Can we exchange the 2020-style Game of Life for another one? This year has driven us to distraction. We’ve Scrabbled after new pastimes, hit the Gin (Rummy) and despaired over evenings Monopolized by the same-old, same-old until — Oh. Too many puns?
Sorry! Er, apologies!
What we meant to say is, we’ve got some great new board and card games for you to try — from the Portuguese tile-inspired Azul to an espionage-themed twist on Password, an archaeology game and a card game we cannot even begin to describe without sounding bonkers. Here are four fun possibilities.
The storyline: On a visit to Southern Spain, Portugal’s 15th-century King Manuel I fell in love with the gorgeous Moorish tile work at the Alhambra. Now he wants that artistry at home. Your imperial commandment, dear player, is to adorn the king’s Palace of Dvora with those Moorish tiles. You’ll take turns selecting colorful tiles from the artisans’ displays, then place them on your board strategically, with extra points for collecting sets or patterns — and demerits for wasting tiles.
This gorgeous game was the 2018 winner of the Spiele des Jahres prize, the Oscars of the board game world.
Good to know: The game is easy to learn but the more you play, the more complex it becomes — and the more devious your tactics, as you realize that your choices can help or hinder other players.
The details: Designed for two to four players, ages eight and up, this game ($23 to $40) designed by Plan B, takes 30 to 45 minutes to play.
It is impossible to describe this mind-twisting card game without sounding utterly demented, so bear with us. There are 100 numbered cards, and players are dealt hands that increase with each level — one card apiece for round one, two cards for round two and so on, up to 12 cards each for round 12. There’s no order of play. You play a card when you want to. And the goal is simple: Place the cards face-up in the center of the table in numerical order, lowest to highest. Get it wrong and everyone loses.
The catch: There’s no talking. No secret signs. This is a mind meld game. Everyone places a hand on the table, focuses their concentration and then plays by basically ESP-ing their partners’ intentions.
Bonkers, right? Yet, it somehow works. And when you play a successful round, there’s an inexplicable thrill — a little “oooh!” — that reminded us nerdy people of the “The Game” episode on “Star Trek Next Generation,” in which the crew falls victim to a psychotropically-addictive, alien game only to be saved by Ashley Judd. Ahem. It’s like that. A little dopamine high, but without the raiding aliens.
There are certainly strategies to be played: If you’re holding, say, a three, a four and a 98, you’re going to play the first two almost immediately and hold the last one back until the very end of the round. If you’re holding a 32, a 51 and a 60, though … you’ll need ESP to survive.
Good to know: The instructions are nearly illegible. They’re printed in minuscule type, reversed out of a black background. Don’t worry about them. They explain the shooting star cards, but those are just silly — they allow you to throw away your lowest cards, which really doesn’t help anybody. Toss them away and just play.
Details: Designed for two to four players, ages eight and up, this collaborative game ($13) from Pandasaurus can be played in about 20 minutes — or two minutes, if you lose right away.
A riff on the classic, award-winning CodeNames game, this version is designed for two players. It’s billed as a top secret spy game, with players attempting to find secret agents and avoid assassins. Really, though, it’s an espionage-themed game of Password.
The story: You and your partner have been sent to a bustling city to contact 15 unknown secret agents from among 25 possibilities, which also include three assassins and some innocent passersby. Set aside any incredulity over a spymaster not knowing his or her secret agents’ code names, or that Daniel Craig might be named “spoon” or “anchor” instead of James Bond. Let’s just play this thing.
A key card tells you which nine of the 25 cards displayed are secret agents and which three are evil assassins. Your partner has the flip side of the same key card, and needs you to guess a different but slightly overlapping set of nine. Your team has nine turns — four for one of you, five for the other — to guess all 15, which means your one-word clues (hello, Password) need to do some heavy lifting.
Good to know: If you go into this expecting Password — rather than M16 hijinks — you will be vastly more entertained.
Details: CodeNames Duet ($20), from Czech Games, was designed for two people, ages 11+, and takes about 15 minutes to play.
This archeology-themed card game is from the same creative team behind The Bears and the Bees — Seattle-based Brent and Tauni Beck, who develop their Grandpa Beck’s games with a test crew that includes their five children and 17 grandchildren. Like all of Grandpa Beck’s games, these cards are beautiful. They’re divided into one “treasure” suit and six “antiquity” suits representing six different color-coded civilizations, all shuffled together.
At its heart, Antiquity Quest is a card-matching game with a fun backstory: Professor Nigel Remington needs your help to rescue priceless antiquities and treasures before the villainous Tess Wynter gets her hands on them. Your mission: assemble five-card collections and build up “prestige” points so you can someday earn the coveted position of Remington’s … assistant.
Good to know: The rules pamphlet is witty, but the explanations make the game sound much more complicated than it actually is. You’re building five-card sets, and your points vary according to whether you have a mixed set of five, five cards from the same suit or five unique cards from the same suit. Go play.
Details: This game ($25), which is designed for two to eight players, ages 10+, takes 30 to 45 minutes to play.