Screen time is always a concern for parents, even those of us who look at video games’ potential as a positive influence in our children’s lives. Mobile gaming alone has exploded into a multi-billion dollar industry. In this age it’s no longer a question if young people play games, it’s which ones.
At the same time we’ve seen the gradual rise of tabletop board gaming, which could viewed as a response to the prevalent amount of screen time we surrounded ourselves with. The Monopolies and Clues of yesteryear have given way to a new generation of classics in Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.
There are a lot of wonderful, deep, expensive options out there for adults. But if you’re looking for a solid modern board game for the family, we’ve got you covered right here. Here is our list of nine great kid-friendly board games you can enjoy with the whole family.
Eye Found It
There’s a few different variations of Eye Found It, with the most common being Disney Eye Found It. A gigantic 6-foot board provides a visual feast of Disney movies and TV shows. The game plays like a classic roll and move, but if you hit the mouse ears, you draw a card with a symbol, and all players engage in a hidden picture adventure as you try to locate brooms, lamps, villains, and waterfalls.
It’s a simple game that doesn’t rely on reading or math (other than moving the right number of spaces), and everyone comes together to help find the hidden objects. There’s also a smaller card-only version that features the same great artwork and gameplay without the huge space requirements.
Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters
The title and theme feels like kid Ghostbusters, but the board looks more like Clue, and the gameplay is purely cooperative. Every turn more ghosts appear in various rooms around the manor. Your job is to collect the scattered treasures while managing the ghosts via dice rolls.
It’s an easy game to learn but difficult to master. In fact it’s one of the more challenging cooperative games I’ve played! The components are a lot of fun, with miniatures for each of the kids, ghosts, and hauntings, and you can even slip the treasure rubies right into the kids’ backpacks as you deliver them outside the manor. A highly recommended challenge that demands teamwork and planning.
The most recently released game on this list is a clever take on dominoes. Instead of numbered pips, these dominoes feature glossy art of medieval countryside. The basic gameplay is similiar; draw dominoes and match the correct pieces. The challenge comes in drafting the right pieces and maximizing your score; match the same zone (swamp, pasture, etc) and your score will multiply by the number of spaces.
Younger kids will need help with the end game scoring, but can still play and enjoy the challenge of building out your own little grid map of domino pieces. It’s also cheap, compact, and plays very quickly.
You won’t find David Bowie and a bunch of goblin puppets here, but you will find a very clever tile-pushing, treasure-hunting adventure. The board is built using a series of tiles with different pathing. Each turn a player slides an entire row in one direction, shifting the maze as you try to gather the treasures indicated on your cards.
It’s a simple concept that can be quite perplexing for kids – in a good way. They have to plan ahead and use trial and error to succeed. Don’t be worried about the age recommendation; this is one of my five year old’s favorite games. Feel free to play around with the number of card treasures that are dealt to each player to control exactly how long you want the game to last.
The Magic Labyrinth
The Magic Labyrinth features one of the neatest concepts I’ve seen in a kids game. Using magnets, the player pieces move around what looks like an empty grid. But below them are a series of walls (constructed before you play). The magnetized ball below your piece can hit these walls, stopping your movement and forcing you back to the beginning, an invisible maze!
Like the above Labyrinth the goal is to collect treasures around the board, but this one’s even easier to play with more hilarious results. As you hit walls and find the correct paths, memory becomes the most important skill. The initial set up takes a bit of time, but after that you could get away with using the same, or slightly altered invisible maze for subsequent games.
Pengolo is a memory game that uses dice and wooden pieces rather than cards. Every turn players roll the dice to determine which colors they’re looking for, then select from the adorable wooden penguin figures to reveal the hidden eggs underneath.
It plays like a cute carnival game as you reveal the eggs, memorize the colors and build your collection. First to six eggs wins. You can also play with a much more aggressive, challenging variation with older kids, and steal from each other’s collections.
Protect the Pride Lands
Usually licensed games are the bottom of the barrel, typically slapping big kid franchises on older, classic games. Protect the Pride Lands may use the Lion Guard license but it’s an all-new cooperative game, and surprisingly fantastic.
Players control both the Lion Guard and the enemy animals (hyenas, snakes, vultures), drawing cards each turn to move enemies and allies into position. The enemies try to reach Pride Rock, while the Lion Guard has to move to intercept them. You win if you can get Kion onto the last space of Pride Rock, but lose if any villain makes it there first. It’s a compelling game that utilizes time management and strategic deployment of your units, and features nice miniatures of the Lion Guard characters.
Famously popular for a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, Robot Turtles is designed to teach kids how to program and code using cards. The game is highly malleable and adjustable, letting you decide where to start the players’ turtles, their ruby treasure, and the various obstacles that you can choose to use.
Each turn players decide which cards they need to use in order to move their turtle, including straight, turning, or firing a laser to melt ice blocks. The goal is to eventually work your way up to using the special programming cards, encouraging kids to use one card to represent several moves – programming their turtle’s actions with a single command. Even if you don’t think your kids have much interest in computer programming, these are still great skills to hone, and giving them complete control over their turtles is a fun variation over so many roll and move games.
Ticket to Ride
Yes there’s a smaller, easier Ticket to Ride kids version available (Ticket to Ride: First Journey), but frankly the original game is completely kid-friendly. The North American map is a fantastic way to teach US geography and locations, and the gameplay is as simple as drawing cards, matching colors, and placing down those fun little train pieces.
Players need to plan out their routes from the Destination Tickets they’ve drawn. With younger kids you’ll probably want to play with open hands and give frequent reminders about which cards and colors everyone needs. You’ll probably want to hold off on playing aggressively and blocking others’ routes until you’ve officially drawn them into one of the best family games of the last decade and a half.