Many of us are finding ourselves working from home for the first time, and to top it off, the kids are home during the day as well. So, in addition to trying to be productive remotely, you also have to figure out how to temporarily homeschool your children. In the midst of this it’s important to have some fun and relax with your family and loved ones, so here are some games that work in three of the situations you may find yourself in. First, the middle of the day--the kids are going crazy and you want to take a short break to help them reset. Second is the I’m bored but no one else can play right now, so I need a solo game. Finally, after everyone’s had a long day, but you need to do something fun that doesn’t involve a screen.
Middle of the day to help kids reset
You’ll want a game that plays quickly. Two-player games may be a good solution if one of your kids, or your spouse, needs some one-on-one time. These are games that are quick to set up, easy to learn and teach, and have short play times so that you can get back to that email that used to be a meeting.
L.A.M.A. – The goal of the game is to get rid of the cards in your hand. If you keep cards you get points and after a few rounds the fewest points wins. Cards are numbered 1 through 6 plus Llama cards (which are 7’s). To begin, you pass out cards to everyone, then flip over the top card of the deck. The first player can play a matching card or one card higher (so if the first card is a 2 you can play a 2 or a 3). If they can’t play a card they either fold their hand (keeping cards will give you points for the round and remember, points are bad), or they can draw a card from the deck. The next player then goes and so on until either one player plays their last card, which ends the round immediately, or all but one player folds. If that happens the final player can still play cards, they just can’t draw any more. At the end of a round you tally points. All of your 1s are worth 1 point, not individually, but as a group; no matter how many you have, if you have any 1s, you get one point. Do the same for 2s – 6s. Llama’s are worth 10 points. Rinse and repeat until someone has 40 points. Games usually last 20 minutes or less, especially since you can decide to just play a hand or two. The game is fairly forgiving since you don’t score all of your duplicates, and it’s simple enough to explain to your kids. They can play one of two cards, draw, or fold.
Drop It – Here you’re trying to score the most points by dropping your pieces into the board at the best places, but you have to avoid your piece touching the same color or shape piece or you lose all of your points. That’s basically it. As long as your kids won’t try to eat the pieces, they can play this game. At the same time, there is definitely some learned skill that goes into this game. Bonus, after teaching your kids the scoring, they can keep playing while you get back to work!
Kingdomino or Kingdomino Duel – The original plays up to four while the Duel version plays two. In Kingdomino you draft “dominoes” and place them in a 5x5 map area on which you’re building your own kingdom. At the end of the game, you score points for having grouped together by terrain type and the number of crowns in each territory. The difference in Kingdomino Duel is that instead of drafting dominoes you draft dice to build your domino. This version is a roll and write. Both versions take about 15 minutes to play and force you to make decisions of risk and reward based on what’s available to draft.
Bored with no one to play with
If you find yourself by yourself and tired of scrolling through Netflix trying to decide what to watch, consider picking up some of these solo games.
Welcome To… (your perfect home) – While you can play this game with as many people as you have score pads, it plays quite nicely solo. To play you put three decks of cards out. Flip over one card from the top of each; this will make six cards visible (the backs of three and the front of the three you turned over). In this way you have three options--each will have one number and one special option. You select one of the three options, then add to your town map. There are multiple ways the game may end, then use the scoring at the bottom of your sheet to tally your score. The game plays in about 20 minutes.
Palm Island – You can play this game solo or with two players. In the game you hold your deck of cards in your hand keeping the cards in their specific order. As you go through your deck you’ll move cards to the back of the deck, then rotate ones that you want to take resources from. These can be spent by un-rotating them to upgrade other cards. The game plays in about 10 minutes, but you’ll likely want to play multiple times before putting it down.
That’s Pretty Clever (Gahn Schon Clever) – Another game that plays more than one, up to four, but plays really well as a solo game. The rules take a little extra effort to grasp, but once you have them down you can play a game in under 10 minutes solo. In the game you roll dice then get to cross off different things based on what you rolled, kind of like Yahtzee. What you cross off depends on both the number of the die you choose, and on the color of the die. Once you've chosen three dice to use your opponents all get to pick one of your left-over dice to mark off on their score sheet. There are a few other things, like bonuses for crossing off certain spots, and each color has a rule for how you mark off areas, but my eight year old gets it and has fun with it.
End the day without screen time
Finally, after a long day, when everyone needs to wind down here are a few games to play together. These games are ones where you either work together, or ones where you don’t have the ability to mess with the other players too much.
Already mentioned are That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To…, both of which can be played with your family without too much player interaction. Everyone just does the best they can with what comes up during their turn.
Pandemic – This may be a little on the nose, but it is a great co-op game as long as one player doesn’t take up the role of running the game for everyone. You are working together to save the world from four separate viruses that have sprung up around the world. You have a set number of action points you can take, and everyone has a special ability that will make different actions more powerful. You have to be careful though--if you have too many disease cubes come out, you lose. If there are too many outbreaks, you lose. And if you don’t win by the time you make it through the deck the first time, you lose. You can adjust the difficulty so that it isn’t all too difficult, but this game is certainly about working together to get ahead when and where you can. If you’ve already tried Pandemic and enjoyed it, but you’ve maybe played it a few too many times, try Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 – in which you will destroy cards as well apply stickers to cards and the board, all of which change the game going forward.
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle - This is a cooperative deck-building game where you are one of the four central characters of the series. The game has 7 “Books” to beat which coincide with 7 books in the Harry Potter series. The first few levels will be good to play through if you haven’t played a deck-builder before, like Dominion. You do have to be careful if you don’t want to spoil surprises from the series, each “Book” of the game allows you to open up more of the game and add more bad guys and more allies. So in book one (SPOILER) you learn that Quirrel is a bad guy by playing the game. If you aren’t concerned with spoilers, and don’t need to learn the basics of deck building (eg more cards isn’t always a good thing), then you can easily skip to Year 3 or 4 and pick the game up pretty easily.
Viticulture - This game is slightly heavier than the others, but not so much I would shy away from it. In fact the game board lists the steps for each turn. This is a competitive game about making and selling wine. In it you place workers to plant grapes, build structures around your vineyard, give tours, harvest your fields, turn your grapes into wine, and fulfill wine orders. At the end of each turn your grapes and wines age allowing you to fulfill more expensive orders. You can draw cards to have helpful visitors that give you one-time bonuses. But best of all, with very few exceptions, you cannot mess with the other players. Yes you can put your worker where they wanted to, but everyone has a special worker that can still go in that spot even when it’s taken, plus there are other things you can do to set up for next turn. Even when I’ve lost the game I’ve enjoyed the wine making engine that I’ve built. If you look for this one, make sure to look for the Essentials Edition, it’s the only one you should be able to buy new, but I wanted to make sure to mention it. This version comes with the special workers, and a few other small changes that make the game much better than the original edition.