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Board games are making a comeback. In a world where we’re becoming ever more digitally interconnected, and subsequently physically disconnected, there’s a small rebellion going on. Board game sales have been increasing, year on year, and the increase is getting bigger every year too. For example, 2014 saw a 6% rise in board game sales. 2015 meanwhile saw a 14% rise.
There are tangible changes too. Board game cafes are popping up everywhere. Brighton’s got The Dice Saloon, for example, which opened in mid-2016.
We’re not going to delve into the ‘whys’ for this trend, but instead focus on the benefits it’s brought about. Legions of new board games, including those that are suitable for kids. We’ve written before the need to put down the smartphone, and also how it can sometimes be all too easy to revert to putting a tablet in front of our kids to keep them quiet and entertained.
So, here are a few great games that you can play together with your child and as a family. Most of these are suitable for children 5 and upwards, and some are suitable for younger. We’re keeping clear of any obvious picks such as Draughts/Checkers or Snakes and Ladders. We’ve picked newer games only that have come about as part of the increased interest in board games.
An essential for any car fanatic child. Pitch Car is a simple racing game, that’s a bit like a cross between a Scalextric set and tiddlywinks. It’s super simple, yet incredibly fun for both adults and children alike… and one of those occasions when you’ll get repeatedly schooled by your kids
Here’s how it works – the box comes with a batch of wooden road pieces, which can be built together into a track. Anything from simple circular roads to crazy and elaborate designs can be created, and furthered by various ‘expansion’ sets available which include ramps, bridges, tunnels and more.
Once built, players decide on a number of laps. Each player takes a car counter, and then on a turn-by-turn basis has to flick the car around the track. The first to successfully make around the track wins. It works wonderfully for kids as it’s primarily about dexterity. Kids can rarely match up to adults in strategic games, but when it comes to flicking little cars around a track? Watch them win time and time again, as you continue to send your car flying off the table with your big grown up fingers…
A huge amount of fun, truly challenging for any age, and hugely addictive. Pitch Car is fantastic.
Where to buy:
Pitch Car is available on Amazon.
Ticket To Ride is one of the most widely known modern board games available. Published in 2004, it’s a game about railway tycoons connecting cities across major continents.
First Journey hones this down to its core gameplay. In Ticket To Ride: First Journey, players are given cities across North America that they need to connect, and on each go can either choose to pick up train pieces or place them down on the map. Trains have designated colours, and can only go in the corresponding coloured spaces. So, players need to collect different coloured trains, and then place them to complete the connections between cities. It’s a race to connect six cities.
City names are featured, so there is the potential to branch into reading skills, but each those is also denoted an image – a star for Dallas, a bull for Calgary, a baseball for Chicago and so on.
Wonderful and vibrant graphics paired with big chunky plastic train pieces brings this game to life. It’s also a great warmup to a great series – Ticket To Ride has several editions available, but isn’t considered suitable until kids reach around 10+.
Carcassonne is another of the bigger board games out there. A game in which players build the French town of Carcassonne with tiles they take from a face-down stack, it was published in 2000 and considered highly innovative because there is no board – rather, the board gets built by all the players with tiles as the game progresses. Players win by strategically placing little figures (called ‘meeples’) across the board to score points.
Whilst Carcassonne is considered suitable for 8 and upwards, My First Carcassonne has been published for 4+. In a similar fashion, players take tiles and build the board. The tiles are bigger, chunkier and thicker. Whereas in normal Carcassonne, players must find where there tiles can fit on the ever-expanding board, in My First Carcassonne every single tile fits with others, and simplifies the process of placing meeples too (which are again, nice and chunky in comparison to the original).
This presents a wonderful cross between a game and jigsaw. Sure, there’s a winner, but most of the fun comes from building a town together, which ends up looking unique on every single play. The art is beautiful and this game can be wonderfully creative. It also serves as a great warmup to Carcassonne itself, which is a really fun and strategic game for adults and older kids alike, if a bit more strategically cutthroat.
One of the newest games on this list, published in 2016. This is a game about stacking blocks and building elaborate towers with them. The best way to describe it is a cross between Jenga and Lego.
Due to small pieces, this isn’t suitable for really young kids, but I’ve heard of parents of children as young as age 3 playing this with their kids with supervision.
Inside the wonderful box of Junk Art, you’ve got over 60 weird blocks and shapes to play with (in either plastic or wood, depending on which edition you purchase). There are then a series of cards that match those pieces.
It’s got multiple different ways to play the game, but essentially they consist of drawing a batch of cards, finding your matching blocks, and trying to build the tallest or most elaborate towers out of the 60+ bits of… well, junk.
It’s the kind of the game which has plenty of variants to make it more complicated as your kids grow older, but anyone can grasp the simple primal urge of grabbing a bunch of weird objects and trying to build something with it. It’s ridiculously addictive, laugh-out-loud funny, and playable by anyone.
Where to buy:
Junk Art wooden edition is available on ABCZone. The plastic edition is more widely available – here it is on Chaos Cards. You can check the best prices for Junk Art on Board Game Prices.
Probably the most complicated game on this list, and thus recommended for 5 and over (although I’ve spoken to someone who has played it with a 4 year old). This is also best as a family experience – it’s not 2 player.
In Dixit, players are given a batch of cards with odd psychedelic artwork, reminiscent of Roald Dahl novels. A child blowing bubbles which are turning into planets in the night’s sky, a person chiselling shapes into clouds, a snail climbing a stairway into the sky… they’re fun, trippy, and creative.
Players take it in turns to tell a ‘story’ about one of the cards in their hands and places it face down. This story can be anything from a single word to a movie reference to a quote… even a bit of body language. Other players must then put one of the cards in their hands into the centre of table which best matches the story. All cards are shuffled, then revealed. The players must attempt to guess the storyteller’s card. Here’s the twist: if everyone correctly guesses, then the storyteller scores no points. If no one correctly guesses, then the storyteller scores no points. This means the storyteller must be ambiguous and try to lead some people the right way and others off the scent.
So, kids can sometimes struggle with this ambiguity aspect… it may mean you sometimes need to make the odd ‘nice’ parent move and deliberately guess wrongly to help them score some points. BUT this game is SO much fun with kids. It brings out the very best of their creativity, and where adults can sometimes fall back on boring references or struggle, kids can come up with truly zany and wacky ideas. Whilst it can take a little while for kids to grasp the rules, it’s so worth it when they do for the sheer level of creativity that kids bring to a game like this that adults can’t.
Oh and it doubles up as a great game for adults too, especially after a couple of drinks!
Where to buy:
Dixit is widely available, and I’ve even seen it in Waterstones. Online, it can be purchased from Amazon. You may also find it cheaper on Board Game Prices. It has many expansion packs too if you want to expand your base set of cards.
Ice Cool is about penguins running around a school collecting fish. Not dissimilar to Pitch Car, but where Pitch Car is essential for the car fans, Ice Cool will be a favourite of the animal lovers.
Ice Cool is set up by building together a school with a bunch of different cardboard pieces. These are easy to assemble – they’re literally boxes without lids that can be slotted together. From there, each player takes a penguin and on a turn-by-turn basis must flick their penguin around the rooms of the school. Fish are positioned above the doorways of each room, and are collected when a player’s penguin enters the room. Players win by collecting the most fish. There’s a variant where one player can be a hall monitor penguin, and steal fish off of other players too.
Again, like Pitch Car, this game is dexterity based. Kids will pick this up immediately, and soon be trickshotting their way around the rooms whilst adults clumsily crash their penguin into walls and miss doorways.
This is the kind of game that you just can’t resist. If you watch a couple of people play, it’s almost impossible to not want to get involved. The sheer joy of watching a little penguin being flung around the rooms of the board by an expert flicker evokes that same sense of ‘my go’ism that a sport like bowling does. As with bowling though, it’s only when you do try that you realise how tricky it is. Kids will adore this game, and happily sit and practice for hours before trouncing you when you join them for a game.
Quickpick: Island of Monsters Masks is a must-have game for preschoolers. Playable from 3+, this makes a game out of every kid’s favourite hobby – pulling ridiculous faces.
Playable with 3-8, it’s great for either a family game or a supervised play session with younger kids, and older kids will pretty quickly be able to supervise this game themselves with their friends. For adults, the game is super simple, but laugh-out-loud funny.
A set of 16 tiles is assembled in front of all players. On each tile is a monster’s face pulling a ridiculous expression. A secondary deck sits to the side with the same faces as the central tiles. Players take it in turns to pull a tile from the secondary deck. They then have to copy the monster’s face, and other players have to guess which monster they’re trying to be.
It’s that simple, but rapidly descends into hysterics. It gives a predefined space and rules to some pure silliness. The art’s great, and the components are nice and sturdy. Highly recommended, especially for younger kids.
Where to buy:
This one is trickier to find at the moment. However, there is an eBay seller with plenty in stock.
For those that liked the look of Junk Art but winced at the price, this might be for you. Rhino Hero is a game about… well, a heroic rhino that rescues people from a collapsing building.
In Rhino Hero, players are dealt two sets of cards – floor cards and wall cards. The floor cards are standard sized cards which show an illustration of how wall cards need to be placed on it. Wall cards are bifold cards. Players will place a floor card to show how the next floor should be built – for example, a diamond shape. They then need to place wall cards to match that shape by bending them into the correct position. Once this is done, another floor card is placed on top of the walls. Over time, this creates an ever-more precariously unstable building. To make matters trickier, periodically players will need to move the Rhino Hero (a little wooden rhino piece) upwards through the building.
For anyone who’s ever played Jenga, this feels immediately familiar, but rather than taking pieces from a tower you are building it up. In addition, Rhino Hero packs a lot of theme into a tiny box with wonderful artwork that makes Jenga, even with sturdy wooden blocks, look comparatively drab. Lots of fun, suitable for about 4+ according to Board Game Geek’s community voting system (despite the game box stating 5+), and strangely addictive, Rhino Hero is under £10 so well worth nabbing.
Where to buy:
Rhino Hero is available on Amazon. There are plenty of sellers on there with copies of the game, nearly all of whom are cheaper than £10.
So far most of the games we’ve listed have been competitive, but Hoot Owl Hoot! is a cooperative game where players work together as a team to get a group of owls (cool fact: a group of owls is called a ‘parliament of owls’) back to their nest before sunrise.
A brightly coloured board takes the central table space, and the owls sit on their starting spaces. Players draw from a deck of cards and hold a hand of 3 different coloured cards. When it comes to a player’s turn, they can play a card to move any owl to the next space matching the colour of the card they play. Occasionally, players will draw a sun card, which means a sun timer is advanced. Players win by getting all the owls to their nest before the sun rises.
This game can be played with children as young as 3, and is a fantastic first introduction to tactics and strategy in a very simple way. The game can be varied in difficulty by including more or less owls at the start, meaning it can scale with your child’s age. As it’s cooperative, you’ll also avoid any upset over winners and losers… either everyone wins, or everyone loses! This game has won numerous awards for being a gateway into strategy gaming, with plenty of other learning opportunities too such as colour matching and cooperative social skills.
Where to buy:
Hoot Owl Hoot! is available on Amazon.
So, if, like us, you think that Snakes and Ladders has had its day, then hopefully this list will give you a few ideas for some of the modern board games that preschoolers will love. There are plenty more out there, with those designed for preschoolers through to those which simply play great regardless of your age.
Let us know if you have any suggestions in the comments below.