Photo: HedBanz Game
In a screen-focused world, board games can seem antiquated to some, particularly kids. But in our family, we have found that putting down the tablets and phones for some throwback fun with board games (and a big bowl of popcorn) makes for a successful family night. With children ranging from two to 11, our games vary in complexity. Tip: Have the big kids team up with the little kids!
Here are some of my family's favourite games, including both classics and newer ones, categorized by age group.
Because no reading is required, Candy Land is a perfect game for the preschool set. All that is necessary is an ability to follow directions as well as some basic counting skills. The goal is to find King Kandy, the lost king of Candy Land, and each player takes a turn drawing a card that advances them to the next space of whatever colour is specified on the card. Candy-themed locations and characters appear throughout the board game, and my kids think Gramma Nutt is ridiculous because who would want to live in a house made of peanut brittle? They enjoy playing this one over and over.
The ticking of the timer on this game makes everyone nervously excited to play. Perfection is a matching game, where players have 60 seconds to put all twenty-five pieces in their matching-shaped spaces and push down. If you get all the pieces in place, you can turn off the timer, but if you are still working when the timer runs out, the pieces you have places will pop out of place and go everywhere. No matter how many times we play this game, the pieces scattering when the timer runs out never stops startling my kids, and they love it.
Unlike Candy Land, which focuses on simply following directions and moving forward, Sequence for Kids encourages kids to anticipate what the other players might do with their turn. Each player is given three cards and a pile of game chips to start. When it is your turn, you put one of your coloured chips on the space that matches your card anywhere on the board: a small image of an animal. For each card you use, you discard and take a new one. In order to win, you must get four spaces in a row. The strategy comes when you use your chips to block your opponent's attempts to get four in a row. Older siblings can help younger ones with these more complex skills.
Early Primary School
Games of regular Monopoly can last for a long time, losing the attention of young players quickly, so we like the smaller board of Monopoly Junior. Instead of just street locations like Monopoly proper, the Junior edition has properties such as Skate Park and Toy Store, making it more relatable. Money amounts are much lower for the Junior version, making the maths easier for young players. Properties can still be bought and sold, and for the game to end, only one player must go bankrupt as opposed to all remaining players. The winner is the player who has the most money when the first bankruptcy occurs. Monopoly Junior is a great way for kids to practice budgeting skills, but don't tell the kids that's why I like it.
This game can get loud, so it's not recommended for a time when you've put the baby down for a nap, but it is good fun. Each player has a plastic headband, and is issued a card, face down, which they then put in the headband so that everyone else can see the image on the card. After setting a timer, the player tries to ask each of the other players a question that will lead them to guess what the image on the card is. The only banned question is, "What am I?" Cooperation and communication are musts for Hedbanz success. Most of the fun can be found in the wrong assumptions of the players, and even mum and dad manage to make some ridiculous guesses.
While some updates have been made to this game, our family still plays the classic version of Sorry! This is a great game for kids as they become more comfortable with not always winning or even being knocked out of place. Each player has four pawns to start, and in order to get out of start, must draw a one or two card. After that, players move their pawns up the board. If another player lands on the same spot, however, they bump your pawn back to the start. There are also slides on the board which can force your pawn back several spaces. Overall, this game can get heated, but it's a good way to practice good sportsmanship as well as gracious losing.
Late Primary To Early High School
My kids love this game. The younger ones start out learning on teams with their older siblings, and the older ones have been playing since they were on teams with the adults as young children. Each player picks fourteen tiles randomly from the pile and lines them up on their board. In order to "come out," players must have a value total of 30. From that point on, players must have either a run of consecutive numbers of the same colour, or sets or the same number in different colours. After the first turn, you can add a tile or two to another players run or set in order to keep playing. The game ends when the first player runs out of tiles and the players with remaining tiles have to deduct points for all the tiles they have left.
This is a relatively new addition to our board game collection, but so far we are loving it. The board starts out with the pieces stacked in a pyramid shape, and each player takes a turn removing a cube. Each cube colour has a point value, and you can remove it so long as it isn't touching a cobra cube and two or three of the faces of the cube can be seen. When you take out cubes, other cubes get closer to the base, until there is only a single layer remaining, which is when the game ends. Each player then adds up their colours, and if you have the highest number of that colour, you get to collect the same colours left at the bottom for your personal stash. Add up your scores to find the winner!
A murder mystery game does seem a little macabre for family game night, but the silly names and even weapons manage to make light of a serious subject. The goal of Clue is to figure out who the murderer is and what weapon was used. Each player takes a turn on the board and ends up in one of the nine rooms of the Tudor mansion represented. Notetaking is an essential part of succeeding at Clue, and my kids get better at deductive reasoning by playing, even if they mostly just notice the silliness of names such as Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard.