Ticket To Ride

Time for another board game review! You know what would be awesome? If I started up a YouTube channel with board game overviews and it was hilariously wooden and bad like “Fun with Flags” from The Big Bang Theory, and just for the record, I would TOTALLY WATCH “Fun with Flags” because I am THAT MUCH of a flag geek. I am half thinking of doing it – episodes would come out once every five weeks immediately after I have touched up my hair roots. Who wants to be my co-host?

Anyway, today we are discussing Ticket to Ride, which if you are into board games, you probably already own. It’s a top-seller – I saw it at Mrs. Tiggy Winkles the other day and the box had a “3 million copies sold worldwide” sticker on it, and I think it’s very close to making the transition from a specialty-store-only type item to a Walmart-carries-it kind of item.

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If you are interested in board games but aren’t sure if your family is ready for something more advanced than Sorry or Monopoly, than this game is absolutely, 100% the place to start. It makes the top 10 list of many gaming review sites, it’s fun and fairly easy to learn, and if you like it, you’ll know you’re a strategy gamer.

Who It’s For

First let me mention, there’s several variations on the game you can buy. Ticket to Ride is a map-based game, and there are a bunch of different editions featuring maps of different parts of the world. The original one is a map of the United States; we own the Europe version which is the map you’ll see in my pictures here. Each version is played basically the same but there are subtle variations on the rules, and that often means there’s different combinations of players. The original and Europe version are for 2 to 5 players, but other versions are played in pairs, or with larger groups of people.

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The box recommends ages 8 and up and that always surprises me, as I find it to be a challenging game and when we play with our youngest (who is 8) I always assume she is not going to be able to plot out her own strategy. But actually she plays just fine, so I guess that’s my own baggage. So we’ll say ages 8 and up with the caveat that those under 10 might need some strategy advice.

How to Play

The idea behind Ticket to Ride is that you’ll be building train lines that connect different cities on the map. First, you draw for yourself a secret set of “tickets,” which are like jobs you need to fulfill – two cities that you need to connect with your trains. The tickets are worth different amounts – cities that are far apart and tough to connect are a higher-point-value ticket. You can have, and should have, several tickets on the go at once – the ideal is to have a few tickets that overlap or share a city, so you can work on them in concert (this is the part I find my youngest has trouble with – she usually works on just one ticket at a time.)

(I’ve shown the tickets face-up here in my photos just so you can see them, but in the real game they’d be in your hand or face down as they are meant to be a secret from the other players.)

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Once you have tickets in hand, and a potential route that connects all your cities in mind, you need to start “claiming” the train routes in chunks. Each chunk has a number of slots and a colour, and you need to collect cards of that colour set to claim that chunk. On your turn, you’ll be able to take up to two colour cards from the set on the board, or, if you have collected a complete set, you can claim a segment of the map instead.

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For example, if I want to connect Pamploma to Marseille on the Europe map, I’ll need to collect a set of four red cards. I can then play my four red cards and grab that section of the map by putting my trains on that segment. Then I can slowly grab more and more segments until my entire chain is complete, and I’ve fulfilled my tickets.

If I still have trains left, I can then take additional tickets and make some new routes. Play continues until someone is out of trains to place on the board.

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A key part of the game is that if a segment you were counting on taking is taken by someone else, then you’re in trouble. You need to find a way around instead, and change your train route strategy on the fly.

The winner is the player with the most points when the game ends. You get points for each completed ticket; incomplete tickets are subtracted off. Each segment on the board you take earns you points, too. There’s also bonus points for the player with the longest train (in some editions). You keep track of your points from segments during the game using the numbers around the edge of the board; you add in your ticket points at the end of the game.

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Why We Love It

As I’ve said above, Ticket To Ride is like a gateway drug to gaming – it’s easy enough to learn that you can pick it up quickly; once you know it, you can play a game in 45 minutes or so, so it’s easy to get out after dinner. It’s complex enough for the adults to enjoy and there’s a bit of a competitive angle too – trying to grab train segments before others do.

I love the strategy, and I also love way this game is very visual – something that is easy for kids to see and understand. Plus, side bonus: my kids now know the names of several cities in Europe. It’s educational!

Some Bad Stuff

It can be frustrating at times when someone takes the segment you really, really needed, but the good news is that a) there’s almost always a way to work around it, and b) it’s never personal – they are just trying to achieve their own secret tickets. So it’s still pretty fun, and there have been times I’ve been hopelessly losing but still had a good time.

Although it’s usually pretty clear cut who is winning, because the tickets are a secret there are sometimes surprises at the end so hope is never completely lost. Plus, the game is quick enough that if you do lose, there’s usually time for a best-two-out-of-three scenario.

One thing I will say about Ticket To Ride is that it has a kick-ass app version, and it has almost spoiled the board game version for us. Playing it on an app means the setup and cleanup is non-existent – no more little trains going flying when the board gets bumped – and with the computer keeping score, you never have to worry about whether or not you marked the points for that last segment you claimed or not. If you get the app you can network with other players, both locally and online, so we can each grab an iPod or iPad and set up a digital game inside the house on our own local network and all join.

For a while the Captain, Sir Monkeypants, and I were obsessed with playing against each other on the app this way and I think we’ve only played the actual board version once since we got the app. But that’s too bad, because the board itself is gorgeous, and it’s so much more interactive to play together at a table instead of each of us on our own couches with our faces in a screen.

So I do recommend the app, but maybe just so you can play on your own and brush up on your skills – for the family, bring out the actual board.

Side tip: while waiting for your turn, see how many little trains you can pile in a single stack!

Recommended For

Any family, with kids of any age, or even adults who are interested in doing a gaming thing but aren’t sure where to start, should pick up this game. THIS IS WHERE TO START. If you’re already into games and don’t have a copy of Ticket To Ride yet, your collection really isn’t complete. If you’d like to get a copy for Christmas, you can buy it locally at any of the specialty toy stores (Tagalong Toys, Mrs. Tiggy Winkles, Mastermind) or any of the comic book shops or Toys On Fire. Have fun!


I had big plans to do a bunch of family board game posts during NaBloPoMo, and here it is more than halfway through the month and I’m just getting to one now. GAH. So here’s a quick little post on a game we broke out over the weekend – Qwirkle.

Who It’s For

Qwirkle is a fast and easy little game that’s suitable for the whole family. Older players will be better able to understand the strategy but our eight-year-old can play with us with no problem.

We do tend to take a community approach to game playing, by the way. By that I mean, when we are playing with our kids (especially the youngest), we tend to talk out loud about possible strategies, and point out places where there would be a great move if only you had X piece, and we’re even not above having a peek at their cards/pieces and recommending various strategies. It keeps things fun and keeps everyone involved and happy. This approach works really well for Qwirkle if you can put aside the fact that if your kid makes move A, you could make move B for mega points, and instead just try to help them with what they have in front of them, and ignore your own tiles.

Anyway, the game is for 2 to 4 players (although I do think we have played it with all five of us, with no problem) and it’ll take you only a few minutes to learn; a game takes perhaps 20 to 30 minutes and there’s no setup so you can break it out before dinner and still be done in time.

How to Play

Qwirkle is like a mix between dominoes and Scrabble. You have wooden tiles with coloured shapes on them – six different colours, and six different shapes. You lay the tiles on a table in an interlocking, crossword-puzzle style format making rows and columns. Each row or column either has all the same colour, or all the same shape. Like Scrabble, you can sometimes play a tile that fits into both a row and a column – say, an orange star that works with the orange row and in the stars column at the same time.

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An important rule is that the tiles in each row/column must be unique. That is, for an orange row, every shape must be different; for a stars row, every colour must be different. That means that there is a maximum of six tiles per row/column, because there are only six different shapes/colours.

On your turn, you have a look at the six tiles that make up your “hand” and see where you can add to an existing row or column on the board. You can play any number of tiles but like Scrabble, they must all be in the same row or column. After playing, you score your points – you get one point for every tile in the row or column (or both) you played into. If you play the last tile in a set of six – closing the row or column – that is called a Qwirkle and you score the six points for the row, plus a bonus six points. You definitely want the Qwirkles – and you definitely don’t want to leave sets of five hanging around for others to pick off!

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Draw tiles to replenish your hand, then mark the points on a piece of paper and at the end, the person with the most points wins.

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Why We Love It

As I mentioned above, there’s no setup so you can break out Qwirkle and get it going in no time. It’s a good game for all levels and easy enough to play and learn that even people in your circle who don’t like games can be sucked into playing – we find this is a great time to bring out at Christmas or Thanksgiving or other big family events where you’ve got a mix of levels and ages and interests. It’s complex enough to keep us adults interested and the cute colours and shapes make it fun for kids, too.

It comes in a box but you store it in a bag, for use when pulling out tiles. That’s both good and bad – I like the bag but it can be awkward to put on a shelf of games. It seems like it would be a good travel game but the bag is actually pretty bulky – but you can buy a travel sized set with small tiles that fits in a little tin. That’s maybe a better addition to your game shelf, actually, unless you are playing with younger kids who would appreciate the bigger blocks.

Some Bad Stuff

Sometimes near the end of the game you can find yourself backed into a corner, where a piece you’ve been holding in the hopes of getting a qwirkle must be played and then someone else gets the qwirkle you were saving for, which can make one bitter. But in general I do find qwirkle to be fun to just play – even if you are losing, there’s always the possibility of a cool move around the corner to make you feel proud of yourself.

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Recommended For

Families who want something a little lighter and faster to play will enjoy this game; it’s a fun little spin for ages 8 and up. It’s widely available at Toys R Us or any toy store. Have fun!


I feel like I’m way behind on my Family Games posts – so many to cover! so little time! – but I figure I’ll just keep plugging away at it and maybe in two or three years I’ll have covered my bases. Right?

Today’s game is Dominion, a card game that has really stood us well over the past three or four years. We go through phases where we are obsessed with it, then we move on to other things for a while, but we always come back to it. It’s a solid addition to any family set if you’re interested in becoming gamers.

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In fact, I was thinking the other day about the evolution of gaming in a family – everyone has things like Candyland and Snakes and Ladders, then comes Sorry! and simple card games, and then you move up to Monopoly and The Game of Life, then maybe Scrabble, Clue, or Trivial Pursuit. Some stop there, others branch off to fun party games like Apples to Apples or Cranium, others move on to strategy games like Risk and Ticket to Ride. If you’re on the Ticket to Ride path (a great gateway game I’ll talk about…someday), then Dominion is definitely the next logical step up.

Who It’s For

I think the box suggests ages 13 and up, but our two oldest can handle it easily – they are 12 and nearly 11 – and they’ve even been playing it for a couple of years now. Our youngest just turned 8 last week and she still needs a “teammate” to help her if she plays, so I’d say, 10 and up for sure, maybe younger if they are precocious.

It’s for two to four people; we have played with five and it works okay, although the game goes quicker so it can seem that just when you’ve finally got your strategy coming together, the game is over. It’s best with three or four players.

The first time you play it might take you an hour as you read through all the cards on the table and ponder your strategy. But once you’re more familiar with the game you can play a round in 30 minutes.

How to Play

Dominion is a card game in which each player will be building their own deck of cards. You start with a base deck – three “victory cards” that do nothing, but give you points towards winning the game, and seven money cards. That’s your starter deck.

On your turn, you deal yourself a “hand” of five cards from your own personal deck. Then, you use the money you got to buy a card from the table that will be added to your deck. You’ll see that new card again next time you hit the bottom of your deck and have to shuffle your discard pile. The new card as well as your entire hand goes into your discard pile, and then you deal yourself a new hand from your deck for your next turn.

Things get more interesting after the first two rounds because by then, players have had a chance to buy some more interesting cards to add to their decks. Most players will buy action cards – cards that let them do something that helps them get something else. For example, actions might give you the chance to draw bonus cards into your hand; or give you extra money for shopping; or let you force other players to whittle their hands down to three cards. On your turn, you’re allowed to do one action, and then use whatever money you have in your hand to buy one thing, but some actions allow you to do extra actions or buy more than one card, both of which can be very powerful.

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There are 10 action cards in the game, and they’re all laid out on the table for your shopping pleasure. There’s also Big Money cards – putting these into your deck mean you will have more money for buying the good cards next time around. There’s also the green cards – victory cards – and you need these to actually win the game. At the end of the game, you’ll go through your own deck and pick out all the green cards, total up their points, and the one with the most points wins. But because these cards don’t help you during the game – they don’t help you buy more actions or money – you don’t want them clogging up your deck at the beginning. There’s usually several rounds of “deck building” where people are buying more actions and money, and then the game suddenly shifts to people snapping up the victory cards (the game ends when the highest value victory card pile is all sold).

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Reading this over, it sounds pretty complicated but once you play it out once, you easily see how it’s going to go. On your turn you do any actions you have, shop for new cards to add to your deck, discard everything, then deal a new hand. Next player!

Why We Love It

There’s two really great things about Dominion.

The first is that everyone builds their own deck – and the players rarely make exactly the same decisions along the way – so everyone ends up playing with a different set of cards. It means that several different strategies can be at work in one game, and it’s fascinating to see what works and what doesn’t. You can do what you think is best and someone else can do things a totally different way, which is cool.

The other great thing is that there are many, many, many action cards from which to choose the set of 10 that make up this particular game. The original game comes with 25 different action cards, and you choose 10 at random (or, because they are your favourites, or because you’re curious, or whatever). That makes the game literally different every time. Not only is every player working their own strategy, but you have to adapt your strategy to the actions on the table – you have to work with what’s in front of you. So you absolutely can’t do the same thing every time – it’s always something new. There are like, 10 expansion sets for Dominion as well, so if you go crazy you could find yourself with a pool of almost 300 different action cards to choose from. We have three expansion sets ourselves and with just those, I think it’s safe to say we could play Dominion for a long, long time before ever seeing exactly the same game twice.

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Other benefits – it’s actually not too bad to learn, and if you can manage to play for the first time with someone else who has played before, you won’t even need to look at the rulebook, just jump in and you’ll pick it up quickly. Also, it’s a set of cards so although the box itself is big (about Trivial Pursuit sized), you could extract the cards and put them into something much smaller for travel purposes.

Some Bad Stuff

Here I must admit that I sometimes get childishly cranky while playing Dominion, for two reasons.

One, most combinations of actions allow for a variety of approaches, and you can try different things and see what sticks. But you do occasionally hit a set where there is exactly one approach that will blow everyone out of the water (i.e. just buy up ALL of one particular action, and you’re golden!). Not to sound bitter, but when sets like this come around it is ALWAYS Sir Monkeypants who finds the Big Winner and while he racks up the victory cards, some of us sit there fuming. If you are more mature than me perhaps this will not happen to you. Some suggestions to avoid this scenario: start with the “recommended” action combinations that come with the set; when you hit upon a combination that really works well (meaning, many different strategies led to a close finish), then write that one down for future use.

Two, some of the action cards are attack cards, and that can make one feel bitter. Just when you get a good hand with lots of money, someone will force you to discard it. Or someone will give you a curse card, which is -1 victory point. Or someone will steal away the totally awesome Gold card you just bought. GAH. Usually these attacks are not personal – when someone plays an attack, they usually apply to all other players – but sometimes SOME PEOPLE get miffed about it. Again, if you are more mature than me this may not happen to you, but if you fear it, you can just choose not to use any attack cards, or else make the rule that the “protect me from attacks” card – the Moat – must be in every set with attack cards in it.

Recommended For

As I said above, if you are into strategy games – well, you probably already own Dominion, but if not, run out and get one (you can buy one locally at all the comic book shops, Toys On Fire, or even Mrs. Tiggy Winkles has it in some locations). There are many other games out there that are card/deck building type games and Dominion is the best. It’s a game you’ll play over and over, and when you get tired, get yourself an expansion set (makes a GREAT Father’s Day or Mother’s Day gift!) and keep on playing. Recommended: Prosperity and Seaside, the two most popular expansion packs – we own them both and they’re fantastic.


Time for another family board game overview – this one is of a classic we all know (and love, perhaps?) – Sorry! I actually wrote most of this column for Capital Parent ages ago, but it never saw the light of day, so I’m popping it in here. It’s from a time when I thought my head might explode from all the games of Sorry we were playing – my kids were OBSESSED. Why, you ask? They added their own special twist.

First, however, here’s how to play if you’ve never had the chance: two to four players each get a set of four markers, and places them in their home base. Then, each player draws a card in turn, and their card tells them what to do – start a man on his journey around the board, move forward or backward, or even split a number of moves between two pieces. The goal is to get all four guys around the board and back to your home before anyone else – and watch out for the other players, who can send you back to your start by landing on a space you occupy.

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It’s nice mix of luck and strategy for the kids – not too much strategy, but enough to keep things interesting (should I start a new guy, or move a different guy into the home? Should I move a piece in a way that is helpful to myself – or knock out the person in the lead?). We’ve learned, as well, that when someone appears to be off to a massive head start, it will all even out in the end – it’s never over until the last man is home.

Games are quick to set up and take about a half hour. I’d recommend keeping it to ages six and up – not because the rules are complicated, but because there is a very faint sense of personal retaliation involved in the “Sorry” cards, which allow you to knock someone back to home base while you steal their spot. When we play together, we emphasize good sportsmanship (be strategic, but not vindictive), and that when the Sorrys happen, it’s part of the game and there will be plenty of chances to catch up. But still, there have been a few hard-feelings incidents we’ve had to smooth over with the promise of ice cream.

But by far, by FAR, the best thing about Sorry!, the thing that has us playing it over and over again, is my children’s brilliant idea to replace their boring sets of uni-coloured pieces with any four random little toys of their choosing. Oh, the hours and hours that have gone into choosing Dream Teams for Sorry.

For example, Squinkies work great:
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LEGO men are the bomb, although I do recommend a stand for them to keep them from falling all over the board like drunken sailors:
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My youngest likes to see her Pretty Ponies prancing around the board:
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The game takes on a whole new level of awesome when you’re invested in a no-holds-barred battle between Boba Fett, Lightning McQueen, and Pinky Pie. And for some reason, the characters always seem to feel the need to comment on their progress and chat up others as they pass – a festival of little voices and in-jokes that crack me up even when I’m sneaking a book under the table because it’s my 20th game of Sorry today.

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Why yes, Abe Lincoln, snowboarding Jango Fett, and Michaelangelo were legendary lovers of Sorry!. Aren’t you?

Family Games: Spot It and Love Letter

When we finished our basement last winter, all our games moved downstairs. That’s a good thing, as there’s literally nowhere on the upper floor to keep them, but it’s also a sad thing, because I find we are not playing as much as we used to. It’s just easier after dinner to flop on the couch than to have to go downstairs and root around on some shelves for a game.

As a result I’ve started keeping a few small, quick little games on my office desk for us to grab on a weeknight. We have several of these but today I’ll chat about two of them: Spot It and Love Letter. Both are small in size (perfect for travel), quick to play, and easy to learn. Win-win-win!

About Spot It

Spot It is a great game for younger kids – our seven year old LOVES it, and is quite competitive with us. I see on the box it’s rated for ages 7 and up, but I’d say any child that’s into I Spy books would like it – there’s no reading at all, which makes it a great choice for the younger crowd.

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Spot It is a deck of round cards. Each card has several different symbols on it. Here’s the cool part: every single card in the deck has exactly one, and only one, symbol in common with every other card.

(Aside: this desperately makes me want to get out my calculator and figure out the mathematical relationship here: X many symbols with Y symbols on each card will result in one-and-only-one matches for Z number of cards. Aren’t you tempted? No? Just me?)

(Aside aside: Bet my friend Mark is working that out RIGHT NOW. He gets me.)

Anyway! You can play several different games with the Spot It deck of cards, but they all involve finding the one matching symbol given a pair of cards. The faster you are at finding the one-in-common, the better you’ll do.

We usually play the traditional Tower version. Every person gets a card, with the remaining cards in a central pile, face down. You flip the top card on the deck, and everyone flips their personal card, and starts to look for a match. If you see the one symbol that matches between your personal card and the central card, you call it out (“Lips!”, “Tree!”, “Igloo!”) and whoever shouts first gets to take the central card and put it on top of their personal pile, then flip over a new card. The moment the new central card is flipped, we match again, until the deck is gone; at the end, the person with the most cards wins.

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It's hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.
It’s hard to see, but my match here is the daisy.

It works well because the person who just made a match now has a new card on their deck, while everyone else is working with the same card and its now-familiar symbols, so it helps balance things out. The kids definitely have a fighting chance – in fact, Little Miss Sunshine, who LOVES I Spy/Where’s Waldo type books, is practically a Spot It Savant.

(Also, this is a very friendly and cooperative game for us, so if one of us adults starts getting too far ahead, it’s easy to take your time looking for matches, giving the kids longer to look. But that leads us to a whole “should you throw games to your kids” discussion that we will definitely be having here, but at a later date.)

So to sum up, we love Spot It because:
* it’s great for younger kids, since there’s no reading
* it’s super fast to set up and play
* lots of people can play; I think it’s officially for up to 4 players but we play with five of us all the time with no trouble
* it’s fun for us as well as the kids, and we can be competitive with each other on a fairly even level
* it comes in a handy tin which makes it great for travel

It’s a great early family game and perfect for throwing into your carry on for your next vacation.

About Love Letter

Love Letter is another small card game that travels well, sets up fast in very little room, and is fairly easy to learn – but complex enough to keep the adults interested. It’s actually the fourth in a series of games made by AEG, all set in the same world called Tempest. You definitely do not need to collect all the games, but they do follow a kind of overall storyline, and share the same artwork and characters, while being wildly different in play and strategy, so it’s an interesting concept.

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Love Letter is by far the most popular of the series, and I can see why. It’s just 16 cards and some little red blocks (“love tokens”). The cards all feature a character in the game – some characters, like guards, appear more than once, while bigger characters like the Princess or King appear only once.

The story is that the Princess has locked herself away, and you want to get a love letter to her by getting the card of the person “closest” to her. In practice this means you want to end up with the highest card at the end of the round. You’ll be dealt one card only, and that card has a number on it – the higher the number, the “closest” to the princess. So, the princess herself is marked with an 8; the king is 6, guards are 1, and so on.

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So everyone gets their single card, and the rest go into a pile in the centre, face down. On your turn, you’ll draw one other card, then decide which one to keep, and which one to discard face up in front of you.

Simple, right? Keep the higher card, right?

Not so fast. The card you DISCARD has instructions on it, and you must follow those instructions. Sometimes these work in your favour; sometimes not. You might get to peek at someone else’s card. You might be forced to swap hands with someone. You might have to have an immediate head-to-head showdown with one other player. So, it’s not always an easy decision – what to keep, and what to discard.

Also, your discards sometimes have the power to knock others out of the game. So it’s not just a matter of having the highest card at the end, but of being deceptive enough with your discards to protect yourself until the end.

It’s simple in rules, but there’s actually a lot of strategy here, which keeps it interesting for us.

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The round ends when there’s only one player still in, or when the end of the deck is reached – which happens quickly, since there’s only 16 cards in the deck. Of the players still in, the one with the highest card at the end of the round wins a “love token,” and you re-deal. You can play for up to 7 “love tokens” but you can play for fewer – up to 3 say – if bedtime is looming. If you’re in a rush while waiting for the spaghetti to cook, you can even just have one round, winner take all.

In terms of ages, we can all play this game, but I would recommend it for ages 8 and up, I think – our older two, ages 10 and 11, have no trouble with all aspects of the game but we can usually out-fox our seven year old with our crafty discards, so if she is playing we do a lot of “thinking out loud” to give her clues about the kind of thing she should be noticing or paying attention to.

(She totally loves to get love tokens, though. “Love token” is possibly her most favourite phrase ever.)

So to sum up, we love Love Letter because:
* it’s easy to learn, but involves enough strategy to keep us all intrigued
* it’s small and travels well (and is also inexpensive)
* even though you can personally knock people out of the game, it never has that “ganged up on” feeling of other games (hello, MUNCHKIN)
* it’s very fast to set up and play
* you can play as many rounds as you like, making the whole game as long or as short as you like
* the cards are really, really pretty (enough to make me want to buy more of the games in this series, just to see the artwork)

I got this one in my stocking just this past Christmas but we’ve already played it a ton, and when a game is suggested it’s always the first one I call for, because it’s my current fave. Recommended!


Time for another board game post! This one is on Telestrations – a fun party game that our kids really love. We learned about this game when we were invited to spend a weekend at a cottage this summer, belonging to Gal Smiley’s best friend RingetteGirl. We had a fantastic time and Telestrations was a big part of that – we came home and immediately went out and bought a copy (we found it at Chapters).

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Who It’s For

I believe the box says ages 12 and up, and I can see why, as there is some reading involved and some knowledge of phrases. But I would definitely say anyone 10 and up could handle it, and we play this with Little Miss Sunshine, who is 7, with some modifications (discussed below).

It’s a big messy party game and that means it’s best for a whole whack of people. In theory you can play with as little as 4 people but it’s definitely better with at least 5, and if you can get 7 or 8, that’s best.

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How To Play

Telestrations is advertised as “the game of telephone, with drawing” and that’s pretty accurate. A card will give you a starter word or phrase, and you write that phrase down in a little notebook. Then you pass the book to the next person at the table, and that person has to draw a picture of the word. Then the book is passed down the line, and the next person guesses what the picture is (i.e. writes a word that they think was the original word). Then the next person draws THAT word, and then the next person guesses based on THAT picture, and so on.

As you can guess, the original word/phrase gets pretty warped, pretty quickly, with much hilarity.

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Once the notebooks have made it all around the table, the original person presents their notebook one page at a time – “My word was Rocking Horse, and then Sam drew this (ha ha ha!), then Sally guessed it was a bow and arrow, then John drew this…” and so on. Everyone gets a notebook to start, and they’re all going around the table at the same time, so at the end, everyone has a notebook to present, so we take turns until they’re all shown.

There’s technically a way to “score” the game and have a winner. You can earn points for correct guesses; for getting someone else to correctly guess your picture; and for having your original word make it all around the table more-or-less correctly. But we don’t bother with this – Telestrations is just a game we play for laughs and fun.

Also, there’s a timer that’s supposed to limit your drawing time, but we don’t use that either – everyone has unlimited time to draw. Sometimes this means a few notebooks collect at one person’s station but so be it, it works out in the end, and if you’re waiting for a book to be passed to you it’s only a good excuse to eat some chips.

Why We Love It

Mostly we play this game for the hilarity factor. There’s three types of fun – admiring people’s artwork, laughing at crazy artwork, and laughing at the ridiculous things people guess.

The first time we played, we were playing with RingetteGirl’s older brother, who is very smart and funny and has the absolute perfect warped sense of humour. He was sitting next to the Captain, who is famous for his total inability to draw anything. The Captain was given the word “ball” and he drew this:

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Then the Big Brother guessed “Circle of Doom” and passed it to me, and when I opened the book and saw “Circle of Doom” as the next thing I was going to have to draw, I just about fell out of my chair laughing. It was AWESOME, and kicked off a whole evening of the Captain, Sir Monkeypants, and Big Brother trying to outdo each other with crazy guesses (“Monkey with pickaxe in bathtub wearing a top hat”).

Some Bad Stuff

Lots of people we have tried to play this game with have refused because they “can’t draw.” Really, bad drawing is 3/4 of the fun, so we usually push them into it. Plus, the fat markers on a small square mean even the most gifted artists can’t create masterpieces – everyone is just trying to capture the idea quickly with stick figures and simple shapes. But you have to make sure that the Bad Drawers at least have a sense of humour and can handle being laughed at. We have a solid track record of fun with this game but we did play one time with a lady who will remain nameless, who had played the “can’t draw” card to begin with, then felt very upset when we laughed at the mismatches. So yes, know your audience (and some alcohol wouldn’t hurt either).

I think this is a really fun game for all ages, but there is some reading involved, and also some knowledge of phrases like “out of the box” or “feeding frenzy” or “inside man.” Gal Smiley does just fine – when we first got this game last summer, she was 9 1/2 – but the Little Miss needs some help.

Here’s how we handle it for her – she sits always between two adults. If the person passing her a book has written down a word, then they will whisper the word to her, and sometimes give a little explanation of what it means; then she draws her picture. If she receives a picture and needs to write a word, then she asks the person she will be passing TO for help with spelling, as they’ll be reading the word next, anyway. It has to be kept hush-hush as the other people at the table aren’t supposed to hear any hints about what’s in the books, so sometimes we will play music to cover up our whispering. It works out well and she loves to play, so all good.

Recommended For

Big groups in fun, party like situations – perfect for cottages or family reunions or Christmas parties. You can play this one really quickly – a round takes maybe 15 minutes, so you can throw in a few rounds before bed with no trouble, and you can play for as long or as short as you like. It’s a great choice for people who might not want to play a game with a lot of strategy or thinking, but just want to have a little icebreaking kind of fun after dinner. If the relatives are coming for a visit – pick up a copy!

7 Wonders

We are a game playing family, and I love that. I personally love games – I am often accused of being too competitive when it comes to games, but it actually isn’t true that I love to win or must win – I just love to play. The strategies, the planning, the thrill of a streak of luck – all good. And I couldn’t be happier to say that the rest of my family loves games too, enough to continue to play with me even when I am KICKING THEIR ASS. (Okay, perhaps I am a LITTLE competitive.)

So I had the idea this year to do a series on the blog of Games We Love, and why we love them. If you aren’t a game player, you can skip these posts because I warn you, they will be PASSIONATE and full of detail, a LOT of detail. Maybe I’ll even get tired of them myself, but for now, I’m going to give it a spin and see how it goes.

It was almost impossible to pick just one game to feature first, but in case I run out of steam on this little project I thought I’d start with our absolute most favourites and work our way down. So top of the heap comes first: 7 Wonders.

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Who It’s For

The box says ages 10 and up, but our youngest, at age 7 and a half, can play on her own and actually has even won a few times (she watched us a lot first, then played “on a team” for a while before going out on her own). Our middle kid has been playing since just before she turned 9 with no trouble.

You can play with two through seven players, which makes it a great choice for bigger families (we have SO MANY games that are just for four players, GAH). Playing with just two players is a little more complex – you have to take turns being the ghost “third” player – so I would recommend starting off with at least three players if you can.

How to Play

7 Wonders is a game with a TON of rules, as well as dozens of different cards, and when you first get it out of the box it’s overwhelming. But it’s acutally really simple once you get going – after just one game you will get the hang of things. If you can, try learning from someone who already knows how, and don’t let them overwhelm you with rules – just get the general idea and then jump in and give it a try.

The game is based around the 7 wonders of the ancient world (educational!). Every player gets their own personal board featuring one of the 7 wonders, and some special powers in the game that come along with that. You’ll be collecting cards during the game, and using some of those cards to “build your wonders” – claim your special powers on your board.

The other cards you’ll be collecting go face up in front of you and represent points (which are what actually help you win the game), and resources that allow you to buy other cards that are worth more points. The point-collecting cards work in a variety of ways – some of them, you have to collect a set for it to be worth anything, others you have to have the most of that type to get the points, others are not worth much now but will give you a free card later on that that’s worth more. You have to decide which kinds of cards are going to be your best strategy for this particular game.

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Collecting the cards is the best part. Each player starts with a hand of seven cards, then you pick one to keep, and pass the rest to the player beside you. Then everyone plays the one card they chose face up, picks up the hand of (now) six cards that was passed to them, keeps one, passes the (now five) hand away, and so on, until all the cards are distributed. Once you’re down to a two-card hand passed to you, you keep one and discard the other, so every player gets a total of six cards throughout the round this way.

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Points are semi-tallied and then there’s a new set of seven cards dealt out (keeping all the cards you already have), with three total rounds before the end of the game.

The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.

Why We Love It

One of the great things about 7 Wonders is that it’s simple enough to learn to play quickly, but because everyone gets a different board each time, the strategy changes each time. Your own board will guide you towards a specific strategy due to the special powers on it, but what the other players are doing matters too, and you have to adapt to the table as it lays out.

The kids are okay at this – the girls tend to have a favourite strategy and stick to it, which sometimes works, sometimes not. We offer lots of advice and try to point out when they are collecting too much of one type of card (for example). For us adults and the Captain, it keeps things interesting and we’re always having to think about things, rather than play on autopilot.

Another thing we love about this game is that it’s really hard to guess who is going to win, or even who is in the lead, during the game. That takes away the “I’ve lost already, I can tell, yet I still have to finish this stupid game” feeling that comes from other games (like, say, Monopoly). Sometimes we have been really surprised at the winner, and the kids in particular are always willing to play because they feel like they actually have a chance at winning (and they do – I’d say it’s about 50-50 whether one of the kids is going to win, or Sir Monkeypants or I are going to win).

At the end of the game, you have to tally up the points in front of each player and I highly recommend purchasing the 7 Wonders app for this purpose. It’s a 3rd party app but the one we have is really professional and stable, and supports all the expansion packs too (if you get really into it). Plus, as a bonus, it keeps stats on each player – so you can see how many games you’ve ever won, what your winningest strategies were, what your winningest boards were, that sort of thing. The kids LOVE this, and there is always a fight over who is going to get to “do the iPad”, and then after every game they have to study their stats extensively.

Some Bad Stuff

As I mentioned, there are a ton of rules and cards so it can be a little tough to get going the first time – but stick with it! There’s a bit of complicated setup – you have to sort the cards by the number of people playing, and only use the marked subset of cards that matches how many people are playing. There’s also some special cards (“guilds”) in the third round, and a somewhat complicated procedure for picking these at random to add to the third-round deck, again based on the number of people playing. That’s why it’s awesome if you can play for the first time with people who know what they’re doing – they can do all the setup for you, and you can just focus on the basics until you’re ready to fly free, little birdies (thanks to Tudor for reminding me about this one!).

Recommended For

This game was our absolute OBSESSION in the summer of 2013 – we even took it with us to PEI and played every night in the hotels and cottages we stayed at along the way. Since it’s a strategy based game, not a party game, it’s for families that really love gaming – if you’re looking to graduate up from Monopoly or Game of Life or Clue, this is a great first step into a larger world.