required.
Dominion is a deckbuilding game. You use buy various cards that are available (this changes each game) and whoever has the most victory points at the end wins. This game has a ton of expansions and is a great starter game.
I do have to insert a disclaimer here: We hardly ever play this game anymore. A couple of years back, Joe and I played through every single card in the game (at the time). This was after having played it a lot already. We ended up finding, after a ton of plays (a LOT of plays), that we both defaulted to one strategy and we kind of burnt out on it. HOWEVER, I still think this is the best deckbuilder to start with. If you enjoy it, there are others that I think are better overall, but this is definitely the one I recommend to people who’ve never done deckbuilders before. It is one of the simpler deckbuilder games, which makes it good for family play. And, if you’re not doing tons of plays, that quickest-path-to-victory isn’t always quite as obvious. And it is fun. Lots of reading required. We managed deckbuilders with Kai before he could read, but it was very tedious. I don’t really recommend it.
Tobago is kind of like a reverse logic puzzle, but put as a game. Joe has referred to it as “multiplayer minesweeper”. In this game, you’re trying to collect treasure. You do this by adding more “clues” about the treasure – things like “NOT next to the ocean” or “Next to the ocean.” The clues are given in pictograms form on cards. The pieces are pretty incredible (except for the jeeps – but the statues and other pieces more than make up for it). The play is great. It’s a LOT of fun. Little to no reading required.
A la Carte is a game where the players are chefs trying to prepare various different dishes (that are usually puns or something “silly/gross” based on a real dish). You have little stoves and “spices” that you shake out of plastic containers. It’s fun and is one of those games where kids really have as good of a chance at winning as adults do. Requires some reading, but since nothing is hidden, it’s easy to get help from the adults. Not for very little kids who still mouth things, as there’s a choking hazard.
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