Since we live in such an electronic world, you might think things like board games are passe.
Not so, says Greg Jones, manager and "Prime Minister of Games" at Game Night Games in Sugar House. "There were lots more new games this year. The number of titles is really picking up. It's exciting and, at the same time, a bit overwhelming."
Maybe it's because we live in such an electronic world. Board, card and party games offer old-fashioned fun the kind that doesn't need a lot of bells and whistles.
That's not to say there aren't some splashy games out there. Graphics, component parts, design are all top-notch, says Jones.
When people think of board games, they often tend to think of traditional games, such as Monopoly and Risk. And while those are still out there even in updated versions (this year you can get a Disney-Pixar Monopoly game or a "Star Wars" version of Risk) there's a whole lot more going on in the game world.
The biggest trend, says Jones, has been the emergence of what is called Euro-style games. "These games share certain characteristics that make for a much more engaging and socially interactive experience," he says.
They generally don't have player elimination, so no one has to find something else to do while other players battle it out. They often play out in less than an hour. They typically have more player interaction and they have high-quality components and varied, interesting themes.
Many of them originate in Germany, where gaming is serious business. "In Germany, newspapers run reviews of board games next to the book reviews," says Jones.
And they are perfect for Utah, he says, where there's a "culture that supports board games. There's an emphasis on families and family fun. I hear from our distributors that games do better here than in a lot of places."
Consider, for example, the fact that the Tutoring Toy, located in Foothill Village, outsells New York's famed FAO Schwartz when it comes to the card game Ruckus. The game is based on creating (and stealing) matching sets of cards. It's a great family game, says Casey Sartain, buyer for the store his family owns, "because it's one of the few games where you can sit a 6-year-old, a teenager and a parent at the same table and they'll be equally entertained and have an equal chance of winning."
That's what games are all about, he says. They can be a good bonding tool, provide a good reason to get together and interact as well as have fun.
Games have a strong social aspect, agrees Jones. "Kids can learn a lot socially by engaging in competitive games. They can learn how to win or lose graciously."
You can learn other things, as well. "They are great mental exercise. Sometime you don't realize how little you use some parts of your brain," says Sartain. Numerous studies have shown that game playing can help with memory skills and may help prevent Alzheimer's.
Some of the euro-style games are not exactly cheap, but you are paying for quality, says Jones. Plus, adds Sartain, games have a long lifetime. "You can go back to games again and again, long after toys have worn out or lost interest."
One of the most prestigious awards in the game world is Germany's Spiel des Jahres, or Game of the Year award. This year's winner is a game called Zooloretto (Rio Grande, $44.95), based on the premise that each player has a zoo and must collect species cards according to certain requirements. "It's cute, friendly and plays well," says Jones.
Each year Games magazine names its top 100 traditional games and picks a Game of the Year. This year's winner is Pillars of the Earth (Mayfair, $49), a cathedral-building game that is based on the book by Ken Follett. "It blesses gamers of all levels with a tremendous number of choices, and it plays splendidly with any number of contestants," says the magazine. It also won the Deutscher Spiele Preis, an award for gamer's games (those who like more strategy and complex play).
• 1960: Making of the President (Z-Man Games, $49.95). A two-player game where you control such things as issues, media, endorsements and other aspects of the Nixon-Kennedy campaign, and where either side can win. "The theme did nothing for me," says Jones, "but after I've played it, all I can say is wow! It's an amazing game that accidentally teaches about the American election cycle. It's an exceptionally cool game."
• Settlers of Catan (Mayfair, $42). There's a new version of this classic game with a frame to hold pieces and upgraded components. "Settlers of Catan was the first euro-style game to make a big splash," says Jones. This version takes a best seller and makes it better."
• Ticket to Ride: Switzerland (Days of Wonder, $25). This is another expansion of a best-selling franchise, this time set in a different country.
• Talisman (Black Industries, $50). This also is a new reprint of a classic game that a lot of adults will remember playing as kids, says Jones. It's a fantasy game featuring the use of special powers to fight monsters.
• StarCraft (Fantasy Flight Games, $79.95). A computer game that has been turned into a board game. "It came out as a beautiful game," says Jones. It's an epic fantasy-adventure game that can take three hours to play.
• Hannibal Rome vs. Carthage (Avalon Hill, $64.95). Another out-of-print game that has been selling for up to $200 on eBay, says Jones, and now reintroduced. "It's a fantastic little game, one of the best war games ever."
• FlapDoodle and Quelf (Wiggity Bang Games, $24.95 and $29.95). You may have to take off your shoes and make your toes talk to each other in this crazy Cranium-like game. FlapDoodle is for the younger set; Quelf for the older ones.
• Attribute (Z-Man Games, $15). Similar to the popular Apples to Apples but preferred by some gamers. It adds a new twist in that you can play a card with an opposite or a matching theme, depending on the sheep cards you have.
• Curses (Play All Day Games, $24.95). This has been out for a few years but has suddenly become very hot, says Jones. Players have to perform various tasks such as act like a cheerleader or introduce a guest on a talk show without breaking their curses such as talking like a pirate or not bending their elbows.
• Cahoots (SimplyFun, $38). Billed as a "sound-making, secondhand drawing, tongue twisting, face-making, people directing, acting out, gut-busting, laugh so hard that you cry" charades game.
• Step to It (GameWright, $12). You draw an activity card say, go to the refrigerator and a number card, say 15. If you can do the activity in that many steps, you get the points.
• Dancing Eggs (Haba, $16). If you can run around the table with an egg between your knees or under your chin, you'll do well. Billed as a kid's game, "but I know adults who love it," says Sartain.
• Froggy Boogie (Blue Orange Games, $24.95). A memory game that also teaches colors, as kids try to find the sleeping frogs in the pond.
• Speedy Eddy (Blue Orange Games, $24.95). Can you get around the board with your snail's shell in place? Also develops counting skills.
• Duck, Duck Bruce (GameWright, $10). A card-flipping game. But watch out for Bruce, the dog. He'll make you give your cards back.
• Ka-Ching! (Gamewright, $9.99) A two-player card game for older kids that involves buying and selling commodities.
• Piranhaz (Parlorgamz, $14.95) Similar to Go Fish, but with "weird, funny rules," says Sartain.
• Sequence: States & Capitals (Jax, $23.99). A new entry in the Sequence line, this one involves matching colors and shapes and learning states and capitals along the way.
• Treasure Trot: The Bella Sara Board Game (SimplyFun, $24.50). Enter the magical horse world of Bella Sara and try to collect treasure cards. Features a two-sided game board, one for easy play and one for more strategic play.
• Speak It Not (Shadow Mountain, $15.95). If you've played Taboo, you can play this Mormon culture version. You try to get teammates to say a word without giving the most obvious clues.
• Exodus From Egypt (Bible Quest, $19.99). Move your pieces through the wilderness into the Promised Land.
• Champions of Faith (Bible Quest, $24.99) An "heirloom quality" game lets you face obstacles as biblical heroes such as Noah, David, Moses and others.
• Big Brain Academy (University Games, $10). A thinking, puzzle-solving, train-your-brain card game based on the Nintendo video version.
• Qwirkle (MindWare, $24.95). A simple yet challenging game of matching shapes and colors on domino-like blocks to score points.
• Snatch (US Games System, $15). A word game with a twist. You build words independently, but your opponent can steal them.
• Civil Lore: The Game of American Culture (Evolving Toys, $29.95). Test your knowledge of all things American with this trivia game.
• Shrek's Flipped Out Fairytales (MGA, $19.99). Collect pieces of your fractured fairy tale.
• High School Musical Mystery Date Game (Hasbro, $19.99). Collect clothing and accessory cards to get ready for one of four fun dates.
• Hannah Montana Girl Talk (Milton Bradley, $14.99). Spin the wheel to answer a question, tell a secret or perform a silly stunt.
• Grey's Anatomy Trivia Board Game (Touchtone Television, $14.99). Test your knowledge of the popular TV show.
• Deal or No Deal Board Game (Pressman, $19.99). Fill cases with dollar amounts and try to win "as seen on TV." If only the money were real.
• Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader (Parker Bros., $21.99). Another version of the TV game show that lets you see if you make the grade.
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