Board Games and Pencil & Paper Games

#1 job for parents: establish a culture of board gaming in the home
Board games are a celebration of problem solving and problem solving is at the core of a quality mathematics education. Unfortunately, most board games are not a good fit for the classroom. They take too long, cost too much, or critical pieces are too easily lost.
That’s why it is the #1 job of the parent – not to help their child with math worksheets, but to establish a culture of board gaming in the home.

Hanabi

2013
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
2-5 players
25 minutes
ages 8+

Avalon

2014
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
5-10 players
20 minutes
ages 9+

Star Realms

2015
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
2 players
20 minutes
ages 8+

Codenames

2016
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
2-8 players
20 minutes
ages 10+

Hanamikoji

2017
MathPickle
Runner-up Game of the Year
2 players
15 minutes
ages 8+

Santorini

2017
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
2-4 players
15 minutes
ages 6+

War Chest

2018
MathPickle
Runner-up Game of the Year
best with 2 players
30 minutes
ages 9+

Warsaw: City of Ruins

2018
MathPickle 
Game of the Year
2-4 players
45 minutes
ages 10+

An abstract struggle with clunky chips and a draw bag.

Simultaneous play and no downtime.

Urbino

2019

MathPickle
Runner-Up Game of the Year
2 players
30 minutes
ages 9+

Urbino is a themed strategy game that has brought joy to my home for years. It is almost as elegant as the greatest abstract strategy games of all time: Dvonn and Go.

Patchwork

2019

MathPickle
Runner-Up Game of the Year
2 players
30 minutes
ages 7+

Patchwork is a tactical zero-luck game. It is challenging to look many moves into the future!

878 Vikings

2019
MathPickle
Game of the Year
2-4 players
60-90 minutes
ages 11+

"1754: Conquest – The French and Indian War" is a simpler game using the same wonderful mechanics.

The Crew

2020
MathPickle
 runner-up Game of the Year
2-4 players
20 minutes
ages 9+

"The Crew: Missions Deep Sea" is the even better sequel. Beware that cooperative games like these can be more stressful than competitive games because your failure can wreck the whole group.

Cartographers

2020

MathPickle
Game of the Year
1-100 players
30 minutes
ages 8+

My favourite pencil and paper game is a solitaire experience blends tetris with variable scoring objectives.

Air Land & Sea

2021
MathPickle
runner-up Game of the Year
2 players
15 minutes
ages 8+

Jon Perry's Air Land & Sea impressed me immediately with its inspired rule that allows players to withdraw from a battle at any time. The game improves with play as the first games will be slowed down because each card has critical text... however there are only 18 cards in total. This game is a gem for those with a limited budget.

Wingspan

2021
MathPickle
Game of the Year
1-5 players
60 minutes
ages 10+

Elizabeth Hargrave's Wingspan does not have the most innovative mechanisms, but it is infused with natural beauty like no other game I've played. Unlike all previous winners, the game did not "wow" me on the first play, but over many plays, I came to love the anticipation of each new bird entering play. It is a sumptuous game.

Sniper Elite

2022
MathPickle
runner-up Game of the Year
best with 2 players
30 minutes
ages 12+

Ever dreamed of being James Bond? In Sniper Elite one player secretly sneaks around a top-secret WWII military base - attempting to sabotage the enemy without getting killed. Many parents will have issues with the theme. I do not let my children play violent computer games, but a violent strategic board game? That is different.

My City

2022
MathPickle
Game of the Year
2-4 players
20 minutes
ages 8+

My City is a legacy game that is played 24 times. A legacy game is one in which permanent changes happen with each game. For example, if you win a game you might "win" a building that is difficult to construct for all future games. Only buy My City if you plan to play with the same people again and again. 

Dune Imperium

2023
MathPickle
runner-up Game of the Year
2-4 players
2 hours
ages 12+

This is not an easy game. Choose a different game if you are new to board gaming, but if you are an experienced gamer AND enjoyed the 2021 movie Dune, then this is an immersive game experience with tense decisions. 

Cat in the box

2023
MathPickle
Game of the Year
3-5 players
30 minutes
ages 10+

This card game is a logician's paradise. The suit of each card is not written on the cards. Instead, you declare the suit when it is played. Then you must live with the repercussions of your decisions. Do you decide to trump a hand by saying you have no yellow cards? Fine, but that means you cannot play another yellow card for that round. Continue until someone wins or there is a paradox!

Skull

2024
MathPickle
runner-up Game of the Year
3-6 players
15 minutes
ages 8+

Skull is a minimalist joyful experience that is a descendant of the dice game Perudo/Dudo/Liars Dice. While I prefer the dice game original for the classroom, the artwork on these coasters make this the most beautiful of all the bluffing games.

Maskmen

2024
MathPickle
Game of the Year
3-5 players
15 minutes
ages 8+

This game is brilliant and minimalistic. You start with a hand of wrestlers. At the start of a hand, the relative strength of the wrestlers is unknown. If a wrestler beats another wrestler, then it will always beat that wrestler for the rest of the hand.

Not all board games are created equal. If the only board games in your home are risk and monopoly – that’s equivalent to your bookshelves holding only harlequin romances. You can do better than that.
You should also avoid “educational games.” Most of these are painful to play. Choose games that are fun to play. Remember – the academic objective is not math skills, but problem solving.

Visit www.boardgamegeek.com for ratings of thousands of board games.

Santorini is as much a part of my legacy as MathPickle. It arrived in homes across the world in January 2017 and is currently ranked as one of the top family games and the top pure strategy games on board game geek. It fills me with joy that it is finally being published after over thirty years of trying. I was a game designer long before becoming a mathematician and these game design skills are most helpful in designing MathPickle puzzles. Long live board games 😉

Big thanks to Roxley Games for publishing Santorini!

The Sentry Box is the hub of board game design in Calgary and Calgary is the hub of board game design in Canada. Canada is not the hub of board game design in the world, but that’s okay – we have quality if not quantity 😉

Starting in January 2017, I’ll be the first contact of new game designers in Calgary with the Game Artisans of Canada. Creating a quality game from scratch is hard and should probably not be attempted in school. Much better is to get students to design cards for an existing quality game like Star Realms or Dominion.

The most important distinction for educators is to decide if a game is good for the classroom or is better left for the home. The video on the left highlights the properties of classroom games as it takes you through a journey through several great games.

Classroom Games

A small fraction of games work well in the classroom. They must be cheap or resilient. They must be easy to teach and quick to play and put away.

Home Games

All excellent games work well at home – that’s why parents must take the lead on establishing a culture of board gaming.

Non-Commercial Games

You do not need to spend money if you don’t care about aesthetics. Many great games can be printed off or put together from easy-to-find materials.

This is a starting point showing how memes in board game design replicated over time. I’d love to make this a giant map of games some time in the future when I have better graphing software. See a higher resolution pdf here.

This is an older version. See a higher resolution pdf here. You can see the mess of connections makes it very hard to beautifully render the connections. In the solution above arrows and overlap both mean that a meme is shared.

Yet more opinions on Board Games for the home… This video is a bit out of date, but I still stand by the games I recommend in it. Adopt one 😉

Please use MathPickle in your classrooms. If you have improvements to make, please contact me. I'll give you credit and kudos 😉 For a free poster of MathPickle's ideas on elementary math education go here.

Gordon Hamilton

(MMath, PhD)