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Mensa Select Games: They Must Be Brainy, Right?
The name "Mensa Select" seems pretty hoity-toity. But the truth is, Mensa Select games are chosen every April by a group of Mensa's board and card game aficionados who play games nominated for the award at a weekend event. As a result, many games that make it to the top lists are quick to play and easy to learn.
I was surprised myself to find I owned over a dozen Mensa Select winners, because I don't buy many heavy games. I was even more surprised to find that many of my favorite games are in fact recipients of the Mensa Select award. In order to make this top 10 list, I had to whittle it down to the very best — and my very favorite. Check at least some of them out; I'm sure you'll like them too.
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Bet you didn't think a list of Mensa Select winners would have party games on it, did you? Those Mensans aren't as strait-laced as we thought!
Time's Up is a great party game with the right crowd (aren't they all?). With my friends, we've had nothing but raucous fun with its progressive charades mechanic. I just made that phrase up, but it fits. With family? It was so-so. You want a crowd who is willing to get creative in giving and interpreting clues, and who doesn't mind every answer being a person. Time's Up is about $25.99 at Amazon.
Wits & Wagers, on the other hand, is a great hit with family, possibly because it's a betting game, and while trivia is involved, it's absolutely unnecessary to be a trivia-head to play or win. Trust me: it's not important that you know the volume of water in the sea. It's more important that you know what other players are going to guess is the answer! Wits & Wagers runs around $29.
There were really too many Mensa Select party games to list here. Other highly-ranked winners included Scattergories and Trivial Pursuit, but for sheer fun, Taboo won out over those two. Getting other players to guess "cow" without being able to moo or do pretty much anything else cow-related somehow never gets old. Taboo is about $27.
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Dominion's the highest-ranked Mensa Select winner at BoardGameGeek, and who can argue with that? It's a fabulous card game with easy-to-learn rules and endless replayability. And not only is there this base game, but four expansions to date: Intrigue, Seaside, Alchemy, and Prosperity, all of which add depth without adding too much complexity. Dominion is about $32.
In its first incarnation, Category 5 was a German card game called 6 Nimmt! Yes, with an exclamation point. Then this English version, Category 5, got released stateside and won a Mensa Select Award. Category 5 is now out of print, but the game has been re-themed and renamed Slide 5. I wish I hadn't lost my copy of Category 5, because I loved the Hurricane theme — a skiing theme just seems so bland. Slide 5 runs around $6.
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Any game that gets its players to call out "In-GEEEEN-yus!" in a snooty tone is A-OK in my book. Designed by board game god Reiner Knizia, Ingenious is a tile-laying abstract where you match and score colors and has a winning condition you have to play to believe: the person whose lowest-scoring color (of six colors) is higher than the other players, wins. That's right — the best low score wins, and it adds a unique twist to this Mensa Select winner. Ingenious runs around $36 at Amazon.
Blokus is a deep, yet kid-friendly abstract. It has one rule: The piece you play has to touch one of your existing pieces on one or more corners. That's it. Try to play all of your pieces and block other people from playing theirs! Deliciously evil with the right crowd, Blokus runs around $20.
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Games to Play With Children
Clue: The Great Museum Caper is out of print, but easy to find at garage sales and thrift stores, or on Amazon. A 3-D version of Clue, Museum Caper is great fun with children — I know from experience. It comes with loads of fun bits like museum cameras and padlocks, and one person gets to play the thief while the rest of the players work cooperatively to try to catch her or him.
I came to own Tiki Topple by accident — it was marked down to $4 at Barnes & Noble's late January/early February clearance sales. I don't regret it. Tiki Topple is coloful, simple, fanciful fun, a logic game hidden in a simple game of trying to get your tikis to the top of the pile. It's not very meaty, but young and elementary-age children love it. Get Mensa Select winner Tiki Topple for about $13.
Rat-a-Tat Cat is a themed version of the card game Golf, in which you try to get the lowest score. The trick: several of your cards are hidden from view. My niece really enjoyed Rat-a-Tat Cat when she was younger. The art on the cards, of anthropomorphic rats and cats in silly poses, is wacky and delights young children. Rat-a-Tat Cat rounds out our list of the top 10 Mensa Select winners, and is available for around $8.