life without internet – binge tv detox and family board game recommendations

Like an abused crack whore running away from her drug dealing pimp, I just wanted out. It’s been two weeks since I took the modem and cable TV box to the drop-off center for Comcast. If you have not had the pleasure of visiting Comcast’s drop-off center, it’s every bit as fun as the DMV with the bonus excitement of customers arguing loudly about their internet speed and the convenience charges on their billing statement. I wasn’t there to negotiate or argue. I was there to make a change…kinda like Ewan McGregor at the end of Trainspotting, but less ironical.

I knew I had hit rock bottom when I reviewed my viewing history on Amazon Prime Video. I had spent hours watching pawn shop owners haggle with customers over the price of antique Civil War weaponry and still-in-the-box Transformers toys from 1984. I had watched The Office Season 3 almost four times. My wife had watched every show and movie on the “Because You Watched Pride & Prejudice” recommendation list. We had a problem.

In all seriousness, our addiction to on-demand TV binge watching was not healthy. We noticed increasing tension in our family. The kids were fighting with each other, we were yelling at the kids, and my wife and I were arguing with each other. Anything that did not help nurture positive relationships needed to go. So, bye bye went Comcast….but then what?

I grew up playing board games and card games, and I love them (well, many of them). I played lots of Risk, Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, Hearts, Stratego, etc. I also enjoyed the party games like Taboo, Guesstures, Scattergories, Pictionary, Balderdash, etc. So, I wanted to exchange our solitary TV watching time for family game playing time. Games are relational, educational, fun, and can build lots of valuable skills. All these great benefits wrapped up in activities we can all enjoy? Win! But…the problem is most of the above mentioned games would not be enjoyed by a kindergartener and 7 year old. And, I would take no pleasure in annihilating my 5 year old son’s armies off the face of the planet in a game of Risk.

Another problem is most children’s board games are awful. Some are ok for teaching kids valuable lessons – Candyland teaches colors and Chutes & Ladders teaches counting and how to deal with disappointment – but most are boring after a couple of plays. Also, I can totally kick my daughter’s ass at games like Ants in the Pants and Pick Up Sticks…I also dominate her at Hungry Hungry Hippos. To make things worse, many of the children’s games you find at retail stores are just cheap remakes of classics with the Disney Princesses or LEGO Batman slapped on the box and stickered onto plastic pieces.

So, I went on a mission to find good board games for our family using the following criteria:games

  • Gameplay and Replay Value
    • Are the rules clear?
    • Will we play the game after a few times?
  • Quality production
    • Are the pieces and packaging solid?
    • Is the artwork and design good?
  • Family Friendly
    • Is the game fun for kids and adults?
    • Do the kids have a chance to win?

It’s only been a couple of weeks, but so far we love family game time. More than the games themselves, we love spending time with each other, laughing, learning, and growing our relationships. Here are 5 great family games that I found and purchased. I’ve given a brief description of each game and rated them on a scale of 1-10 using the 3 categories listed above.  I encourage you to give them a try with your family, or come over and spend an evening playing with us!

Ghost BlitzGhostBlitz_clear_background

This game is played with a deck of cards and 5 game pieces that sit in the middle of the players. You flip the cards one at a time. For each card there is one object that either matches perfectly or doesn’t match at all. The first player to grab the correct object wins the card. The player with the most cards after going through the whole deck is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

The rules are well done and there is also a fun little story in the rulebook that adds depth and helps the kids get excited. There is a rule that you must give up one of your cards if you grab the wrong object. This made the game difficult for my 5 year old, so we exempted him from that rule.

Quality Production – 9

Nice wooden pieces, fun artwork on the cards, and a sturdy box. Again, the story in the rulebook is a nice touch.

Family Friendly – 7

I do have to put the brakes on a little bit to keep this game competitive, but with the rule tweak to help the kids, they are actually pretty fast at grabbing the right object. The kids love this one!

Animal Upon AnimalAnimal_Upon_Animal

Each player has a pile of 7 different animal pieces. You take turns rolling a die and stacking your animals on top of the big alligator piece. The first person with no animals left in their pile is the winner.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 8

This is a good dexterity game. The rules are easy, but sometimes it’s a little unclear how to keep going after a big crash. The single die has different sides that change up the game and result in a good variety.

Quality Production – 9

The wooden animal pieces in this game are excellent. This game will last forever as long as your dog doesn’t chew up the hedgehog and sheep pieces. Nice box and artwork.

Family Friendly – 8

Being a dexterity game, it is pretty easy for me to win against my kids. They still enjoy it and they get better every time. The pieces don’t fit together well, so stacking is challenging even for an adult.

Viva Topo!viva

Each player has a small family of mice. You roll a single die and try to get your mice around the board and into Cheesetopia before the big hungry cat makes his way around the board and eats you. If the cat is close behind, you can choose to forego Cheesetopia and hide in a safe house that gives you less cheese, or you can press your luck and hope the cat doesn’t catch up. The player with the most cheese wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

The rules are simple and easy to understand. The plot is cute. There is a nice little story to read to the kids before playing the game and it helps them understand the gameplay. Even though every replay is similar, it has enough variety and randomness from game to game that I imagine we will play this one all the time.

Quality Production – 10

The pieces in this game are simply great. The mice, cat, and die are wood pieces. The artwork on the board is very nice. It doesn’t get any better than this for a board game.

Family Friendly – 9

We definitely all enjoyed this game…a lot. The game mechanism for the cat is what makes this game great. As he gets closer, things really start to get intense! The strategy is a simple “press your luck”. My 5 your old doesn’t quite get the strategy sometimes, but he actually won the first 2 games we played, so what do I know?


Louie is a pilot that flies around in a circle wreaking havoc on each player’s chickens. Louie is attached to a battery operated swinging arm that moves up and down and has a swivel on the end. Each player has barn with 3 chickens roosting on top and they must be protected from Louie’s plane. Attached to each barn is a flipper that can be used to block Louie and spin him up into the air. Here’s video that shows the action.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 7

The rules are easy. The mechanism for the plane works great. The chickens work on a gravity system, so you only lose one at a time and the next slides into place. There’s not much to the game other than smacking your flipper kinda like Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Quality Production – 8

It is made of plastic by necessity, but it is quality plastic. It has nice stickers to liven up the pieces and make it colorful. It seems like it should last, even with rough play, but you just never know with battery operated and plastic stuff.

Family Friendly – 7

It is fun, but only for a little while. This does happen to be my five year old’s favorite of the bunch if that says anything.

The Magic Labyrinthfinal_magiclabyrinth71

The bottom half of the box is used to set up a maze with adjustable wooden walls. The game board is set on top of the maze (so you can’t see the walls). Each player has a wizard piece that sits on top of the game board. The wizard has a magnet on his feet and there is a metal ball the goes on the underside of the board beneath the wizard’s feet. As you move from square to square collecting magic symbols, you are in danger of running into a wall that causes your metal ball to fall. When this happens you have to start over from the beginning. The first wizard to collect 5 magic symbols wins.

Gameplay and Replay Value – 9

This is a remarkably well thought-out game. The rules are easy to follow. The setup of the maze is simple and can be changed every game for endless variety. Sometimes my son will slowly move his wizard and feel the ball starting to hit a wall and want to move back, so, we made it a rule that once you start moving in the direction of a new square, you must complete the move.

Quality Production – 10

This game is a delight to play. The design of the game board is innovative. The wizard pieces are solid wood. The artwork is truly fantastic. The artist is Rolf Vogt, and I would buy any game for which he did the artwork.

Family Friendly – 10

We all love this game. I would honestly play it with my adult friends, and it would be fun. The kids win just as much as we do. This one is destined to be a family classic.


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