Enter this year's crop of toys-from the everyone-plays variety to the newest generation of board games-that are designed to bring families closer. When dad and former exec David Schoenberger wanted to re-connect with his kids, he invented a game entitled Family Matters ($24.99, for 2 to 6 players, ages 7 and up, familymattersgame.com). "Families work harder than ever before and enjoy less quality time together," Schoenberger says. "The familiarity past generations took for granted is now a distant dream with everyone so busy, distracted, and exhausted."
Schoenberger's 45-minute game uses a set of 120 cards to explore real-life situation and so-called "fake family crises"-for instance, each player pretends to be another person in the family while discussing, say, how the family has changed since a sick grandparent moved in to live. Another aspect of the game involves a "weekend wish," in which players describe the activity they'd most like to do with the family. The included playbook allows parents to record their children's weekend wishes and later use the ideas as fodder for planning a real-life outing.
This July, look out for a family-friendly update to the classic Lego collection: With the Builders of Tomorrow Set ($29.99, ages 4 and up, legoland.com), parents and kids receive a versatile collection of bricks-then, courtesy of a linked Website offering free step-by-step building instructions each month-they can continuously switch up their creations as a team. The site also features family stories, building challenges and contests, and a photo gallery for sharing creations.
If you want to shore up your children's critical reasoning skills (sneakily, by all means ...), pick up the visual perception game that has toy critics and schoolteachers buzzing: Set ($12, www.setgame.com). Using 81 cards, players race to find three cards (out of 12) that form a set, based on color, shape, and shading. Once family game night is over, tweens and teens can continue the fun: The techie version of Set ($29.95) is a travel-worthy handheld that contains four levels of difficulty on a full-color LCD display screen.
Feeling a tad over the hill with all this high-tech business? Get back to the basics with a few recently-updated USAopoly (usaopoloy.com) games that give a head nod to us old-school gamers. Check out Trivial Pursuit: The Beatles Collectors' Edition ($39.95, available August 2009); for the first time, Beatles aficionados can test their knowledge of the band with 2,500 questions on topic such as history, music, and travels. Seinfeld junkies can get a fix with Monopoly Seinfeld Collectors' Edition ($35.95, available in August 2009). The game features the characters of Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine, and the game board includes locations that the sitcom's fans will recognize: Jerry's Apartment, Monk's Restaurant, and the Soup Kitchen.
Finally, there's my personal fave for LOL group fun: Telestrations, which does double duty as either a family or party game. Telestrations ($29.95, available in September 2009, usaopoly.com) keeps players guessing as they sketch a word they're given and pass it along. Expect spontaneous giggling as players do their best to guess at others' sketches. Look out, Pictionary: Telestrations has a real shot at becoming 2009's party pick. Brownie points for the game's creators: Since you can play as few or as many rounds of this game as you'd like, you can squeeze in a family laugh-fest in as little 15 minutes.