Despite the fact that my children are VERY keen to play board games with me, there are some games that are simple off limits, both for their long-term enjoyment of these products, and my own sanity! However, every now and then a game arrives, not intended for their consumption, that simply cannot evade their curiosity. Typically these are games with brightly coloured boxes, or feature delightful artwork that captures the imagination of players big and small.
As I’m sure I’m not the only one with young players who are in a rush to play big people games with their adored parents and guardians, I thought it might be worthwhile to offer a compact selection of games that offer stellar “family modes”.
Here are three games with official variants for including youthful strategists!
The toy factor of Fossilis is obviously incredible. Players are trying to reveal open dig sites on a truly unique three-dimensional board, and use an Operation-inspired action of pinching and pulling out bones (minus the buzzer of immense anxiety) required to reconstruct dozens of dino skeletons. Having this experience at its core is kind of magical, not only for kids, but for myself as well!
I say “kids”, but let’s face it, my 3 year old is coming nowhere near this game. The bones are so itty bitty that they may never be recovered if Little Bean decided to mix them into our Play-Doh collection!
Fossilis is a triumph in many ways, but perhaps most importantly for us, they have managed to outdo themselves with the stripped-down options available in the rulebook. Rather than offer a single alternative way to play their game, KTBG has produced a list of all of this game’s elements that can be individually set aside, with a brief explanation for what layer is shed by excluding it from David Diaz’s excellent game.
My Big Bean may still be a few plays away from grasping the various steps of the bare bones experience, but it held her attention for an entire game. A truly impressive feat for any game, let alone one as busy as this!
Cats seem to be a craving for children, and the featured felines illustrated by Beth Sobel on Calico’s box almost seem to be purring with life. Much like with Fossilis, it took many days of unrelenting requests for the box of Calico to be brought down for Big Bean to investigate.
It seemed almost too simple to prepare for the included family mode of Calico. Simply flip over the three goal tiles that sit on each player’s board, and no other accommodations are required. The resulting experience has a smooth simplicity on par with classics such as Ticket to Ride, with a level of challenge that can be adjusted by the specific cats included in any given game.
Big Bean has trounced me repeatedly in this version of Calico, to the point that I’m beginning to question my own self worth as a gamer. Sure, I tend to make early decisions to tip the scales in her favour a bit, but once Big Bean focuses on the goal of humiliating her old man, it’s an avalanche that can’t be escaped!
To watch this brutality in action, check out our Little Big Thumbs video of a game played between the two of us here:
THE ISLE OF CATS
Speaking of cat-themed tile placement games with official family rules, The Isle of Cats is a game that landed in retail stores early in 2020, housed in a very large box. This very large box even includes an invitation for your own cat (or perhaps small child, in my case) to sit in the box lid. Madness!
In its full form, The Isle of Cats requires players to manage a hand of cards, carefully budget a limited amount of currency to lure cats into a scarce number of baskets, which are required to load them onto your kitten-rescuing boat. However, in the family mode of this game, all of those restrictive elements are discarded! Each player will have two goal cards to achieve, and no other cards are used in the game. Turns simply involve selecting a polyomino cat from a small available stash, and placing it onto your boat, making sure it touches another previously placed tile. Points are scored for each clump of connected cats of the same colour, as well as those aforementioned goal cards. That’s literally it!
The gear shift from full strategic experience to child-friendly masterpiece isn’t quite as snappy as that of Calico. However, Frank West’s crate of kitten gaming is possibly even more engaging simply due to the sheer number of fur beasts that players get to handle and snuggle onto their player boards.
Once upon a time, I scoffed at and dismissed pages of a rulebook that offered a simpler way to play. Of course, children shift our perspectives in a multitude of ways, and publishers have begun to recognize the value of more inclusive alternative rulesets. We’re looking forward to seeing more games with quality family modes in the coming months and years!