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Some of my fondest family memories during winter indoor gatherings are when the board games came out. Not just any games … but our faves, which included board games like Pictionary, Boggle, Balderdash, Jeopardy and the piece de résistance—a card game called Pit!
Now, in case you’re not familiar with all of these games, they all require quick thinking, creativity and can lead to extreme noise and even chaos. So if your family has a propensity toward competition, set some ground rules so as not to incite any domestic violence (I’m kidding of course, but we have had incidents of paper money and playing cards flying across the table.)
It turns out that these games are not only wildly fun and perfect group ice-breakers, they’re also good for you. Research shows playing board and card games are good for your brain at any age, as they stimulate the areas that oversee memory and complex thought processes, such as decision making and problem solving. Obviously, the stakes are higher depending the game, but making decisions in a timed environment is the ultimate mental test: whether to discard or to draw, how to express an idea on paper and who can come up with the correct answer first.
There are many great board and card games out there, but here are three of my favorites:
Ages: 8 or older (cards for Adults and Junior)
In my family, everybody loves Pictionary. Since skill levels vary greatly, we always have to pull names from a hat to see who would be partners. The group would always become hostile if my sister and I were partners because we had a clear advantage—not that we excelled in drawing, but because we are so close we could sometimes shout out the correct answer with just a couple of strokes. Just one of those sister things, but we almost felt like we were being tried as witches because of our unique ability to read each other’s minds. (Sometimes these games bring out the worst in us … jealousy, hostility, ruthlessness, whininess—but in a FUN way!
So one of my favorite memories about Pictionary was the time my cousin Michael painstakingly drew a little old man hunched over with a cane. The drawing was almost masterpiece level! Poor Michael was so frustrated that no one could guess the word. Why couldn’t anyone see he had drawn a perfect old “geezer,” which is what he thought the word was? Unfortunately for Michael, the word was actually “geyser” which could have been such a simple drawing of water gushing upward from the ground! We still laugh about that to this day.
Ages: 12 and up
Players: 3 or more
My family also LOVES their trivia; however, the classic “Trivial Pursuit” game was just too slow-moving for my rambunctious tribe! We HAD to have the element of speed involved, so we opted for the old board game form of Jeopardy (yes, of course there is the high-tech version we can play on Alexa now), but there was something about those old clickers that used to bring another layer of fun into the game, but also created a larger margin for error for who clicked when …“I clicked first”…”no, I CLEARLY clicked first”… at which time we would need a mediator to make the final judgment (no one really liked playing THAT role!)
Age: 5 and up
So I’m saving the most controversial game for last: Pit! This is a very simple card game with a bell. From Winning Moves Games, Pit is over a 100 years old and is designed to mimic the original stock market. The objective is to collect all of the same commodities (such as flax, corn, barley, etc.) and not get stuck with the “Bear” card. Seems innocuous, right? Well, it’s really more like “Old Maid” on steroids. What starts out as a relatively quiet trading scenario, quickly escalates to a shouting match, and God forbid, you get the “Bear” card…you better not let anyone know you’ve got it or you’ll become black-balled and No-one will trade with you! This is a high-energy game for the most competitive families or groups of friends.
So if you have a winter party planned, don’t be afraid to confiscate all smart phones and other electronic devices and pull out those board games. You’ll be glad you did.
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