Free games – get 'em, play 'em, enjoy 'em, but you don't pay for 'em! (Why yes, I do feel a bit like a carnival barker. Why do you ask?)
There's something awesome about free stuff. It's tough to beat just about anything offered for free, provided the aforementioned free thing isn't oozing, radioactive, or prone to biting.
But when the free things are truly fun and engaging games for your family, then free takes on an entirely new dimension of epic.
What you need to play
Before getting too overexcited, you will need some stuff from around the house in order to make the free games work, but trust me, it's really simple stuff.
First, you need paper. Scrap paper will do just fine. (We keep a big stack of scrap paper for occasions such as these. It keeps the paper contained, and makes us eager to get rid of it.)
Next, a pen or pencil for keeping score is a must. Again, you don't need anything fancy. In fact, crayons work really well for one of the games recommended below.
Finally, there are dice. Yes, I mean good old standard square dice, numbered from 1 to 6.
You can get by with just a single pair of dice, but I highly recommend amassing a little collection of a dozen or more in various color combinations. (As we all know, dice get temperamental at times, so you need to swap them out for a new pair that have a better attitude.)
As luck would have it, Fort Wayne is home to one of the largest dice importers in the country (no, I'm not making this up), so all of the local game stores offer dice in a variety sizes and color combinations.
In case you wondered, “standard” dice are 16mm squares, but you can get larger or smaller dice according to your preferences.
On to the free stuff
First on the list is an update of the classic game tic-tac-toe for two players. This version, known as Abs-Trac-Toe (URL www.invisible-city.com/play/54/abs-trac-toe ), was designed by Jonathan A. Leistiko to be a fun and winnable game, instead of an exercise in unending ties.
In Abs-Trac-Toe, the players create a unique board to use by drawing a big shape, adding four straight lines (something like a standard tic-tac-toe board), and then by adding a final wavy line that wanders through the shape from one end to the other.
The resulting board looks like something Picasso might have envisioned had he played board games.
Players then take turns marking spaces with either X or O. Unlike standard tic-tac-toe, here you're trying to mark spaces that are next to each other along the same line.
Once every space is filled, players count their adjacent spaces. The one with the most spaces wins.
And after you finish playing, you and your opponent can break out the crayons and color the board spaces to create an abstract art project.
The other free game you should try is Catego, (URL www.convivium.org.uk/pdfs/Catego_E_v20030414.pdf ) by legendary game designer Reiner Knizia.
Catego is a deceptively simple dice-rolling strategy game for two to four players. It plays in about 10-15 minutes.
The game's setup is simple: Make a grid with the numbers 2-12 across the top, and the names of the players down the side. (Or you can save time by printing the ready-to-use grid that comes with the PDF file.)
The starting player rolls two dice and adds the numbers together. High numbers (namely 11 or 12) are best… most of the time, that is.
After rolling and totaling the dice, you write the number you rolled into one of the spaces beneath a number from 2 to 12. Players keep taking turns rolling the dice and writing their numbers until every space on the grid is taken.
When the grid is full, it's time to figure the score. The number at the top of each column is the number of points a player gets if his or her number is the largest in the column. But if there's a tie for the highest number, then nobody gets the points!
The player with the most points wins.
Great for travel
If you're planning a trip, both of these games make great travel activities.
For Abs-Trac-Toe, make sure you bring plenty of paper, pencils and/or crayons, and a sturdy surface for writing (and coloring).
For Catego, bring dice, paper, and a box of some sort to use as for dice-rolling. (Plastic food containers work great for things like this.)
Feel free to explore the websites behind both of the games. You'll find plenty of free fun just waiting for downloading, printing, and playing. Enjoy!