Laying tile patterns, scaring villagers and organising summer parties
Portugal is always worth a trip, but unfortunately it is not always possible to make one. So often, all that is left to do is dream about it, read books about the country or play a nice board game with the whole family about this small, fairytale country and its sometimes rather strange customs. Along the way, children and adults can learn something about the exciting history and culture of Portugal.
We have selected a few games for you that are particularly suitable for families. We have tried out this selection with our children on rainy Sundays and long winter evenings and can therefore give you the following recommendations:
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Designing tile patterns with Azul in the Golden Age of Portugal
The first Portuguese board game that I would like to introduce to you here actually comes from Germany and has been the talk of the town ever since it became Game of the Year in 2018. It takes players back to the Golden Age of Portugal under King Manuel I, who, inspired by the beauty of the Spanish Alhambra, had his royal palace in Évora decorated with azulejos, which were hardly known in Portugal at the time. At the time, Manuel the Lucky personally had all the revenues from the spice trade at his disposal and thus had immense financial means to have a multitude of Portuguese palaces and monasteries built, whose architecturally unique style was named after him in the 19th century: the Manueline. This architectural style is now considered a hybrid between Gothic and Renaissance and only appeared in Portugal. Unfortunately, the only part of the huge royal palace in Évora that still exists is the Galeria das Damas. The azulejos, however, began their unstoppable triumphant march in Portugal in the following centuries.
In Azul, you can now acquire tiles and lay patterns as one of the royal craftsmen. Whoever can tile the most magnificent patterns wins the game. Michael Kiesing, the author of this entertaining game, has managed to develop a game that is quite easy to learn, but still offers unusual tactical depth. And yet, especially with more than 2 players, the game can take on an unexpected dynamic, so that even beginners can win against specialists. It is precisely these mechanisms that make Azul interesting for families. Our eight-year-old Lia understood it very quickly and it has been one of our unchallenged favourite games in our family for some time. But it also inspires us time and time again with its high-quality design.
Players: 2 – 4
Game duration: 30 – 45 minutes
Price: approx. 29 Euro
Languages: Depending on the edition (English, Portuguese, German).
In the meantime, two very popular variants Azul – Stained Glass Windows of Sintra and Azul – Summer Pavilion have been published, which are based on similar mechanisms and are highly praised by board game critics.
Using monsters and caretos gangs to scare and trap villagers in Geres Peneda National Park
This game has just been published (Autumn 2020) by the Portuguese Mebo publishing house and refers to the tradition of caretos in the mountains north of the Douro, specifically around Podence, Vinhais and Bragança. What has become an archaic carnival tradition today, especially for young men, certainly originally dates back to Celtic roots that included ancestor worship, initiation and fertility rites.
The devilish Caretos gangs, who irreverently hunt through the old, lonely villages of the north around Carnival, become demon-possessed gangs in the game of the same name by Portuguese game author Paulo Pereira, who scare and hunt villagers and monsters, while the players themselves can steer a team of two monsters each through old villages and along magical places, having to catch as many villagers as possible. The individual monsters, witches and werewolves have different abilities and, together with the open and secret bonus cards, provide plenty of variety between the individual games. This game has thrilled our children precisely because of its creepy components. Even our five-year-old Laura can already play it on her own with a little support and has even won it now and then.
Players: 2 – 4
Game duration: 45 minutes
Price: approx. 41 Euro
Languages: English, Portuguese, German and Spanish
Organise the best district festival and attract the most dance-loving visitors
Every year in June, Lisbon begins the season of Festas Populares, which transforms the city into a patchwork of colourful city festivals called arraials. Each of these festivals tries to outdo the others in gaiety, musical performances, dancing and delicious food. The biggest of the festivals takes place on 13 June, a local holiday in Lisbon, when the traditional dance groups of each district also compete with their performances for the best position on the grand Avenida de Liberdade. This day is dedicated to the city’s patron saint, St. Antonios, who was born in Lisbon around 1195 and wanted to go to Morocco as a missionary, but then found himself back in Europe due to an illness. However, thanks to a storm, he was whisked away to Sicily and eventually spent the rest of his life in northern Italy as Antonios of Padua.
The game Arraial by the Portuguese game designers Nuno Bizzaro Sentieiro and Paulo Soledade is based on the idea of attracting the most visitors with the most beautiful party and works according to the well-known Tetris principle. As a player, you have a house-bordered square and can set up food stalls, invite musicians, beckon dancers, and as soon as your own playing field fills up, the first visitors start trickling in and now it’s a matter of making good use of the space and attracting more and more visitors. The player who has attracted the most visitors and thus organised the most beautiful party wins.
The game is very nicely designed, the individual cards are unmistakably reminiscent of the typical style of the local festivals in the media. The game idea is wonderful and if you have ever been to one of the Festas Populares, you will enjoy this game with the famous Portuguese Saudade. I recommend my playlist of contemporary Portuguese music for the background, although the actual soundtrack of the Festas would be rather different.
Both our children like the game very much, even our five-year-old can play it with a little help. However, I recommend playing a test game already without children to learn the rules.
June, by the way, is an excellent month to visit Lisbon, because only on June evenings is the city as wonderfully mild and warm as you would otherwise only find in central Iberian and Mediterranean regions. Nevertheless, it is hot enough during the day to spend the day on one of the nearby beaches.
Players: 1 – 4
Game duration: 15 minutes per player
Price: approx. 34 Euro
Languages: English and German or Portuguese and Spanish (depending on the edition)
More games to follow
Of course, this list is still incomplete and will be constantly expanded from now on. There are indeed many beautiful board games that have Portugal as a theme, and some of these are already ready for the next long winter evening by the Tagus. By the way, such themed board games are very suitable for sharing holiday memories with family and friends again and again, for making expat Portuguese people happy with a gift from their much-missed homeland or, of course, for preparing for a summer holiday and savouring the anticipation to a worthy degree.