My family’s favorite board games (as of today)

Amazon: iView iVIEW-700PTV Portable 7-Inch Digital LCD TV, Pink Adrienne of Baby Toolkit reminded me that it's Screen-Free Week…an event takes me by surprise every year, probably because my family is more attached to screens than I like to admit. So much of our entertainment, info gathering, communication and work revolves around screens that going screen-free would require an immense amount of planning. But that's really just an excuse, isn't it? The whole  point of the exercise is to call attention to the mindless way in which we plug in, and to remind us that there's a whole world out there waiting be experienced directly.

Well. We'll just let that hang in the air while I change the subject.

We love to play board games. My husband, Rael, has resurrected his childhood love of role-playing games (Dungeons & Dragons, Warmachine, and the like) which, if you're into that, will entertain you for hours. In fact, they're fantastic for math skills strategic thinking, but that's another post which I hope Rael will write. He also loves board games, and, because he hangs out at game shops, he finds games that go beyond the usual Milton Bradley classics (although we like those, too).

Here's our current mix of favorite board games (our kids are school-age and readers):

Amazon: Fluxx 4.0 Fluxx: Our go-to game, hands-down. A simple enough card game in which the rules change at every turn. Great fun, good for teaching flexibility and sportsmanship, and playable in about 20 minutes. For families with younger kids (6 and up):Family Fluxx.

Munchkin: When we have more time, this game is our favorite. Funny, mischevious, great for building negotiating skills. Slightly off-color so good for older kids or families with wacky senses of humor. Your tweens will love this game or one of its many variations.

Amazon: Wings of War Wings of War: An unusual game in which you slide beautifully illustrated cards around the table to simulate famous air battles. Teaches spatial reasoning, strategy and history. Fun for non-readers and very calm and relaxing despite the context.

Apples to Apples: We got this in a game shop years ago and are happy to see it has made the full jump to the mainstream toy aisles. Fantastic for practicing vocabulary, logic and confidence (you have to argue your points to win), lots of fun for everyone. Comes in a Junior version for ages 9-12 (the regular version is listed for kids 12 and up), but we have found it's fun for much younger kids too. Our daughter has been playing since she was 6.

What are your favorite board games?

Related: In praise of boredom

And: Tiny food container keeps dice from rolling away


  1. Constance says

    My favorite board games are Monopoly, Scrabble and The Game of Life. They never get old to me! I’m also following and tweeting on twitter as @ChicgoStyleInfo =0)

  2. Mim says

    Here’s a fun hack — we have picked up some really amusing retro games at garage sales (Careers, anyone?) and my 5 yr old loves “playing” them with us but really just rolling the dice and going around the board but disregarding all the cards and complicated stuff (currently out of his age range, not to mention ridiculous and sexist) and instead making up our own rules each time (such as if you land on a pink space, roll again).

  3. Ginger says

    I love Scrabble, Boggle, Quiddler — most any word game.

    When I was a kid, we used to combine two games, Monopoly and Stock Market. We’d make a bunch of money on the Stock Market board, and then go crazy spending it on the Monopoly board. When we got skint, we’d go back and make more money. The games went on for days. :)

  4. says

    Ticket to Ride and Small World are a couple of good family choices.

    In Ticket to Ride you collect sets of cards to try and be the first one to connect cities with your railroad. There are a lot of different maps (US, Europe, etc.) available in different versions of the game.

    In Small World, fantasy armies fight over a made up world. The rules are very simple and the different fantasy armies are cute, not scary, so it’s fun and fast moving.

  5. wendy mcelroy says

    We have younger kids, so the games we can play with them are more limited. Our favorite has been Kids of Carcassonne. (it’s a kids version of a great game, Carcassonne) Our son could play it quite well at age 4, as all the pieces fit anywhere, but there is enough strategy that it’s not mind numbing for the adults.

    The kids have started showing an interest in Ticket To Ride, which is a game we love, and with subtle adaptations is playable by age 5 or 6.

    Monopoly Junior is simpler and less cutthroat than the original, so we play that one as well. Our son has been practicing his math to make payments and change – bonus!

  6. says

    It’s so hard keep this concise.

    I’ve been known to hide Candyland under the couch.

    Preschool: Hopple Popple, Foggie Boogie, Maisy, & Hula Hippos

    Kids: Kids of Carcassonne, Go Nuts!, LEGO Minotaurus

    Adult to Elementary: Snow Tails! Forbidden Island, Zooloretto, Tiki Topple

    Grown-Up Party: Things: Humor in a Box, Curses, Wits & Wagers, Werewolf, Wise & Otherwise, Kill Dr. Lucky

    Adult Competitive: Vineta, Pandemic, Top Secret Spies, Carcassonne

  7. Ben says

    Carcassonne (Kids of Carcassonne is pretty good too, especially for the preschool kids, although they can wrap their brains around the basic Carcassonne game as well).

    Settlers of Catan and its many expansions are great. Our six year old grasps the concepts if not the strategy fully.

    Qwirkle is a great tile-laying similar to dominoes which our six year old enjoys and our 4 year old can play (although they don’t care as much about the scoring/strategy side as my wife and I do).

    Our six year old likes RoboRally but we use simplified rules.

    Sherlock and Fish Eat Fish — both games aimed at kids but with enough depth to keep adults entertained — were brief hits with the kids but didn’t seem to have much staying power.

    And hours of fun can be had with a simple deck of cards: our 4 year old loves “Go Fish”.

  8. says

    I’ll second Ticket to Ride, and add LEGO mousetrap, Fish, and Scotland Yard. I think Scotland Yard is the most fun to play with kids. We also play simple puzzle games like checkers, wolf vs sheep, etc. They are only 6 and 4 so we can’t really play the bigger games. I absolutely hate the “roll a dice and move the piece” games because there is no skill, so we are just passing time.

  9. Julie says

    There is also a Disney version of Apples to Apples that is good for the younger kids! It’s for ages 5-6 and up…but even our three year old plays if we help her a little. We just have to hold the cards for her and sometimes explain what type of card she’s looking for. “Out of your cards…who is the most “beautiful”? She’s pretty good at picking one that makes sense!

  10. says

    While we’ve always been board gamers, we’ve been trying to play more games regularly with our kids (especially our oldest son) lately. We also meet with friends and family somewhat regularly for game nights. I think it’s good for our kids to see that kind of socialization between adults. I think it helps model good adult relationships for them when they get older.

    Anyway, a list of games that we like in no particular order:

    Carcassonne – a tile laying game where you make up the board as you go along.

    Cosmic Encounters – A game of war with tons of different alien races. A really fun game.

    Gang of Four – A four player ladder climbing style card game based on poker hands. Very strategic, fast, and fun to play.

    Wits and Wagers – A party style trivia game that flips other trivia games on their head with a fun betting element. It takes on an almost game show feel.

    Pandemic – An awesome cooperative game that pits the players together against the game itself in an effort to rid the world of global disease outbreaks. This is a MUST have game.

    Word on the Street – A tug of war word game. Players work in teams to come up with answers to various prompts that will move letters off their side of a center board.

    Roll Through the Ages – Yahtzee meets Ages of Empires. How cool is that? Pretty cool.

    Zooloretto – Think of the video game Animal Tycoon, in board game form… and better. Compete to run the best performing and most efficient zoo operation.

    San Juan – Take a simple card mechanic and use to to create really complex economic engines that generate points better than your opponents. Once you get it, this game is a lot of fun.

    Small World – Compete for space with all the other wacky races in play. Who will win, the Seafaring Skeletons or the Commando Giants or maybe the Tunneling Ghouls?

    Dixit – Think of a more open ended Apples to Apples with beautifully surreal art and a creative scoring mechanic.

  11. Angus says

    I don’t think I’ve seen it posted here, but we have a game called Scabs and Guts. It’s a huge hit with our 4 boys.
    It’s billed as being a “meducational” board game. I know all kinds of thrilling and weird stuff now!

  12. Alex says

    My husband and I like Quiddler, Set, Fluxx, and something else I can’t remember but our kid isn’t quite there yet. We’re not big on pushing basic skills or keeping things linear, so Curious George Discovery Island has been a big hit. My daughter is almost 4 and LOVES it. There are elements of I Spy and Memory, plus you get to shake the whole board up at random. Actually no Curious George in the game, just on the box.

  13. Erin O. says

    Our five year old loves the card game Sleeping Queens and has gotten the whole family into the game. He has also picked up a surprising amount of math skills in our many playings. We also enjoy strategy games like Othello and Connect 4.

  14. Rachel says

    Absolutely! Our four year old has been playing this for a year. We set him up with a card holder for his cards and he’s just as likely to win as anyone else playing. Lately he’s been telling us the letters he sees on the green card so we can tell him what it spells. No reading necessary for the red cards.

  15. Rachel says

    Friday night is boardgame night at our house with family and friends. The biggest challenge has been finding games that have been fun for everyone, including preschoolers. With our kids we started with Cariboo to introduce taking turns. We also have fun with Rivers, Roads, and Rails; Animal Upon Animal; and Pengoloo. We’ve all had a lot of fun with Disney’s Apples to Apples, too. (I highly recommend Gulo Gulo but it is, unfortunately, out of print. If you see it, grab it!) If you need the kids to run around and burn off energy (inside or out) try Green Eggs and Ham – Speedy Diner! or Mickey’s Mouse-Ke Tag.

    We recently introduced our four-year-old to Pop-o-matic Trouble, For Sale, Castle Panic, and Zooloretto.

    Our swashbuckling seven year old has loved Shadows Over Camelot since she was about five. It’s a cooperative game involving the knights of the round table. She also likes Smallworld, Kingsburg, Blue Moon City, Castle Ravenloft (involved), and Ascension.

    Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Settlers of Catan are all fabulous games (and our eldest has played the first two) but our kids are more likely to ask for games with themes they find exciting.

    Pandemic is an awesome game that the adults love but our seven year old hasn’t shown interest in it yet.

  16. says

    OMG! This thread is amazing! So many games I’ve never heard of, so much creativity! I tucked into a game shop last night in order to check out Ticket to Ride and a bunch of your other suggestions. Has anyone played Dixit?

  17. jackiea says

    Gamewright makes some amazing games that start very simply with fun themes to teach kids the ideas of turn taking and simple game construction. They progress with age range and my kids have loved every one we’ve tried: Feed the Kitty, Hissss!, Ruby Rhino, Big Top, Captain Clueless and Frog Juice.

    They have a cool fundraiser program as well, though I have yet to get our school on board with the idea. ;)

  18. Betsy says

    What are your subtle adaptations for Ticket to Ride? I love hearing other people’s suggestions. We love that game too, but the 5 year old hasn’t managed it yet.

  19. says

    Dixit is great! It’s like an open ended Apples to Apples.

    Each player has a hand of 5 (?) beautifully illustrated (though surreal) cards. Each turn, one person is the story teller and they describe one of their cards using a word, phrase or story. Everyone else looks in their hands and chooses a card that they think matches the storyteller’s clues. They then pass all their cards to the storyteller who shuffles them with the card they gave clues for and lays them out in a line of 5 from left to right. Then each player uses a voting chit to say which card they think is the original one the storyteller was giving clues for.

    If the storyteller was to obtuse and no one picks their card, they get no points. If they were too obvious and everyone guesses their card, the also get no points. The trick is to get a least one, but not everyone, to pick your card.

    It can be really fun and it is a beautiful game to look at.

    You’d think that there was no skill in this game, but I played a demo with one of the guys on Asmodee, the publisher’s, demo team at last year’s Gen Con and he regularly skunked everyone on the track. After playing two games, I bought a copy and now I have the expansion (more cards) as well.

    I think you could mix it with kids and adults quite easily.

  20. T. says

    For those of you who don’t pursue board gaming as a hobby quite as heavily as my family does (!), you might find useful in researching new games to play. It’s the go-to online resource about board games.

  21. says

    My friend Rob invented this game called Spontuneous, and it is so much fun! It’s a lyric-based singing game…check it out!