Tag: family fun

Whatever the size of the family, fun can still be had. (Tips from a Mom of 12)

Enjoying Long Distance Games with Family and Friends

There is so much going on these days that seems outside of our control. Depending on which parts of your life have been turned upside down, you may find yourself having more time or less time that you are trying to fill. Even though my current schedule doesn’t include getting in a car and driving to the other side of town as many as seven days a week, I have found that my “free” time seems to be decreasing rather than increasing.  But maybe that has more to do with how I am prioritizing it these days than anything else.

Communication is Critical

One of the things that has become more and more important to me is communication – communicating with family and friends across the country and across the world. Thankfully with the technology we have these days, staying in touch has become so much easier. The people we care about are just a phone call, text, WhatsApp message, or email away.

And by virtue of the fact that you are reading this blog post, I can probably assume that you have access to technology in one or more of those forms.  And that’s great, because I’m going to encourage you to use that technology in a positive manner beyond just basic communication.

As you consider how best to stay in touch with those you care about, I want to suggest that you think beyond just having a conversation with them to having fun with them! And I know of no better way to do that than through games. My family has always loved games. When we get together it is seldom a question of if we will play games, but rather a question of when, which ones, and for how long. 

Liven Things Up with Games

In the midst of the current crisis we have discovered new and innovative ways to bridge the miles that separate so many of us, while still getting in our game playing.  And by the use of the various types of technology we all have access to, we have been able to play games with anywhere from two of us to more than a dozen at a time. Some of the games have been a little more challenging to accomplish when we’re not all sitting across a table from each other, but some have actually been fairly easy to do this way.  I have hopes that we will continue to do some of these long distance games even after all of this goes away.

The most basic games can be played with just a phone call. I have been very appreciative of the fact that all of my family members have cell phones with unlimited minutes and unlimited long distance (even internationally when we make WiFi calls). I bet some of you don’t even remember when long distance calls were expensive and minutes on cell phones had to be monitored! Fortunately, we’re beyond that now, and calling someone across the country and talking, laughing, and playing games for an hour or more is very easy and very doable. 

Basic Games with a Phone Call

So far this month we have played three different games using just a simple phone call: Yahtzee, Quixx, and Speed Scrabble.  In all three cases, each of us, on each end of the call had the dice (for Yahtzee and Quixx) or the letters (for Speed Scrabble).  I don’t see any way you could get around each having letters for Speed Scrabble (unless of course you went to purely electronic, and that’s not been our goal here), but I suppose you could actually play Yahtzee and/or Quixx with only one person having dice – as long as you were okay with them doing all of the rolling and just letting you know what they rolled. (We might actually be trying that sometime soon with Quixx, since we have family members overseas that enjoy the game as much as we do, but who don’t have the requisite dice to play it!)

To play those or similar games, decide on a good time, get your materials out on each end, place the call, put your phones on speaker, and have at it.  Even without being able to see each other, it is fun to be talking and playing together, especially when it’s a game you love, with a person you love even more. 

Games with Video Calls – and Multiple Copies of the Game

The next category of games are ones we have been playing with some type of video calls. (I have personally used WhatsApp video chats and Zoom calls to accomplish this, but anything you have that will allow you to see each other should work – I would imagine FaceTime and Skype would work in similar ways, we just happen to be partial to the other two.) 

I would actually divide “games played with video” into two separate categories: those where each family has to have their own copy of the game and those where only one “central” copy is needed.

I think at this point we’ve actually played more games where each family has their own copy. So far, I have played Azul, Splendor, Sagrada, and Dominion that way. And several other family members played Settlers of Cattan. I’m not a big Settlers fan, so I can only tell you that they’ve enjoyed it enough to play it several times. (And, by the way, while thus far it’s worked out that we’ve limited those games to just two groups of people, there isn’t any reason you can’t play with a group call going to three or four different places, or more, depending on the game. We’re hoping to do that with Azul soon.)

Example: Azul

With most of those games (Splendor being the exception from the above list), it was actually fairly simple to set up our “boards” (or cards or whatever the game’s equivalent is) on each side of the call.  I’ll give you an example of how that worked: With Azul, we each had our own boards in front of us, and then we also pulled out a board for the person(s) at the other end. In that game people take turns choosing tiles from several locations in front of them. On this particular occasion I drew the twenty tiles out of my bag, placing them into their respective places in front of me. As I did that, I informed my sister of which tiles I had pulled out and where they were being placed. She mirrored what I was doing. As we took turns drawing and placing tiles, we would mirror the action on both sides of the call.  (Now that I think about it, the video aspect for this particular game was a nice extra feature, so we could see each other, but it wasn’t critical. We told each other what we were doing more often than showed each other.)

Game play like that tends to take a little longer than if everyone was in the same room, since everything is having to be communicated and then done at both ends. But for games like Azul, Sagrada, and Dominion, it wasn’t much additional time.

The types of games that we have found that lend themselves to playing like this are ones where it is easy to mimic what’s being done by the other person (in other words, your “draw” pile (of cards, dice, or tiles) have a fairly limited variety of types, so that finding and matching what the other person has done goes fairly quickly. Games like Monopoly would be easy to do this way too.

Example: Splendor

I was a little skeptical about how the mechanics of playing a game like Splendor would go in this long distance fashion, since it has so many more “moving pieces” than the other similar games we had played (only three decks of cards – but one of them has 42 different cards and the other two have dozens each!). But once we got going it went surprisingly well! This time my sister had the “main board” at her end. As she turned over a new card for her board, she would tell us what it was, we would find it at our end, and mirror her activities. After determining a way to organize each of the three decks we were able to find the matching card fairly quickly. While it definitely added more time than with the other games we had played in a similar fashion, it was still not bad.

So if you have favorite games that are owned by family members in various locations, take a look and see if they can be played this way, with a mirroring style of play. I think you’ll find it opens up brand new ways to enjoy time together!

Playing Card Games?

Before I move to the last category of games, I want to mention card games – you know the old fashioned 52 cards in a deck type. Unfortunately, I don’t think most card games lend themselves to long distance playing in this manner. But we did come up with one card game that should work just fine – Hand and Foot.  While you would normally shuffle lots of decks together to play from a central pile, it also works just fine to have everyone playing from their own draw piles. We’ve done it with two decks per person, and that worked great. (We might try playing with partners sometime, but only if there are the same number of people at each location that can play together on the same table. So far we haven’t had that set up, but maybe some day!)

Games with Video Calls – with One Copy of the Game

And finally, there are the group games that can be played with just one central copy of a game. We’ve already come up with a pretty long list of these games. The first one we played was CodeNames. As I think about it, even though we were using video chats to play the above games, CodeNames was actually the first game we played that did require some sort of visual. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it starts with twenty-five cards laid out in a five by five matrix. There are two teams, and each team is trying to get their team members to find their group’s cards by giving them clues. Everyone is going to have to be able to see the layout of the cards. Since we have family members with an iPad, it was easy to set up the tablet to look down at the arrangement and constantly “stream” it to all of us. As cards get selected, they then get covered, so you need to be able to track the changes that get made to the “board” as guesses are made. You could do that without a video chat, if you got really creative with pictures on your phones, but I’m confident that the video makes it easier, and is a readily available option to almost anyone these days.

Other Game Options

Other games we have played this way, or plan to play, include Scattegories, Hit or Miss, Six Word Memoir, Wits and Wagers, and some form of Pictionary. (Did I mention we have LOTS of games?!?) And we’re still working on how to play Cranium this way!

Once again, now that I think about it, most of those games could actually be played with just a phone call if you don’t want to mess with a video chat. Not Cranium, of course, and probably not Pictionary! But come on, you really needed an excuse to see each other, didn’t you?

I hope some of these ideas are helpful in giving you and your loved ones some new ways to connect! If I’ve left out any of your favorite long distance games, please let me know. And if you have specific questions about how we played any of these, let me know that, too. The goal is to encourage everyone here, not to discourage you!

Have fun. Keep safe and keep sane.


P.S. – One month in we’ve played 17 different games like this with family and friends across the city, the country, and around the world, and have many more on our list to try in the future!

Games, Games, Games

I spoke several weeks ago about how fun and learning going hand in hand, and about the importance of games in an educational package.

Games as Good Entertainment

Today I wanted to go more into the value of games for entertainment as well.  I grew up playing games, for which I am quite thankful. And as a result, games are an important part of my family as well. (It would probably be a toss up in our family as to which get given more often as gifts – games or books!) You can see a small sampling of our current game collection in the picture at the top of the post.

Family Fun

When we planned our first family reunion (my husband and I, our twelve children, and their various significant others, as well as the grandchildren) – there were two important things to decide after we had settled on the dates and locations – how we were going to do meals and what games we would be bringing. I would say for many of us the games were at least as important as the meals. In fact, generally, if folks weren’t preparing, eating, or cleaning up after a meal – they were probably playing a game. We brought a LARGE Rubbermaid container full of the “must have” games and got through quite a few of them during the three-day reunion.

Every family gathering before and after that reunion has probably included games. Whether it’s the holidays and lots of extra family members are on-site, or just an hour before bedtime and there are several of us in the house with a little time to spare – the main question isn’t will we play a game (or two or three…) but rather, which game(s) we have time to play.

Family Favorites

At different times, we have different family favorites that tend to be played again and again. And in future posts I hope to give more details on some of our current favorites. But for this post I thought I would start by sharing a list of some of the most popular games at our house at this time. (A note of warning, some of our old favorites are becoming harder to get – after one of our favorite game makers, Out of the Box, went out of business a couple of years ago.)

A Wide Variety

We enjoy a wide variety of games in our family – but we generally like ones that require a fair amount of thinking skills/logic. They also need to have a bit of luck worked in, or the same person would tend to win all the time, and what’s the fun in that! Generally we prefer games that are quick to learn, but that is not the case with all of these. We also have a variety based on how many people can play at a time and what personal preferences include.

Quixx (Gamewright)

Our most recent purchase, after being introduced to it by a family friend. Easy to learn – but takes time to develop a good strategy.

Fuse (Renegade Game Studio)

A fast-paced, cooperative game. Very addictive for those who like such things!

Innovation (Asmadi Games)

Much longer to learn than some of the others, but for many of us that time is well spent.

Code 777 (Stronghold Games)

Another game that’s easy to learn, but not easy to master.

7 Wonders (Asmodee)

Of all our favorite games, this was one of the longest to learn! But once learned it quickly became the favorite of many of us. We enjoy it with or without the expansion packs:

Codenames (Czech Games)

Two teams – give the clues so your teammates find your words and only your words.

Six Word Memoirs (University Games)

 A game played with partners – how well can you give your teammate a six word clue?

Hit or Miss (Gamewright)

Another one of our favorites, that sadly has become another difficult to find game.

Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder)

An entire series of great games, always fun:

Imagine (Gamewright)

Uses a different part of the brain. Imagination is definitely the name of this game!

Backseat Drawing (Out of the Box)

Hilarious fun! Not our standard logic and thinking game – another game that uses other skills.

Journey Through Europe (Ravensburger)

I wouldn’t pay $100 for this game (or any other game, for that matter), but if you ever run across it a good price, it is a long time family favorite:

10 Days (Out of the Box)

Another series of great games. These are by Out of the Box, meaning they are now difficult to find, but well worth it if you do!

Eye Know (Wiggles 3D)

At least in our family, this is the preferred way to play a “trivia” game. 

Wits & Wagers (North Star Games)

But this is the ultimate trivia game – trivia meets betting with chips. If you’re okay with that aspect of it, this is a wonderful, team game that can be played with up to twenty people.

Traveling Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

Family Trips

We have used family trips as learning experiences on many occasions, including going to numerous National Park battlefields across the country, and traveling to Jamestown in 2007 to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of its settlement. But one of the most memorable trips our family has ever taken was when we traveled along the Lewis and Clark trail in 2005. There were seven of us in our eight-passenger minivan and we travelled for almost three weeks. It was an amazing trip. In fact, as the younger children got older they often asked when we would do that again. Sadly, it was probably a one-time event, since schedules just become more complicated as the kids grow up.

Packing for the Trip

Of course, with seven of us in that van, space was at a premium.  As we planned the trip, we quickly decided that seven suitcases going in and out of the hotels almost every night would be a bit insane.  So, we went with three very large suitcases and one smaller one.

In each of the large suitcases we packed two days of clothes for each of us. And in the smaller suitcase we packed our overnight stuff and our swimsuits. That way we only took in two suitcases each night – the small one and one of the larger ones.  Most times we were staying in a hotel for just one night, but on several occasions we had more to see in the area, and we planned a two-night stay. Of course, on those nights we made sure we brought in a suitcase that still had two days’ worth of clean clothes in it.

Laundry Along the Way

And of course, we had to do laundry several times on the trip, since it was a 20-day trip and we only brought seven days’ worth of clothes. I did laundry one night at a hotel while the kids (which included my 27-year-old daughter) hung out at the hotel’s pool with a water slide. And I did it another time at a laundromat, so I could get our many loads done quicker.

For that trip, we had our general route planned out at least as we headed north and west from St. Louis (that was easy, since we were staying as close to the Lewis and Clark Expedition as we could do in a car). We had considered camping, to save some money, and be more like the Expedition, but we gave up that idea pretty early into our planning – we would have had to bring more gear for camping, which would have pushed us over the edge for fitting into our minivan. And it would have made it more difficult to arrive at our destination late at night, which we often did.

Hotel Rooms vs. Camping

So, we decided to splurge and go with hotel rooms, a decision we were very happy with. (We saved money in other ways – keeping a big cooler in the van with sodas and the makings for lunch meat sandwiches, so we typically only ate fast food once a day, and then only with water.)

We started the trip with our first two nights’ reservations made. Our first day’s drive got us to the St. Louis area, where we knew there would be much to see and do; since the expedition had officially begun at Camp Dubois, just a bit outside of St. Louis. But we had no other reservations made beyond that, because we didn’t know how far we would get each day. We had to make an average of 260 miles each day, in order to make it to the Pacific Ocean and then back to Montana for a family reunion in two weeks. But other than that, the schedule for those first weeks was fairly flexible.

Planning as We Went

So we worked out the details as we went along. My oldest did almost all of the driving, and I played navigator and tour guide. Depending on what there was to see and do on each particular day, would determine how close to the average we actually got. Some days there were too many sites to visit, and we logged significantly less miles. But some days the drive was the main event, and we could make up some of the earlier “missed” miles.

When we started the trip, we hadn’t discovered a particular hotel chain we liked, and we typically chose our hotels based on what we found in the little hotel brochures as we crossed into different states every day or so.  From those we could see what was ahead, what the prices of several different hotels would be, and which of our preferences we could get – an indoor swimming pool, a large room or two connecting ones, and free breakfast. And, while we had cell phones by then, they were not the mini computers we carry around with us these days! By the end of the trip we had found ourselves choosing from the Choice Hotels line the majority of the time, and that is still our go-to chain more than a decade later.

We couldn’t always get a hotel with an indoor pool, but we did on enough occasions to make the younger kids happy.  And on more than one occasion the teenagers were watching the younger kids in the pool while my oldest and I were repacking the van. (Wet swimming suits were a small price to pay for happy kids and smooth packing!)

Packing Sanely

Fortunately, moving our supplies was easier than it was for them!

Speaking of packing – two of the things that we did on that trip that helped immensely were color coding everyone’s tops and using gallon size Ziploc bags to sort clothes. Into each bag we could put one person’s shirt, socks and underwear.  The bags were marked by names and colors, making it easier to pass out clothes each day, and making it easier to sort the clothes back into the right bags and suitcases after doing laundry.

Before we went on the trip, we sat down as a family and chose 7 colors. Then I checked to see who had what colors of shirts and who was missing what colors. Trips to a couple of thrift stores and we were all set. Matching colors also made it easier to spot the other family members when we had stopped somewhere.

Entertainment Options

Another decision we made that proved very helpful to us, was to allow only one DVD per day. We brought along a container full of family approved DVDs and another one full of CDs. On the first day, the youngest one got to choose the day’s DVD, on the second day, the next to the youngest, and so on. There was no arguing over the chosen DVD, since each person would eventually get their turn to choose. And there was no arguing about additional DVD’s, since that would have resulted in fewer DVDs being watched on the trip, rather than more! (Being the “mean Mom” that I am.)

When they weren’t watching a DVD we generally had a CD on – and we rotated through several different series that were generally liked by all (Jungle Jam and Friends, Father Gilbert Mysteries, Chronicles of Narnia, and the unabridged version of Undaunted Courage).  Whenever I had historical facts to share, or things to point out, the CDs would be paused.

Reaching our Primary Destination

By the time we made it to the Pacific Ocean we had all seen, done, and learned an amazing amount of things connected to the Lewis and Clark Expedition!

And by the time we had returned, I had almost completed our journal of the journey, The Lewis and Clark Expedition Jaime-style. The book from Fodor’s Travel Historic America series, the Lewis and Clark Trail was very useful to us. If you are considering a trip along even a portion of the trail, that book is well worth the investment!

For more of our ideas on learning with travel, you might also want to check out our book, Learning as We Go: Teaching through Travels.

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