Issue 25: 10 board games to play with friends and family this summer

Good morning! Or, if you’re in another time zone in which it is not morning when you’re reading this, good afternoon, good evening, or even good night.

It’s been a bit again (I don’t mean for this to be a monthly newsletter, but I’m trying not to heap too much pressure on myself to do this weekly, even though that’s my ultimate desire here), but in the last three or four weeks, I’ve played some games I’m excited to talk about, and there are some that I’m excited to play, so that’s what you’re going to get. We’ll call it the Summer of Games, and I' think I’ll make that a regular feature throughout the summer, even though I know it is technically still spring. (I think spring in the Salt Lake Valley will be coming to a close shortly, so it’s fine.)

But before we get to that, we should get to the topic listed: games to play with family this summer. I should add a caveat, though — you can also play these games with friends. Or strangers, although frankly, after the year we’ve all had, maybe none of us are quite ready for that. I get it. Anyway, so that’s the title explained.

A quick note: If you enjoy this newsletter, don’t hesitate to share it. Or, if somebody shared this newsletter with you and you enjoy it, don’t hesitate to subscribe. You’ll get — at most — one newsletter a week, and they’ll be full of weird musings and ramblings every time. (I even have the ‘pay for my newsletter’ feature enabled, if you really want to, but right now, I don’t have a plan to offer subscriber-only content. So, you know. Maybe don’t do it.)

10 board games to play with your family and friends this summer

I’m going to do this in a reverse order in regard to my level of excitement, but that doesn’t mean I think the games are better or worse. I’ll also start with some I’ll just give short notes on, because frankly, you don’t need me to tell you about how great The Crew is again. You get it. (You can also look through old issues to really get a sense of that.)

Also, I’m only ranking the top five, and the bottom five will all be labelled “10–6.” Why? Well, I wanted to include some well-established games. I know most of you might have played these games, but maybe some of you haven’t, and that’s great!

10–6 — The Crew

I love this game, and I know you’ll have family and friends that would love to play, too. They may not know it, but show them the game. Talk about how it’s similar to some classic trick-taking games. Talk about how it’s cooperative. There you go, problem solved. Enjoy!

10–6 — Azul

Azul absolutely blew up, and it’s got a real timeless quality to it that I think will carry it for a long time. It’s not just because of the perfect pieces, either. It’s one of the best examples of modern abstract gaming you’ll find.

10–6 — Onitama

Going to a family shindig? Line up all your teenage cousins and create a little Onitama tournament. Make them compete. They’ll love it. Maybe. Or maybe a few will love it. I don’t really know how many cousins you have, actually. Hmm. (Anyway, fun abstract game that draws heavily from Chess, so make some The Queen’s Gambit reference when you open up the box.)

10–6 — Coup

Some of my fondest gaming memories have been made possible by Coup. When the person you least suspect (a grandmother, for instance) eliminates everyone in the game through some crafty lying, you’ll see what I mean.

10–6 — Spaceteam

Every great party needs a game in which people are shouting at each other, and personally, I’d always rather it’s because they’re trying to rapidly communicate very strange information than because they’re at each others’ throats. I’ve had some great games of The Resistance and Avalon in my day, but Spaceteam (a very different kind of game, it must be said) has a special place in my party bag.

5 — MonsDRAWsity

In the style of classics like Telestrations, MonsDRAWsity has a really cool spin on the drawing-party-game genre: One player gets a brief look at an alien creature, which they then describe to every other player. They have to draw said creature based on what will inevitably be a very poor description. Games with asymmetric interactions like this are really interesting to me, especially because they invite cooperation without being cooperative.

4 — Parks Memories

I want to make it known before I talk about this game that I’m very bad at memory games. If you’re also not great at these games, rest assured: There’s something here for you, and it’s the game’s amazing art. The Fifty-Nine Parks prints are just tremendously good.

At any rate, there’s a little more than just Memory here — this plays as either a head-to-head or team game, and there are special abilities you can use, and you can block your opponents from access to tiles. It’s really a neat little game, and it’s just beautiful. There are three different versions of this game — choose the one with parks you’d most like to see.

3 — Railroad Ink

With new editions of Railroad Ink now out on the market, I’m back to being extremely excited about this game. I haven’t played the latest yet — they’re just waiting for the right night — you can’t go wrong with any version of this game. I tend to think you don’t even need expansions, because the base game is just that good.


I wouldn’t recommend taking this game to huge parties, or certainly any occasion with which you’ll be with very small children who might put things in their mouths, but KLASK is a perfect game to pull out with family and friends. It’s basically a combination of foosball, air hockey, and a flicking dexterity game, and you have to try it out some time, if you’re able. (If you do play, check out some clips from the game on YouTube. This is such a wildly skilled game at the top level.)

1 — MicroMacro: Crime City

I don’t know how I didn’t break this game out sooner, but we played it with some friends recently, and it was absolutely a blast. Take Where’s Waldo, sap all the color (it’s charming that way! Don’t worry!), add mysteries to solve and questions to answer, and you’ve got MicroMacro: Crime City.

This is a truly delightful game. Pull it out with its giant map, lovingly crafted illustrations, and fun little mysteries, and you’ll get everyone crowded around the table. Or the floor, if your table isn’t large enough. It’ll draw in people who might not normally get involved, too. (That’s such an underrated thing — draw people in with a game and you' might have more people with whom to play games.)

Some other ideas

  • Why not take several games with related mechanics or themes? You could go as vast as roll-and-write (there are so, so many great roll-and-write games), or you could go as narrow as “trading on the Mediterranean.”

  • Make a menu — bring three light-weight games, three mid-weight games, and two heavy-weight games (and let your understanding of the groups you’ll play with guide you on what those mean relative each other — by all means, don’t take TI4 and Mega Civilization, especially if your friends and family are going to be dismayed by the endeavor,) then step away and let everyone else decide what will be played. (This works best if you’re the sole board-game-bringer, obviously enough.) You could even print up a little physical menu.

  • Take a younger sibling, cousin, friend, or colleague to the game store and tell them they have a $50 limit. Play whatever they pick, and if you’re feeling really generous, tell them to take it home rather than just taking it home yourself.

Photo of the Week

I thought I’d try out a little thing here where I include a photo of a game I’ve played at least somewhat recently, or maybe a game I played a long time ago, or something like that. Anyway, here you go: A look at Sleeping Gods, a very cool game from Ryan and Malorie Laukat.

While we’re here, you really should check out No Pun Included’s critical look at Sleeping Gods and other narrative-based games. I highly recommend watching and really digesting what Efka is saying here.

The Summer of Games

To Play — Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile

OK, so I just got my Kickstarted copy of Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile in the mail, and that’s the game I’ll feature today as one I want to play. It’s from Leder Games, who you’ll know from Vast and Root, and this four-letter-name-game is designed by Cole Wehrle, who designed Root. among other games.

I’m excited to tell you more about Oath after I’ve played it. Until then, I’ll leave you with a little description from the BoardGameGeek page for the game.

In Oath, one to six players guide the course of history in an ancient land. Players might take the role of agents bolstering the old order or scheme to bring the kingdom to ruin. The consequences of one game will ripple through those that follow, changing what resources and actions future players may have at their disposal and even altering the game's core victory condition.


Played — Mass Transit

We’ve got some friends with whom we’ve played a fair number of cooperative games. We played Pandemic Legacy seasons two and zero with them, the three Pandemic Survival Series games (Iberia, Rising Tide and Survival Series), about half the T.I.M.E. Stories series, a slew of EXIT games, and any number of other one-off games. That is to say, we’ve played cooperative games, we generally get communication as a concept, and we can almost predict how we’ll play as a group.

Mass Transit sort of turned all that on its head. It’s a very crunchy little cooperative game with limited communication, and it put us through the wringer a bit. I appreciated that about this small-box network building game. I don’t think it’ll have unlimited appeal, but I’m quite happy to have it around. It’s such a small box, after all!

And before we get to that, I thought I’d tell you about a project I’ve been working on.

Vintage Sci-Fi Shorts: a short story podcast

I’ve started a podcast! (A third one, really. I currently do two Real Salt Lake podcasts.) The premise is that each episode is a short story from the pages of a vintage sci-fi pulp or digest. The stories have been selected because they were interesting and in the public domain. I’ve had to sift through some stories that certainly wouldn’t pass muster today, but there are so many good ones once you start wading in.

The first season is focused on Universe Science Fiction, and it’s eight episodes long. Stories range from 10 to 30 minutes, so they certainly won’t take too much of your time. Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you all. Thanks for humoring me!

Subscribe to Vintage Sci-Fi Shorts

Well, it’s been almost 2,000 words, so I better let you get on with your day. Thanks as always for reading, and double thanks if you’re reading this far. If you’re not reading this far, I guess I could technically say anything about you I wanted, and you’d never know. I wouldn’t do that, though. I’d only say nice things about you. You’ll just have to read this far next time to find out, huh?

See you next time! (I mean, I technically won’t see you, but it’s the thought that counts.)