We love a good game at After Alice Ltd. Indeed we spend a fair portion of our time reviewing, playing and enjoying a wide range of boxed pursuits. Our following suggestions are based on the games that have stood the test of time for our family this year. Those beloved games that get chosen again and again. Some are rarely off our kitchen table. These are the ones we can't wait to introduce our friends to. So in no particular order -
You may well have Cluedo. You may well have delighted in hauling out your childhood battered box and introducing your young family to the delights of murder most posh. But as Outfoxed demonstrates, there are other great options for families who want to set young curious minds on the path of logic and deduction. Outfoxed replaces Colonel Mustard etc. with characterful foxes (some are still pretty posh, to be fair) who may or may not have stolen Mrs Plumpert's prize pie. Players eliminate the foxes that don't fit the descriptive clues they gain along their journey on the board. The styling is colourful and cute. There is a nifty clue decoder to build up the profile of the thief, but don't be mistaken, young players are still putting their grey matter through a rigorous workout in this fun foxy whodunnit. Suitable for cubs aged 5 years plus (yet still a fun game for all the family) with a harder level available for older siblings who need more of a challenge.
Ticket to Ride (Europe)
There are several nominations on this list that deserve the title 'Modern Classic', and Ticket to Ride is definitely one of them. Perfect for bringing the family together on a cold winter's day, this is an ideal way to engagingly pass some time (ideally in front of a warm fire).
Players set out to claim train routes across the continent. The board features the European map and stretches across Spain, Italy, Russia, Turkey . . . from brief travels across the Channel to extended journeys and everything in between.The longer train routes carry more risk but earn more points (and it is very satisfying seeing your colour carriage dominate across the map). On the way players have to navigate tunnels, claim ferry routes and erect stations. More seasoned players (and those with beginners luck) can thwart opponents by claiming popular tracks and forcing everyone else to go the long way round.
The original Ticket to Ride was set in USA, but we enjoy this version as it gives everyone a quick European geography lesson along the way. Play can last up to 1 hour (take note Monopoly!) so you can play a good meaty game, without feeling like the whole afternoon has been stolen. Train buffs will particularly enjoy this theme. Strangely engrossing. Recommended for players 8 years +.
Definitely a contender for the most played game in our house this year. And certainly a popular choice when other families come round to ours for a games night. The wonderful thing about Scrawl is that you don't have to be good at drawing to play it, in fact a combination of good, bad and ugly drawing talent is really what makes this game so amusing. Another plus is that everyone around the table is playing at once, which means no one gets bored waiting for their turn.
Essentially, this is Chinese whispers conveyed through both pictures and words. Players choose one suggestion to draw (reusable card and pen provided) and once finished, they pass their creation on to the next person. This player has to decide what has been drawn and describe it in words. They write this on their card, cover the original drawing and this is then passed on to the next player who has to draw it, pass it on etc., until the growing pile of cards makes its way back to the original artist. The suggestions are often quirky and inspired - raised by squirrels, suitcase aquarium, badly trained dentist (to name a few).
The real fun with Scrawl, is seeing how far away the final drawing or description has moved from the original. The evolutions can be very funny and unexpected. Points are given at the discretion of the lead player and can be based on how amusing certain cards are, rather than how good the drawing is.
Scrawl has given our family a lot of laughs this year. Lovely and inclusive. Recommended by manufacturer for players 12 years + but we have had 9 and 10 year olds thoroughly enjoy it too.
I shouldn't have favourites, but if I did, Dixit may well be it. I have never come across another game quite like it. I love the fact that it celebrates storytelling and creative thinking, over more obvious choices like logic and mathematics. Plus the 84 cards included are mini works of art. Whimsical, playful, mischievous, dark . . . engaging illustrations that provide great scope for the imagination.
So, how do you play? Each player takes their turn being the storyteller. From their hand of six cards the storyteller chooses one and picks a phrase, quote, word, sentence or maybe even a lyric or line of poetry which could be attributed to it. They announce it to the rest of the group. After some thinking time, the other players then surrender one of their cards to the storyteller that they feel could best fit that description. Cards are shuffled and laid face up in a line (including the original card). Players vote on which card they think belongs to the storyteller.
Playing this game feels like being given permission to day dream. Regular playing, I feel, is a great way of helping families connect with their inner storyteller, and build confidence in creative fiction. Play lasts about 30 minutes. Recommended for 8 years +
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza
When I first heard about this game, it was a little tempting to dismiss it as an over-hyped faddy offering. Luckily we reviewed TCGCP and its brilliance soon became evident (around 2 minutes in when we were all roaring with laughter).
It is wonderfully silly. It doesn't try and be too clever. It is essentially snap where the words being spoken have to match the picture on the top card. But then there are some special action cards thrown it, which just keeps everyone on the edge of their seats. Release your inner Narwal. Stick this in a stocking this Christmas, you won't regret it. As an added bonus, once this kids are in bed, it makes an excellent drinking game (that bit is unofficial).
For players 8 years +
This has been a bestseller of our for the last few years. It is a simply wonderful addition to any stocking. Sleeping Queens relies on strategy, quick thinking and a little luck. Created by 6 year old Miranda Evarts (with a little help from her big sister) when she couldn't fall asleep one night. The cards are delightful, especially the wonderfully illustrated queens.
This is a simple game that is a great alternative to Uno. It is a small but significant step up (and provides some much needed variety to card games for young players). As my girls have got older and more sophisticated in their play they have added some extra rules to keep things challenging.
Manufacturer recommends for players aged 8 years + (but we have found popular with younger reviewers of approx 6 years + who are used to playing card games).
For fast furious fun, we love love LOVE this one.
You may remember the childhood slide puzzles of old, where there were moving tiles in a disjointed pattern and one space on the grid. By sliding tiles into the space you could reassemble the picture. Flash 8 is based on the same premise.
Each player has their own grid and it is a race to be the first to match the configuration on one of the cards in the middle.
Utterly engrossing. A wonderful grey matter work out. You'll be screaming in frustration one moment (when you get pipped to the post), and then urging everyone to move on to the next round.
If every one gets too cross with you, there is always single player mode.
For player 7 years +
One of our classic games. Not a huge seller for us, which I suspect is due to the packaging (little bit 80s) but this award winning game has a very deserved place on this list.
Pentago is perfect for fans of Connect 4 who are ready for the next challenge.
The aim is to be the first to get five-in-a-row. Line up your marbles but be careful - the tables can turn in an instant. Every time you place a marble, you turn one of the four moveable squares on the board.
Opportunities come and go - can you spot them before your opponent does? Can you surprise with the winning line that your adversary didn't see coming? A great mix of strategy, reaction, and just a little bit of luck.
For players 8 years +
So there we have it. I could continue but I know blogs can get a bit blah if they go on too long . . . Would love to know if you have tried any of these offerings. Or let us know what games you think we should stock. We always love recommendations.