Back to School Game Night

Welp, it’s the end of August. How in the world did that happen? Seems like only yesterday I was in danger of falling off the roof taking down the Christmas lights in the early February cold and winds. Aw, what memories.

Except that’s all over. And weirdly so is the summer break! We know you’re busy with back-to-school shopping, finding the right outfit so that your kid (or you) are in with the popular kids from Day 1, or dreading making lunches for the next 9 months. Ugh – I always hated making my kids’ lunches. Hashtag homeschool.

So to keep you and your family connected during this busy time between still having to mow the yard and after school activities while trying to squeeze in dinner and homework, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite games that take under an hour!

Yep, play these while you’re eating or unwinding or on Sunday when you’re procrastinating doing all the Monday things.

Cranium

Number of players: 4 or more players.

Ages: officially teens & adults, but we’ve seen younger ones playing.

It wouldn’t be a back-to-school list without some reference to learning or the cabeza.

Cranium is a board game where players or teams roll the dice to move around the board & answer questions, draw, perform, sculpt or more to win. The setup and rules are simple enough that you’ll be experts in no time – roll the die, go around the board, do what’s on the card, and win.

This game will have the entire family laughing and rolling and disturbing the peace.

Get smarter with Cranium here.

Double Wild / Sequence

Number of players: 2-4 for Double Wild or 2-12 for Sequence

Ages: Officially 8+ / 7+ but you can include your kindergartners & 1st graders; we won’t tell.

These two games are essentially more involved versions of tic tac toe.

In Double Wild, you roll 4 dice, 2 of which tell you what space you occupy on the horizontal axis and the other 2 tell you the vertical axis. Get lucky enough rolling and you’ll win by having the most marbles in rows. There is an element of “battle” if you roll a spot that’s already occupied. Unless the space is locked by being one of three in a row, players then face off by rolling the dice to see who gets it. Or you could dance battle for it. Up to you.

Sequence is the same thing but using cards. Each player has a hand they can play from that allow them to lay down their chips. Two standard 52-card decks are used with Jacks having special wild-card powers. Place 5 chips in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally and you’ve scored a sequence. String a couple together and you’ve won the game. The few oddities of gameplay are easy enough to pick up and the quick pace will make it fun when a player inevitably forgets them!

So for games with younger kids or ones that require a little extra luck, these two are great.

Up your tic-tac-toe games with Doubles Wild or Sequence.

Battle Line

Number of players: Specifically for 2 players, so grab your favorite sibling or cousin and leave everyone else out of it.

Ages: officially 12+, but your 8-11 year old will be fine with this one.

This auction game is a remix of Schotten Totten with ancient Egyptian theme and wooden flags instead of boundary stones. Gameplay is a little different as cards go from 1 to 10, you hold seven cards, and flags can only be taken at the beginning of a turn. Gameplay can be picked up in just a few rounds.

Players are trying to build better hands behind each of the pawns that form the battle lines – OOOOOH, now I get the title. If your set is stronger, you win the pawn. Win 5 of the 9 pawns – or any 3 in a row – then, you win the battle.

Obviously the faster you can see your strategy, the faster the game will go, but most games can be played in under 45 mins.

Line up your troops on the Battle Line

Secret Hitler

Number of players: Made for a bigger group, you can play with as few as 5, but it’s best when you’re closer to 10 strong.

Ages: Officially 13+ but it’s funniest when you’re old enough to get the subtle humor of another player yelling “FACIST!” in your face.

If you’re familiar with Werewolf or Mafia, this is basically that game but themed as 1930’s Europe. Hitler is alive and building his army while the good guys have to find out who are the fascists and who are the liberals.

Each round, players elect a President and a Chancellor who draw and pass either Liberal or the Fascist laws. Then players argue whether they betrayed the country or were just unlucky.

The name of the game comes from the Fascists, who, at the beginning of the game, raise their heads up to acknowledge each other and Hitler but Hitler only raises his thumb. So the Fascists know who Hitler is, but Hitler doesn’t know who his minions are. The Fascists try to sow discord amongst the players and get the Fascist laws filled up first, while the Liberals but work together to minimize the Fascist laws, assassinate Hitler, or keep the Fascists out of power.

One cool thing about this game is that you can actually play for free! The game is released under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can print and play the game for free, you just can’t sell it. Download and print all of the rules and pieces at home and spend about an hour cutting everything out or go down to your local print shop and spend about $5 and 20-30 minutes. There are also special editions – like one with Trump and his besties – to substitute for the Fascists.

The actual game itself can be as long or as short as it takes to knock off the Fascists or have Hitler rise to power. Fortunately for the world, either one of those outcomes takes less than an hour.

Again, if you’ve played Mafia or Werewolf, you know that this game gets loud and crazy and is great to really break up the back-to-school blues.

Weed out the Fascists from Secret Hitler.

https://www.secrethitler.com/ for downloading or special editions.

Codenames

Number of players: For 2-8 players, but it’s best with 6 or 8.

Ages: Officially 14+ and, while our 10 year old has played it, you’ve got to be able to get into the mind of a 10 year old to make any progress if they are the Spy Master.

I’m not 100% sure this is a great game to have on the back-to-school list, but our family loves it. It’s just so stressful for me. It must just be me.

Each team has a Spy Master that must get their team to make contact with all of their team’s spies that are “hidden” by random words. The trick though is that the Spy Master can only give one word clues and the number of cards they think they can connect. Teams then guess which cards their Spy Master is trying to link together.

Each team needs to avoid the other’s spies, innocent bystanders, and the deadly assassin that is an automatic loss. The first team to make contact with all of their spies wins.

This game is usually over in 15 minutes or so, but it can feel like 45 when you’re trying to link “London” and “glove” while avoiding “turkey”. You will also feel the pressure of being shamed when you can’t link any words together and you have to say that you can only give your team one answer.

Make contact with your spy network with Codenames.

Space Alert

Number of players: For 1-5 players but best with 4 or 5.

Ages: 12 and up and we’re not really going to argue with this antagonist.

This is the only cooperative game we’ve listed, so if your group tends to be ultra-competitive or would benefit from working together instead of against each other, this one is a good bet.

You and your crew man a small spaceship and it’s your job to scan sectors of space and protect your ship. The central computer will announce various threats, monsters, asteroids, and even malfunctions. It also acts as the game timer. Players have to agree on which actions to take to save the crews and the ship while completing objectives. This is why our family will never go to space – we’d all be running around freaking out not accomplishing anything. That and we hear the food isn’t great.

The game offers different levels of difficulty, so your crew can start off with training wheels on your spaceship and knock them off when you’re ready. There’s also huge variability between games so you can replay it again and again.

The missions last about 30 minutes, so you can complete these before you have to clean up the ship’s mess hall or feed your pet space rock.

Gather your Space Force here.

MoMo’s Shanghai Rummy

Number of players: For 2 – 5 players but if you add more cards, the games can have as many players as you can gather. We’ve played with 10+ people, but it starts to slow things down. Best if you can keep it manageable.

Ages: Officially 8+ and, since we make this one, we’re not going to argue with ourselves.
Yes we are.
No we’re not!

This is one of the funnest card games on Earth, and we’re not just saying that since it’s our grandmother that’s on the box. MoMo created this game that combines a couple of different rummy rules. And since MoMo enjoyed the wild cards, she made black 2s and Jokers wild. We’ve gone ahead and just turned these cards into Jokers that feature MoMo herself.

A game is made up of 7 hands and each hand adds another card and another objective. Your job is to complete the objective and have as few cards – which translate to points – at the end of each hand. The player with the fewest points overall wins the game. The Jokers are wild, but they also are worth the most points, so you don’t want to get stuck with too many of them if someone goes out.

The game will last longer with more players, but it’s easy to pick the hands you want to play or just keep track of how many times each player goes out, negating the need to count points – if you need to speed the game up. Sometimes we’ll just play the last hand and crown a winner relatively quickly.

Oh, and when you’re done, pack your cards away in MoMo’s infamous cigarette purse. MoMo was never seen without her cigarette purse or her bingo dauber, so we thought it was a fitting tribute to repurpose her purse to hold 2 decks of cards.

MoMo’s Shanghai Rummy will be officially out in October, but you can pre-order now! Trust us, you’ll want this as part of your game night.

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