January 30, 2022

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Playing 7 Wonders for Family Game Night (which is… every night, now!). This photo was taken when the kids were 5 and 7 years old.

The Short Version: There are so many super fun games to play, and they’re really good for your kids, too! I’ve made a detailed list (roughly in order of increasing ability/age) of our favorites below!

I recently sent out our family newsletter, where every single one of us mentioned our newfound enjoyment of playing family board games. Shortly after, friends started asking for recommendations, usually in the form of something like, “Can you recommend something for us? I’m so tired of playing _________!” (<– usually rhymes with Dandyland). I would try to get a quick idea of what their children were able to do: Can they identify numbers? Count dots on a die? Read? Do simple addition? Then I’d sort through the catalog of games in my mind and try to recommend a few. This is one of my new pandemic skills: recommending fun board games for kids in various stages of learning and development. Yay.

In the last two years, our kids have made the leap from playing “kid games parents try to avoid” (you know the ones…) to “kid games parents actually enjoy” (like Monopoly Deal and Sleeping Queens) to our current situation: “Grown-up games our kids can now play!” Hallelujah! This past month, we have been consuming a steady diet of 7 Wonders, Carcassonne, Splendor, and Ticket to Ride Europe every night after dinner, and are working our way through the various expansions these games offer.

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d be the kind of parent to have shelves and shelves of bookcases stuffed with dozens of board games. I had seen photos on buy/sell groups of impossible numbers of board games crammed into every square inch of various cabinets and shelves before. How on earth can one family own so many games and actually play them all? I wondered. But now those are our shelves, and let me tell you: the benefits of those games are hands down worth the eyesore-ness of them!

Preschoolers can learn about grids and coordinates with Race to the Treasure.

Benefits of playing games with kids

There’s nothing like finding the right game for a particular stage of your child’s development. Candyland helped with colors, Uno helped with colors and number fluency, while Blink helped with colors, shapes, and subitization (fancy word for recognizing “how many” without counting, like how you’d instantly recognize there are 4 dots on a dice without needing to count each individual dot). Sneaky Snacky Squirrel gently introduced our young kids to dealing with disappointment and loss (very important life skills!), and Race to the Treasure was a great way to teach kids about grids and coordinates. All of them were more fun than doing worksheets or workbooks, and gave our very young kids an engaging way to learn important concepts that was hands-on and screen-free.

At one point, it occurred to me that I could spend hundreds sending my kids to math tutoring programs, or we could just practice adding numbers by playing Sushi Go a few times. The latter cost <$7 for several rounds of adding, didn’t require me to drive them anywhere, and was a fun way for me to spend time together with them, too! Once I considered how inexpensive that was for so much math fun, our stockpile of games began to multiply.

The learning goes way beyond math. There is so much planning, strategy, visual-spatial reasoning, logic, and social and emotional development that takes place when playing certain games. There are also some really enjoyable word-based games, such as Bananagrams. You can imagine how delighted I was this week when the kids worked together to create a Bananagram crossword while I cooked dinner. Maybe they’re not all legitimate words (…paringer?), but they were working together, playing with words, discussing meanings, and very, very proud of themselves. While. I. Cooked. Dinner. I can’t promise that will happen for you, but if it does, you owe me a comment on this post so it can make my day, too! =D

Ben popped in near the end and contributed some of the Q-words, but the rest was all them! They didn’t play the game according to the official instructions (don’t think my youngest is quite ready for that on his own, yet), but still had fun!

That is ultimately my goal with this post: For you to try some of these games, have fun with the kids, and enjoy seeing your kids learn and have fun without you, too. Maybe it’ll even buy you a couple hours of sleeping-in time on a Saturday morning, and we all know how priceless that is! (Carcassonne is a great one for this: easy set up, games last for a pretty long time, and I didn’t hear any arguing last Saturday morning when they played!). My hope is that you will find games that can bring the family together to have actual fun for everyone–both kids and parents! For that reason, I’ve created a list of games we love, below.

Notes on The List

I divided the games into three major categories: “Must Have,” “Nice to Have,” and “Still Made the Cut.” Even though my kids have outgrown some of the games in the “Must Have” section, they are games that I still highly recommend for parents of younger kids! Within each major section, I put the games roughly in order according to age/ability, starting from the simplest games. In an effort to narrow things down even more, I added an asterisk for my own personal favorites, or the games our family reaches for all the time. I also noted if a game was particularly good for travel, which includes most of the card-based games and the ones that pack very small.

Next, I tried to boil the information down to three parts:

  1. Very approximate age recommendations: You know your child best! But at age 4, my son was able to play several games that were for kids 8+, so you could be missing out on a lot if you simply rely on the ages listed by the game makers. If it turns out your pre-k child is not ready for it yet, no worries! Just hang onto it and try again in a year or two! When they’re ready for it, it’ll be fun!
    playing this game too (even if a child wasn’t asking them to)!
  2. General comments/thoughts.
  3. Skills/strategies supported: This can help you figure out if the game is appropriate for your child, or would support skills your are hoping your child can build fluency in (i.e. Skip-Bo is a fun way to practice remembering numbers in sequence).

As ALWAYS, I would really love to hear from you! There are a ton of games out there, and I know this list only scratches the surface. Do you guys play any of the games on this list? Did any of them catch your eye? Which ones did I miss? Please share in the comments below!

If we were to have another child, I would purchase these games again if we didn’t have them already. These are also my go-to games to buy for gifts for other children.

Sequence for Kids
Fun for preschoolers
Kids can work on animal recognition, game strategy skills and thinking ahead even if they can’t read yet.
Skills/strategies supported: Animal recognition, matching, counting 1-4.

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
Fun for preschoolers
A simple game where kids spin the wheel and try to fill their trunk with one acorn of each color. Setbacks include getting an acorn stolen, losing a turn, or having all your acorns “blown away” by the wind.
Skills/strategies supported: Fine motor skills (optional tweezers to use to pick up and place acorns), colors, numbers 1 and 2, a gentle introduction to losing and disappointment, and some game strategy when it comes to picking acorns. No reading skills needed.

Fun for preschoolers to adults
This is a super fun game that can work even for very young kids! And, I always enjoy a game more when I get to actually try my hardest without being an awful parent… so this was a good one for the early days when we still had to play easy on the kids for most games, but Ben and I could focus our attacks on each other without making it harder for the kids.
Skills/strategies supported: Visual-spacial reasoning

Fun for preschoolers and elementary age
Among the more fun games to play with very young preschoolers. I felt like this game was actually the bridge from really slow, repetitive, mind-numbingly boring games to “Hey, I can actually try with this game!” Easy parent hack: It’s no fun to always have to play slow/easy, but it’s also not that nice to beat your kid every time. One thing to keep things fun for everyone is, instead of dividing the cards evenly, go with 90/10 or whatever makes more sense for you and our child. Then you can actually play hard as you try to work through your 90% pile, but not feel like a terrible person while your kid tries their hardest to work through their 10% pile! I think the kids like seeing that you are into the game, too! If your child is realllly slow, just take an even bigger pile to start with until it’s a fair competition!
Skills/strategies supported: Recognizing shapes, recognizing colors, subitization
(Card-based game, good for travel)

Spot it
Fun for preschoolers through adults
This fun deck of round cards has many variations for play, which keeps things fresh. It’s compact, and perfect to take along for a trip. Kids don’t have to be able to read to play this one, and you can follow the same “easy parent hack” I noted for Blink to keep things interesting for you, the parent, as well! Basically, divide the cards unevenly, in your kid’s favor, to increase the challenge for yourself.
Skills/strategies supported: Recognizing shapes, observational skills, reflexes, speech-language skills, fine motor skills.
(Card game, good for travel)

Fun for late preschoolers through elementary age
This is a fun cooperative game where teammates work together to find clues, reveal suspects, and try to catch the pie-stealing fox!
Skills/strategies supported: Process of elimination, logic, deduction, reasoning, communication and teamwork, memory, simple addition.

Fun for preschoolers through adults
This is a nice low-key game that also happens to be a great way to practice numbers 1-12 for your young child. I make this game more engaging for myself by making my stockpile bigger, so I can try my hardest while giving my kids a good chance of winning.
Skills/strategies supported: Counting 1-12, strategy
(Card-based game, good for travel)

*Monopoly Deal (not to be confused with Monopoly, which is in a much lower category)
Fun for late preschoolers through adults
This game will forever hold a special place in my heart as the game that got us through the first terrible few months of the pandemic, when there were wildfires and smoke that kept us indoors, COVID that kept us away from friends and family, and crazy hail that made me think maybe the world was ending.
It didn’t. And instead, we played Monopoly Deal. And for that I am forever grateful.
It is also wins the awards for being the game started the era of Family Games Mommy and Daddy Actually Like to Play, Too! as well as Games Our Youngest Can Legitimately Beat Us In.
When I recently mentioned this game to my friend, she immediately groaned, “Noooo… not Monopoly!!” But I promise you this is a TOTALLY different game experience than the traditional board game! Games are relatively short, at around ~15-20 minutes, and in my opinion this game is so much more enjoyable. Players try to be the first to build three sets of color cards (i.e. having both Park Place and Boardwalk counts as one set), facing setbacks like paying rent, taxes, gifting birthday money to other players, etc. along the way.
Skills/strategies supported: Addition, simple multiplication concepts, strategic thinking
(Card-based game, good for travel)

*Sleeping Queens
Fun for late preschoolers through adults
A fun card game with whimsical pictures and short game play. Easy to learn and understand, and one the kids can play together on their own from a fairly young age!
Note: There are two versions, but I recently realized that the “10th anniversary” one we have (which is the one I linked) has 16 queens instead of 12, which I think makes the game more fun.
Skills/strategies supported: Addition
(Card-based game, good for travel)

*Sushi Go
Fun for late preschoolers through adults
Pass cards around to try to make the highest scoring sushi combinations! This game is fun, but may require an older child or adult to help organize the game and add up points at the end. Playing time is around minutes.
Skills/strategies supported: Addition, subtraction, early multiplication concepts, probability, strategic thinking
(Card-based game, good for travel)

*Ticket to Ride – First Journey
Fun for late preschoolers through adults
Players use trains to build routes from one destination to another. The first person to complete six routes wins! For a moment I thought my assessment of age-appropriateness was wildly off when Amazon listed the manufacture recommended age as 13-15, but the box itself says 6+ (and I see reviewers mentioning their 4 and 6 year olds playing this game, too!). It’s a really fun concept and the Ticket to Ride series is one of my personal favorites! There’s just something so satisfying about completing routes efficiently!
Skills/strategies supported: Map skills, planning, strategic thinking

Fun for mid-elementary through adults, adaptable for younger kids
Kids should be able to read and write fairly fluently to play this game properly, but there are all sorts of ways to interact with the letter tiles that don’t require following the rules of the game. My kindergartener enjoys turning tiles over and just seeing how many words he can make, or working with his sister to make crosswords with it. I recently taught them a different game using the same tiles called Pirate Scrabble, which I might enjoy even more than the original Bananagrams game!
Skills/strategies supported: Letter recognition, wordplay. Kids should be to read at a second grade level before playing this game the way it is intended, but you can always use the tiles just to form words for fun.
(Game is small, good for travel)

*CATAN Junior
Fun for late preschoolers through adults
Collect resources to build ships and pirate lairs! It’s a simple introduction to the larger and much loved CATAN game. Solid A for this game.
Skills/strategies supported: Planning, counting, budgeting resources, subitization

Fun for elementary age through adults
Collect gems to purchase cards! Collect cards to get the most points by the end of the game. It’s pretty simple, and very fun. Our youngest beat us all the first couple times we played, and we all had to concede that his strategy has been the winningest. But now that everyone uses the same strategy, it’s not necessarily the best strategy anymore… which is all to say that despite playing several times these past couple of months, the game hasn’t gotten old yet!
Skills/strategies supported: Planning, addition, strategic thinking

Fun for elementary age through adults
This game is GREAT. Set-up is easy, the basic concept is pretty simple to teach, and it is very fun. It does require you to study the instructions a bit before beginning, but not nearly as much as 7 Wonders. When you’re first learning it, I would suggest leaving the farmers out. You can always introduce them later, when you’re ready for something to spice the game up and when you’re ready to focus on reading instructions again. Ben and I played this with my brother, sister-in-law/bff, and my mom during a recent family trip and had so much fun late into the night! Great game overall, and one our kids quickly picked up, too.
Skills/strategies supported: Visual/spatial reasoning, planning, addition, strategic thinking, budgeting

*Ticket to Ride – Europe
Fun for elementary age through adults
This game is more complicated than Ticket to Ride – First Journey, and my youngest may or may not have cried midway through the Youtube video we watched to learn the new game… but it’s fun now! I love budgeting my trains and looking for the most efficient way to complete routes. Maybe it’s just how my planny-planny brain works, but I’m really glad we got this one and that the kids enjoy it, too!
Skills/strategies supported: Map skills, planning, strategic thinking

*7 Wonders
Fun for elementary age through adults
Let me start by saying that this game has probably been the family favorite for several months, now. It’s really fun, the expansions are great, and even I regularly choose it when it’s my turn to pick! HOWEVER. You should know what you’re getting yourself into. For one, 7 Wonders is kind of a pain to set up and put away. It’s not one that the kids can play on their own yet, and you need at least 3 players to play. There’s a whole user manual of directions that comes with it, and you actually have to read it. Pre-pandemic me barely had the patience and focus to sit through and learn this game from my friends, but now that it has fully embedded itself into our lives, I enjoy it just as much as the kids.
There are several expansions for this game which keeps it fresh (and also make it increasingly complicated to set up). As much as I enjoy this game, I can only recommend it if you are ready to do the work of reading the pages and pages of instructions, patiently teaching the kids (with open-faced hands, in the beginning), keeping the pieces organized, expecting them to interrupt you a lot as they learn the game to explain what all the cards mean, and if you enjoy long games played across several rounds. I know, I just lost most of you… and for those of you still reading… you’ve probably already played this game. If you haven’t already, I would suggest learning/playing it with grown-ups first before trying to teach it to kids. In summary, this game is kind of a pain to learn and a chore to put away, but super fun once everyone knows it! (Ok I know I’m not selling it well, but just wanted to be up front about things!).
Skills/strategies supported: Planning, addition, subtraction, multiplication, negative numbers, strategic thinking, budgeting resources, organizing

If you have the space and money for it, I’d also keep these in the collection!

Fun for preschoolers through elementary age
Like Bingo, but with a slightly annoying token dispenser which is pretty fun for the kids to maneuver. Kids don’t need to be able to read to play this game. This one makes the list not because I loved playing it, but because it was one of the first games our kids were able to play together for long periods of time, without us.
Skills/strategies supported: Reflexes, directionality.

Q’s Race to the Top
Fun for preschoolers through elementary age
I have great memories of playing this game with the kids, where they took turns rolling the dice and then doing picking a “You,” “Do,” or “?” card. These cards would prompt them to answer interesting questions about themselves (What do you think about at night before you go to sleep?), do fun actions (With your eyes closed, balance on one leg and count to 20. Now try the other leg.), or consider best responses to various situations. The board itself is basic, but the three sets of card actions are where the fun and learning are at! A fun game perfect for the preschool ages.
Skills/strategies supported: Social skills, emotional skills, gross motor skills/physical movement, empathy, communication, problem-solving

Race to the Treasure
Fun for preschoolers through elementary age
This is a cooperative game that has players connecting path pieces to make it to the treasure before the ogres get to them. It’s a nice introduction to goals, excitement, coordinates and grids, and the tension of an Ogre possibly stealing your treasure.
Skills/strategies supported: Using grids and coordinates (i.e. “A4” and “C2”), probability, dealing with a little tension, teamwork and communication

Fun for late preschoolers through elementary age
This game is almost exactly like a math game I used to teach my students called Low Score. You could literally grab a deck of cards, click on that link for instructions and play a game that is mostly the same (just take out the face cards). Or you could pay extra and buy this game for the novelty of cat and mouse cartoons and the removal of complications that J, Q, and K cards could bring. Since I wanted it to be fairly easy for my then-4 year old to learn, I opted to buy this game, and I have no regrets! But if you want to save space/money and already have a deck of playing cards, I’m telling you… my math games are SO FUN!!! Try them! =D
Skills/strategies supported: Addition, probability, strategic thinking, memory
(Card-based game, good for travel)

*Exploding Kittens
Fun for elementary through adults
“A Kitty-Powered Russian Roulette Card Game,” which to my kids, is simply a card game with silly cartoons and fun actions! Try to make it to the end of the game without exploding! Simple to learn, and fun for kids to play with other kids.
Skills/strategies supported: Strategic thinking, probability
(Card-based game, good for travel)

Throw Throw Burrito
Fun for elementary through adults
This game feels a little like Spoons, but where you try to make sets to get points and where you also get to throw squishy/plushy burritos at each other. Put away the fragile vases for this game!
Skills/strategies supported: Reflexes

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza
Fun for preschoolers and elementary ages
This game reminds me of Slapjack, but with a fun, chest-thumping twist. I don’t mind it, but it generally falls into the category of games I’m happy to let my kids play by themselves :).
Skills/strategies supported: Reflexes, memory.
(Card-based game, good for travel)

Fun for elementary through adults
At first glance, this might look like kind of a math-y game that a teacher would give her students to play for “fun math practice.” AND IT IS! I would totally! It’s a very fun math game, and has so much good addition practice! Trust me! I play it with my kindergartener (helping him figure out his score at the end), and also my second grader. It’s great fun addition practice for both of them, and me? I enjoy the game plenty! This definitely falls into the category of fun math games that I actually enjoy playing with my kids.
Skills/strategies supported: Subitization, simple addition of one-digit numbers, addition of 2-digit numbers.
(Small game, good for travel)

(on the shelves (for now))
These games are not bad. But I wouldn’t buy a replacement if we lost it.

Fun for preschoolers to early elementary
This is actually a game our kids like to bring out to play on their own. They enjoy matching up the colors and seeing how long of a snake they can make!
Skills/strategies supported: Color recognition, counting

Fun for preschoolers and elementary ages
As long as your child knows their colors and numbers (or, at least can match numbers), they can get the basic feel for this game. It’s also a good way to help your child learn to recognize and match numbers if they’re still working on that.
Skills/strategies supported: Number recognition, colors
(Card-based game, good for travel)

Sum Swamp
Fun for early elementary ages
This is an addition and subtraction game. We had a few plays out of it, and the kids enjoyed it just fine. I was kind of surprised to see that it got 4,543 5-star ratings on Amazon, though!
Skills/strategies supported: Counting, number recognition, addition, subtraction, evens/odds

Robot Turtles
Fun for preschoolers through elementary ages
This game teachers kids early programming concepts and teaches them to plan ahead. My son actually chose, bought, and gifted this game to his computer-y dad for Christmas. Isn’t that cute? And you know what, Ben likes it! We played it recently for family game night and I have to say, it honestly wasn’t bad for something that is advertised as a game for preschoolers.
Skills/strategies supported: Early programming principles, thinking and planning ahead, left/right concepts.

Fun for elementary ages
I like when my kids play this game with each other. But I don’t really like to play it with them.
Skills/strategies supported: You’ve all played this one, right? I mean… it’s a good one for working on dealing with tremendous disappointment and not being a poor sport? Or learning not to be a rude winner?

We have a lot of the classic games at home too (Monopoly, Chess, Chinese Checkers, Mancala, Candyland, Scrabble, Battleship, Chutes and Ladders, Connect 4, Trouble, Taboo, Scattegories, etc.). We’ve played them here and there, but Chess is probably the only one on that list they go back to regularly. Board games have come a long way since these games came out, and I hope you were able to find something on this list that you’d like to try!

14 responses to “Board Games You Won’t Hate Playing with Your Kids”

  1. S K says:

    Thank you so much for this post! Added a bunch of stuff to my Amazon cart 😛 Will also take a look at your math games later. We’ve been playing Sleeping Queens daily since I bought it (the day after our hike). Unfortunately didn’t get the 10th anniversary edition but it’s been a hit regardless!

    • joellen says:

      Hooray! I’m so glad Sleeping Queens was a hit! We just played it tonight, because the kids didn’t feeling like playing such a “big game” every night all of a sudden haha. It was nice 🙂 Can’t wait to hear how the games go for you guys!

  2. GrandmaD says:

    We have had this game for a few years. EVERYONE who plays it loves it (kids and adults) and asks to play it again the next time there is a game night.