142 – Abstraction! Top Abstract Games – The Family Gamers Podcast

Episode 142: Abrastraction! Top Abstract Games

Abstract strategy (or abstract puzzle) games are Anitra’s favorite! Let’s talk about what makes these games great for family game night. But first…

What We’ve Been Playing

ShutterBug – a set collection game from Calliope Games (review coming this week)

Palm Island – because it’s a great game to play while the boys are at baseball practice. Looking forward to a small wallet to carry the deck, available to backers of the Planetoid Kickstarter.

Go Nuts for Donuts – a family favorite.

Tiny Towns – still loving this and finding as many opportunities to play as possible. Look for it at your FLGS within the next two weeks!

The Bridges of Shangri-La – an interesting area control game where you burn your bridges after you cross from one town to another. (Find out more on BoardGameGeek.)

Silly Street – simply silly and fun. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Pyramid of Pengqueen – Andrew hasn’t played this yet. We need to fix that.

Mole Rats in Space – turns out this is really hard with the challenge cards added. Surprisingly challenging, given how approachable it is. The mechanics are easy to understand and fun for kids, even when the game is punishingly hard.

Abstract Games

According to Board Game Geek, Abstract Strategy games are often (but not always):

  • theme-less (without storyline)
  • built on simple and/or straightforward design and mechanics
  • perfect information games (no hidden information)
  • little to no elements of luck, chance, or random occurrence (Aside: this rules out games like Yahtzee and Can’t Stop)
  • games that promote one player overtaking their opponent(s) (We decide this means games that end when a player wins, rather than games that have a set end point, and then you calculate a winner.)
Homemade board for Nine Men's Morris
Seen at Old Sturbridge Village: a homemade board for Nine Men’s Morris

We asked our Facebook group. They’re not always the first choice, but they have some real strengths when playing as a family. They suggested their favorites, including Santorini, Epigo, and Hive.

We get excited to realize that most abstract strategy games require little to no reading- making them easy to internationalize, and easy to explain to kids.

Andrew wonders if Catch! is basically an abstract cooperative game.

Nearly every game that we would think of as a true “classic” game (over 100 years old) is an abstract strategy game, unless it’s a card game. Think about games like checkers, chess, Go, Nine Men’s Morris, Mancala, Backgammon, Chinese Checkers, tic-tac-toe (also known as Noughts and Crosses). If you wanted to teach your kids about a lot of these games, we think the best resource is The Book of Classic Board Games that Klutz published in the 1990s.

We found our copy of The Book of Classic Board Games at a thrift store, but you can also buy it used from sellers on Amazon or eBay for under $10.

Favorite modern abstracts

X-in-a-row games like Cinco Linko, Gobblet or Gobblet Gobblers, Connect 4, 3D tic-tac-toe

More puzzley games like Sagrada, Dimension, Seikatsu

Kid-friendly games like Battle Sheep; we debate whether Drop It would be an abstract strategy.

Anitra’s top 3:

3. Cinco Linko – play it anywhere! No board, so you’re not restricted about which direction to play

2. Dimension – absolutely love the mechanics of the puzzley part. We pretty much throw out the scoring, though.

1. Sagrada – beautiful, puzzley, and not much interaction.

Our top choices to play with kids:

Anitra’s recommendations: Cinco Linko, the Book of Classic Board Games, and Battle Sheep.

Andrew’s recommendations: Catch!, Santorini, Pyramix, and Azul.

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This episode of The Family Gamers Podcast is sponsored by Breaking Games. Check out their games Order of Invention and The Stars Align:

Breaking Games: Order of Invention