Why Family Game Nights Are a Must
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Why Family Game Nights Are a Must

Turn off the tube, shut down the computer -- and have a blast. A night of playing games is a great way for your whole crew to connect.

Get the Party Started

My family of four grown siblings has just rediscovered Monopoly. When we were kids, there was nothing better -- the stacks of play money brought out the real-estate tycoon in each of us, and we'd play and laugh till it was time for bed. Why did we ever stop? Open up a game board and personality differences become part of the entertainment. My shy sister transforms into an aggressive competitor, which makes my other sister laugh hysterically. My normally sweet-natured brother turns out to be the scheming strategist (he always wins!). I crack jokes about my real-estate failures, and Mom gets a kick out of sending us all to jail. Now that we're back in the game, we have more fun and we're creating new traditions and memories. So we've made game night a must for extended-family get-togethers. My 11-year-old nephew is picking up Donald Trump tips from his Monopoly magnate uncle; my nieces, 10 and 4, are budding card whizzes; and my 2-year-old son loves being ball boy for family Ping-Pong tournaments. But I swear, I think it's the grown-ups who are having the best time of all.

Plan your own family game night this week, then keep the tradition going.

  • Put it on the calendar. If you don't, it'll never happen. You might hear some whines when you make it mandatory, but we promise everyone will have a blast.
  • Take turns. Let a different family member pick the game each time. Start with a list of games you've all agreed you like.
  • Serve finger foods. It's easier to deal cards or roll dice when you're not struggling with a knife and fork.
  • Steal ideas from your kids. What games do they play with friends? Truth or dare? Never Have I Ever? Try playing a family-friendly version, and you may open up lines of communication in a fun new way.
  • Get creative. Make personalized game pieces by gluing family photos to cardboard. Affix to a Play-Doh base with a toothpick or a straw. (No more fighting over who gets the thimble and who gets the car!)
  • Invite friends. Older kids might get more into the spirit if they can invite a pal every once in a while. Try a family-plus-one rule, where each week a different person gets to invite a friend or neighbor to join in.
  • Take it outside. Who says game night has to be in the living room? If there's a bowling alley or mini-golf course near you, grab the gang and hop in the car.
  • Give out prizes. Silly, inexpensive awards -- a water pistol, a goofy pen -- can up the fun factor. Or make it a family tournament, replete with real trophies.

We've Got Game

LHJ readers spill their favorite group games.

"We bought Cranium as a gag gift one spring when my eldest cousin, Gary, had brain surgery. A few months later we broke it out. Little did we know, Gary, who'd stayed home all summer to recuperate, had used the time to memorize all of the trivia cards!"
-- Tiffany Wen, Newark, Delaware

"Balderdash is a big hit in our family -- you dream up fake definitions for words and try to convince your competitors that they're real. It's hysterical to hear what everyone comes up with and it's good for any age, as long as players are old enough to read and write."
-- Melissa Kelly, Baltimore, Maryland

"We're obsessed with Scrabble, and we always play it with the same music on in the background -- Rocky Horror and Frank Zappa -- to cause distraction, dancing, and singing. A miniature version of Scrabble goes with us on trips. Our kids are in their 20s now and they still love it!"
-- Susan Kille, Brooklyn, New York

"My kids and I love Wii Sports Boxing. You can blow off steam together and have a great workout -- a fantastic way to lose weight without having to go to a gym!"
-- Kit Chau, Short Hills, Jersey

"My family's favorite is a do-it-yourself version of Pictionary. Everyone writes words and phrases down on paper and puts them into a decorated coffee can. After an idea is played, we toss it. Keeps the game fresh!"
-- Natalie Gialluca, Astoria, New York

"We play charades after dinner. My four kids are now 25 to 34, but we still do it -- in fact, we just roped in my son-in-law. I love that you can tailor the game to any age -- acting out children's book titles and Disney movies is just as much fun for everyone as more-adult words and phrases."
-- Brigid Devery, Arlington Heights, Illinois

"Our family does American Idol-style karaoke by using a mix tape or putting the iPod on "shuffle." Each person has to sing along with whatever song comes up, and the last person judges the performances. Then we rotate. Hilarious!"
-- Amanda McCracken, Toledo, Ohio

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, February 2009.