Which competitive family games are fun to play noncompetively?
November 22, 2014 10:04 AM   Subscribe

My favorite games are competitive games (boardgames, card games, etc.) with the scoring removed. I'm wondering what other games I might enjoy within those constraints, and other ideas for altering gameplay to make more games fun.

I like both games I can play with my spouse and games our eight-year-old can play with us. I like puzzle solving and creative thinking side of games, but not winning or losing, which is why I don't enjoy most cooperative games.

Some examples of games (and how I play them):
  • Set (with all the sets piled into one communal pile once we match them)
  • Boggle (reading our lists of words out loud and admiring neat words, but not scoring them)
  • Bananagrams (if the kid is struggling, pause making my own words to help with her letters for a bit)
  • Spot It (first we play through it the "taking cards into our pile" way, and then we shuffle our own pile, and play putting our pile back into the center. That way if we're good, we have more cards to get back in and we're really struggling against our own playing level)
  • Taboo (we just read the cards and try to guess each other's words) Mastermind (we don't keep track of how many guesses it takes to solve)
Games I'd like ideas for removing the competition:
  • Clue
  • Yatzee
  • Game of Life
  • Mancala
Any other ideas for games I may have overlooked but are possible to play without competing?
posted by Margalo Epps to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Clue: you could make this more like those hide and seek games where everyone stuffs into the hiding place together. So, you figure out that the crime happened in the drawing room, then you find a creative way to let everyone else know that is the place to hurry to. Someone else knows about the weapon, and they find a creative way to convey that info.
Or, make it so everyone has to be in the room before anyone can reveal any other clues, like those old detective movies where they all gather around to hear the results. Let everyone participate in the results.
Or, at the beginning of the game, assign each person to figure out just one specific category. Put all the cards in the middle instead of passing them out at the beginning. Each turn you draw a card. If you are the Room person, and the other player draws a room card, they give it to you. If you have a hand of cards, you give them a card from your hand at that same time for the Weapon if they are the Weapon person.

Yatzee: do it cooperative, like dual solitaire. Anyone can use their turn to put points on someone else's board. Make rules about whether you need to ask permission or can you force your points on someone's board.
Or, make the competition about the total score for everyone that round, then keep that page and try to beat it as a team the next time you play.
Or, keeping competition but making it easier, have 5 or 10 "Do-over" rounds. Anyone can replace any of their sucky scores with a new value if they can roll it.

Game of Life: figure out some way to offer charity or loans to other players.
Or put out a deck of cards, everyone picks a card each turn and then make some rules about counting how far apart are the farthest and slowest players, then use the value of the card in some sort of algorithm where the farthest goes backward and the slowest goes forward. Make the winning be about the group, not the individual. Call it Socialist Life or something.

Another game: we always bring Trivial Pursuit cards on car trips. No board, no keeping track, just ask each other questions and see if we can answer them.
posted by CathyG at 10:29 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

A cooperative game that still requires puzzle-solving and creative thinking is Forbidden Island. You should check that one out if you haven't.
posted by brentajones at 10:30 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you like Taboo, Catch Phrase would be a good choice. Don't worry about any teams (perfect since you only have three players!) and just guess the words as a group.

I don't know how you'd remove scoring altogether from Yahtzee, but you could all work towards the same score card, possibly just trying to beat your previous group score? I play solo Yahtzee electronically and it's still fun without the competitive aspect to it.

Scattergories is another good one--play would be a lot like you play Boggle, with admiring each others' words but not scoring them.

Chrononauts might be a touch advanced for the 8 year old--I'd say it probably depends on the 8 year old, I think I would have been into it at that age. The card game is competitive in nature, but there's a set of solo rules that challenges you to save as many time-travelers as possible, and I think these could be adapted for small group cooperative play pretty easily.

Fluxx is competitive but it's such a light, casual competition that you might still be into it.
posted by terilou at 10:31 AM on November 22, 2014

When my brother and I were teenagers, we sometimes used to play chess with the board on a turntable. We'd set a timer and whenever it went off we'd spin the turntable (gently) and each person would play the side they ended up with. If you were losing you didn't have to stress about it, because before long you'd probably find you were playing the other side and winning. You could do the same thing with checkers.

We also used to play Scrabble with made up words. You had to define your word as you played it. I can't remember if we kept score, but even if we did, the score wasn't the point.

You could easily play Pictionary without competing. You can also use the Pictionary clues to play a non-competitive Pictionary/telephone thing that's really fun for kids and adults. (It's better with more than 3 people, though.) Each person takes a clue and draws it, then passes the picture on to the person next to them, while receiving a picture from the person on the other side. Each person guesses what the picture is and writes down the word for it and passes that on to the next person, who draws it and passes the picture on. You keep on like that, alternating pictures and words, until you've gone all the way around the table. Then everyone compares the starting pictures with the ending ones.

I suppose for Yahtzee you could play against your own past scores. Each person could try to improve his/her average score over time. Yahtzee is already good math practice and graphing scores or calculating averages would make it even better.
posted by Redstart at 10:38 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Once Upon a Time has semi-competitive rules; while the point is to get rid of all your cards first and play your ending card, you could easily adapt the rules to just telling a story based on the cards people hold. Maybe you can change turns every 2-3 minutes instead of "stealing" or passing as in the official game. Maybe set a time limit for the story instead of basing it on number of cards people hold.

But, as terilou said about Fluxx, the competition is so light and casual that it's really not even the focus of the game.
posted by lharmon at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Radical suggestion: Have you looked into modern board games? Cooperative board games have become a popular genre in the past few years. Pandemic is probably a bit complex for an 8 year old, but you might want to look at Forbidden Island, and I'm sure there are a ton more I don't know about.
posted by Canageek at 10:47 AM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hanabi - you're putting on a fireworks show as a team, and the outcomes are whether the audience applauds more or less (so there's no real "losing"). It's fun - you can see everybody else's cards but not your own, and the other players have to give you limited clues about your cards so you can decide which card to play.

I'm fond of Ricochet Robots, which is sort of like Set in that you set up the board and then everybody just looks at it to see if they can come up with a solution. So, it would be natural to do collaboratively.

A lot of tile-laying games, especially pipe- or road-building games, should work for this with modified rules, since you're basically building a pleasing little world from puzzle pieces. Carcassonne, Metro, Rivers Roads and Rails, Waterworks, that kind of thing.

Really, anything with scoring, you can play to maximize your total group score - for example, Scrabble would work like this? I think Blokus would work like this, if you try to play (using all 4 colors) so that everybody can get as many blocks of theirs on as possible - count the blocks left out each time and play against your own past scores.

Scattergories (and other similar party/word games) you could play the same way you play Boggle. Ditto Fictionary/Balderdash, Dixit, Exquisite Corpse, Apples to Apples.

And finally, the classic answer for this is: jigsaw puzzles! We've started doing them in the last couple years and man, they are a good time, and no winning/losing. (We've been doing 1000 piece ones, and have been impressed with ones from White Mountain puzzles in particular - their images look busy from a distance, but that makes them fun and relatively easy to put together since each piece has information on it.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:40 AM on November 22, 2014

Oh, and for a game like Rumis, a.k.a. Blokus 3D, where 4 colors have to split a finite total of available points, you could play so that your goal is for the four colors to have scores as close to equal as possible.

This could maybe also work for "race" games where the players are racing to finish a course - Game of Life is like this IIRC... you could set your goal to be that all the players finish together, get the whole team through the course... and you could establish things that a player is allowed to do to help other players with some tradeoff -- for example, maybe I can give my turn to another player, but only if I pay some penalty or if I've picked up some token?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:00 PM on November 22, 2014

Best answer: Scrabble... ignore the scoring, make the goal fitting as many words and tiles on the board as possible and making interesting words. Everybody has their own letters and turn, like usual... but open for help, with tiles faceup on the table. My 12-yr-old daughter and I tend to play like this even when we *are* scoring, and she helps me as much as I help her. Different strengths.
posted by stormyteal at 12:02 PM on November 22, 2014

In the same vein as Apples to Apples, there's also The Big Idea (newer version?) where you make up wacky inventions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:03 PM on November 22, 2014

Dexterity games like Suspend might also work.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:39 PM on November 22, 2014

We used to love to play Life as a family.

Sure you earn money and stuff, but we used to celebrate the diplomas, the weddings, the babies. We'd name the babies, and we'd give each other gifts and it was mostly just silly.

It's also pretty cheap.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on November 22, 2014

Monopoly is surprisingly amenable to this. Marathons are maintained by simply writing all the players a grant when there is a danger of anyone going bankrupt. It's also possible to play in "keep the economy afloat" mode, where the goal is to keep things moving as long as possible without such grants; this requires dealing by the players toward the mutual goal of keeping the game alive, e.g. all the ahead players agreeing to donate to the person about to get knocked out to keep the game from ending because the new rule is the game ends when the first player gets knocked out.
posted by localroger at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2014

Best answer: A lot of the answers to this post seem to be for co-op games, like Forbidden Island and Hanabi. However, those are games that are won or lost, which OP has specifically mentioned they would like to avoid. Using OP's Boggle example, nobody wins or loses - everybody simply derives pleasure from taking part.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:31 PM on November 22, 2014

(Unless OP meant to type '...which is why I don't like most competitive games', in which case carry on.)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:32 PM on November 22, 2014

We used to play a game we called "Dictionary" that I'm sure has another more formal name. We'd take turns looking in the dictionary and picking a word that nobody knew. Everybody would write what they thought the definition was and the person who picked the word would also write the dictionary definition - then read them all out and each person would pick which one they think it is. You can keep score or not (you get a point if your definition gets picked) - it's just really fun. And with children, it's probably easier to find words they don't know. I'm sure you could alter it so an 8-year-old doesn't have to do his or her own writing.

I also love 1000 Blank White Cards, though it's pretty involved, but it's loads of fun and a child's creativity can really be an asset.
posted by microcarpetus at 8:49 PM on November 22, 2014

Wits and Wagers, just skip the scoring or work collaboratively. Wits and Wagers is trivia with numbers. In the traditional rules, you try and get as close as possible without going over (wits) and then you look at everyone's answers together and try to guess who actually has the best answer (wagers). Sample questions are along the lines of, "How many Earths would fit into Jupiter?" or (from the family/kid version) "In Harry Potter, how many children did the Weasly's have?" It's about a million times better than regular trivia because you can guess and feel good if you get a close answer, instead of there being only one right answer (that no one playing knows).
posted by anaelith at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2014

Chess is one of the very few board games worth taking seriously, and serious chess scholars spend a lot of time analyzing games cooperatively.

Usually those are other people's games, but there's nothing to stop you setting up a board (maybe from standard starting position, maybe some moves back from the end of a published game) and then collaborating to work out what you think White's best move is in this position, then what Black's best move is, and so on until you get to find out which army - as opposed to which player - wins.

Young'uns can get very good at chess very quickly if you can sidestep their natural aversion to losing for long enough that they become accustomed to focusing on the quality of the play.
posted by flabdablet at 8:19 AM on November 23, 2014

Best answer: I love playing Apples to Apples without bothering with the scoring.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:57 AM on November 23, 2014

You could play Clue with you acting as a dungeon master (so to speak). Your child player would act as part of a team to solve the mystery using their own hand of cards, and then you would control the hand of cards of the other "players". Pass them cards when you need to from the dummy players, and then let them know when they've hit on the solution. The dummy players wouldn't take turns, and would just exist as card-holders.

You could also play Jenga cooperatively, although that's going to necessarily have a fail state. You could still make a game of working together to see how many blocks you could pull before it topples.

The I Spy books, while not a board game, were also a favorite of mine around that age, and my mom and I would spend hours working our way through a book. In addition to spotting the hidden stuff, there're also puzzles and hints that are necessary to solve as you move from chapter to chapter.
posted by codacorolla at 11:55 AM on November 23, 2014

Balderdash, 100%.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 5:42 PM on November 23, 2014

I'll chime in with recommendations of Fluxx, Quiddler.

Concept is an interesting sort of charades game, but possibly a bit too advanced for an eight year old.

Quiddler is a bit like a cross between Scrabble and gin rummy.

La Boca is a semi-competitive team pattern/dexterity game. But it does not have to be competitive, nor timed.
posted by X-Himy at 7:19 AM on November 24, 2014

Response by poster: I had thought before that Hanabi sounded fun, but was worried about the cooperative game losing aspect. Thanks, LobsterMitten, for letting me know you don't really lose. It was a lot of fun to play with my in-laws (though my eight-year-old found it a bit frustrating -- maybe she'll like it more when she's older).

Apples to Apples has been fun as a family, and when my daughter has a friend over.

And yes, I do love jigsaw puzzles. I am far more enthusiastic than the rest of my family, though, so it's usually a solo thing for me. More or less the same with I Spy books. (Sometimes my daughter will look at them a bit with me.)

I have tried Blokus, but wasn't that into it.

My spouse and daughter love Jenga, but I find it too stressful to play myself. It is fun watching.

I will definitely keep working through these suggestions. Thanks, everyone!
posted by Margalo Epps at 1:04 PM on February 3, 2015

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