5 Family-Friendly Games You Can Learn and Play in Under 30 Minutes

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I love playing games, but sometimes it’s tough to carve out a ton of time for a big heavy-thinking strategy game. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of short games too — some that fall in the “filler” category and some that are great little games, which only take a short time to play. Here are a few short games I found at Gen Con that are not only enjoyable, but can be learned — and a full game played — in less than 30 minutes.



This “animated guessing game” is an excellent party game. It’s essentially charades with cards, but with a fantastic twist. A player draws a card and someone picks a number from 1 to 8, which directs the player to a category, which is read out loud. Beneath the category is the “enigma” or the answer that the player must get the others to guess. The player then chooses from 61 transparent cards that are illustrated with various shapes, symbols, and icons. Rules allow the player to stack, combine, and move cards, so as to appear animated. Players can use the cards to make 3D models. Players can’t talk, mime with their hands, or use the cards to spell out letters or words. It makes for come challenging problem-solving, but it’s also very rewarding. We’ve found that what seem to be difficult concepts are actually fairly easy to get across and – when someone does guess a tough one correctly – there’s lots of laughing and high fives. The rules state the game is played until someone gets the others to guess two of their enigmas correctly. We found that this isn’t nearly enough play and usually play to five. We’ve also discovered a sand timer to be useful for keeping the game moving.

Lord of the Rings, natch.
Lord of the Rings, natch.


Happy Salmon

Speaking of high fives, Happy Salmon is a new game from North Star Games. It’s a card game packed in a salmon (or a bag that looks like one.) Up to six people can play and each player gets a dozen tough, durable cards that they shuffle. When the game starts, you flip your cards and look at the top one. Your job is to find a match at the table for the action on your card, one of four things that you must do with another player: high 5, fist pound, switcheroo (switch places), and the amusing “happy salmon” where players slap each other’s wrists. First to discard all their cards wins. It’s super silly, fast, frenetic, and just a goofy good time. You can get a dozen or more games in a half hour. We love, love, love this game. Check it out:


Schotten Totten

Iello has been doing some great smaller games lately and one of them is Schotten Totten, a reworked game by Reiner Knizia, coming in October. In this two-player game, you play as representatives of battling Scottish clans. each of you is trying to push a number of stones to expand your village. Drawing from a common deck, each player maintains a hand of six cards and takes turns playing cards against the row of stones. Once three cards are played on each side of a stone, it is claimed by the winner. Each outcome is decided with poker-like rules, beginning with straight flushes, three of a kind, flushes, straights, and, finally, the sum of three cards. The game ends when three adjacent stones have been claimed by a player or a player controls five total stones. It’s more challenging than initial thoughts and definitely strategic. There are tactical cards that can be included in the deck for more strategic play. It has some wonderful artwork, and is a nice, little game.



Match Madness

This game, from Foxmind, will be out in October. Each player is given five blocks and each set is identical to the other players’. On each of the four long sides, there are combinations of symbols. At the word go, one player flips a card showing the blocks laid out in a pattern. Players rush to turn, find, and place the proper sides that replicate the card. The first to complete the pattern wins the card. There are a couple variations on the game, but, essentially, the player with the most completed cards wins. The version I’ve been playing is a prototype, but if the final version is anything like this one, it’s going to be great. Match Madness has been a hit with every group I’ve shown it to. Even though there are only five symbols, finding them in the correct orientation to solve the puzzle is a lot harder than it seems.



Safe Breaker

Safe Breaker is a small, fast-playing deduction game with some great components. There are six fortresses, in two parts. One side of each has a colored lock and one side has a numbered key. The parts are interchangeable. Each player is randomly given a lock and a key, which are memorized. On a player’s turn, she asks the player to their left a question like “Do you have blue lock 3?”If the player has either the blue lock or the third key, she must answer yes. If the answer is no, the next player is asked. Once a player thinks she knows a player’s combination, she may guess it on her next turn. The winner is the player who avoids having her combination guessed. For younger players, the fortress pieces not used can be flipped. It’s an easy introduction to deduction and kids will love the castle-like pieces.


Disclosure: GeekDad received sample versions of these games for review purposes.

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