Our family has a lot of board games. Gaming has always been a huge part of how we entertain ourselves and also an important part of our kids’ education. But typical “educational games” are almost uniformly awful. And unnecessary — all games can be educational in one way or another, whether they use math or logic or incorporate historical elements or resource management, there’s always something there that you can learn from and use in life. (There’s a whole sub-category of homeschooling called gameschooling which is based entirely on this idea.)
I was asked to share some games that might be good for kids (because ours are teenagers now) and I realized that I have more to say on the subject than would make a simple Slack post, so I’ve decided to list a bunch of games I think would be great for kids and that we’ve enjoyed ourselves as adults. Some of these may be more obviously made as a kid or kid-friendly game, but some of these may be somewhat less obvious (or less obviously “educational” — whatever that means).
In alphabetical order (because that’s the order that my games list comes in 😅), here we go:
Obviously kid-centric and/or educational
Blokus is a tetris-like logic game where you try to fill as much space on a square board as possible with specific tetris-y shapes while navigating around (and possibly blocking) other peoples tetris pieces. There’s some strategy to be had to block other players out of specific areas and the goal is to have the least number of pieces left over.
Cobra Paw is about quickly matching the patterns of symbols on two oversized dice to domino-like tiles in the center of the play area. As soon as you see the matching domino, you need to snatch it from the board to add to your collection. You can also steal collected tiles from other players if the dice roll a combination that’s already been claimed.
Ghooost! is a card game that was designed by the creator of Magic: the Gathering (as well as King of Tokyo and a number of other card games), Richard Garfield. It’s extremely easy to learn and based around the idea that your numerically larger ghost cards are stronger/more powerful than your numerically smaller ghost cards with a few specific exceptions that tweak the gameplay. The goal is to get rid of all the cards you have in your hand and a personal deck by playing ghost cards that have a higher value than what was previously played. It plays similar to Uno in a lot of ways, and, of course, the best part is, when you go out, you need to howl in an appropriately spooky way.
The Isle of Cats is another tetronimo-based game where you are trying to fill your ship with as many cats as you can collect before the evil pirates come to…scare all the cats away, I guess? Your boat has different rooms and, while your cats can be placed anywhere on your boat, you get more points for filling as many rooms as possible, as well as for collecting “families” (colors) of cats.
Qwirkle is like a cross between dominoes and sudoku. You match pieces by a color or a shape and you cannot have duplicates of one thing or the other (for example if you’re building a color row, all the shapes have to be the same color, but no shapes can be repeating; if you’re building a shape row, all shapes have to be the same but the colors can’t repeat).
Rat-a-Tat Cat is about having the lowest face-value cards in your hand but the trick is that you don’t actually know what cards you have. There are cards that let you peek at what you might have, and other players can swap cards around, but you never actually know what you have until the big reveal at the end.
Sleeping Queens largely uses collecting multiples of numbered cards, or using basic math (a 2 card + a 3 card = a 5 card) to discard cards from your hand that don’t do anything in exchange for drawing new cards that might do something. The object of the game is to wake up all the “sleeping” queen cards, which can only be done by a king card.
- Above and Below
- Dragonwood (buy my used copy on GeekMarket)
- Frog Juice (buy my used copy on GeekMarket)
- Ninja Versus Ninja
- Scrambled States of America (buy my copy on GeekMarket)
- Wizard Kittens
Less-obviously kid-centric or “educational”
(Also known as, games that might be accidentally educational or kid-friendly. 😁)
Azul is a game where the goal is to design a mosaic. Each round, you collect tiles for your mosaic and ultimately you get points for various combinations and patterns that you’ve built.
Between Two Cities is a semi-cooperative game where you are designing a city’s layout with the players to your right and left. Ultimately, the player who has the best, lowest scoring city of the two (e.g. if you had a city that scored 100 points and another one that scored 90 points, your score would be 90) is the winner, and there are numerous factors that go into winning like collecting all the different types of landmarks, having a large park area, having an entire row of shops, etc.
Carcassonne is a classic tile-laying game that’s easy to learn and attractive to look at. The intuitive design of the tiles make it easy for kids to pick up and understand what can/can’t be played where. Scoring is based on a variety of factors and is generally centered around completing a specific thing (a road, or a castle, for instance).
Dixit is an easy-to-learn game based around a deck of beautifully illustrated, abstract cards. Each round, one player selects and plays a card along with a “theme” or caption or lyric or phrase to go along with and describe that card. The other players look at the cards in their hand (no two cards are the same) and play one that they think would fit with the phrase. You get points for identifying the “correct” card as well as for the number of people who selected your card.
Fluxx is a fast-paced game of ever-changing rules. I almost hesitated to put this on the list because how “educational” it is is debatable (although it does teach you to learn to change your goals/expectations and not get hung up on a specific outcome since the rules and objectives are always changing), but my kids love it. There’s quite a bit more randomness to the gameplay than skill, which lowers the barrier to entry but decreases the complexity for people who are looking for something more strategic. There’s also a million themed variations which add variant rules and novelty.
Oceanos is a game in which you build/upgrade your submarine and take it ever deeper into the ocean collecting treasure and underwater animals along the way.
PARKS is a game about visiting US National Parks. It’s a game where it’s better to take your time and go slow than to rush to the end. The more experiences you collect, the more points you gather and the more likely you are to win. The art is based on the Fifty Nine Parks print series, so the cards for the parks are gorgeous.
Phantom Society is another semi-cooperative game between a single or a pair of ghosts and a single or pair of ghost hunters. The ghosts are trying to cause as much destruction and mayhem in a hotel as possible whereas the ghost hunters are trying to catch the ghosts before they cause more damage than the hotel owners are prepared to pay to repair. The ghosts hide in secret and the ghost hunters have to use logic and deduction to try to figure out where the ghost is located.
Ravine is if the TV series Lost was simplified and turned into a survival-based cooperative board game. Players are survivors of a plane crash and have to use whatever resources they have at hand or can collect to keep themselves and each other alive until the rescue planes arrive.
Unearth is a set-collection and dice game that is about exploring ancient ruins. You attempt to be the first to claim ruins using multi-sided dice. Meanwhile, your tribe is collecting stones in the process that help you to build wonders. It’s very easy to learn but has a lot of hidden strategy and replayability.
- 5-Minute Dungeon
- Exploding Kittens
- Hanabi (buy my used copy on GeekMarket)
- Isle of Skye
- Mice and Mystics
- Small World
- Spaceteam (buy my used copy on GeekMarket)
- Ticket to Ride
To see all the games in our collection, head over to the games page (powered by my Games Collector plugin). Click on the “Good for Kids” filter to specifically look at games that are targeted for kids 10 or younger.
Age ranges are pretty variable in our experience, and our kids were playing games out of their age range long before it was “appropriate” and that’s okay. The main issue with games that have a higher recommended age range is the complexity of the game. Kids, especially young kids, will have a harder time with games that are more complex, regardless of whether it’s “recommended” or not.
Similarly, shorter games work better for younger kids with shorter attention spans. There are tons of really good card games by Gamewright Games that are both entertaining for adults and not overly complex for kids.