These days, most kids are heavily into video games and apps, but there is much to be said for a good old fashioned board game. No matter how old your kids are, sitting down for some dedicated time together will thrill them (even if they won’t admit it). Most Americans tend to stick to classics we know like Monopoly, Battleship, Chess and Trivial Pursuit, but there are many exciting new board games out there that can liven up family game night.
Here is my list of the 5 Best Board Games.
At our house, we dedicate two to three hours of every Saturday night to family game night and try to never play the same game two weekends in a row. This keeps the kids (and us) from getting bored and gives everyone a chance at winning since most of us have expertise in different types of games. Here’s a look at five of the best board games we’ve made part of our family game nights that offer the added benefit of tricking our kids into a little learning while we’re having fun playing together.
These tabletop games are fun for both adults and kids in the elementary to middle school age brackets.
Apples to Apples
This game doesn’t have a board, just cards. It comes in both junior and regular versions. This was a game our youngest son introduced us to after playing it at school. It’s a comparison game (thus the name) that expands the vocabulary, encourages critical thinking and usually provokes serious belly laughs.
You take turns judging by selecting a green apple theme card that usually contains a one word descriptive like “adorable.” The other players each choose a red apple card they think best matches the theme. Red apple cards played might include “Koala bear” or “Hello Kitty.” You can also go for something funny like “Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
This game never gets boring and when your kids come across people, places, pop culture references or words they’re not familiar with, offering a quick explanation enriches their knowledge base and teaches new vocabulary. The grown up version is great for kids 10 and up and the junior version for grades 2-4. No matter the version, it’s a good time for kids and parents alike.
Settlers of Catan
This game is an award-winner created in Germany where tabletop gaming is a passionate pastime. It’s appropriate for ages nine and up and combines the appeal of Risk without the frustration of being wiped off the board by aggressive opponents. Settlers of Catan teaches strategy and cooperative bargaining because this is a game where you have to trade to succeed.
The hex shaped board game offers spaces that provide you with resources including brick, ore, wheat, sheep and wood. You use these resources to expand your holdings by building settlements, roads and upgrading to cities. Because you start out with limited resources, you must bargain and trade with other players to progress. This requires you to be both cooperative and competitive.
This one is a big hit in our household and has spread like a virus to our friends and family who’ve played it at our house. Once you master the basic game, you can try expansion kits that add fishing and seafaring into the mix. Other exciting versions of Catan include Traders & Barbarians, Explorers & Pirates and historical versions like Ancient Egypt or Greece.
Rory’s Story Cubes
This tiny game has won big accolades including Child Magazine’s Seal of Excellence, Best Game at the Independent Toy Awards, Dr Toy Best Game and Educational Toy of the Year. One of the best things about Rory’s Story Cubes is that the game fits in the palm of your hand so it’s great to take on trips or to a restaurant so that family game night can travel with you wherever you go.
Each tiny boxed set version comes with nine “dice” with images instead of pips. This gives you 54 options to spark the imagination. You roll the dice then create a short story of a few sentences that must include every element. The basic set features story prompts such as a cell phone, house, bee, pyramid, sheep, fish and an eye. What’s also fun is that there is no winner. It’s a just-for-the-fun-of-it game.
As you and your kids create stories to fit the images, you stretch your imagination and strengthen reasoning and logic skills. Other versions include Voyages and Actions. Mix and match sets to make the game more challenging. It can be played anywhere: in the car, on a table, even on a plane. I keep a set in my purse so if we get stuck somewhere, we can kill time when our devices are dead or there’s no WiFi.
Scrabble is fun enough, but UpWords is more engaging because it literally takes it to a new level. It’s also played on a grid with letter tiles and game time runs from 40-90 minutes depending on number of players and skill level. Everyone gets seven tiles and the first player has to play a word that includes the center square on the board (like Scrabble also requires).
From there, it gets crazy. You can either lay down a new word that crosses an existing word or build on top of someone else’s word. For instance, if someone plays the word “games” you can replace the G with a T to make “tames.” That’s a simple instance that younger kids are likely to play. Older tween players will explore more sophisticated options that allow them to replace several letters.
One letter of the prior word must be left uncovered. For instance “cater” can be turned into “laser” with an L and an S. UpWords helps to expand vocabulary and encourage language development. It also tickles your brain by adding spatial thinking to a language skill which doubly stimulates your cranium. Another plus is that the plastic tiles hold firm so a table jostle won’t send your words skittering.
Establishing (and sticking to) a family game night while your kids are younger can become a family tradition that will keep you in tight with your offspring even when they’re spreading their wings. These games range in price from $10 for Rory’s Story Cubes up to about $35 for Settlers of Catan. We expand our library by three or four games a year to keep things fresh, try new games and appeal to everyone’s interests.
The board game classic comes in both junior and big kid/adult versions as well as a wide array of interesting custom versions including Disney, Marvel Comics and Dot Com (properties are famous websites). We prefer the classic good-old Atlantic city version for our game nights. Monopoly is a fun way to reinforce counting and math skills, strategy and patience.
You may remember as a child that a multi-player Monopoly game could monopolize your whole day so when we break this one out, we decide ahead of time how long we’ll play and set a timer. The person with the highest net worth at the designated stopping point takes the win. And because this game comes with so many little pieces, we established a “winner cleans up” rule to make sure parts don’t get lost.
One version of Monopoly I don’t recommend is the Electronic Banking iteration. This one doesn’t use cash and instead has a credit card type device where you swipe your card to pay bills and collect rent. This is a lazy version that strips away the educational value of handling the faux currency and teaches kids that swiping plastic is the way to pay for everything.