Five Fabulous Family Games you can play in Fifteen Minutes.

We own this. But it is not what we play with the kids. Yet.
We own this. But it is not what we play with the kids. Yet.

Every Wednesday we sit down for family game night. If you are like me the very phrase causes you to break out in a cold sweat. It will start out all fun and, well, games. It will inevitable evolve into catatonic boredom or shrieking accusations of cheating. If we are lucky it can be both of the above. Happily we are finally past the life stage where we play the game of Life, that endless game with no strategy.

We are not yet ready for full on gambling although we have begun the process of teaching the boys Texas Hold ’em. It’s math people. It’s good for them.

We have hit on a winning formula for game night. The games we play are short (ish), include some strategy but enough luck so winners and losers get spread out, and often make us laugh until we pee. Or I pee. Instead of slogging though Monopoly (just buy everything you land on) why don’t you benefit from our research and play one of this games that can be finished in fifteen minutes or less.

  1. Apples to Apples Juniorscreen-shot-2016-09-26-at-9-49-19-am

Apples to Apples Junior – The Game of Crazy Combinations
This is the PG version of Cards Against Humanity. (A must have super adult party game). A green descriptive card FLOPPY is the prompt to select a red topic card. The literal amongst us might choose “bunny, or hat.” Someone else might choose “cheerleaders.” Yet another one will choose “your balls.” The judge gets to decide the winner. Guess what wins in our house? The box tells us it is a thirty minute play time, but you can easily make it faster (or slower but who would do that) by decreasing (or increasing) the number of green cards that it takes to win. As a bonus you can use the green cards as a fun description of the player. Oliver might be “floppy, cheap, kind, and smart.” And apples to apples would be right. Again. PS. The “your balls” card isn’t stocked in the apples to apples junior box. We use sharpies to add custom cards at the beginning of each game. Teacher’s names and private body parts seem to make things more fun. As long as they aren’t combined.

2. Exploding Kittens. screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-00-28-amFirst off this game taught us that tacocat spelled backwards is tacocat. That should be enough of a recommendation right there. (Says Anna who loves a palindrome.) Imagine a game of uno where you can laugh at, well, exploding kittens. And target your brother for a virtual blow up. And possibly miscount the cards and blow yourself up. How funny would that be? At least to your brother… We play this half of the time. One round takes five minutes. So we play three or four times and pretty much everyone gets to win. (Hint…hold all of your special cards to the end for one very satisfying mega play.)

3. Golf, a game with regular cards.

this is NOT posed. I was so excited to get four sixes that Leo documented the day.
this is NOT posed.

Another regular game for Wednesday nights is golf. It’s a simple card game where you try to get the lowest score. In fact it is so simple that we added a twist. Sort of like shooting the moon in hearts (you all know hearts obviously) we offer ourselves -20 points for collecting 4 of a kind. It’s a risk really, and we want to encourage risk taking. If you want to play it safe you can always go for low cards like Aces and twos…but I don’t really do that. In the photo you can see the thrill I felt at getting 4 sixes. The best part was how much my boys were rooting for me. Waiting with baited breathe at each draw and discard. Hoping they could help make it happen. When I got the fourth six they erupted in cheers. It was our own private superbowl…and I expect they are working on my ring right now.


4. Masterpiece.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-16-10-am This one is a little less cost effective. I found mine for $5 at a yard sale. Actually a friend found it and I helped her out by taking it away and buying it herself. Amazon sells it for $70 freaking dollars. Click if you dare. I know they pop up on eBay now and then. Maybe set a search? In any case this is the game of my childhood where high quality (for 1980) images from the Chicago Art Museum (which makes Ferris Beuller even more fun to watch with your kids once they feel like art experts) are included in post card form. Each player pairs a painting with a price (1,000,000 to forgery- they haven’t been watching Sotheby’s results lately) and auctions them off. If you are playing with someone like Leo you may or may not have to collect the art pieces from around the house where he displays them like a curator of his own gallery. It’s not as funny as blowing up kittens but there is a combo of culture and vulture that is unmatched. Plus you can quit whenever you want and the game is magically finished. (Just stop bidding at 350k and math is with you.)

5. Risk. screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-10-34-10-amThis one is a bit of a fudge because never in the history of the globe has Risk been finished in 15 minutes. But there are times when I miss game night and the family patience factor is increaser by, well, a factor. So world domination is the name of the game. As a bonus the boys have learned a bit of Geography. And the little risk pieces can always march in miniature armies around the house, colonizing Asian art as well as Asia.


So there they are. The games that have taken game night from barely tolerable to totally terrific. I hope you enjoy them.

Do you have any to add to the list?

Choking…up. The highs and lows of parenting

Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don't know what I am talking about...oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.
Can you see the dinosaur bulge? Don’t know what I am talking about…oh well. Plus look at the sun shining on my shining son. It happens sometimes.

It is once again game night. Steve is back in Baltimore visiting his second family working so I have called in reinforcements. Our neighbors gather around the table with us to play Apples to Apples Junior. After several years of using Sharpies to customize cards the game has a decidedly less “junior” feel. There are about 5 cards that read “my balls” but lately the ante has been upped and there are “hairy balls” “big bald balls” and “your neighbor’s balls.” This one was particularly awkward with my neighbor at the table. It was all fun and game until the choking.

Oliver did something “unforgivable”. Something along the lines of winning a single card and Leo was out of his seat at Oliver’s side. There was a light tussle and Oliver’s face began to redden. At first I thought he was choking back laughter…lots of times their physical scuffles crack him up. Then I realized he was simply choking. Leo had his hands around his neck. I had been solo parenting on little sleep. I had even chaperoned a field trip that day…which is meant to imply that my reserves of creative and kind parenting were depleted. Add to this an audience and possible death and you can see the swirl of the shit storm that was rising up within me.

“Leo.” I barked. His hands dropped to his sides so I knew that I could eliminate death of my first born from the problem list. “You can leave the game or tell me you are going to keep your hands to yourself.” His fists balled, his eyes squeezed to slits.

“You don’t want me here.”

“I do.” I told him, although at that moment I did not. In theory I was speaking the truth, I wanted us all to enjoy the game and live to see another day.

“I love it when we all play together, but we can’t worry about someone not SURVIVING the game. Can you tell me you won’t harm Oliver?”


“Leo, he is in pain…you really hurt him…take a look at his face…can you tell me you will keep him safe?”


The neighbor’s kids were frozen with interest. This was obviously more entertaining than any Apples to Apples game, no matter how many spiky ball cards there were to play. I have spent a lot of time and effort not parenting myself into a corner. I try never to pit Leo and I against each other by issuing an ultimatum. I know from being raised by my father, and living with myself that that simply puts us on tilt. We are a line of angry spitters and we need a way out with grace or we will dig in our heels until the bitter bitter end. And that end can be quite bitter indeed.

There was a beat. Oliver’s face lost its beet like color, I took a deep breath. Leo stayed frozen…stuck. I needed to carve a way out. I needed to let him choose us.

“We all really want you to play Leo.”

The other mom chimed in. “We do…we want you to play.”

He walked back to his spot and picked up his cards. Looking at Oliver whose fingertips were gently rubbing his neck I knew I couldn’t quite leave it there.

“Leo. Please tell me you will keep your hands to yourself.”

In a little voice tinged with malice he muttered “I’ll keep my hands to myself.”

So we played on.

This is one of those moments in mothering that I will always second guess. Should I have reacted more strongly? Protected Oliver more fiercely? How do we encourage rather than demand kindness? How do I elevate my son who plays the victim without challenging his gentle nature, and how do I subdue my son the aggressor without leaving him feeling judged and tamped down?

Later, lying in bed with a boy on each arm I am thinking that it is hard work raising people. Even when I am a lazy mom there are still tears to dry…and sometimes they are not my own.

That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.
That black thing is the second water bottle. I wish you could see the Rockies helmet cap. It is the best part.

And sometimes they are happy tears. That morning I trudged along Dinosaur Ridge with 62 third graders. It was the site of the first reported Stegosaurus discoveries. There are bones and tracks and fossils. That said my mind was flipping between counting my little charges and wondering how the hell these tour guides could make dinosaur bones boring. It was quite a feat. I shifted from foot to foot and wondered when lunch was. I would be a crummy third grader. Or maybe just a typical third grader. Leo was loving the field trip so when he asked me what was wrong I told him I was jealous of his water bottle with a strap…mine was getting difficult to hold. It was some quick thinking not to bring him into my pit of immaturity at the edge of the excavation.

“Lets’ trade” he told me holding out his beloved black Rockies bottle and reaching for my bright blue one.

“No thanks babe, I got it.”

“Let me help you…let me hold yours.” His eyes were looking up at me, wide open, he wanted to help. So I handed over the bottle. He whispered “I love you.”

Choking up with sadnessFrom behind another mom, who may or may not have been enjoying the field trip nudged me. I looked back and she made the saddest face, holding up the two water bottles in her hands. My son bore the burden of both bottles, and her daughter’s arms swung free at her sides. Her expression was perfect and I had her pose for a follow up picture. She pointed at Leo. “Get one of him with both bottles too.” So I did. It turns out I might not remember the igneous rock or dinosaur bulges but I will remember this moment. I didn’t know how soon I would need to call it to mind. So here I am in bed with the boys, three hours past choking, 12 hours past my son tending to my needs, and 300 million years past that first fossil choking up myself. I hold each boy a little tighter and then push them away. I need a little breathing room, and some time to fill the reserves so I can be mom tomorrow.