Few activities bring a family together like an engaging board game. A great family game creates hours of face-to-face fun for adults and children, and can become a welcome tradition. Games that don't hold everyone's interest elicit groans from adults and send kids running for video-game systems. To fuel family fun, try one of these lesser-known gems when the grandkids come over.
These games are widely available online; we included a suggestion or two for where to purchase each game.
Word on the Street
Out of the Box Publishing
About $17 on Amazon.com
The simple board for Word on the Street consists of a five-lane road with a strip of letter tiles down the center. On your turn, a category card, a condiment for instance, is turned, and you have a very short amount of time to come up with a one-word example, like salt, and move usable letters (only consonants count) to your side of the street. While you kick yourself for not thinking of ketchup, your opponents then get a new category and try to do the same. As you can imagine, Word on the Street gets trickier as the letters dwindle. You can play it one-on-one, but teaming up with a grandchild to challenge siblings or parents is especially fun.
10 Days in the U.S.A.
Out of the Box Publishing
The game's manufacturer (which also makes Word on the Street) has a terrific philosophy: It doesn't manufacture a game unless players can learn it in minutes. That thinking led to an outstanding series of geography-based 10 Days games, including ones set in the U.S.A., Asia, Europe and Africa. The goal of each is to create a trip by picking up and replacing travel tiles until a player creates a successful 10-day itinerary.
Ninja Versus Ninja
Out of the Box Publishing
Sometimes the best thing is a game that you and a grandchild can play in a short period of time. You get the quality time, but don't have to worry that you will be moving pieces around a board for hours. Ninja Versus Ninja is a fun sneak-onto-the-other-side-of-the-board-and-return-safely game that is simple to learn, but not easy to master.
If you know some good spellers, try this offering from University Games. All players are dealt letter cards. Four other letters are then laid out on the table, and players each pick a card from their hand that they can pair with an existing card to form the beginning of a word. Careful, though: If someone uses the letter you planned to use, you have to find another place for yours. Unable to form a word? You get stuck with more cards in your hand.
While spin-offs of existing games are usually far cries from the originals, kids and adults love Scrabble Upwords, from Hasbro. Unlike traditional Scrabble, the points aren't a part of each tile -- and you can cover up played letters to make different words.
Pack & Stack
For a great game that doesn't involve wordplay, try the inventive Pack & Stack from Mayfair Games. This one's all about spatial relations as you try to pack as many boxes as you can in a moving van. Players lose points for having to leave cargo behind or not packing in enough.
For even goofier fun, consider the craziness that comes out of manufacturer Looney Labs. The company's biggest claim to fame is its series of Fluxx card games, which so far include Martian Fluxx, Zombie Fluxx and even Monty Python Fluxx. While a Fluxx game can get wild, it starts off simply: In the beginning, the rule is that you draw a card and play a card. How do you win? Nobody knows until a Goal card is played. And those goals can change as the game goes on, making for unpredictable fun. Not for rigid thinkers.
If you prefer something a little less head-scratching, try Looney Labs' Aquarius. In this game, your goal is to get seven cards of a particular style in a row before your opponent does the same (some previous experience with dominoes helps). By zapping opponent's cards, switching goals and placing cards to block, there's a surprising amount of strategy that a smart kid will probably start deciphering long before you do.
For an older child interested in history, Chrononauts is another worthy Looney Labs game. Here, a grid of cards represents actual events in world history. As a time traveler, your goal is to change history so that your particular desired historical outcome is reached. For instance, you may need the Titanic to avoid that iceberg and Sputnik to explode on the launch pad. Play your cards right (or wrong, depending on your viewpoint), and, who knows, Al Gore could become president.
Tips for a great family game
Kids adapt to games at different rates. It's best to consider what a child enjoys, rather than sticking strictly to manufacturers' recommendations.
Learn the rules before teaching others. Attempting to learn a game while the family waits impatiently guarantees a miserable time.
Check the length of the game. A kid who is sensitive to winning and losing might be better off with a game you can play in a short time.
It's not whether you win or lose. It's the way you show your grandchildren that you love to spend time with them.