The Board Games You Should Play With Your Children

As a parent of a two-year-old I found this profoundly interesting.

Simply put: if you pair reviews of board games with the age those board games are targeted at, there's an interesting correlation. Board games for children literally get better the older your child becomes.

This great article over at FiveThirtyEight explains why in full detail, but I'll give you the gist: as you might expect, board games aimed at older children tend to review better, are more intricate, and just generally are a little more interesting in general. I think there is a parallel to video games here. There are some incredible video games aimed at children (like Metamorphabet for example) but for the most part they tend to be cheaply produced en masse and a little bit low quality. The same seems to go with board games.

Perhaps the best part of this article, however, is this: despite the fact that board games for younger children aren't that great, it provides a number of top notch suggestions for each age. I'm definitely going to be using this to buy games for my own children.

Stop Playing Monopoly With Your Kids (And Play These Games Instead) [FiveThirtyEight]


    They forgot Hero Quest, Space Hulk and Axis & Allies. Fun for kids of all ages and temperaments (plus it's really easy to win against them!)

      Sadly I don't think you can buy HeroQuest and Space Hulk any more, can you? Great games, though.

        I think they are out of print although Space Hulk did have another print run not too long ago.

    Snakes and Ladders: might be boring for older kids, and doesn't involve "meaningful action and decision making". (I note that it is a pretty big and probably wrong assumption that all kid's board games require these features for the kid to find the game good). But what it does do well for e.g. a 4 year old:

    1. Teach numbers and counting. My son could count to over 100 (in two languages) and do addition and subtraction before starting kindy, and a lot of that learning came from lots of snakes and ladders and constant die rolling and piece moving. He is bored of it now, but it was great for a good 6 months when he was 4.
    2. Get kids used to losing. My kid was more comfortable losing a game like S&L - and losing repeatedly - because he came to see soon enough that it was just about luck. Pretty hard to learn to gracefully lose when the game involves actual performance.
    3. Allow kids to win without you throwing the game. When a game is performance based, the adult will typically always win. You need a game of pure chance like S&L so that the child can win without you worrying about letting them win. I play chess with my son, and find I need to think about the balance between letting him win so he doesn't get discouraged, vs beating him so he doesn't always expect to win, and learns how to play.

    As for Monopoly, it does svck, though my son likes it currently. It has one thing going for it: many other kids/families will own and know it. It's nice for your kids to be able to play a game with their school friends, or relatives or whoever, and that is easier to achieve with a mainstream game like monopoly.

    Uno the card game is currently doing well with my kid (almost 6). He can play with other kids at school, play at home, and it has a nice mix of luck and skill/choice.

    Nice to get more ideas/inspiration for other board games though, and to go searching for them. Not sure I will buy a game that most people will have never heard of just because 100-odd people rated it well on some geek site and 538 cast their superficial stats analysis over it.

      Games like Snakes and Ladders and Monopoly are okay starting points for kids because they teach the very basics. It's a bit like playing HORSE before moving on to real basketball. The counting and simple addition from Snakes and Ladders is a good starting point but you could then move on to something like Qwirkle, which has a scoring system similar to Scrabble without the vocabulary requirements that would stop a 6 year old from enjoying themselves.

      Meaningful actions and decision making are what make any sort of game interesting. While kids may not value them highly, surely parents would want to enjoy themselves while playing with their children as well. Aside from creative games like Dixit, which involves giving a hint for a face down card and then having everyone else put down a card they think matches the clue. Points are awarded based on who thinks which card matches the clue.

      There are also co-operative games that help deal with the problem of parents not being able to compete, because you're working together, and helps children learn to cope with losing, because the games tend to be balanced around a 1/3 win rate. Forbidden Desert would be a fantastic one to start young kids off with. It also has a little airship that you're constructing during the game.

      As for BoardGameGeek, it's a truly fantastic (if impenetrable) resource. As someone who plays a lot of board games, it's a great way to find out all sorts of information, from rules errata to if it's similar to things you already enjoy. That being said, it's definitely a site for people who are at least ankle deep into board gaming. Still, it's pretty much the only useful source of data on board games.

      There's a lot more out there than just the stuff sitting on KMart shelves. I really recommend having a look at what's out there. There may even be games out there you'll want to play without your kids.

      My parents bought Snakes & Ladders for my Sister and I when we were little, because they wanted to teach her the losing thing (having an older sister I was already well acquainted with losses).

      She proceeded to win the first eight games she played, thus completely eliminating that as a benefit.

    Werewolf, Coup, Resistance: Avalon. My kids love these as they teach you about body language, teamwork and analysis. They can't lie for toffee so they are easy to beat as well which is a bonus!

      You could try adding Spyfall to that list.

      It's a game where everyone is given a card with a location and a job. Everyone except the spy. People then have to ask each other questions to try and root out the spy without giving away the location, because the spy can stop the round at any point and guess where they are.

      Here's a review of the game if you're interested.

        Thanks for the tip. Spyfall looks excellent. Will pick it up if I can find it in Oz.

    That's a really solid list of games but I don't know how well going by minimum recommended age does for age appropriateness.

    For example, I'd happily recommend Qwirkle to any family with kids that can do addition with two digit numbers and co-op games like Forbidden Desert for most families. I don't think Galaxy Trucker would work though because the fun from that game is the chaos of putting a ship together out of junk and then watching everyone else's ships fall apart.

    BoardGameGeek also skews heavily towards hobbyists and the staple board games that end up in the back of every household's linen closet rate poorly there for several reasons: 1) they've been played by the majority of users, so they get rated often and 2) BGG users have moved on to greener pastures, so they don't rate those games well.

    They're not being rated on how well someone at the minimum recommended age would enjoy them, so the data doesn't quite match the results.

    Of course, I'm happy to see Dixit on that list because it has bunny meeples.

      Forbidden Desert will only work as long as the kids are ok with the fact that they will fail over and over and over again. I think I'm up to 5 games and no successes at this point.

      Last edited 07/09/15 7:35 pm

    Hmm, I don't think Board Game Geek is the best signifier of what's "good" for kids- the audience on BGG skews towards hardcore gamers and towards harder games, and what's a good game with a low age limit =/= a good game that's appropriate for kids of that age. All of the BGG rankings are performed by BGG users who've likely played and ranked the games through an adult lens, not ranked as "good for kids"

    I'd cite Dixit as an example- while the analysis posits it as a game for 6 year olds, it relies on players being able to project the thought processes of other people, which many six year olds can't do (their brain just flat isn't developed enough). It's a great game, it's just not the best game for the low end of its age bracket. A bit the same with Werewolf.

      Meanwhile, I think Dixit is a fantastic suggestion because it fosters creativity and teaches kids to try and think of something from another person's perspective.

      Also bunny meeples. Always bunny meeples.

    I second the notion that we should stop playing monopoly and play better board games instead >_>

    Last edited 07/09/15 1:46 pm

    I used to love "Trouble" when I was a kid. Played it again as an adult a few weeks ago and was surprised how boring it was for me now...

    I've found Ingenious a great starter game - and King of New York/Tokyo as great games for balancing and kids love being a giant monster destroying cities.

    Flux might be a good one for the kids as long as they've got decent reading skills. Board gamers don't like it because it's too chaotic to build any kind of strategy, but I think kids might dig it for exactly that reason.

    Bring back Pirates and Travellers, man we played the hell out of that game as kids.
    I recently found a copy on ebay, and my kids absolutely love it too.

    If you want to see some of these games in action (such as Dixit, King of Tokyo, Forbidden Desert, Coup, Qwirkle, Flux, etc) you could do much worse than check out Wil Wheaton's YouTube show "Tabletop" -

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