By Sarah Mahoney

Think you know everything about your family?

A good parlor game may reveal more than you’d expect. The more creative the game, the more thoughtful, clever, funny and outrageous your kids can be. They’ll go nuts for family games that require you to show a different side too -- especially if it’s a ridiculous one!

These five non-board games will help bring out the unexpected best in your family.


An acronym for Mansion, Apartment, Shack or House, this game is a hit with preteens -- and a great way to learn more about what your kids think about the future, says Heather Griffith, a social worker in Boston who coaches families on how to play games. Choose one fortune-teller, who then writes M.A.S.H. on the top of a single sheet of paper and then draws four category squares beneath it. Fun categories to start with include careers they might choose, number of kids they might have, cars they might drive and cities they might live in. The first player then lists five possibilities in each category, which the fortune-teller writes down. Another player chooses a magic number (less than 10), and then the fortune-teller begins counting items, including the letters at the top of the page, crossing off every seventh item until only one remains in each category.

What would you do?

Debbie Mancini-Wilson, a Pittsburgh mother of two boys -- and author of Color My World, a book that helps kids tap into their creativity -- likes games that vault kids into strange scenarios. Maybe the person chosen to start the game says, “A UPS guy walked into the house today wearing a gorilla suit. He started tearing the kitchen apart,” and then asks another player, “So, what would you do?” The second player might say, “Well, we were out of bananas. So I fed him my math homework, but he was still hungry,” and then questions the next player, “So, what would you do?” and so on. “Games like this not only give you a glimpse inside your kids’ heads and hearts, they’re a rehearsal for real life,” says Mancini-Wilson. Another plus: Since no one wins, even kids who hate to compete will like it. When the story flags, just start another.


The first player opens a dictionary, chooses a random and obscure word, jots down the true definition and then announces the word to everyone else. Players then either write down the real definition if they know it or invent a clever idea for what the word could mean. In each round, points are awarded for both correct answers and the most clever inventions. “Really quiet kids can shine in this game,” says Griffith.

The great piggy bank adventure

Many families rule out computer and video games for family game night, but check out this online freebie. Not only do you earn truffles to fill your piggy bank, you’ll learn a lot about your kids’ -- and spouse’s -- innate financial acumen, as they decide whether to go for higher-risk banks, pricey dreams or practical solutions.


If your games tend to be serious or cerebral, uncover a different set of emotions with a game that is 100 percent silly. “We really struggle to find games that appeal to all three kids in our blended family -- an introverted 12-year-old, a cheerleading 9-year-old, a 5-year-old who feels left out a lot and a semi-serious dad,” says Lesa Caskey of Pasadena, Calif. “We stumbled on Telephone, and the kids laughed as they whispered the phrase down the line like it was the most amazing game on earth. They’d never seen their dad be goofy like that,” she says. “We found out we all have a silly side.”


Parenting - New Twists on Family Game Night