In my last instalment of suggestions of board games for kids, I highlighted five fun games that families can play together. Continuing from the first five fun games… here’s another 10 suggestions based on games I used to love playing in the 80s!
Board Games for Kids and Families to Play Together
1. If you liked RISK, try… SMALL WORLD
World domination was IN in the 80s with Risk.
Advanced gamers would graduate on to more complex games such as Axis and Allies and Fortress America. If you liked all these games, but either felt its too complicated or there’s too much ‘war’… then Small World could be the game to try.
In Small World, players take on mythical races (such as Giants, Skeletons, Dwarves) out to explore a new utopian land. Each race is paired every game with a different ‘power’ that helps them in their evolution. At some point in every evolution though, there will be a decline. Players have that option of putting a race into decline and acquiring a new race to enter the land. The winner is the one that manages his or her race(s) the best to gain the most victory points by the end of the game. These are earned at the end of every round through the areas you occupy.
There is some conflict in this game as players’ races will inevitably start occupying neighbouring lands, but this conflict is not as ‘in your face’ as some of the war-games mentioned above.
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Small World scratches that itch for gamers looking for a conquest style game without the complexity or direct confrontation that most of the other war type games come with.
2. If you liked TRIVIAL PURSUIT, try… TIMELINE
I was certainly in the minority in liking Trivial Pursuit when I was younger. I even bought a set but had no one else remotely interested in playing it with me! This game falls into the same category as Scrabble… even more so as you really need to find a niche group of people for it to hit the table.
If you liked games like this though, try the Timeline series of games.
Each Timeline tin plays the same but comes with a specific theme such as ‘Inventions’ or ‘Animals’. Using Timeline Inventions as an example, players take a hand of five cards each showing a particular invention (e.g. Piano, Light Bulb etc). They then have to play a card from their hand each turn determining when the pictured invention was created against the cards on the table. Was the piano created before… or after the Light Bulb? As the line of cards builds up, it gets tougher to decide where in that timeline your next invention sits!
This is a great little filler game that is packed with facts and trivia as players put their cards down. Themes they have apart from those above include ‘Historical Events’, ‘Discoveries’ and ‘Music & Cinema’. There’s even a Star Wars version!
The winner is the one that gets rid of their cards the quickest. I’ve had great success even with pre-primary kids (we played the Animals version… called Cardline: Animals where you could line up each animal by weight, life expectancy or length!).
3. If you liked CHESS, try… ONITAMA
For the cerebral amongst us, Chess (or Chinese Chess/Xiangqi) was a stable for us in school. I still recall whiling away time when being quarantined after Science practical exams playing chess waiting to be released.
If you liked these but want maybe something a little lighter while retaining the strategy of the moves of chess, try Onitama!
Onitama is a small foot-print game that plays a lot like chess, but with only a 5×5 board and just 5 pieces (4 pawns and one king) each. In every game, there are five cards depicting the moves you may make. Each player has two in hand, with the remaining card displayed on the table. Each turn, players decide which of these 2 ways to move your pieces against your opponent you will make. The catch is though… that once you play your card and your move, you give up the right to this move to your opponent and take up the card on display with which you now have the choice to possibly use in your next turn. The winner is the one that takes the opponent’s king first.
Onitama is a tight, quick-playing tactical game that gives one the ‘chess’ feel… with a twist!
4. If you liked UNO, try… SUSHI GO!
I played a LOT of UNO when I was young. It was great fun to put all those combos down that would lead to multiple skipped turns or reversals or even Draw 2’s. Winning was less significant back then and just participating in the whole raucous activity was the main event! Sushi Go is a game that was introduced to my family by a close friend and it was a hit from the get-go!
In Sushi Go, players take a hand of cards depicting various sushis, pick one to keep and pass the rest of the hand clockwise to their neighbour. They would then receive a similar hand of cards from the player on the other side of them for their next turn.
The object of the game is to collect sets of different sushi’s that will score you points at the end of each round. Some sushi’s score if you have the most of that kind, while others score only if you have pairs or even triplets of them etc. Sushi Go teaches the kids some strategic risk-making decisions amidst the mayhem of picking and passing and is now our go-to small card game in place of Uno.
5. If you liked TABOO or PICTIONARY, try DIXIT
The Pyramid Game on TV made games like Taboo hip and cool in the 90s and noughties. The game is still very enjoyable and easy to obtain these days at major department stores and toy stores.
However, if you didn’t have a great vocabulary, you might sometimes struggle describing the words on the card to a wider audience. Some also didn’t like being put on the spot with having to describe word after word each time. Similarly, Pictionary might have put off some who weren’t all that confident with their drawing. If you were one of those… then try DIXIT.
In Dixit, players have a hand of picture cards and each turn, the ‘story-teller’ will choose one card and decide a caption for the card. This could be anything from a phrase or a single word and frees the players to their imagination based on the beautiful and whimsical art on the cards. The other players then also choose from their hand a card they feel is most appropriate to that phrase. After all players contribute a card, the pictures are revealed and everyone apart from the story-teller votes on the card they feel is most likely to be correct.
Points are awarded to the story-teller if there is at least one vote for his card but not all, and other players get points if they get votes for their cards. The game teaches subtlety and creativity in equal measures, and the spotlight feeling is less intense as players have just one card/phrase to come up with each time they become the story-teller.
6. If you liked GUESS WHO? or HEDBANZ… Try… CODENAMES
There are so many versions of this game now and I’ve played this plenty of times. A more recent game with similar mechanics is Hedbanz where you have to guess who YOU yourself are based on your identity on a headband you wear.
Other players know who you are and answer you have to get clues from them through questions you ask them about yourself. If you liked those games, but want something with a little more complexity… try Codenames!
In Codenames, teams of players are working to try to identify their agents through clues given by their respective spymasters. Each game consists of a 5×5 grid of individual words. Only each team’s spymaster knows which words they need to get their teams to identify, and it is their job to provide clues to lead their teams to the agents. For example, Soldier, Gun and Fight might be linked with a clue such as ‘Army’. The team that identifies all its agents first is the winner. This is a great game that now also has a pictures version (Codenames Pictures).
A great game for those who like clue giving and guessing!
7. If you liked Battleship, try… LOONY QUEST
Did you like Battleship? The hunt for the other’s players fleet before yours was found was always exciting!
In Loony Quest, players are all attempting to locate or connect items on a page… but by drawing on transparencies, estimating where each item or location is when they draw. Thereafter, each player places his transparency on the board to see how successful he or she was in achieving the objectives!
There are several levels to play through with each last board the ‘boss’ level. Plenty of laughs and the game also throws in some bonus tokens that you can use to ‘sabotage’ other players by requiring them to draw with their left hand or balance a token on their marker in the next turn.
A great family game with plenty of silliness and laughs!
8. If you liked Game of Life, try… TAKENOKO
Admittedly, the theme of Takenoko is not all that close to The Game of Life.
The Game of Life though was one of those ‘next games’ you turned to after Monopoly and Cluedo. Those games provided players options with which to make during their turns.
In the Game of Life, you could go to University or plough straight into working life. You could… start a family or decide career is more important. While those decisions came at set check-points in the game, players liked those options in the game even if the rest of the gameplay was at its heart… a role and move mechanic.
If you liked games that gave you some options, then Takenoko is a great next level game. It’s a game centred around a garden… how it grows… and a voracious Panda!
While that doesn’t sound very exciting at the onset, this game sure packs a nice little punch. Players have options every turn and the game is a great mix of strategy and tactics which is easy to pick up and start playing. Points are scored for claiming objectives relating to how you place coloured plots, grow bamboo or eat bamboo (through the panda!). While they can choose to place a plot, gain some water to irrigate those plots, grow bamboo, or take some new objectives to score more points… they can only do some of those actions each turn.
It certainly helps that the game is aesthetically very pretty and the ‘board’ will always look different each game as you are effectively building it as you play.
I’ve also used this to good effect teaching my kids how to plan ahead in taking their actions and to show them how each move can be used to achieve their objectives more efficiently.
9. If you liked YAHTZEE… try… KING OF TOKYO
Some players just loved the feeling of rolling dice. Yahtzee was a great little game that most players loved… and if you loved Yahtzee… there are many games today that use the Yahtzee mechanic to great effect.
One of those games is King of Tokyo!
In King of Tokyo, players take the role of a different kaiji (or monster!) invading Tokyo and battling each other in order to be the mightiest! Each turn, players will roll 6 dice. They have two opportunities to keep or re-roll whatever they don’t like but after their third roll… have to accept what the dice gives them.
King of Tokyo has gone done superbly with my young daughters (I had thought they wouldn’t like this!) and has created plenty of laughs as monsters take hits or score points throughout the game. The winner is the last one standing, or the one that reaches 20 points first.
Great for groups as well and plays up to 6 players…
10. If you disliked all these games because you didn’t like direct competition… try… FORBIDDEN ISLAND!
Some people didn’t like games in general as they didn’t like the competitive nature of them. Enter the co-operative game!
The best well-known in the market is Pandemic designed by Matt Leacock. However, as a gateway to that, I’ve found that Forbidden Island (also designed by Matt Leacock) offers an easier landing.
In Forbidden Island, players work as a team taking on different roles with the key objective to find all four treasures in the island and escape together from Fool’s Landing (the spot where the get-away helicopter is based). Each turn, every player has a number of actions to take but also… every turn the tide is rising and flooding the island! Players have to navigate the floods as well as gather the card resources to claim the treasures before they run out of time and the island submerges!
Co-operative games are great for players wanting to discuss moves and decide the best course of action. And its a genre of game you might want to consider if you don’t particularly like working on your own or other competitive games!
This is the second part of a story on the best board games for kids and families. It provides parents (and anyone really) a useful introduction to some fun board games for kids. You can find the previous article on board games for kids here.