Playing board games as a family (whomever makes-up your family) is a great way to build relationship within and between family members.
Games can also help your child develop his or her numeracy skills, help develop strategic thinking, and perhaps most important (according to research) to actual learning they help a person of any age see that practice increases intelligence or thinking abilities. (This is because research shows that those who believe intelligence can be changed and improved are able to learn better than those that think intelligence is fixed.) And they are fun! I’m not sure we need science to tell us that having fun with our family members is important in growing a healthy family, but did you know that many scientists and researchers have made it their lives work to study the importance of play. Indeed, once such scientists says its not just important but essential: “play-deprived children manifest multiple psychopathologies: conversely, the histories of successful, creative people show social play’s vital part in healthy development.” Learn more about Brown’s research and others in this article in Psychology Today.
The Best Games for Families with Young Children
These are fun enough that I want to play with the kids but don’t require anyone to read or super complicated rules.
Crokinole. This is best described as that epic Canadian sport of curling but on a wooden board. You flick little round pieces with a finger. This is a timeless classic that’s really fun for all ages, two to four players. I got a chance to review a Kroeger 3-in-1 version of this game and loved it. It also came with checkers, a game which no childhood is complete without playing over and over, and backgammon (which I review in the older kids games).
Mystery Garden. It’s a simple game, but not so simple that it drives me crazy. And she wins a lot. It’s sort of like 20 questions in a board game.
Rubik’s Race. In this game partners sit across from each other and race to create a pattern on their board before their neighbour. This might be the only game that my game-hating older daughter actually enjoys. It seems to make use of the dyslexic’s talent of perception.
Wildcraft. My kid’s love this game. This is a cooperative game where everyone is a winner but it’s fun AND there are ways to add complexity. And the kids learn about herbs and their powers while playing. The first game my kids would sit down to play entirely on their own.
Settlers of Catan Junior is a scaled-down version of the popular Settlers of Catan. My youngest and I really enjoy this game together and I prefer it way better to the adult version, which I don’t have patience to learn.
Sorry and Trouble are both games based on Parcheesi. You played at least one of these in your childhood and they are still fun! They involve two to four players and moving a playing piece around the board and landing on your partner to send them back home all the while trying to get to safety yourself.
Mastermind is my favourite board game of childhood and I still love it. It’s a game for two people, where one sets a code for the other to break. It involves multi-coloured pegs and then smaller black and white pegs for tallying when and where the coloured pegs match. This requires neither math nor reading but does involve some strategy.
The Best Games for Families with Older children
These are games that might require more reading or more complicated rules.
Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow is more of an adult game but both of my kids love to play with us. And I’ve seen teenagers play a really good game of this by themselves. This is sort of poker meets that childhood game of Murder and is so much fun that it’s ridiculous. It’s also the only game I know where you must have at least nine players but gets way more fun with more and can be played with up to 100. (It doesn’t actually involve a board but it is much more like a board game than a typical card game.)
Ticket to Ride is my current favourite board game. I play this with my partner, my friends, and I have played it with older children. It really helps if someone who knows the game teaches you. The concept is pretty simple: lay the most railroad track in the most places and get the most points. There is a Europe and a USA game with India, Legendary Asia, and Sweden board additions as well. My favourite is the Europe board but they are all addictive.
Taboo is an oldie but goodie. I perhaps never laughed so hard as I have playing this game with my god-family in a group that ranged from 13 to 65. You have to be able to read well for this game.
Apples to apples (and its much raunchier adult-only version Cards Against Humanity) are especially fun games when the players know each other well. They require at least four players but get more fun with slightly bigger groups. Both games require reading and writing: the objective is to guess which “red apple” card– generally featuring a noun e.g. apple– will be the best match with the “green apple” card–which generally contains an adjective e.g. delicious–as chosen by that round’s judging player.
Backgammon can be traced back nearly 5,000 years to ancient Persia. It is a two player game where each player has fifteen checkers-like pieces that move between twenty-four board positions according to the roll of two dice. The objective of the game is to be first to move all fifteen checkers off the board. You do not need to be able to read or do advanced math for this game and my seven-year-old enjoys it.
Cribbage is really a card game but since it requires a board for score keeping, I think it can count. This game is usually played with two but can be adapted for three or more. It involves a lot of counting with 15 being the magic number. It is a wee bit complicated at first, but can be learned fast by a person with average counting abilities and a partner that has played before. Likely best enjoyed by children ten and up (no reading required, but somewhat complicated instructions.)