This is a repost of a blog that I originally wrote for my company. It can be found here and has been published with permission.
If you were to ask me what I do for fun, I would rattle off a list of things that I like to do, and then, once I’ve named enough things to make it seem like it’s not my favorite activity in the world, I casually throw out that I like to play board games. I love every part of board gaming, but the number one thing that draws me back time and time again is the time spent around the table with friends and loved ones.
Right now, spending time around the table, playing together is needed more than ever, so I’ve curated a quick guide to help families find a great game that will be just as fun for parents as for kids. There are so many good games that could go on this list, so I made sure that each level has at least one cooperative game–games where the family plays against the game together, are readily available to purchase, and play in 30 minutes or less. This guide is broken down by age range. If you can only pick up one, I recommend that you pick a game that caters to the youngest member of your family. Finally, I’ve provided links to online stores. However, if you can support a local game store in your area, buy from them it may be a couple extra dollars but it’s worth it!
I hope that you and your family will find hours of joy, laughter, and connection around the table in the time to come.
Games to Play With Preschoolers
Animal Upon Animal | 2-4 players, 15-20 mins, $25
This game holds a special place in my heart because it is the first board game I bring out to play with the little ones in my life. Animal Upon Animal is a dexterity game where each player is trying to stack their animals in the center of the table without the mountain of wooden critters falling over. On their turn, a player roles the die to see how they are supposed to place their anime and the first person to place all of their animals wins. It’s an extremely flexible title because their are many variants on the rules included in the box for different levels of game play and if your kids aren’t ready for the game, the chunky wooden animal shapes are so much fun to play with.
Outfoxed | 2-4 players, 15-20 mins, $20
Outfoxed is a cooperative game where the family works together to find clues and figure out which of the escaping foxes stole the pie. On each turn, you either reveal a suspect card or travel around the board collecting clues, if you can deduce who did it, you win the game. But if you aren’t quick enough, the fox might just get away. As with any good preschool aged game, game play can be pretty easy, but there are a couple of alternate rules in the back of the rulebook to employ when your family needs a bit more of a challenge.
Shadows in the Forest | 2-8 players, 15 mins, $20
Shadows in the Forest is just as much an experience as a game because it is meant to be played in a dimly lit space. In Shadows in the Forest, one person, the “seeker” moves an LED lantern around the board trying to reveal the “shadowlings”, which freezes them in place, while all of the “shadowlings” are trying to congregate in the same shadow. If the seeker manages shine a light on all the of the players, they win. Otherwise the “shadowlings” win, once they group up in the same space. It’s basically a game of flashlight freeze tag played on a board. Lot’s of fun with a unique ambiance.
Games to Play With Early Elementary Aged Kids
Dinosaur Tea Party | 3-5 players, 15-30 mins, $20
Dinosaur Tea Party is a modern take on an older game called Guess Who? and it can be played by more than two players. In Dinosaur Tea Party, each player is dealt a secret identity of one of the guests who was invited to the tea party and everyone at the table is trying to figure out who was invited. On your turn you get to ask yes or no questions about other players hidden identity and the more yes answers you receive, the more questions you get to ask. If you can guess which dinosaur is hidden in front of another player you claim their card, once you have three cards you win.
Deep Sea Adventure | 2-6 players, 20 mins, $20
Deep Sea Adventure is press your luck game about boldly treasure-hunting in the depths of the ocean. Over the course of three rounds, players venture out of the submarine to uncover hidden treasure. The further out one ventures, the more valuable the treasure becomes. But there is a catch, the more treasure you pick up the harder it is to swim and if you don’t get back to the submarine before time runs out, you have to drop your treasure and try again later. After three rounds, the player who successfully brought back the most treasure to the submarine wins. This a wonderfully compact little game from Oink! games out of Japan and it has literally traveled the world with me because it’s so small and so easy to teach to whomever is interested in trying it out.
Forbidden Island | 2-4 players, 30 mins, $20
Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where up to four players try to collect all four invaluable artifacts and escape before the island sinks. This title is one of the original cooperative games that really helped the style take off and it is still well loved by the community. I mean, who doesn’t love reenacting an Indiana Jones style adventure? This is a great game for this age group because the ruleset is simple enough to be easy to execute, but it really takes a good amount of collective problem solving. Be prepared to lose this one a couple of times as you learn the ropes and when your family masters normal mode, there are still more challenges to be had.
Games to Play With Late Elementary Aged Kids
Sushi Go! | 2-4 players, 15 mins, $9
Sushi Go! is the go to game to start teaching kids more advanced game mechanics like drafting and set collection. Sorry if that jargon left you feeling a bit confused, I nerded out a bit there for a second. In Sushi Go, players start with a hand of cards, simultaneously picks one to play face up in front of them, and then passes the rest of their hand around the table (drafting). Each card that is placed out in front of a player scores points depending on how it combines with other cards that are played out (set building). After the cards run out, the round is over and each persons card collection is scored. After three rounds, the person with the most points wins. Sushi Go! is a delightful game with great art and a fun theme that will make you want to order some nigiri with a side of wasabi for dinner.
King of Tokyo | 2-6 players, 30 mins, $31
King of Tokyo is combination of Yahtzee and the schoolyard classic, King of the Hill. In King of Tokyo, each player chooses a monster and collects victory points by making character advancements, rolling a set of identical numbers, or holding control of the Tokyo city space in the middle of the board–the longer you stay in Tokyo the more points you acquire. However, all of the monsters outside of the city are working together to attack you and if you aren’t careful you can lose all of your life points and get knocked out. The first player to 20 points or the last monster standing is declared King or Queen of Tokyo.
Magic Maze | 1-8 players, 15-20 mins, $30
Magic Maze is a cooperative game where the players are trying to navigate a fantasy shopping mall, picking up some supplies, and then getting out. Here’s the catch, there is a sand timer, which means that literal time is of the essence. But just in case you didn’t think that was tricky enough, you also aren’t allowed to talk while the timer is running. It’s a super fun, fast paced group game with a super unique theme that will make your family laugh out loud together.