Kids these day. Am I right? They’re always on their fancy smartphones, or running up insane bills on their parents’ tablets. They have game consoles, Netflix, and a million other distractions. For many parents this must be a real godsend, since they themselves are always busy with the responsibilities of adulthood. In truth, there’s a lot to be said for actually spending time with your children. Yes, I know quality time with the kids is a controversial idea, but you have to interact with them at some point!
The problem is that there aren’t many activities modern kids really want to do with their parents. Sure, plenty of parents are also gamers, but kids seem to prefer playing things like Minecraft with their friends, especially since it’s an online experience. Board games are a great way to have a structured activity that the whole family can take part in. The trick is to choose games that are lots of fun and, of course, ones they can’t play with their friends unless they’re actually there.
The question is: how do you get kids into board games? Also, which board games should you be using?
It’s Not About You
One of the most important things you have to keep in mind is that this isn’t about the board games you enjoy. Don’t try to start them off on something like chess or backgammon. We want games that are age-appropriate. If you choose something that’s too hard (or too easy!) they’ll simply give up.
This means you should put your own taste in board games aside for these sessions. It’s not about the game at this point – it’s about having fun with your kids and maybe teaching them how to compete, cooperate, and think.
Continuing on that theme, you also shouldn’t play at a level your child will find impossible to beat. Am I saying you should let the little monster win now and then? Absolutely yes. Who wants to play a game where they always lose? You can dial up the difficulty as their skill improves.
Cooperative Games are Good
Board games that let you play cooperatively against the game or play in teams are perfect for family game time, especially when you have young children. Try to team up every child with an adult, so that the teams are balanced.
Catch Them Young
If you still can, it’s a good idea to institutionalize board-game night from a young age. Getting teenagers who already have all their habits dialed in can be tough. Sure, you don’t have to give up if you weren’t doing the board game thing from the start, but it is easier when the tradition begins early. Just don’t start too early! Those game pieces are a CHOKING HAZARD.
Picking the Games that Will Get the Kids Excited
In the end, you are the one who knows your child the best. There can never be a list of games that are going to appeal to all children equally. Think about what it is that interests your child. Are they into dinosaurs? Well, maybe there’s a dinosaur-themed game you can play. It’s common to look for educational value in these sorts of games.
Candyland (Retro Edition)
This game was first released in 1949, becoming one of the most popular family board games in history – at least in the US.
The game was designed to be very accessible and doesn’t require any reading, counting, or strategic thinking. The actual gameplay is simply a race to a goal. How far you progress at each turn is determined entirely by chance.
This version of the game is a replica (or at least a homage) to the 1967 version of the game. Of course, you can buy a modern version if you like, but for some reason this 60s artwork appeals to me. This version of the game also uses cards rather than the modern spinner. Each player draws a card from the shuffled deck and then moves their piece to the color it specifies. There’s no skill involved, yet it’s a great introduction to board games as a whole.
Hoot Owl Hoot
This game won an award for the 5-9 year-old category, so you know it’s got something that kids like. The main goal of Hoot Owl Hoot, which I have trouble saying, is to move all of the owls back into their nests before sunrise. That’s a great concept that kids latch onto instantly.
This game is cooperative and has color-matching as its central game mechanic. There are two tracks on the board – one for the sun and one for the owls. The game is driven by cards, with 36 color cards in six colors and 14 sun cards. All players start with three cards, which they keep face up. They are actually meant to work together in order to figure out the best way to move. If a player has a sun card they must play it and move the sun one place. If they don’t have a sun card they can play one color card to move an owl to the next open spot of that color. The main gimmick of the game is that all the players have to make a hooting sound if one owl passes over another.
The game is quick to learn and quick to play. It’s got some basic yet solid strategy elements to it. It’s rated for kids between 4 and 8. Since the game actually has two difficulty levels, it will grow with your kid. This is a wonderful title to get them into board games!
Richard Scarry’s Busytown: Eye Found It
Just like Hoot Owl Hoot, Eye Found It is a cooperative game. It’s based on the artwork and stories of Richard Scarry. I actually read the books and watched the TV show as a child and the finely-detailed and, of course, very busy artwork is as appealing as ever.
First things first: the board is HUGE! It’s more than six feet long. The main game mechanic involves players in a race to reach “Picnic Island” as quickly as possible, before the pigs eat all the food. You use a spinner to determine how you’ll move. If you are told to solve a “Goldbug mystery” everyone has to work together to find a specific object on the board using a magnifying glass. If someone finds the object, you get to move even faster.
Simple, big, colorful, and great artwork. This game is definitely going to catch the attention of the youngsters for sure.
Labyrinth, not to be confused with the Jim Henson movie board game, is an incredibly innovative title from Ravensburger. There have been many versions of this game since it was first launched more than 30 years ago, and according to the company there have been more than 60 versions of the game since then.
The object of the game is for each player to navigate the titular labyrinth. Find the shortest route through the maze and get the treasure. The maze isn’t fixed, however. Other players can use tiles to shift things around and change its layout.
The game has been designed for exceptional balance and that means it’s great for family play. The wizards and dungeons theme will also be more appealing to some older children, and this title is meant for kids seven and up. Easy to learn, tough to master, and with just enough random chance to make it interesting, it’s also incredibly replayable since the labyrinth itself is essentially random each time.
No Stress Chess
Chess is the caviar of board games. It’s a timeless strategic masterpiece that pits two players against each other to see who can capture the other’s “king” piece first. Being good at chess is widely associated with being a bit of a brainiac. We have a lot of respect for world-class chess “grandmasters”; so much so that the first time a computer beat a grandmaster at chess, that went into the history books.
Getting kids into chess at a young age ranks with getting them to play the violin in the Uppity Parent Olympics. Despite the overall pretentiousness of encouraging young people to play chess, it really is a fantastic game. I’ve been playing since I was six years old and I still suck, but it’s been one of the most enjoyable pastimes in my life.
The problem is that chess can have quite the learning curve and trying to teach your child how to play can be daunting. So I was quite impressed with the concept behind “No Stress Chess”. Basically it’s a special chess set that teaches you how to play in the form of another game using the chess pieces. This board is set up according to a template and then each player shuffles a deck containing cards that describe a move. One side of the board is specially designed to work with the cards, and just by following the stepwise instructions on the card you’re also learning to play chess. It’s a pretty brilliant idea! If you just want to play normal chess, there’s a regular old chess board on the other side.
Ticket to Ride
Given its status as a product of Rockstar game design, it should be no surprise that Ticket to Ride is mentioned a few times on this site. You might, however, be surprised to see it on a list of board games to play with your kids. That’s a testament to the incredibly intuitive gameplay and addictive qualities of Ticket to Ride. Its artwork might not be all that appealing to the modern tween, but once you get into it none of that matters anymore.
The object of the game is to collect train cards and then play them to build routes across the map. Players who have the highest score at the end of the game win. You earn points by building up your routes and claiming destination cities. The game can be learned in minutes, but is actually an intensely strategic experience. The mechanics are simple but, like poker, you are also playing the other players around the table. It’s a zero-sum game in the literal sense. If you miss the chance to claim a route it goes to someone else.
Apart from being a great game for older kids and adults to play together, this is also awesome board game because of the oversized format. This one won’t be gathering dust on a shelf.
Like Ticket to Ride, Catan is a classic at this point that will get mentioned in multiple lists of awesome board games. Yet it’s still simple enough that younger players will have no trouble learning the ins and out of the game – at least well enough to get started.
Catan is better at the higher end of the age range and is probably too slow-paced for kids who aren’t high-school age. It takes about an hour to finish the typical game of Catan, and that’s a tall order for someone who isn’t completely ready to tie their shoes by themselves.
Players are all trying to settle the various areas of the island named Catan. They do this by building stuff on the various board sections, represented by hexagonal tiles. The game uses “development” cards, dice rolls, and other tokens to facilitate the process of settling the island of Catan. The first player to gather 10 points wins the game.
Catan is insanely popular and it seems like there are a million variants out too. The game is particularly appealing because of how inclusive it is. People who are new to strategy board games can learn to play easily enough, while experienced players can take their strategies to the next level and find more than enough satisfaction. That makes it perfect for younger players with one foot in adulthood.
Scrabble (Retro 1949) Edition
This is another older classic, but some board games become timeless classics for a reason! I actually picked the retro version of the game simply because I think it looks beautiful. It’s simple, well-crafted, and more than a little classy.
The game of Scrabble is both simple and incredibly stimulating. Each player draws seven letter tiles from the bag of tiles. They then try to make words using the tiles that are already on the board and the tiles in their hand. It sounds simple enough, but if you play tactically and take the points bonuses given to different tile spaces on the board into account, it’s a pretty intense game.
Why do I recommend this for kids? Well, the game is very simple to learn but relies on pretty advanced vocabulary. So it gives the kids an incentive to expand their vocabulary and provides a competitive activity – a great way to vent that particular urge in older kids. Obviously this is not for the illiterate. We don’t want little Billy eating the tiles, now do we?
Regular Old Chess
I know I’m cheating a little by putting chess on this list a second time, but No Stress Chess is a set of training wheels. Yes, you can technically use that same set to play proper chess, but getting a really nice chess set, the sort you leave on display, has its own advantages.
First of all, there are so many gorgeous novelty sets out there. It won’t be hard to find a chess set that appeals to either your kids or to the style of your home. You can get modern art-like sets, fantasy sets, movie franchises, or just about anything you can think of. The idea is to leave the set out as part of your living room decor. With such an inviting board game just sitting there, it’s bound to attract some attention – a great way to quickly kill some time with a family member.
The Family That Plays Together, Stays Together
In this world filled with sources of information overload and little time for quality human interaction, board games provide a tactile, personal, and very human experience. It’s a chance to laugh with your family and get to know them better. It’s a way to turn family time into something other than a chore.