Growing up, my family played a LOT of traditional German Games. Games like Mensch Ärgere Dich Nicht, Mühle, Schwarzer Peter and Quartet. My Oma was part of a Doppelkopf group, and Dad loved Skat. In the car we would play Stadt Land Fluß to pass the time. Today Board Games are undergoing a Renaissance of sorts… newer, better, more complex and more exciting games are being developed all the time, with many of the best coming from Germany. But still, the traditional German Games we kids played with our parents or our Omas and Opas are timeless fun… and a great way to pull kids off of the electronics. Pull Halma out of the closet, dust off your old Memory set, or set up a game of Fang den Hut, and reboot the family tradition of playing German games.
Traditional German Games
I thought it might be easier to break the games down into groups; Traditional German games with and without boards (especially German Games Kids played with each other, or with Oma and Opa), German card games, and games with just paper and pencil.
Traditional German Board Games
The FINAL WORD in traditional German Board Games. You will find this in every German Game cabinet, and EVERYONE has a story about playing this game for hours with their friends, Oma, Opa, mother, father, brother, sister, or classmates. Similar to Aggravation or Trouble… this is a simple-ish game of rolling dice and moving your colored pieces around the board to get them safely home. HOWEVER! Should you land on an opponent’s piece before they make it around the board, they get sent back to the beginning. Causing much ÄRGER!! This fun game has a lot of replay value. It’s simple enough for young kids to understand, and engaging enough for more mature players. I love it because the WHOLE family can play.
With the Full Size version (on the left) you can even flip the board over to play with up to 6 people. The Metal Tin version is a mini Travel Size.
Mühle in German is Mill, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with this game that’s known as 9 Man Morris in English. The game is simple to learn, but there can be some serious strategy. The board is laid out with 3 squares (one inside the other) and connecting lines. Each player starts by placing 9 of their stones on the board at intersections. Movement slides along the line to the next corner or intersection. The object is to trap your opponents piece between 2 of yours (this removes their piece form the board). Play goes until all of one color is gone.
We played this one using an actual board with the squares inside each other, but during recess we would make a “board” on a piece of paper, and use rocks or other markers to make it work. This edition comes with Dame on the back… don’t get too excited… Dame is German for Checkers.
Halma is just the German name for Chinese Checkers… I like the Playing Piece version because it doesn’t have a bunch of marbles that roll all over the floor whenever you bump the board. (Yes, you can also get a marble version) It’s a simple game… basically, you try to get all of the pieces with YOUR color across the board to the opposite triangle before your opponents do. And you can speed up by jumping over other pieces (and if you are very clever, you can set up a chain with multiple jumps!). Since it’s playable with 2 to 6 people, everyone in the family can play at once.
Interestingly, I found another game called Halma, with the same premise, but in a different shape.(Square board, and you move from the corners to the opposite side). This version claims to be from the American Revolution… so is it Chinese? German? America? I don’t know, but it’s fun for all ages.
Fang den Hut was first produced by Otto Maier Verlag in 1927… and since then has spun off versions around the world. It’s a gotcha game that we LOVED to play when we were kids (and we also loved putting the little caps on our fingers to pretend we were witches…. so, TWICE the fun!). Everyone is assigned a color, and 4 pointy little hats (they look like cones). You roll the dice, and move a hat of yours, trying to land on another person’s hat. If you do, it is captured. Get the hat back to home base before they capture it back! Winner is the last person with hats still traveling around the board. (Alternatively, the winner is the one who captures the most hats).
Play with 2 to 6 people (it’s best with 3 or more). Anyone who can roll a die and count can play Fang den Hut.
Spitz Pass Auf!
Spitz Pass Auf can get LOUD (probably best not to play while Opa is having his nap). Each player is assigned a little piece that’s attached to a string. One player is given a cup… and another a die (you need at least 3 to play). When a 1 or 6 is rolled, the player with the cup tries to catch the little pieces before they are yanked away by their string. Points are awarded, and roles are rotated. You need great hand-eye coordination to be successful. It’s a fun and active game!
Watch it played here…
Spielesammlung! Get all the Games at Once
We had a box like this when I was growing up. Loads of games in one big box. My mother kept it tucked away, and we would only use it when traveling. This way we could take a lot of games along in one condensed space. (She kept it safe, so we didn’t arrive somewhere miles from home and realize that my sister or I had “played” with the pieces and left some behind). Mikado, Mühle, Dame and Mensch Ärgere dich Nicht ALL IN ONE BOX with MORE!
Traditional German Games without Boards
These aren’t traditional BOARD Games, but they are popular games non-the-less. They use dice, sticks and/or cardboard pieces. They may be familiar and simple, but they are still very fun.
Mikado is a fancy name for Pick-up Sticks. Believe it or not, there are actual RULES and a point system (more than just picking up the stick, some have value, and some can only be picked up a certain way). Those colorful painted parts on the stick are more than just decoration. And, I’ll let you in on a family secret…. My Uncle Rainer is the reigning world champion of Mikado. (Kidding, he’s just really good, and really strict about it). It may be a “simple” game, but it’s tough for someone (like me) who lacks in coordination. Again, this is a game for anyone in the family… (although one person may have to be appointed to insure that people don’t get into fist-fights about whether or not a stick was touched or wiggled that shouldn’t be).
Some of my earliest game memories are of playing Memory with my mother. She would start us kids off with just a few pairs, and as we got older and better at the game, she would add more pairs. I’m sure you’ve seen this one (or played it as Concentration) with a deck of cards. An array of cardboard card pairs are mixed and laid out in a grid face down. On your turn you flip over two cards. If they match, you keep the pair and go again. If not… the turn goes to the next person. In the end, the person who found the most pairs is the winner.
The best Memory games have great pictures on them, and my absolute favorite come from the Remember company in Germany. If you are in Germany, and see this shop GO IN, everything is lovely. Alternatively, you can order them online, but shipping is expensive. Here is their site–> Remember. Still, any set with distinct pictures will do fine (avoid the ones made for children that have the same cartoon character doing different things on them… it’s confusing and irritating).
Memory is a fabulous game to keep the brain sharp! You can even play solo!
(I found this Memo-SPiel online… you can play it anytime- Memo-spiel)
My mother loves this game… but in our house we just played the American Yahtzee version (maybe because we played often, and it was easier to get replacement blocks in English?) Roll the dice, and try to get certain combinations; All 2’s, Full House, Straight, 3 of a Kind, or all of one number! Keep track, build your score and win.
Find the German version of Kniffel here, both in full size (with the ORIGINAL Kniffel Becher!) or a smaller travel version (perfect for killing time in restaurants and airports)
German Card Games
Schwarzer Peter might be familiar to Americans as Old Maid. The name came from the original way of playing… one card would be marked with blackened cork, and designated the Black Peter. Today, the decks have sets of pairs, and one odd card, sometimes a black cat or a chimney sweep. Cards are dealt out evenly, then players take turns drawing from each other. Pairs are matched and kept in a pile. The player with the black peter card in the end loses.
This game is a great starting place for young children…and a good game to keep your hands occupied while you are chatting.
We played a lot of Quartett in the car, because it traveled well. Consider Quartett a version of Go-Fish, but you collect 4 in a group instead of just a pair. You need at least 3 people to play, or it just becomes a back and forth thing. Our set was of famous people… but you can get sets with just about anything on them these days, from Ponies to Footballers.
Newer versions include different rules and variations…
A very good game for a wide age range.
Mau Mau is almost exactly like Uno… but it’s played with a regular deck of cards. Each player starts with 5 cards, the rest are stacked into a draw pile between them. The top card is revealed. To play a card, you must match either the number or suit of the top card. First player to get rid of all their cards wins.
Now… if you are down to only one card, you must say MAU… or you get to pick up more cards! Unless it’s a jack… then it’s Mau Mau.
You only need a regular deck of cards for this simple game… so why not choose a nice one?
Germany – Germany Wants to See You – (artist: Engelhardt c. 1927) – Vintage Advertisement (Playing Card Deck – 52 Card Poker Size with Jokers)Germany – (1700) – Panoramic Map (Playing Card Deck – 52 Card Poker Size with Jokers)
Doppelkopf was my Oma’s game. She and her friends met every Wednesday for Doppelkopf, and we kids (my cousins and I) WERE NOT ALLOWED TO JOIN THEM. Devastating. In fact, the closest I came was the one time I was allowed to bake a cake for the ladies. My cousin and I were allowed to go in the dining room, greet the women, then LEAVE (and don’t let the door smack us on the way out). So, I’ve honestly never played. This “trick taking” card game uses a special deck,and is very popular in North-Rhine Westfalen.
Similar to Doppelkopf is Schaffkopf, the Bavarian interpretation of the same game. I saw this played at Germanfest in Milwaukee, where it is apparently still quite popular.
Some day, I will sit down and learn to play.
Doppelkopf may have been my Oma’s game, but Skat belonged to my dad and his friends. This three player game seems to be similar to Doppelkopf and Schaffkopf. A trick-taking card game with a special deck. I’m going to have to make my father teach me, and I will share more insight with you then. Meanwhile, here is a video to give you an idea.
Find the instructions HERE–>
German Games Played on Paper
Stadt Land Fluß is a wonderful game for working on your geography knowledge. Every player gets a piece of paper with the categories of Stadt (City) Land (Country) and Fluß (River) on it. You can also add other categories (like Animal, Job, Food..etc). Then a letter is chosen, and timer set.
There are a few ways to play.
One… you only get to write one answer per category, and only get points if no one else has it.
Two… you write as many answers per category as you can, and get a point for each original answer.
Read more about Stadt Land Fluß HERE–> How to play Stadt Land Fluß
What Other Games did YOU Like to Play?
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