Board Game Recommendations From JSU

Bring a little Spiel to your Social Distance -by JSU St. Louis Associate Director Sam Zitin

The author's game room

 In my time working with JSU I’ve utilized plenty of games with the students that I work with.  My wife and I have been big gamers for years (our collection stands at about 175 titles) but besides our personal interest in them I find them particularly well suited for facilitating various types of interactions with friends and family and obviously the teens we work with.  

Since Covid-19 has gotten so many of us staying at home it is a particularly good opportunity to spend more quality time with our families.  Board games can be not only a fun way to spend some time together, but they can even be a way to learn more about one another, express feelings and interact in ways we wouldn’t typically.  

If games you have experience with are limited to things like Monopoly, Battleship, Life, Clue are probably unaware that there is a tremendous world of options available today and your ideas of how fun a board game can be might need some refreshing!  With that being said I thought I’d take some time to share some personal recommendations for you and your family to enjoy during social distancing.

Games For Families With Teens

While these aren't difficult to pick up by any means, their complexity is more suited to teenagers and older

Ticket to Ride - One of the “new classics” of the board game world.  It’s really easy rules and tremendous depth of strategy offer almost infinite replay value.  One of the must have strategy games these days. 

Qwirkle - If your favorite part of Scrabble is making words in two directions at the same time and feeling really clever from tile placements check out this tile laying game with cute colored symbols instead of letters.  2-4 players

Kingdomino - A great variant on dominos that has you building your own little kingdom.  Your score is based on building big areas of regions multiplied by symbols on the tiles, quick to learn, tons of fun.  2-4 players

Azul - A little bit more complex at first glance, but there are plenty of Youtube videos to explain the fundamentally simple tile laying game.  On your turn you can only do one of two things, take all the tiles on a disc, or all the tiles in the center, then place them on your own board.  Simple right?  It seems it until your neighbor took that ONE TILE YOU TOTALLY NEEDED!!  Highly recommended award winning strategy game for 2-4 players. 

Coup - Probably not recommended if you have thin skin, or don’t want to find out how good your family members are at lying to your face.  Coup is at it’s core a bluffing game that has no betting, just trying to stop everyone else from getting too far ahead.  A much bigger experience than it’s 15 cards and tokens would suggest.

Games For Younger Family Members

While definitely fun for all ages these are a bit more accessible for the younger ones in the family (ages 8-13 or so)

Dixit - This game is full of beautifully illustrated oversized cards and asks players essentially to play a card facedown from their hand and give it a title.  All other players try to play a card from their own hands that matches that description in an effort to fool the other players, similar to Balderdash in that respect.  Charming art helps complete the package and creates a magical experience.

Ice Cool - Players each take a weighted wobbly plastic penguin and take turns flicking them throughout a board formed of interlinking boxes.  One player each turn takes the role of the “hall monitor” and is trying to hit the other players penguins before they can complete a trip around the board.  You don’t have to be super dextrous to play, but it helps!  One of the games where younger players may frequently have an advantage and it’s easy accessibility make this a family favorite. 

Forbidden Island - This purely cooperative game has all players joined on the same team trying to recover lost treasures from a sinking island before it disappears into the sea forever.  A wonderfully produced game that removes any barriers from older players assisting the younger and providing a real sense of accomplishment when you “beat” the game together.

Fuji Flush - The “new Uno”.  It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it, with just enough strategy to be engaging each turn and a simple rule that keeps your attention on the game even when it’s not your turn.  However it’s simple enough that you can carry on a nice conversation during the game, highly recommended little card game. 3-6 players

No Thanks - It’s sort of an auction game, but also kind of poker, but also about playing keep’s a lot of game packed into a tiny box.  This is one of those “just one more round” games that you will play over and over again. 3-5 players

Games For Playing over Video

These games are ideally suited for use over a video chat medium such as Zoom, Google Hangouts or Facetime

Codenames - It’s my guess that in 50 years time, every household will have a copy of Codenames.  It takes a simple concept (the game Password) and gives it just a little twist to elevate it to the next level.  Each team has a clue giver who is trying to hit to their team which words in a grid of 5x5 belong to them.  It’s a race to get all your team’s words first, and plays perfectly over video chat.  Only one player needs to own a copy and everyone else can just look at the board.  Probably my highest possible recommendation.  This might be the best party game ever produced.  4-10 players

Just One - Winner of the German game of the year last year, this brilliant party game is the kind of thing you wish you’d thought of on your own.  In a sort of flip flop of the goal of Codenames, it’s a co-operative word game where everyone has one person trying to guess the right word by writing one word as a clue.  Only one twist, before the guesser gets to see the clues, everyone shows their clues to each other, any that match get put facedown and not shown.  Works really well over video chat as long as everyone has at least something to write with and some paper.  Easily works with 4-16 players if people provide their own paper.  Great party game and option for video.

Wavelength - This is one I’ve actually used extensively in JSU clubs and is really well suited to making up your own cards on the spot and personalizing the game.  A clue giver sees where on a sort of “speedometer” dial they are supposed to get their team to guess.  They have a scale of some sort and must give a clue on that scale.  They might have “hot to cold” or “sweet to salty” etc.  Very unique concept and one that I think is going to gain a lot of popularity in coming years. 

Play is a vital part of day to day life and in these stressful times is particularly important for mental health and overall wellbeing.  The new generation of games that are available are wonderful tools that can help bring a family together around the table and share a great experience.  The family that plays together stays together.  Check out some of these recommendations and don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you would like some more or personalized recommendations!  Feel free to Email me at