Link-O

The best of family games tend to be those that are only mildly competitive, that involve a healthy modicum of luck, that keep everyone involved to the very end, that challenge rather basic skills – but really, genuinely challenge them.

Link-O is exactly that kind of game. And it’s beautifully made.

The game is played on a large, colorful, 4-fold board, with a set of 68 hefty, brightly colored plastic tiles, thick enough to stand on their edges. Each tile is one of 4 colors, matching one of the 4 different circles on the board. The tiles look like two Os, one might almost say, linked. On each O of each tile is a number from zero to four. There are also 8 Link-O tiles, 2 in each of the 4 colors. In each fold of the board is a large circle, or O. Each circle is a different color and linked to two others at 2 different points.

All the tiles are placed into the lovely, silky, drawstring bag, and then drawn from the aforementioned. Each player takes 8 tiles. The first player begins on any circle, at a space where it connects to another circle, with a correspondingly colored Link-O tile or double. From then on, players simply add a tile to the chain, matching the exposed ends of any tile that has one. A Link-O is wild, taking on the value of whatever tile touches it.

If anyone plays a tile that completes a circle, that player immediately gets 16 points, whether or not he wins the round. This, along with the sheer joy of completion, is more than enough incentive to get so involved in trying to complete a circle that you miss some significant opportunity elsewhere.

If you can’t play, you must draw until you can. The game ends as soon as someone plays her last tile, or until there are no more tiles in the drawbag. If you want, you can play for score. The winning player gets points for all the tiles that remain in the other players’ hands, and, to rub things in a bit more, an additional 16 points for any unplayed Link-O tile.

Of course, you don’t have to play for score. And you can play in teams. And even if you lay all your tiles face-up on the table so that everyone can see them, winning is a joyful enough accomplishment, even if you got help. In fact, helping is probably as much fun as playing. All of which makes it into, as I said in the beginning of this review, what you might call the best kind of family game.

Designed by Dahmane Dahmani and son Yanni (yes, that’s really their names – it even says so on the bottom of the game instructions), Link-O can be played by as few as 2 players and as many as 6, or more (if you play in teams – so, maybe 12 if you have a really big family), old enough to recognize when two numbers and their colors are the same. The numbers are large, and the colors primary, making everything easy to see, even for those with somewhat impaired vision. A game can take maybe a half-hour. Instructions are in English and Spanish. Good, gentle, engaging family fun.

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