EducationMedia & Technology

Family That Plays Together: Three Hellions Tested Boardgames

The Schmoo has been home sick half of this week with the PINKEYE. Combined with the Queen City’s traditional post Halloween shitty weather this has led to a few days of the two of us trapped indoors, trying to pass the time without killing each other. Not that there hasn’t been some killing… I bought Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PS3 specifically to introduce the Hellions to head to head video games. Because those skills will come in handy in college. But you shouldn’t play video games all day say nosy pediatricians and other killjoy experts. Luckily I can fall back on my board game collection to fill some of this time.

The redoubtable Tammy published the first Family That Plays Together back in March, which you should go back and read about the benefits of board games because it’s a great introductory piece. I don’t want to cover the same ground, but instead I want to focus on the three games that we have introduced to the Hellions and why I think they are great introductions to games that are more complex and rewarding for both parents and kids than Candyland or Sorry.


A tile laying game designed by  Klaus-Jürgen Wrede and first published in 2004, Carcassonne is a game with fairly simple rules and easy to understand gameplay. The players take turns placing tiles that represent the buildings, roads and fields of the medieval city of Carcassonne  in France. Players score points by claiming the parts of the growing city with their “meeples”. We have been able to introduce Carcassonne to the 9 and 7 year old with little problem. The Peanut still needs a lot of coaching form a grown up, but the Schmoo is really learning the game. It’s an excellent two player game, and a single session can pass by pretty quick so it’s great for fitting in a quick game after dinner. There are literally dozens of expansions and variations on the basic game, from big box sets like Inns and Cathedrals to little mini expansions (basically a little box with maybe 10 new tiles and a rulebook) that add a River or The Plague. There are also several computer versions. The iOS App for Carcassonne is one of the highest rated iOS boardgames. I play it literally every day.


An oldie but goodie, EuroRails was the second follow up to Mayfair Games’ Empire Builder. Often called “crayon rails”, these games are centered around connecting cities on a hexagonal map with your rail lines and then moving your train across them to pick up and deliver various goods and persons, thus fulfilling the contract cards that each player is dealt. I’ve been playing some version of these rail games for over 20 years and I never get tired of them. Like Carcassone, the rules are fairly simple and the gameplay is fairly easy to pick up. Added bonus, the game teaches some basic geography! At least Empire Bulder, British Rails, Russia Rails, Nippon Rails  etc. My favorite games in the series Martian Rails and Iron Dragon should not be used as science resources. 😉 The Schmoo, who is almost 10 and starting to rebel against the family mandated bedtimes has started playing EuroRails with us and is picking it up quite well.

robo rallyRobo Rally

Designed originally by  Richard Garfield, who would later design Magic:The Gathering, the game that would make Wizards of the Coast into the gaming behemoth it is today, Robo Rally pits the players in a race against each other and the game board. Each player takes the role of a robot tasked to navigate various obstacle filled pathways in a race to land on each of the flags and then return home. This would be hard enough if all they had to do was avoid the pits, conveyor belts, crushers, lasers from the board and their opponents and whatever else pops up. To make it even more interesting, each robot is dealt a hand of 9 movement cards, such as “turn right”, “move three”, or “back up”. From this random assortment the player must “program” their robot to perform 5 actions each turn. The more damage a robot take, the fewer cards they get each turn. Once their damage count gets high enough, actions begin to “lock” into their programming slots, leaving your robot always turning left twice at the end of your turn for instance, until you die or find a safe place to shut down and make repairs! This is a great game for teaching kids to plan ahead, as each turn requires the player to navigate dozens of card and board interactions. It’s also a great game for teaching kids that winning isn’t everything, because it’s really hard for ANYBODY to actually win the game sometimes. Many of our games have ended with the family laughing as bedtime approached and the last two robots careen uncontrolled across the board, hopelessly distant from the finish line.

Are there any boardgames beyond the standard Parker Brothers fare most Americans grew up with that you’d like to share with the rest of the audience? Chime in in the comments.

Featured Image Credit Blotz Photo Arts

Louis Doench

Lou Doench is a 52 year old father of three. Twelve years ago he married the coolest woman in the world and gave up the lucrative career of being a photography student to become a stay at home husband and Dad, or SAHD. An atheist geek, or a geeky atheist if you prefer, Lou likes reading, photography, video gaming, disc golf, baseball and Dr. Who. He has been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1976. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also an excellent home cook, not that his children would know because they only eat Mac & Cheese. Follow Lou on Twitter @blotzphoto or check out his photography at

Related Articles


  1. Great addition to the series! (That we can now finally start calling a series because we’ve got more than one…) The best games we’ve played for the younger age range are Kings of Tokyo (dice-based and quick-playing), Mice and Mystics (longer-playing RPG, so it does require a longer attention span) and Muchkin (a card game with a lot of fun variations). I played Settlers of Cataan with my 7 and 9 year old nieces last Christmas, and they picked up on it quickly enough that I would recommend that as well.

Leave a Reply