“Our kids are at home now, as are most kids, and Jenny went out yesterday and bought them a whole bunch of jigsaw puzzles,” the Prime Minister said during Sunday night’s press conference. The point was to highlight how different things are absolutely essential for different households, but also to appreciate the reality of how to not go stir-crazy over the next few months.
But jigsaw puzzles are a bit naff in 2020. So to help our stressed, confused Prime Minister out, here’s 10 games to grab so his nuclear family doesn't go totally nuclear over the next few months.
What everyone needs in these trying times is variety and replayability. And if you’ve got something the whole family can enjoy, even better. So the Betrayal games are a perfect fit: you’ve got a house whose layout dynamically changes with every playthrough. Up to six can play, which is good for families, and there’s more than 50 scenarios that can be triggered once the Haunt begins.
It’s an excellent gateway board game. Game times aren’t long once everyone is familiar with the general flow of gameplay, and everyone getting a go as the Haunt Revealer, plus the variety between the different player characters, keeps things fresh.
The third iteration of Azul is a little more complex than the excellent original - which is also a great buy - but odds a little more strategic complexity once you get to grips with it.
Principally, the objective is the same: get as many victory points as possible by drafting coloured tiles each round. Summer Pavilion changes things up by giving players a series of pillars, with bonuses on offer depending on the order and pillars covered. If you cover up certain parts of the board, you’ll get bonus tiles that can be used to draw extra tiles immediately from the score mat. Each round also has a “wild card” tile, and players have the ability to save four tiles each round.
It’s a little less directly competitive than Azul, particularly in two player mode, but it’s still excellent. Some might prefer the out-and-out simplicity of the original, but you honestly can’t go wrong with either game. Great for kids, great for grandparents, first timers to board game, or hardcore gamers.
The PM’s kids are probably already playing Minecraft in some form, since the game has already been incorporated into the the curriculum in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Some schools have already used Minecraft as a neat add-on for things like writing prompts, where students give virtual form to their creative ideas. Some classes have used virtual environments in Minecraft to re-create the settings of books or films being studied; other teachers have created mathematics lessons, maps to showcase scientific principles, historical events and even as a rudimentary tutorial for coding.
There’s nothing stopping parents from sharing some of these experiences - or helping their kids do homework - through Minecraft. But they can also just fire up a joint world and explore together, going on an adventure or just creating something new as a family. Who wouldn’t want to wander Hogwarts and learn Dark Arts together?
Dragon Quest Builders 2 ($48-89, depending on platform)
Another family friendly explorer but with a bit more guidance and direction than Minecraft. Dragon Quest Builders 2 gives players the chance to rebuild Alefgard from the ground up, blending RPG elements with a story that runs for about 70 or 80 hours. You can play in co-op, but you’ll need to progress through the initial quests on Furrowfield until the multiplayer portal unlocks.
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe ($79.95)
If the PM is going to make his kids deal with jigsaw puzzles, the least they could do is unwind with a bit of Mario Kart. Even copping a blue shell is more fun than that. And hey, you never know: the parents might have fun too. Everyone has fun with Mario Kart.
Still one of the best two-player games ever made, Patchwork is especially good for kids because of how it exercises your spatial recognition and decision making. Players start with five buttons, which can be used to buy one of three pieces of patchwork. Each piece moves the player forward a certain amount of moves, and there’s a catch: the player who is in last place will always be the one who takes the next turn. Take a bigger patch, and you might fill more space and accrue more buttons - but you won’t necessarily be better off.
The digital version works well enough, but the physical version is small and great to have in a cabinet. The tactility of rotating physical pieces also works for some people better than using an app, so there’s a good use case for going digital or physical here. Either way, it’s a game that every family should have, and especially good for kids.
A great solo game or with small groups (2 or 3), Fallout: The Board Game is that classic post-apocalyptic questing experience in a more tactile form. What I really like about Fallout is that it’s not just thematic, but that the game plays out in a similar fashion to the video game, making it an excellent buy for fans of the Bethesda franchise.
The decks can be a bit of a pain in the arse to manage if you have a small table. But the miniatures are great to play with, there’s months of replayability with the quest decks and the branching paths and endings. And it’s also not an especially competitive board game: while you are racing to complete quests to accrue enough points to win, the game doesn’t pit players against each other all that often. Players also experience quest lines jointly, so someone’s failure can affect the whole table.
It’s well designed, and it’s a great introduction into what a modern board game looks like. Some of the Brotherhood’s behaviour might be a bit on the nose for the PM's tastes, but the kids will probably appreciate playing, y’know, a game that’s a bit more grown up, and actually good.
The Pedestrian ($28.95)
I’m going to take a crack and say that the Prime Minister’s daughters probably have access to laptops. If that’s the case, then they also have range to a wild range of really good, clever games to keep them entertained - a little less so if they’re Macbooks, however.
But even if they’re stuck on Macs, the PM’s family would probably enjoy the puzzles of The Pedestrian far, far more than a regular jigsaw puzzle. Released earlier this year, The Pedestrian is colourful, vibrant, and really clever. I don’t think any parent would begrudge their kid playing a clever puzzler like this.
The Witness ($15-39 depending on platform)
This is the PM’s revenge: the game the PM gladly “buys” for his kids when they inevitably find everything else too easy and say they want a challenge.
Good luck. And try not to draw on the TV.
The best games are shared experiences, and something that probably works best for a family situation is one where the kids can handle the mechanics and the parents can have input on the direction. Until Dawn is perfect for that: a teen horror romp, one unconcerned with outbreaks or zombie attacks, and one with plenty of divergent characters and decisions for the whole family to debate.
It's also probably a bit of a better pick than something newer like Detroit: Become Human - the early domestic violence scenes and undertones might not pass the mustard for entertainment in the PM's more religious, conservative household. Alternatively, if the R18+ thing is a bit offputting - and that's not the game's fault, it's our classification ratings - then Life is Strange is an excellent alternative.
Now none of this is to knock a good jigsaw puzzle - something like the Puzzles Pencil challenge works as a great punishment - but the reality of life in 2020 is that the world is more digital than ever. People are used to their entertainment being more interactive, more procedural and responsive than an old jigsaw puzzle.
If you had to recommend some essential entertainment for the PM's kids over the next few months, what suggestions would you make? Let us know in the comments.