Which new board games are the best of the holiday season? Which will make you laugh and enjoy the moment? Which ones will make you want to put your hands over your ears to block out the pain?
We played 'em and rated 'em. Here's what is worth your time and money.
One note: All of these games are available at Amazon.com and most are at Target or your favorite toy store.
Electronic Scrabble Flash
How many players: For solo or group play
Ages: 8 and up
Approximate game time: Five to 20 minutes
Object of the game: The game consists of five 2-inch-square blocks with LED screens. Power them up and each block shows a letter. The player rearranges the squares to form words. When tiles touch side by side, they know when a word is made and tally the score. Smart! Depending on the number of players, there are different game modes. The challenge in one game, for a single player, is to form as many three-, four- and five-letter words as possible before time runs out. The multiplayer game mode is an elimination challenge to find five-letter words before time expires. There also are four-letter challenges that might be easier for younger players, as this variation allows for two-letter words.
What we liked: It's addictive. You sit down thinking you are going to play a quick round or two -- and then look up to discover you've been at it for half an hour. Also, there's a convenient travel box that measures just 2 inches by 5 inches.
What we didn't like: Unlike traditional Scrabble, which rewards ambitious wordsmiths for creating words with higher-value letters, the solo Scrabble Flash game prefers a quantity of words rather than quality words.
What we learned: We've learned that we still have a lot to learn. After each round, the blocks count how many words were made and then reveals how many more were possible. After spelling 21 words in one minute (and feeling good about ourselves), we were informed that we missed 10 other possible words.
Good for: Ideal if you've only got a few minutes to spare. No board to set up, no DVD to load. All you need is a flat surface on which to arrange and rearrange the tiles.
Last word: This game is G-R-E-A-T.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Cheese Touch
How many players: 3-6
Ages: 8 and up
Approximate game time: 30 minutes
The object of the game: Simply be the first to make the loop around the board from start to finish, all the while trying to avoid getting "The Cheese Touch" (a reference to a series of events in the book in which a slice of cheese left on the playground turns frightfully moldy and must be avoided). Each player is one of six characters from the book series (Greg, Rodrick, Manny, Rowley, Holly or Fregley) and depending on what space you land on, players must answer questions or complete different tasks.
What we liked: Here's an excuse to be silly, and like the books, this game is quick, easy and filled with fourth-grade humor. The game pieces are very fun, and some of the questions, like "What's the longest you've ever gone without bathing?" hit the right tone.
What we didn't like: Very little not to like, but some of the words that you need to act out in the "Do It Like This" cards can be challenging for younger players.
What we learned: Questions like, "What's the best kind of soda?" can be more difficult than you might imagine. (By the way, the answer is cream soda.)
Good for: Kids who are fans of the books, and adults who like quick games.
Last word: Our kid testers who love the books said, "The cheese touch game piece is too clean. It needs to have some mold on it!"
Nab-It! The Family Game of Stolen Words
How many players: 2-4
Ages: 8 and up
Approximate game time: 30 minutes
The object of the game: This is a little like Scrabble (it's made by the same people) but without a board and with three dimensions to the play (no, you don't need 3-D glasses). Each player picks a color and draws five tiles out of a bag filled with all the tiles of his or her color. Tiles have letters on each side. The first player builds a word, connecting the interlocking tiles. Play goes to the next player, who adds one or more tiles to the already-played tiles to created a new word or words. You do this by linking (building off the word onto a new strand) and/or stacking (putting tiles on top of other tiles). To score points, you "nab." You nab by stacking the highest tile in a word. You get a point every time you nab. At the end, you add the points for nabbing to the points you get for every word you control -- meaning you "have the most tiles at the highest level in that word."
What we liked: The game moves along quickly and the scoring is relatively simple (compared to Scrabble).
What we didn't like: If you are a teenager who likes games that make people laugh, this one may not be for you. It's more of a competitive game than a let's-have-fun game.
What we learned: You should read the part about scoring carefully before you play. We got caught up in the nabbing and didn't realize we should also be thinking about controlling the words.
Good for: People who love words.
Last word: A solid choice. Easy to understand, and you could quickly work to improve your strategies.
How many players: 4-6
Ages: Recommended for 8 and up (we think 10 and up)
Approximate game time: 15-20 minutes
The object of the game: This is like a scribbling/caption version of telephone. You are given a prompt from a card and have to draw it. Another player sees only your drawing and has to write a caption. The next player sees only that caption and has to do a drawing. This continues for several rounds. At the end, you get points for figuring out which final drawing evolved from your original drawing and for having people vote for one of your captions or illustrations as "funny."
What we liked: This is a fun game that, surprisingly, doesn't reward accuracy or even talent. It rewards creativity. It's also a game that allows you to converse with other players.
What we didn't like: There's a timer that comes with it; we never figured out exactly how it worked. Also, we think it would be more challenging and more fun with six players.
What we learned: The sillier, the better. Don't worry about your drawing talent. You really don't need any.
Good for: People who like to laugh. We think this would be better for preteens and teenagers than for littler kids; we also think it would be a fun party game for adults.
Last word: If you like Pictionary, you'll like this, too.
Wits & Wagers Family
How many players: 3-10
Ages: 8 and up
Approximate game time: About 30 minutes
The object of the game: A player reads a question. All players guess the answer that they think is closest and write it on their board. The boards are then ranked from the lowest to the highest answer (the answers are always a number of some sort). Next, players place their Meeples (playing pieces) on the answer that they think is correct. The Meeples can be placed on any answer -- it doesn't have to be your own. The large Meeple is worth 2 points if placed on the correct answer, and the small Meeple is worth 1 point. The person with the guess closest to the correct answer without going over gets 1 point. The first person to reach 15 points wins.
What we liked: The questions are tougher than average Trivial Pursuit games but still have interesting factoids.
What we didn't like: The instructions weren't very clear.
What we learned: The game is more suitable for age 10 and up. Also, as one of our players said, "This is a game of underconfidence," because you end up betting on answers that aren't yours.
Good for: Families, friends, co-workers
Last word: As another player said, "The best part of the game is saying 'Meeple.'"
Be a Broadway Star!
How many players: 2-6
Ages: 8 and up, although we don't know many 8-year-olds who have the Broadway knowledge it really takes to get ahead in the game
Approximate game time: 30-60 minutes depending on number of players
The object of the game: To become the biggest Broadway star -- and to achieve that, you need more fans than anyone else, of course. This is a classic, low-tech, move-your-game-piece-around-the-board game. Start in acting school and end in the Broadway Hall of Fame. Along the way, deal with the "dramas" on the board, audition for parts in shows, and pick up your equity card, agent and publicist -- all in the name of earning money and gaining fan cards. The player with the most fans at the end wins.
What we liked: Each player always had something to do on a turn -- there are no blank spaces -- so the game moved along at a good pace. We were impressed with the number of shows that the game references, from The Music Man to Spring Awakening to The Color Purple.
What we didn't like: The game board is big, but the playing squares -- about 200 of them -- are tiny, and so is the type inside. Players land on squares that say things like, "Steal someone else's solo during the show. Go back to the vocal coach" -- and because the point size is so small, most people have to lean over the board to read it.
Criticism No. 2 is that much of the game is subjective. You get a bonus each time you land on the "Audition" square and can sing two lines from the show you got cast in. But there's no answer key, so if the other people around the board don't know the songs, who's to say you got it right? (Perhaps one player could be the designated Googler?)
What we learned: We don't know as many Broadway songs as we thought we did. For instance, when an "Audition" card challenged us to sing a couple lines as the "Phantom" from Phantom of the Opera, we could hum the famous melodies to the songs Phantom of the Opera, The Music of the Night and Angel of Music, but we struggled to come up with lyrics.
Good for: Wannabe divas who belt show tunes in the shower
Last word: The game ended up being fun even for a mixed group of Broadway fans and nonfans; knowledge of Broadway shows is not required, but it is to your advantage.
Scene It? Comedy Movies
How many players: 2-4 players or teams
Ages: 13 and up
Approximate game time: 30 to 60 minutes (There is a "flextime" game board that can be extended for longer games or folded into a circle for shorter play.)
Object of the game: Players demonstrate their expertise in the genre of comedy movies by answering trivia-question cards, solving DVD-based puzzles and watching highlight scenes from various movies.
What we liked: Funny clips from such movies as Animal House, Caddyshack and Office Space are always a treat. The "Hardy-Har-Hard" questions were our favorites from the trivia cards, mostly because it's a hoot to keep saying "Hardy-Har-Hard."
What we didn't like: Not enough film clips, which was the whole point of adding a DVD element to a board game, after all. Also, too much credibility granted to contemporary, and forgettable, comedies (such as Soul Plane, Little Man and Superhero Movie) while many of the older classics get short shrift.
What we learned: In the three alternate endings of the movie version of Clue, Mrs. Peacock is the only character to commit all six murders. We're confident that this bit of minutia will prove useful one day!
Good for: A fun party game that's best when there are lots of participants forming teams.
Last word: The game has its moments. But given that the subject is comedy, playing should be more of a laugh-a-minute experience.
How many players: 2-6
Ages: 8 and up
Approximate game time: 30, 60 or 90 minutes (depending on the number of players)
The object of the game: It's like its granddaddy, Monopoly, except there are new options to make the game fresh, and the board can be changed to make it longer or shorter. The game ends when a player goes bankrupt and whoever has the most money wins.
What we liked: Some of the differences. Players can build up around districts they own, which increases the value of the land -- when another player lands on it, he or she owes more than twice as much as normal rent value. The game went faster, and it was enjoyable not to have to carve out a large chunk of time to play.
What we didn't like: Players had to already have a working knowledge of Monopoly. The instructions weren't thorough enough for a newcomer, and we often had questions that weren't answered in the rules. The board game has to be assembled before each game, and it sometimes came apart during play. Participants commented on how cheap the pieces and game board looked. Although we liked the shorter game time, it didn't give someone who was sinking an opportunity to rebuild.
What we learned: We prefer the classic Monopoly.
Good for: Children, maybe.
Last word: We'd play it again if a friend wanted to but we wouldn't purchase it.