Everyone who comes to our house comments on our board game collection. We have shelves and shelves of games, and they’re way better than the old, tired, endless games from our childhoods. Some board games go in and out of print quickly, but here are a few of our favorites that you can buy right now! (Or forward the link to grandparents who need Christmas gift ideas…)
Go Away, Monster! is the first game our kids play, starting at age 2. Players take turns reaching into a bag to pick out pieces to complete their little bedroom scene: a bed, a teddy bear, picture, and lamp. But beware! There are monsters in roughly the same shapes! If a player picks up a monster, they yell, “Go away, monster!” and throw it in the middle of the table. It’s really simple, taking 5-10 minutes to play, but little kids learn taking turns and how to strategize to find the missing pieces they need. My three year old loves it and wants to play every night.
Catan: Junior is a kid-friendly version of the grown-up Settlers of Catan, the resource-gathering, trading, and building game that was the gateway game into Euro-style games for many of us! Kids collect resources like goats and gold nuggets and wood to build more pirate lairs and pirate ships that will help them build more things and win the game. My kids started being able to play on their own at around age 6. The younger ones play on a team with a parent or big brother.
My First Carcassonne is another kid-version of a great grown-up tile laying game, Carcassonne. In the kid version, players take turns laying tiles, and if you create a road with end points, you get to put your little colored pieces on every matching child on the road. First player to use up all their pieces wins. My five year old can play this, and I like that more advanced players can “help” out younger players by placing tiles where the little ones will get points. It’s easy to make sure no one gets too far behind.
Battle Sheep is sortof a take on something like Chinese checkers. Everyone has a stack of sheep, and you want to be the one to lay out the most sheep on the board before spaces run out. There is strategy to cutting other players off and how many sheep to use in each stack, so my seven year old doesn’t do too well at it yet, but my nine year old loves it and could beat me at age 8! The pieces on this one are particularly nice quality, and it’s actually fun for grown-ups, too.
Sushi Go! is our family’s current favorite game. Perfect for big kids and adults, you’re trying to get the most points by collecting different sets of sushi. Everyone has a hand of cards, you pick one, then pass it to the player on the left. By the time it comes back to you, someone else might have played the card you really wanted, so you’re making new decisions with each turn. My seven year old won the game her first time playing, and our nine year old has been hanging with us for a while.
Forbidden Island is our family’s favorite “cooperative game,” where everyone works together for a common goal, similar to the grown-up co-op game Pandemic. Each player has a special skill, and we all work together to collect certain treasures before the island we’re on sinks. Lots of strategy, but since we’re all working together and discussing, our seven year old can easily play her own role. Our little girls prefer to play on our teams and help turn over the tiles that are under water or rescued.
Forbidden Desert is the sequel to Forbidden Island, and this time we’ve crash landed in a desert and have to find the missing parts of our plane before we die of thirst or get covered in sand. The game dynamics are a little more complicated than in Forbidden Island, but players still work together using different skills (someone can hold extra water, another might be able to clear extra sand each turn). Again, if playing with advanced players, my kids can play their own role starting around age 7, but it’s fun with all adults, too.
Ticket to Ride is an adult game that our 9 year old started playing with us this year. You all have train routes you’re trying to build across the country, and you have to collect the right color of train cars to build each segment. There’s a lot of strategy in where you build your roads (especially if someone else builds where you were wanting to go) and what you collect, but an advanced kid can handle it. It’s also a pretty straight-forward game to play when friends or family come to visit. And now there’s a kid version available (see below)!
Takenoko has to be the cutest concept of all the games we have. You’re trying to grow bamboo to feed hungry pandas, achieving goals for types of bamboo farms, size of bamboo stalks, and colors of bamboo collected. You’re building out the board and collecting resources, and the cute little panda gets to move around the board. Our son started playing with us at 8, but the girls just love sit on our laps and play on our team since the strategy involved is definitely more for older kids and adults.
Zooloretto is another big kid to adult game. This time, you’re building a zoo, so you’re trying to collect the right kinds of animals and put them in trucks that you’ll end up taking to put in your own zoo pens. Other people can steal your trucks as you’re filling them, though, so there’s strategy in how full to fill a truck, when to take it, and what kinds of animals to collect (because you don’t want all animals that other people are trying to collect).
Ticket to Ride: First Journey is a simplified version of the adult game, with shorter routes and easier goals. A perfect introduction to the game that our seven year old played easily and our five year old played with a bit of help.
Most of these links (except the Target one) are to Amazon, and if you click through our links, we’ll get a little percentage of commission to help cover the hosting fees for the website. However! If you have a local game store, please go there and support them. They provide such an important resource to go touch and feel a game and discuss it with knowledgeable (and always geeky) staff. We buy most of our games from Valhalla’s Gate in Columbia, Missouri while we’re on vacation. The staff there have been invaluable in helping us find the right games for our kids’ ages and interests. There are many great game stores around, and Barnes and Noble actually has an increasingly decent selection, so I usually go there to buy presents for birthday parties since we don’t have a designated game store nearby.