Anyone else crazy about family board games?
It may have subconciously been why I decided to have a lot of children (especially since I discovered my husband does not like them).
Part of helping our children discover, or rekindle their love for games is to make them accessible.
So I casually placed a glass chess board on the dining room table the other day. And it quietly calls to anyone who walks by.
Every time I see my boys playing chess together I feel like a superhero. Like I imagine it would feel if your child locked themselves in their room to read a book.
And no words can describe the feeling of finally beating my 13-year-old (the blonde 5-year-old in the photo below). Once. Because who knows teens need to be reminded that parents do have actual skills from time to time? #oldpersonwin
And it takes me back to the time we stumbled upon outdoor chess in a park and the boys jumped right in.
Games help form lasting memories and connections.
Isn’t it true that we often forget to challenge our kids to learn things before the manufacturer’s recommended age?
This is our toddler pulled up in his stroller to challenge his big brother – check out that concentration!
He had just learned the names of each piece and was beginning to learn the rules.
If children can memorize the names of cartoon characters and superheroes, they can understand that bishops move diagonally. True?
Before you think I’m an overachiever, we spent too much time learning chess, and not enough time working on how to hold a pencil. Ahem.
Why is it important to play family board games?
It is easy to feel disconnected in our homes. Between rushing from activity to activity, flying through dinner and dishes and plowing through homework, life is packed.
And as the little ones become bigger ones, they can easily spend a lot of time behind closed doors. The best way I have found to gather everyone in the same room is with a game. Or chocolate.
Bonus Tip: If your teens resist games, play it cool. Start a round with younger siblings or your spouse. Magically, the older ones will gradually appear and often join in for the second round.
Our recommended family board games for all ages
With kids ranging from 5 to 15, it is not always easy to find games that work for everyone. But it’s not impossible. And we’ve done the work for you. This is a list of our very favourite games that work for many different ages and levels.
This post contains affiliate links which means I may receive a percentage if you purchase something through the link at no extra cost to yourself. And I only recommend products I know and love.
Play time: 5-10 minutes
Number of Players: 1 – 4
We LOVE this game! Players race against each other to get their cubes lined up exactly like the card portrays, before anyone else. Since one of our boys is ridiculously quick, we started making him play with one hand behind his back, then using his non-dominant hand…we stopped short of blindfolding him so we could stand a chance.
In order to even the playing field, younger children can be given a headstart or given an easier pattern to complete. We have made up many variations of this game and it keeps it interesting. Get it here: Qbitz
Bonus Tip: Reward kids for doing their bedtime routine quickly. Playing a quick game in their rooms is a great way to motivate them to not dilly dally.
Play time: 15-20 minutes
Number of Players: 2-4
Preschoolers can understand the basics of this game and older children can use advanced strategy to excel. The goal is to place all of your pieces while blocking the opponent from placing theirs.
The colourful tiles make it appealing for little hands to play with while they are waiting for their turn.
Best of all? It takes only 1 minute to learn!
Get it here: Blokus
Bonus tip: Sometimes the travel version of games saves you storage space and is cheaper. Just make sure it will suit the number of people who will be playing.
Play time: 10-15 minutes
Number of Players: 2 – 4
Qwirkle encourages spatial recognition and patterning. The challenge is to play as many tiles as possible by matching up colours or symbols. Tiles are played in a Scrabble-like configuration.
Kids can master Qwirkle well before the recommended age. We enjoy that it is open-ended and does not require a board. Mindware is a tried and true manufacturer of great games, and this is no exception.
Get it here: Qwirkle
Play time: 15 minutes
Number of Players: 1-2
I love games that are compact and come in a tin – they are easy to tote about for appointments and quick to clean up. Yamslam is a personal favourite. No need to keep score with pen and paper because chips are awarded depending on what each player scores.
With a little help, even 5 year olds can learn how to roll a full house, a flush and the coveted Yam Slam. This game crosses the age boundaries and requires no set up.
Get it here: Yamslam
5 Second Rule
Play time: 5-10 minutes
Number of Players: 2-many
We have played this game at the kitchen table before cleaning up and just ‘spit it out’ is the perfect tagline. Players have to name 3 items that fit a category before a tiny silver ball spirals down to the bottom of the tube. It’s amazing how your mind can draw a blank when trying to think of “3 Types of Dogs” under time pressure.
Younger kids often outperform older siblings and adults, which is worth every penny. Use the category cards provided or “freestyle” and make up your own to create cateories younger players will be familiar with.
We love playing in teams and it occurs to me that perhaps the losing team should do the dishes the next time. Get it here: 5 Second Rule
Play time: 30 minutes
Number of Players: 3-6 (great party game)
This is the only game on this list that we do not own. But so many parents recommend it, I had to include it here. It is well-loved because it encourages story telling and creativity. In fact, some parents suggest not keeping score at all so the focus is on the imagination (not sure that would fly with my competitive boys!).
A storyteller chooses 1 image card and says a short sentence that describes the card. Everyone else has to secretly hand in one of their cards that also fits the sentence. The story teller places all cards face up and everyone has to guess which card the sentence was originally built from.
Don’t tell my kids – I think they’re getting this one for Christmas! Get it here: Dixit
Play time: 5-10 minutes
Number of Players: 2-many
Ages: 5+ (box says 14+ but kids can definitely join in the fun)
Not sure when this game arrived on the scene, but it was new to us until recently. My sisters and I played it on our first ever Sister’s Weekend Away. Possibly 32 rounds of Code Names. It led to hysterical laughter, most often at my expense.
Players try to get their teammate to guess as many cards as they can using only one-word clues. For example, the clue “Cross” might lead to guesses of cards that read, “Fingers”, “Angry” and “Church.” This encourages creativity and abstract thinking. And a good dose of mind reading if you’re lucky.
Our kids picked it up quickly and proved they could outwit adult teams with their outside-the-box clues and guesses. Get it here: Code Names
Ticket to Ride
Play time: 30-60 minutes
Number of players: 2-6
Ticket to Ride comes highly recommended for older kids. But younger ones, can join a team and be part of the action. Players travel across North America by train, collecting cards that let them form railway routes.
And if your family loves this games, there are many different versions available.
Get your copy of Ticket to Ride here
And for family fun you can squeeze into smaller blocks of time…
No list would be complete without a list of card games that every family will love.
Bonus Tip: Keep a few card games in your vehicle for emergencies such as long appointments or running out of gas on the way out of town. Also keep an empty gas can in the vehicle. You’re welcome.
Click over to this list of rapid-fire card games for the competitive gamer on your list.
I recently read about a writer being thankful her parents made them have Forced Family Fun. I’m always on the lookout for tools that will help there be more fun with less forcing. This list of family board games and card games ticks all of those boxes.
Add recommendations of your favourites in the comments below.
Check out more inspiration for parents by clicking on these images:
Jennie A. says
Oooooh! I LOVE board games and card games as much as you do! I will definitely be adding some of these to my Christmas list this year! One year when I was in my teens, we decided as a family that we would only buy board games for each other and we went a bit overboard…
For all ages, I highly recommend INGENIOUS – not hard to play for young ones and fun for the older ones (only up to 4 players, although you could do teams). Very colourful tile-placing game.
The party game I love the most, but not really for younger ones unless you put them on a team is
CRANIUM (so many fond hysterical family moments playing this one!)
Dixit reminds me of BALDERDASH (the traditional lying game that’s lots of fun, but for a bit of an older kid crowd) so this is number one on my Christmas list this year so that I can play an easier version with my boys.
What about tried, tested, and true TROUBLE?
Another favourite although again, maybe for a bit of the older kid crowd is SCATTERGORIES (multiple player game) – a game which gives you different lists in which you must name as many of the things on that list (e.g. a boy’s name, a city, something in your fridge) that begin with a specific letter that is rolled on a dice in a given time limit.
As for card games, I’m a traditionalist (Euchre, Gin, Rummy, Crazy 8s/Uno, and any solitaire game you can think of – obviously not family-friendly, but I was happy to lock myself in my room with a book or deck of cards every now and again), but a fun one is SEQUENCE, even though it’s for 2 players or 4 players in 2 teams. Using standard card decks, the object of the game is to make a sequence of cards on a play mat to score points.
Finally, for your “little chess player” (highly recommend it for the smarty pants), is KHET – the lazer light/spatial awareness version of chess and according to some pretty darn good chess players I know, they love it! The object is to bounce the light off of the mirrors that are on the pieces to hit the “king” to win. Can be quite difficult to master spatially, but once you do, there are different starting positions and additional pieces to buy separately to make it more challenging.
Keep the list going and keep me posted!
I knew you were a kindred spirit! I will definitely check out KHET and INGENIOUS – haven’t heard of those. Hoping to work on a follow-up post of FREE family games and I would put sculptionary under that category – instead of drawing items from Pictionary cards, you sculpt your clue out of Playdoh. Sadly, I learned this game in University, not preschool 😉
Michelle Swan says
Love board games!! My children are forced to interact without a screen. 🙂 A few of these are going on my Christmas list!!
My guys all enjoy Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan – strategy games that I am often out-matched at. Hmmmm. Pandemic is a fabulous strategy games that forces the players to work together. #parentingwin
Scattegories has led to many, many nights of hysterical laughter among all ages at the cottage. 🙂
I have heard so much about Settlers of Catan – must try that one this year. LOVE Scattegories! And I will check out Pandemic for sure. 🙂
Our family loves board games and we have a big collection that we usually add one or two games to every Christmas. I have found that games are a lot like recipes… there are some that you only try once or that worked for a season of your life and some that become “family classics” and part of the permanent rotation. After many years and many games, these are the ones that have had staying power for us and still bring everyone to the table:
Settlers of Catan – Never predictable and has that key mix of strategy and luck. The only thing I would say is… it helps to be competitive. Everyone in our family will play, but it appeals most to those with the drive to win.
Ticket to Ride – Rarely has the same winner, which is nice. A game that one person always dominates/wins gets old fast. We like the extra features in the European version.
Wizard (Card Game) – Of all the card games, this is the one that’s still in regular rotation. Again, good mix of strategy and luck with and you can play with up to 6 players.
Scattergories – A classic that got SO much funnier as my kids got older. Also nice when you just want to sit on the couch and not have to all be seated around a table to play a game.
Catchphrase – Little round electronic team game you can take anywhere and play 2 rounds or 20. Great starter/icebreaker game.
Cranium – This would be our “desert island game”. It’s always, always great. It worked when my kids were little and they’ll still play it now as older teenagers. Younger kids can be on a team with adults and do drawing or sculpting and it works with a wide variety of skills (e.g. in our family we have someone who’s great at drawing but can’t spell backwards to save his life… so it all evens out!) Bonus — the version we have is all Canadian content, so the trivia questions are actually relevant.
Bananagrams – The 1/2 of us of who love word games HIGHLY recommend this freestyle crossword game. Portable, fast, fun.
Telestrations – Fairly new to us but has proven hilarious with a larger group.
Pandemic – A few of us love this game but it doesn’t hold appeal for our whole family as you have to have that kind of brain that really loves strategy/puzzles. Unique in that you all play together on one team to beat the virus.
These are AWESOME ideas!! Thanks for adding to the list! Clearly we need to have a Girls’ Night In for all the game lovin’ Mamas! I am purposing to try Ticket to Ride, Pandemic and Wizard. I think I need to add Wizard to my next post on Must-Have Card Games.
Jennie A. says
I second that motion!
Grandi @ My Aggrandized Life says
Hi Karen! Our favorite game is Rummikub. The only downside is that you can only play with 4 people, so with our family of 5 someone is always left out. I am buying a second game set so we can all play together, though, but it’s a secret! 🙂 Even an hour makes a difference. Family game night is a really incredible way to get your teenager to actually TALK to you, and Rummikub specifically is great for learning how to think outside the box, so it can be a great educational game as well (good for homeschooling parents). That’s a priceless double benefit for me. Family game night is so important and it is great to unplug, put all the chores aside, have pizza bites for dinner and just enjoy time together.
I have to check out Rummikub – thanks for the tip. I can really hear your Mom heart in this comment, Grandi. Wanting to reconnect and pause as a unit – love that!