I still remember the wintry afternoon in my childhood when my dad put houses and hotels on Park Place and Broadway – effectively bankrupting my brother and me.
Those were the days before Redbox and Xbox, but board games still are a popular and inexpensive source of fun. This year, in fact, marks the 75th anniversary of Monopoly and the 50th of the Game of Life.
We – my teen daughter, ’tween son and baby boomer husband – tested some of this year’s new game offerings to see whether they pass the family togetherness test.
Trivial Pursuit Bet You Know It
What it is: Think of Trivial Pursuit, with poker chips. In this edition, you answer questions and place bets on whether the other players will know the answers in six categories with quirky topics such as Albert Einstein, shoes and “Saturday Night Live.”
Players: Two to six (more if you play in teams), age 16 and older.
Object: Just like regular Trivial Pursuit, earn six colored wedges with correct answers in each category, or buy your wedges using chips from successful bets. Then answer a final question.
Plus: Questions cover a wide variety of topics and time periods. Although I won our first game, my 12-year-old son came in a close second, and my daughter’s acting skills helped her fool us when it came time to place bets. (Who knew she could correctly answer a question about Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition?)
Minus: Might be an underlying message that if you don’t know what you need to know, you can just buy your way to success.
What it is: This is not your parents’ Monopoly game. The 75-year-old standby truly has been modernized, with electronic debit cards instead of cash and a circular board, plus sound effects and song clips from the last five decades, including “Umbrella” and “Drive My Car.”
Players: Two to six, age 8 and older.
Object: Be the only player left after everyone else has gone bankrupt. For a quicker game, count up net worth after the first player goes bankrupt.
Plus: Not having to handle all that pesky cash did seem to speed up play. Visually, it’s stunning; even the dice and movers have a sleek look.
Minus: Sound effects are entertaining … at first. You don’t know, at a glance, how much cash you or your opponents have (and younger kids won’t learn any math skills, either, when using plastic instead of paper money). The banker has to carefully insert the cards on the plus and minus sides when making rent payments.
Wits & Wagers Family
What it is: This entertaining trivia game asks questions with numerical answers. For example: How many eyes do most spiders have? On average, how many glasses of milk does a cow produce in its lifetime? How many pages are in the hardcover version of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”?
Players: Three to 10, age 8 and older; can play in teams.
Object: First player to score 15 points wins. You get points for correctly answering the trivia questions and for placing wagers on which player you think has the right answer.
Plus: Team plan helps when playing with younger kids. The sources of the information are listed on the cards. It’s a fast-moving game.
Minus: There are some pretty far-out questions, so it’s really about guesses, not knowledge. The instructions even refer to “winning guesses” and not winning answers.
The Game of Life 50th Special Anniversary Edition
What it is: Another updated classic, featuring a golden spinner and detailing on the game board. Biggest change: five new celebration coins to prompt discussion of real-life hopes and dreams.
Players: Two to six, age 9 and older.
Object: Travel the path of Life, making decisions, starting a family, earning money, buying homes and collecting tiles. The person with the most money at the end of the game wins.
Plus: Clever updates keep it entertaining, with new choices in careers and houses, along with spaces that direct you to buy a flat-screen TV or inform you that you’ve won the “Ultimate Idol” TV show.
Minus: Four pages of rules … really? We had to stop several times for details on the Spin to Win cards and lawsuits.
What it is: A new take on Scrabble. Players attempt to “nab” or steal an opponent’s words by changing them to different words.
Players: Two to four, age 8 and older.
Object: Link colored tiles to create words crossword-style and stack your tiles on top of opponents’. The person with the most wins.
Plus: The game is portable – ditch the box and bring four jewel-toned velveteen bags of tiles when traveling. Play goes faster since you don’t write down the score of each word.
Minus: The tiles are reversible, which can be confusing. No extra points for using a Q or Z: It’s quantity over quality in this version.
What it is: In this electronic version of Scrabble, build words with the interactive SmartLink tiles that flash and beep with each word you make.
Players: One or more, age 8 and older.
Object: Create as many words as possible in 75 seconds using the five electronic letters (harder than you think). May be played alone or with others.
Plus: Very portable and great for one player.
Minus: During a couple of games, the electronics froze and wouldn’t generate new letters. It’s not as much fun for two or more players.
What it is: This is Sorry with, literally, a new spin. The “board” is now a large circle with smaller circles that move around it (think planet and moons). It’s probably best for younger kids.
Players: Two to four, age 6 and older.
Object: Move your four pawns around a main track to safety on a home track, with the home zone as the final destination. When the board spins, everything moves and changes the game.
Plus: Some strategy is involved in messing with your opponents’ progress. It’s possible to be in the lead and suddenly fall to last place, or vice versa.
Minus: The spinning board is fragile and sometimes hard to move. Allow plenty of time (an engineering degree might help) to put the contraption together.