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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Our favorites: Board and card games

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Tear the kids1 away from the video games and gather round the kitchen table for some honest-to-goodness real life gaming. Board games are a great way to get some family togetherness time, and always a good excuse to get some friends together. Here are a few of our favorites, if you’re not sure where to start or what to get next.

King of Tokyo

This is without a doubt the most successful game purchase we made in the last year. In King of Tokyo, every player represents a monster who is attacking the city and other monsters. When you’re in Tokyo, you accumulate damage from all the other monsters—but you also accumulate victory points. Succeeding in this game is all about knowing when to step into Tokyo and when to step back out—as well as balancing your approach to hoarding resources versus just wailing on the opposition. Playing this game stresses my son out a bit, because he’s always afraid to go into Tokyo, but he’s also always up for a game. ($20)

Forbidden Desert

Forbidden Desert

I’m a big fan of cooperative games, where the players work together against a ticking clock. Last year, Jason recommended Forbidden Island, but I think the successor to that game—Forbidden Desert—really takes things up a notch. You and your marooned team need to explore an ancient city and reconstruct a flying ship to escape the desert before it gets covered with sand…or you die of thirst. Many co-op games are tough to lose as long as you play smart, but Forbidden Desert is downright challenging—I’ve lost more times than I’ve won. ($25)—DM

Pandemic: The Cure

Pandemic: The Cure

Speaking of cooperative games, Pandemic: The Cure is a new twist on an old favorite. Like its predecessor, The Cure is about fighting off an epidemic of diseases around the world, but instead of the previous version which relied on a map and cards, The Cure uses a dice-based mechanic. That makes it a little more portable and easier to set up, as well as streamlining the rules a bit. It’s a lot of fun, and no less challenging than the original. ($50)—DM

One Hit Kill

I bought a couple of card games via Kickstarter campaigns this year. While Exploding Kittens broke a lot of records, it didn’t capture my family’s attention nearly as well as One Hit Kill. The game has aspects that are reminiscent of classic card games — right down to numbered and suited cards — but has a Ticket-to-Ride style goal system, a variety of possible gameplay strategies, and a whole bunch of funny and creepy character illustrations on the card. ($20 for 2-3 players, $35 for 4-6 players)

7 Wonders

7 Wonders

My friends and I have been playing 7 Wonders for several years, and even now, it’s one of the few that we can drag out time and time again. What I enjoy most about the game is that it’s competitive without being antagonistic: players compete by building up their own civilization, baesd around one of the titular seven of the ancient world, and compare scores at the end. It’s also one of the few games I know that plays a large number of people—seven, of course—which makes it great for get-togethers. ($50)—DM



This is a classic card game that my family just discovered in the past year. What’s fun about it is that some of the cards you play change the rules of the game. Things can escalate quickly, with complex limitations placed on what you can do on a turn—and then in a heartbeat, it can all be swept away and the game completely changes. Fluxx is challenging and funny. ($15)

Love Letters

Love Letters

If you’re looking for a game that’s easy to learn, fast to play, and super portable, Love Letters fits the bill. My girlfriend and I picked up a copy earlier this year and enjoyed the fact that you can play a full game in about 15 minutes. The game itself requires a little bit of deduction work, as you try to get your love letter smuggled to the princess while blocking your opponent’s suits. And, if you don’t enjoy courtly intrigue as a setting, there’s always the Batman version. ($9)—DM


From Skybound, the company founded by Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead and Invincible, comes this game that’s more an excuse to argue and imagine than an actual game. In Superfight, you combine characters and attributes to create ridiculous superheroes or villains, and then argue about who would win in a fight. As the rules say, “Play until you’re tired of playing.” My son and a friend of his could play this endlessly. ($30)

Risk: Legacy

On the other end of the scale from the simplicity of Love Letters is the insanity of Risk: Legacy. Let’s all admit it: Risk is not a very good game. But Risk: Legacy is not Risk. Though the broad strokes are there—a map of the world, a goal for domination—Risk: Legacy takes place in the future and features an evolving game board. Choices made in one game ripple into the next game, with cities being founded and destroyed, new factions entering the game, and old ones taking on new powers. It’s about as close as you can get to a video game campaign in board game form. ($52)—DM


A simple card game about preventing explosions by playing the right cards. This one was recommended to me at the XOXO festival this year, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a cooperative game, so everyone wins or loses as a group. And you hold your cards face out, so you’re trying to deduce the contents of your own hand while you can see everyone else’s, which is a nice trick. ($11)

But wait! There’s more!

I you want more real-life game ideas, we mentioned a bunch more in last year’s edition and all of them are still awesome, too.

  1. Or, to be fair, parents. 

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