2013 Holiday Gift Guide—Family Games

Family Games is kind of a hard category. I mean, if you're playing a kids game, is that a family game, too? What about families with young kids, or older kids, or no kids? Basically, these are games that we play with our families, but that aren't designed specifically as kids games. And our kids are between the ages of 5 and 9, so the games will skew that way.

DCCoverDC Comics Deck-Building Game—So deck-building games are a little bit...ya know...SUPER POPULAR!! But what kid wants to play Dominion and build Markets and Cellars? None that I know. The DC Comics Deckbuilding Game is the PERFECT game to teach kids about the basics of deck-building.

Cost: $40

(Find it online)

Ages: Probably 8 and up, as there’s definitely some reading involved.

Review: http://wp.me/p2hTk7-Gn

reliccoverRelic Expedition—In this game you'll be exploring the jungle, looking for relics, managing the tools in your backpack, and trying to stay one step ahead of the dangers—which include snakes, panthers, boars, and monkeys. This is Foxtrot Games' first game, and they thoroughly impressed us with their out-of-the-gate offering.

MSRP: $49 (Find it online)

Review: Coming soon!

forbidden_desert_promo_webForbidden Desert—If you’ve played Pandemic or Forbidden Island, then you’ll know just what to expect from Matt Leacock’s latest co-op game. But that’s not to say this is just like those. This has new and interesting gameplay mechanics—including deadly sand that will cover important tiles until you can dig them out. Look for our full review soon!

MSRP: $24.99 (Find it online)

Ages: The box says 10 and up, but an 8-year-old who's played Forbidden Island should have no problem here.

plankcoverWalk The Plank—This is a fun little take-that game, designed by some friends of mine! (Firestone) You’re playing cards that will let you push, pull, and drag your opponents off the plank and into the briny sea. Lot of fun!

MSRP: $20 (Find it online)

Ages: 8 and up, as there's some reading on the cards.

KOTPowerKing Of Tokyo: Power Up!—This expansion for the terrific game King Of Tokyo adds one more character (the Pandakai!), but more importantly it adds Evolution cards, which are monster-specific special powers that increase the complexity a bit, but also increase the fun!

MSRP: $19.99 (Find it online)

Ages: 8 and up.

RiffRaffCoverRiff Raff—This dexterity game has you putting pieces onto a swaying ship. It's ridiculously clever, and kids are naturally good at dexterity games, as they seem immune to the laws of physics—plus they're fearless in their placement! This one is a little tricky to track down—and expensive—but worth the effort.

MSRP: $69.99 (Find it online)

Ages: Box says 8 and up, but we've played with my 5-year-old.

Review: http://wp.me/p2hTk7-14s

So what did we forget? What are some of your family's favorite games? Let us know in the comments!


Riff Raff—A Review

RiffRaffCoverby Firestone I wipe the sweat from my brow, and extend my hand slowly toward the swaying ship. "It's just a small, light barrel," I tell myself." I've got this." In the blink of an eye it's raining crates, sailors, and rats. My wife and children grin impishly...

I love dexterity games. They're a great diversion from the heavier games I generally play. And, of c0urse, they're usually a great choice for families and nongamers. So I always love trying a new dexterity game—and I LOVE it when one turns out to be great fun, like Riff Raff...

The Overview


Riff Raff is from Zoch Verlag, and is currently only available as an import, so expect to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $50—and that's the online price. It plays between 2 and 4 players, ages 8 and up. It plays in about 20 minutes—maybe less.

The game will end in one of two ways: Either one person will place all of his or her Cargo pieces onto the Ship, or the game will go the full 10 rounds, in which case the person with the fewest Cargo pieces left wins.

The Components

40 Cards, numbered 1 through 10, in four player colors.

32 wooden Cargo pieces—4 identical sets of 8 different pieces

1 wooden Ship, consisting of 10 different parts.

piecesThe Setup

First you'll need to assemble the Ship. This is no small task, as the Ship is a marvel of engineering. You're building a Ship, with a deck, and three yardarms, and the whole thing is connected to a cool sort of universal joint that allows the Ship to sway and pitch, as though it's really on an ocean. It's seriously cool.

Each player takes one set of Cards, and a set of 8 Cargo pieces. (If you're only playing with two players, each person gets two complete sets of pieces.)

The Gameplay

Randomly choose someone to be Captain. (The rules say the oldest player, but this is where we employ the Firestone Common Sense Rule that arbitrary first-player determinations such as "oldest" or "hairiest" or "the last person to have their ship boarded by pirates" are dumb.)

At the beginning of the round each player secretly chooses on card from his or her hand and places it facedown on the table. Once everyone has picked a card, everyone reveals their chosen card. The player who played the highest card immediately becomes the new Captain, and if there's a tie for highest card, the Captain of the last round determines who is the new Captain. The Captain takes his turn, followed by the person who played the next highest card, and so on. Again, ties are broken by the current Captain.

The sections of the Ship have numbers on them. Starting on the top yardarms with 10 and 9, the next one is 8 and 7, and the lowest yardarm is 6 and 5. Then the Ship's deck has sections 4 through 1.

The number on the card you've chosen is where you now have to place a piece. You have free choice of any of your available pieces. They range from (relatively) heavy to light. You can use one or two hands to load, and the piece can hang off of a section, but can't protrude into any other section. You can move already present pieces with the piece you're placing, but not with your hand.

ship1If you're placing a piece onto a yardarm, and it already has a piece on it from a previous turn, you can choose to place two pieces instead of one. You have to announce this at the beginning of the turn, and you can't later change your mind.

Because of that clever and insidious universal joint I mentioned, the ship is going to move and sway based on which pieces have been placed on which section. If any pieces fall as you're placing your own pieces, then one of two things can happen:

If you catch any of those falling pieces, then they go out of the game.

If any of the pieces hit the table, they go in front of you and become pieces you now have to get rid of—even if they were originally other people's pieces.

We have a house rule where you can't catch the piece you just placed. This keeps people from just poorly placing a piece, knowing it will drop, and then catching it to get it out of the game.

After every player has had a turn, everyone picks a new card, and you repeat the round. The winner is either the first person to get rid of all of his or her pieces, or the person with the fewest pieces left after 10 rounds.

The Verdict

ship2First, the game has huge drive-by appeal. Every time we play this we get a crowd of people watching. The Ship is unique and eye-catching and people just love to watch you play this game.

The cards add some strategic depth to this, as you're trying to figure out where to place pieces, when to place pieces, and which piece to place. You might play a 6, and still end up going last—and the Ship might look VERY different by the time your turn rolls around...

It's fun for families and nongamers. You will marvel as your weaselly children plunk down a piece with complete aplomb—and defy logic and the laws of physics as their piece sticks. Meanwhile, you blink too hard an every piece comes raining down. It's fun and frustrating.

My only concerns with the game are that something will break. The Ship is exceedingly clever, but also feels one tweak away from breaking whenever I put it together or take it apart. I also make sure I'm playing on a surface with a tablecloth, or some kind of covering. If one of those pieces breaks, I can glue it, but...I just don't want anything to break. So I go into Anal Gamer Firestone Freakout mode—the same one I use when someone eats dinner right before playing one of my games. "Hey, would you mind washing your hands before we start...?"

The Final Verdict

One of my friends brought this back from Origins, and we gave it a go one game night. The three other players in the game (myself included) immediately went out and bought the last three copies from TimeWellSpent.org. I can't give this game a better endorsement than that. It might take some searching (and honestly...it's pretty darn expensive), but if you like dexterity games, this is well-worth the search...

Thanks for reading! And make sure you check out our YouTube channel for our video reviews! Thanks!