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It's the new year, and it's time to make resolutions. We're all familiar with the typical weight loss and fitness goals, the diets, the gym memberships and the sparse pantries as we clear out all the junk food from the holidays.

Those are worthy resolutions, and if you're able to keep them, more power to you!

But in these days of busy families, hectic work and school days and overscheduled kids, how about making a resolution to spend regular quality time as a family? If you make it fun quality time, you're much more likely to keep that valuable resolution because everyone in your family will be excited to spend time together..

In my family, we love to play board games. Back when my husband and I started dating, we would spend time with our families playing party games. That interest continued after we got married, and even when our children were little, we included them in our game nights. Now that Alex, 12, and Wendy, 8, are old enough to play a lot of the games that keep us interested, game night doesn't just happen at family parties or even just once a month. Now, since we all enjoy games so much, and since the kids have basically been in training since they were very young, we play games together a few times a week.

We love playing the standard competitive games, from classics like "Clue" and "Scrabble" to card games like "Crazy 8s" and "Uno" and dice games like "Yahtzee."  In fact, Wendy is so frighteningly good at dice games that we've thought about taking her to Vegas!

Over the past year though, we've broadened our horizons and added cooperative games to our standard game night repertoire.

Cooperative games, where all the players are working together to achieve a goal rather than competing against each other, are great for a few reasons.

  • They encourage family togetherness even more than regular games. Rather than just focusing on your own hand as you work independently, conversations happen naturally as you work together to accomplish the same goal. If you win, you get to celebrate together as a team; if you lose, you all get to commiserate together.
  • The kids (and you!) get the chance to practice valuable skills like teamwork and strategic thinking.
  • It's easy to include even younger kids. Your children can avoid the frustration that often results when they're in those independent phases of wanting to play on their own but they don't have the skills to do so yet. Everyone's cards are on the table (literally!), and they're all helping each other out, so a child doesn't have to feel like he's the only one who doesn't get it.

Here are some of our favorites, kid (and parent) tested and passed on to you!

Stack Up!

peaceablekingdom.com, $20

Stack Up! is a fun game for even your very youngest kids. The purpose is to build a tower of 12 blocks before the stack smasher monster can knock down the blocks. When each player spins the spinner, he either gets to stack one of the blocks, stack a block while doing a challenge like singing a song, or if the spinner lands on the monster, he gets to move closer to knocking down the tower!

A cool thing about this game is that you can customize it for the kids as they get older. The littlest kids can use their hands to stack the blocks, and when they get a little older and have more dexterity, they have to go hands-free and use the included sticks to stack the blocks.

And, while there's already lots of teamwork going on to build the tower before the monster gets there, there's the option for even more teamwork if you spin a work-together card and have to do the fun, silly challenges to both place a block on the tower.

Hoot Owl Hoot!

peaceablekingdom.com $16

Once your kids understand the concept of cooperative games, Hoot Owl Hoot! is, well, a hoot!

At the start of this game, each player is dealt three cards. The owl tokens are placed at the start of the game, and during each player's turn, he plays one of his colored cards to choose one of the owls to move closer to the nest. The caveat is that if the player has a sun in his hand, he must play that card on his turn, moving the sun closer to morning instead of the owls closer to the nest.

This game is great for teaching your kids how to strategize. Since everyone is working together and can see which color cards each player has, you can work out together the best color patterns to employ to get each owl back to its nest before the sun comes up.

This game is also customizable depending on age and skill. If you're playing with the littlest owls, you can focus on just getting one owl home and build from there. It really does get challenging -- let's put it this way, in my house, an 8-year-old, 12-year-old, and 30-something year old who are all very well-skilled in board games played again and again to try to figure out the best way to get all the owls home!

Castle Panic

amazon.com, $19

Castle Panic is challenging enough to keep adults engaged and straightforward enough for kids to play as well.

In Castle Panic, the goal is to work together to protect the castle from the monsters that enter the board at the end of each player's turn and move closer and closer to the castle walls. Each player's cards consist of people like archers and knights who are able to hurt or slay monsters in different portions of the board and special cards like boulders and fireballs that can do even more damage as you scramble to protect your castle.

Your family members get the chance to really work together, and table talk is necessary to strategize whose cards will work best to vanquish which monsters. Also, since you get the opportunity to switch cards with players on each turn, you can work together to pass the cards around to someone who will benefit more from them than you will.

Chat Pack

amazon.com, $7-$16

A chat pack isn't a game per se, but it fits well into the gamut of cooperative things to do with your family. It can be difficult to start conversations with kids who sometimes have a tendency to give one-word answers or adults who can't think of original things to talk about all the time.

The chat pack consists of conversation starters that are original enough to get even the most reticent family member talking. And, while there are a variety of themed chat packs available for sale (from Christmas to kids to Wisconsin), even the ones that aren't specifically geared toward kids have enough versatile questions that all your family members, regardless of age, can get involved.

Also, there's just something about a deck of cards that makes everything more fun, even your standard every-day family conversation around the dinner table -- which, by the way, is a great place to break out the chat pack. I've been known to throw one in my purse to take out when we go to our favorite restaurants.

Another cool thing is that once you start playing games like this, you start naturally thinking differently. Our family discussions sparked by chat packs made it really easy for my daughters to come up with lots of conversation starters to make their own chat pack for my husband for Christmas. They thought of a topic that we all love talking about -- Disney World -- and came up with questions that are really creative. Instead of just asking what each player's favorite ride is, the girls asked questions like, "What changes would have to be made to your favorite ride to make it one of your least favorite rides?"

Amy Schwabe lives with her husband and two daughters in Franklin, where they have spent the last several years building a board game collection that is becoming alarmingly close to overtaking their basement.

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