Cobra Paw Ages 5+ 2-6 players $14.99, bananagrams.com This game is simple, fast, and fun. Lay the tiles on a table, roll the dice, and be the first to find -- and using your cat-like reflexes, grab -- a tile that matches the symbols rolled. The first player to accumulate 6 tiles wins. This is a great game for players who like action and quick game play.
Crappy Birthday Ages 8+ 4-8 players $19.99, northstargames.com Players take turns being the Birthday Judge. other players (the Gift Givers) each give the Birthday Judge one gift from their hand -- one either he or she will like or one he or she will hate. The Birthday Judge mixes up the cards, reads them, and picks the best -- and the worst -- gift. Gifts might be "Bagpipe Alarm Clock," "Taxidermy Your Pet," "Soul-Searching Vacation," or "Hot Air Balloon Trip." The players who gave the best and worst gifts each score 1 point; the first player to 5 points wins. This game is laugh-inducing for all ages and a slam dunk for family conversation.
Go Nuts For Donuts! Ages 8+ 2-6 players $14.99, gamewright.com This "pastry-picking card game" has players trying to score the most points by collecting donuts. Each round, a series of cute, colorful donut cards (each with different point values) are up for grabs. Player secretly bid on the one they want. If you are the only person to bid on a particular donut, you get it, but if another player bids on the same donut, neither of you get it. Deciding which donuts to bid on takes a little strategy, as some are worth points on their own and others only score if they are part of a larger set. Do you want to bid on a card you think another player wants, thereby shutting you both out? Players leave their donut cards face up, so you can keep an eye on your opponents to see if they're pursuing the same strategy. This is a fun, fast game that's very easy for kids to learn, but also fun for adults.
Word-A-Melon Ages 6+ 2-4 players $19.99, bananagrams.com A combination of Memory and Bananagrams, letter tiles (called "seeds") are placed face-down on the game tray. Players roll dice to determine how many seeds to turn over and make a word -- if possible -- out of those they chose. Seeds used in a word go to the player. Any unused are returned, face down, to the same spot. The more players can remember which seeds are where, the better they can construct longer words on their turn, thereby collecting more seeds. The player with the most seeds at the end of the game wins. The game is self-contained in its own carrying case, a plus for gaming on-the-go.
The Oregon Trail: Hunt for Food Ages 12+ 2-6 players $14.99, target.com This card game is based on the same-named staple of early computer gaming, where your pioneer party tried to journey from Missouri to Oregon without dying a horrible death. (Spoiler: Pretty much everyone died a horrible death. Last year, Pressman released a card game based on the original game ("The Oregon Trail"). This year's Hunt For Food edition focuses on what many believe is the most fun part of the original computer game: shooting wild animals. The goal: Shoot enough animals/collect enough food before everyone in your wagon meets his maker. What's great about this edition is it can be played on its own or with last year's original card game.
Think 'n Sync Ages 12+ 3-8 players $9.99, gamewright.com The object: Score points by quickly shouting out the same answer as your teammate. But there's a twist: teammates change. A player reads a question to the two players on his left: "Name an ice cream flavor," "Name a famous princess," or "Name a bug with wings." The two players immediately yell out the answer they think the other person will say. If they match, they get a point. Teams get a chance to answer four questions per turn. After they're done, play moves to the reader's left; now that person is the reader, and the next two people to her left try to be in sync. The box says the game is for ages 12+, but we've played it with elementary school-aged kids and they do fine if you omit questions that may be tough, like, "Name a Republican president." It's a fun game that will provoke some funny answers (and mild arguments as teammates wonder why their partner didn't shout out the "right" answer). Gameplay is quick, and the box is small, making it easy to take along on a trip or to game night.
Dr. Beaker Ages 8+ 2-4 players $21.99, blueorangegames.com Blue Orange Games is the leader in fast-moving games that have players racing to accomplish a goal with their hands (Dr. Eureka, Dr. Microbe, Go Go Gelato). In this new title, each player has a beaker. Flip over a challenge card, and players race to be the first to, using their stirring rod, manipulate the molecules in their beaker into the order matching the card. It's a fine-motor and dexterity workout for all players, and lots of fun for all ages.
UNO ColorADD Ages 7+ 2-10 players $5.99, mattel.com UNO is the granddaddy of family card games, but one that, until now, was inaccessible to people who cannot distinguish between certain colors. This fall, Mattel partnered with ColorADD, a colorblind accessibility and education organization, to develop UNO ColorADD. In this new version, symbols representing red, green, blue, and yellow are printed on their respective colorful cards, bringing this family classic to all. (The rules are unchanged; game play is the same as always.)
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle -- The Monster Box of Monsters Expansion Ages 11+ 2-4 players $29.99, usaopoloy.com An addition to last year's phenomenal "Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle," this cooperative deck-building game allows up to four players to band together to defeat evil, just like the original game, but this expansion adds magical creatures to the list. Your mission: Defeat or tame the creatures and secure key locations from the forces of evil. Note: You will need the original game to play this expansion, but that's good news because the original game is fantastic. It's also cooperative (everyone wins or loses together), not competitive, which adds a great flavor to game night, especially with kids. Just like its predecessor, the game quality and components are top-notch. A must for Potter-loving families.
Say Anything Family Edition Ages 8+ 3-6 players $19.99, northstargames.com The game that asks: How well do you know your family? Players rotate being the Judge, who reads a question, for example: "Which fast food chain would it be hardest to live without?" Players race to write and submit the answer they think the Judge will choose (anyone submitting an answer already provided has to write down another answer, hence the need for speed). The Judge secretly chooses his or her favorite, then the players bet on which they think the Judge picked. Players whose choice matches the Judge win points, and the person with the most points after 12 questions wins the game.