Geiger's Culture Counter: What to play on International Tabletop Day

Ah, April. According to T.S. Eliot it’s the cruelest month but I don’t think that’s the case. The slopes may be shutting down for the season but now the weather is perfect for other activities like hiking and biking. It’s also a great time to spend all day indoors on April 28 celebrating International Tabletop Day.

The holiday, created by Youtube Channel Geek & Sundry in honor of their hit show “TableTop” hosted by Wil Wheaton, started in 2013 to bring folks together in the spirit of competition and camaraderie. Each year friendly local gaming stores host events to introduce beginners and veterans to a variety of games that remind us why we play.

While other games I’ve written about before, like “Dungeons and Dragons,” “Secret Hitler,” “Betrayal at House on the Hill” and “Illimat” would be perfectly acceptable, this is an opportunity to play lots of shorter games that are easier to pick up and hopefully won’t disintegrate into arguments. Now is not the time to play “Monopoly” or “Life” nor should you reach for the more exotic standbys like “Settlers of Catan” or “Ticket to Ride.” Get out of your comfort zone with something new.

Here are my picks for the fun, family-friendly Saturday:

“Codenames”—Classic party games like “Pictionary” and “Catchphrase” revolve around giving your teammates hints, but this game puts a fun spin on it. Here, one player gives single-word clues so their friends pick the right card from a grid. If they guess wrong they can end up scoring points for the other team. The latest Marvel movie also comes out this week, making a good excuse to play the Marvel edition of the game to get in the superhero mood.

“Forbidden Island”— Unleash your Indiana Jones in this cooperative game to collect treasure on a remote island. Each player has a special set of moves, like the ability to swim or dig faster, and communication is key to succeed before the island sinks into the ocean. If you enjoy this be sure to check out “Forbidden Desert,” which adds more roles and gear or “Pandemic,” another great cooperative game.

“Love Letter”— Here’s your chance to reenact “Romeo and Juliet,” with hopefully a better ending. The goal is to have the princess card in your hand for as long as possible. Use the king to swap hands, the baron to knock out lower leveled cards or a guard to eliminate cards with a guess. There’s a fair amount of luck involved, but not so much that the game feels beyond one’s control.  The key, like any card game, is to pay attention to what has been played and what’s left in the deck.

“Fluxx”— While “Love Letter” is a rather constrained card game, “Fluxx” throws convention out the window. Like a session of the fictional Calvinball, practically every turn changes the rules and creates a chaotically fun time. There are editions for multiple pieces of pop culture like Monty Python, Batman, Star Trek and Dr. Who. They even made an expansion pack for International Tabletop Day so you know it’s a good choice.

“Sushi Go”— Compact, simple, and enjoyable, this is as fun as sushi is delicious. Each player holds onto one card and passes their hand to the next, like a  constant conveyor belt of rice, seaweed and fish. Three rounds later count up your rolls—with the easiest to acquire worth the least and the riskiest worth the most—and see who comes out on top. You’ll always want to play one more game just how you crave one more bite. Bonus: the artwork on the card is absolutely adorable.

“Splendor”—Many tabletop games go cheap with the cardboard or use generic dice and figures. “Splendor,” however, goes all out with well-designed cards and hefty tokens meant to mimic gems. The rules and aim are simple—earn resources as fast as possible—but the strategy is surprisingly deep. Unlike some of the games here, it also works well one-on-one.

“Tokaido”—Elegant graphic design transports the players to Japan, where their traveller on the “East sea road” is on a mission to experience the best the country has to offer between Kyoto and Edo. Rather than being a race to the finish, the spoils go to those that visit the most memorable places and partake in exotic foods while meeting new friends. It’s competitive yet calming, making it perfect for International Tabletop Day or any day spent with good company.