What is a dexterity game? For the purpose of this list (and to those who disagree with my premise I say “write your own Internet article!”), a dexterity game is any game that requires any element of physical, mental, or verbal speed; a steady hand; and hand-eye coordination, or accuracy; in combination or on its own. While dexterity games lack the deep thought of heavy strategy games, when somebody says they want a “fun” game (and nobody ever asks for a boring game), the dexterity genre has you covered. There is just something about the stress of controlled chaos that people find entertaining.
Jenga is the best known example of a dexterity game that requires a steady hand, but it is far from the only or the best of the genre. The Animal Upon Animal family of games, Go Cuckoo, and Rhino Hero are all “stacking” games by Haba, a European company specializing in children’s games. Because young children need to learn fine motor skills and spatial reasoning, many kids’ games fall into the dexterity category, but don’t let the kid label put you off. In order to be a good children’s game it must be a good game to begin with. In Animal Upon Animal, players have identical sets of pieces they are trying to stack on the back of the central crocodile piece. The first player to get rid of their pieces wins, but take care because anything you knock off the pyramid is added to your pieces. At the start of your turn you roll a die to tell you how many animals to place, or if one of the special actions triggers. Go Cuckoo! is a cunning blend of Pick-Up-Stix, Kerplunk, and Animal Upon Animal with players building g a next and depositing eggs in it. Rhino Hero has players playing cards to build a tower. Any card you play forces the next player to add walls to the next floor of the tower, but many cards have special powers to mix up the game play.
Verti-go is another fantastic game that takes the stacking idea of Jenga and improves on it. Verti-go uses multicoloured plastic card with slots cut out of them instead of basic building blocks. Players build the structure by tucking the corner of a new card into the slot of a card already in the structure. The rules include several different modes of play, but the best way to play is as a race to get rid of all your cards (like playing Uno), and anything you knock off the structure is added to your hand of cards.
Games that require verbal and mental speed include Anomia and 5-Second Rule. The tasks they require are not hard (name three of a category such as NBA teams or ice cream flavours in 5-Second Rule, or one of a category like a superpower or an Olympic sport in Anomia), but the time pressure the games put on the players make even the simplest questions mentally challenging. In 5-Second Rule, you have the eponymous 5 seconds to say your answers,
while in Anomia, the game pits you against another player who is trying to spit out an example of a different category before you shout yours.
Games like Spot It! require mental speed as you race to spot matching pictures before your opponents do. Where as a Ghost Blitz and Shrimp Cocktail (aka Shrimp!) require a blend of mental and physical speed. You must be able to decipher or spot the correct answer first, but the mental speed isn’t enough! You must also grab the required object before anyone else, with consequences for grabbing the wrong thing, so make sure your hand isn’t faster than your mind if you want to win.
Hand-eye coordination is the cornerstone of one of Canada’s favourite traditional games. Crokinole is a tabletop version of curling (or shuffleboard) that dates back to the 1800s. Despite its age and apparent lack of strategy, it holds a firm place in the top 100 games on boardgamegeek.com. If you’ve never player it, players take turns flicking wooden disks across a round wooden board. The closer they get to the centre, the more points the disk will score – if it’s still on the board at the end of the round. Players are encouraged to deflect opponents’ disks our of scoring position. For each disk you get into the centre hole, you may take an extra shot at the end of the round before scores are tallied. Crokinole‘s core idea of flicking disks towards targets has been carried into the 21st Century by games like Sorry Sliders, the western-themed action game Flick’em Up, and the giant monster smashing game Terror in Meeple City (originally published as Rampage). Ascending Empires is unique, as far as I know, in that it takes the flicking mechanic and uses it as the core of a 4X strategy game of space exploration and colonization.
Passe-Trappe (aka Pucket, aka Storm the Gate) is a quick, little game that requires fast reflexes and accuracy. The playing surface is a flat, glossy, rectangular sheet of plastic with wooden walls around the edge. A fifth wooden wall bisects the rectangle into two squares. Elastic bands are strung at each end of the board, and players use the bands to shoot flat, wooden disks through a hole in the middle of the dividing wall. Players start with five disks each and are racing to get all the disks onto their opponent’s side of the board. Fast and chaotic, a match of Passe-Trappe takes two minutes or less.
The next time you’re looking for a game to challenge mind and body, reach past your usual favourites and grab a dexterity game instead. You’ll be glad you did.