For family fun, gather 'round the tablet

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[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld, and not by PCWorld's editorial staff. ]

Modern parents have learned a harsh truth: It’s hard to compete with screens. The phone, the computer, the TV -- devices like these can divide and conquer a family, with everyone off doing their own thing. Obviously that’s no good; families should spend more time together, not less. So how can you unite your clan for some good old-fashioned quality time?

Easy: don’t compete with the screen, embrace it! All you need is a tablet or 2 in 1 and some amazing games designed to draw everyone together, just like that old Monopoly board used to. Google’s Play Store and Microsoft’s Windows Store are home to loads of family-entertainment apps, everything from board games to strategy games to games that get everyone out of their seats and having fun.

And there’s another unexpected bonus to buying a tablet for the family: the chance to “gamify” certain aspects of everyday life, like getting kids to do their chores. Let’s see a TV do that!

What are your best hardware choices for all these tablet-powered activities? For starters, games with demanding graphics require extra horsepower to keep the images smooth and the load times brief, so choose something that’s packing an Intel processor. Let’s take a look at some of the top tablet games and apps for families -- and some tablets to consider for getting the most enjoyment from them.

Go big and stay home

Though most people tend to think of home electronics as single-user devices, there’s no reason it can’t be the centerpiece of your family game night -- especially if it has a big screen. That way you can position it in the center of the table, just like a board game. For example, the Dell XPS 18 Touch is a mammoth 18.4-inch portable All-in-One PC that can lay flat for game duty or dock in an included stand for more traditional PC activities. And the Intel® Core™ processor in the XPS can handle all your personal computing needs and flawlessly power your family’s favorite apps and games.

There are lots of great family games that would benefit from such a big display, like Deal or No Deal HD, a Windows version of the popular game show (which became a popular arcade game). And don’t overlook Silly Party Game, a collection of eight games for 2-4 players. It was practically designed with families in mind, as players sit at each corner of the tablet and tap onscreen controls.

Another great choice for head-to-head, split-screen action is Ruzzle, a Boggle-like game in which two players rush to create as many words as possible from a random assortment of letters -- in two minutes. Speaking of classic games adapted to touchscreen, the beloved tile game Dominoes has also been translated to Windows 8. It offers three modes of play and supports up to four players, so you can gather the group around a portable All-in-One and take turns without individual screens blocking everyone’s faces.

Pass and play

A smaller form factor has its advantages as well, not the least of which is that you can easily hand a tablet off from one player to another during pass-and-play games. The Asus VivoTab 8, for example, offers a roomy but manageable 8-inch display, and also comes with a Wacom stylus for games that involve drawing, like Draw Something 2.

Although a pass-and-play game may not seem particularly social, as only one person at a time gets a turn with the tablet, it’s not so different from a traditional turn-based board game. Pass-and-play games don’t come much better than the app edition of Ticket to Ride, an easy-to-learn, endlessly enjoyable game of planning, strategy, and trains. Even classics like Monopoly offer a pass-and-play option, which means you get all the fun of regular Monopoly without all the hassles of money management and dice flying off the table. (Seriously: the game goes a lot faster on a tablet.)

Make it a party

To really liven things up, look for party-style games that let you break into teams or work as a group. (At the same time, look for a tablet that’s easy to hear over the din of yelling and cheering. The aforementioned VivoTab 8, for example, offers stereo speakers, as does the Acer Iconia A1-830. Both should be considerably louder than a single-speaker tablet.)

Arguably the best party game you can play on a tablet is Heads Up!, which challenges you to guess the word shown on the screen, which you hold up near your forehead so only the other players can see it. The app comes with 18 categorical “decks,” and you can buy others -- including some aimed at younger kids in the 6-8-year-old range.

If yours is a pop culture-savvy family, You Don’t Know Jack serves up hilarious multiplayer trivia based on celebrities, current events, and other modern themes. A snarky host reads the questions and cracks jokes between rounds.

And then there’s Spaceteam, which is as wild and crazy as tablet games get. It’s a cooperative party game for 2-4 players, the goal being to rely on teamwork to escape an exploding star in your spaceship. The only catch: Each player needs his or her own tablet. That’s an option worth considering, especially with the availability of affordable models like the $149.99 Dell Venue 7, as it opens the door to other co-op games. If everybody wants a different tablet, that’s fine – just make sure they all work on the same operating system, so you’ll all have access to the same games.

Turn work into play

Most parents don’t like the fight that goes with handing out chores, and kids don’t like doing chores, period. Ah, but what happens when you make a game of it? The kids already know the tablet as an endless source of fun, and certain apps lend that fun to performing household jobs. 

ChoreMonster, for example, is a kid-friendly (and kid-operable) Windows 8 app that doles out points in exchange for completed chores, all of which are assigned per-kid on a set schedule. Parents have the option of offering real-world rewards (ice cream, TV time, or the like) at a certain point level, but kids can also win their choice of over 250 virtual monsters.

iRewardChart offers a similar arrangement for Android users, though it works on other platforms as well. That means you can sync and update chores from, say, your PC or smartphone, and the kids’ tablet app will update automatically.

Obviously there’s more to touchscreen devices than just second-screening your favorite TV shows and looking up dinner recipes. With the right apps and hardware, you’ve got everything you need for endless nights of family fun.

[ This sponsored article was written by IDG Creative Lab, a partner of PCWorld, and not by PCWorld's editorial staff. ]

This story, "For family fun, gather 'round the tablet" was originally published by BrandPost.

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Acer ICONIA A1-830-25601G01nsw Tablet

  • Generic Company Place Holder Dell XPS 18 Tablet PC

  • Generic Company Place Holder Asus VivoTab Note 8 M80TA-B1-BK Net-tablet PC

  • Generic Company Place Holder Dell Venue 7 Tablet

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