Board games for little kids and their parents

My daughter, Poesy, is coming up on four years old and she's starting to enjoy rolling dice and counting the pips, so we figured it was time to start thinking about board games. My wife, being the games professional in the family, asked on Twitter for recommendations and did a monster roundup of what all the game-type people in her social circle recommend. I'm dubious about some of these choices (if my kid falls in love with Monopoly or Candyland or Snakes and Ladders and demands that I play them with her at great length, there will be trouble), but others look like good fun for grownups and little people. We recently went for a weekend away with a bunch of friends from the games industry and were overawed by the sheer volume of killer board-games that filled the rental house. I'm really looking forward to Poesy being old enough to play Elefanten Parade, and (especially) Waldschattenspiel, an absolutely beautiful and extremely fun game for one adult and two or more kids.

Do you have a board game that your little kids love to play and that you find enjoyable too?

Boardgames for kids: roundup



  1. Thanks, Cory.  Your daughter and mine were born the same day, so these sorts of updates have been especially useful for me.

  2. Page for Elefantenparade with pictures, reviews, the works:

  3. Thanks for the list!  I’ve been looking to refresh our games having recently been faced with demands to play Candyland.  This might be outside of board games proper but my four year old absolutely loves UNO.  Specifically the Pinkalicious flavor which has a few special rules, but she’ll play with any deck.  In terms of dice, we actually play a version of D&D together.  I have no idea how to really play so its basically interactive storytelling.  She solves little puzzles to get through doors and rolls oddly shaped dice with large numbers on them.  Lots of math and creative problem solving to be had.  Anything to not play another game of Candyland.

  4. This game was my daughter’s favorite for years. It’s simple, and it was one of those games that are fun for both kids and adults, and it doesn’t take long to play.

    Now that she’s a little older, we play a lot of Maldoria, based on local legends. I particularly love Maldoria because it’s completely cooperative.

  5. I think it was here at boingboing that I saw a piece a couple years ago pointing out that games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders make much more sense if you think of them, not as board games, but as training for toddlers on how to play board games. The point is that there’s no strategy which allows the players to focus on new and unfamiliar concepts like “drawing a card and following the instructions on the card,” “taking turns” and “reading a number off the dice and then moving your piece that many spaces.”

    They’re a tutorial, not a game.

    As for Monopoly, if you actually read the instructions and play it that way, it becomes a cut-throat game of wheeling and dealing, and not a good game for children without the emotional maturity to accept that getting screwed by another player in a board game is not an occasion to burst into tears and/or toss the board onto the floor. Which is why everyone is taught the neutered version without the auctions or trading of properties as a child, and thinks of Monopoly as the neverending wasteland that it so often turns into.

    1. I COMPLETELY agree about “Candyland” being a “boardgame in training.”  My son loved candy land at 3, but was VERY upset about following rules– and learned very quickly that if he didn’t play nice, mommy would stop playing altogether.
      That said, Sorry is a good game. I made modified rules for when he was 4, (we only played with 2 pawns instead of all 4 at first, then we started with 3 and one already “out” and then finally built up until the proper game.
      And the local gaming shop recommended this game “Cha Cha Chicken.” at 5, it’s still a favorite.

  6. Sorry is a big hit with our kids. The good thing about that game is that the game play lends itself to dramatic reversals of fortune, so that you can’t easily predict a winner, even well into the game. It’s also one of those games that has a good balance between chance and strategy, meaning that it isn’t tedious to play with younger players. And a +1 for Uno.
    So anyone know where you can buy Waldschattenspiel? That looks like a great game for winter nights.

  7. I bought Gobblet Gobblers at the local doomed Borders for a song. We keep it at our house to entertain our niece and nephew (8 and 6 respectively) and they both LOVE it. They are equally happy sitting at the dining room table with its little painted wooden bits as they are playing video games, and for those kids, weened on the Wii, that is a serious feat. 

    It just looks like tic-tac-toe (boring), but since you can move the pieces and “gobble” up other ones (the kids love that), there is a lot of potential strategy. Not to say that the kids really get it, but if you have children of your own and can teach them, I think it could be a great intro to strategic thinking. Hell, I really like to play it– with some rebranding, they could sell it as a strategy game for adults. ( )

    Edit: Ha! Just looked at the round up, and apparently there IS a version for all ages called Gobblet. Well, silly me. Consider my recommendation the kid-friendlier version then.

  8. There is a kid-friendly pdf of an rpg called rpgkids which is worth the $2 for a download.  I think I came across it on Boingboing.

    Ravensburger does a very fun game called ‘Pirates’ which my then 4 year old loves, and still enjoys now (he’s 6).  It is hard to go wrong with any of their games, to be honest.

    There are also some very good co-operative games (made by ‘the cooperative game company’) where you are all on the same side.  My son really likes one called ‘Ogres and Elves’.

  9. I found the Disneyland Game still wrapped in cellophane when I cleaned out the storage locker and proceeded to play it with 4-year old Jaxon. He loves it – he’s been to Disney so many times that he recognizes the rides and the characters featured in the game. No reading is required and every move results in an action. You set the hands on the cardboard clock to 9:00 when you begin the game (park opening time) and every time you land on the clock on the gameboard you move the clock hands forward by an hour. When you reach 9:00 again it’s park closing time and the game is over. The points on all the cards you’ve collected are tallied and the one with the most points wins. Jax doesn’t care if he wins or not – he just likes collecting cards of his favourite characters and rides. I’m sure Poesy will have fun playing this one!

    1. Good thought, Mom. I’ve got another copy of that at the office, I’ll bring it home once I get back to London.

  10. Not for kids, but awesome: Uncle Wiggily — for shots. 

    Rule 1: The square on the center of the board, if you land on it exactly, everyone else drinks.
    Rule 2: If you land on another player, they drink.
    Rule 3: If you move backwards, you drink.
    Rule 4: You are not allowed to read the words on the card, but must instead make up your own words. If you choke, you drink.

  11. Pretty-looking game! It’s not a Steiner/Waldorf game, though, is it? I wouldn’t send my kid to a Waldorf school but damn if their materials aren’t the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

  12. I play the LOTR board game with my 6 year old and we love it.

    It is a coop game where the players struggle to get the Ring of Power to Mt Doom before being overtake by the dark power of Sauron.  It is wonderfully make, rich in art and the mechanics are awesome, if not a bit bit confusing at first.  I highly recommend reading the rules two ro three times and then playing a practice game or two by yourself before playing with children.  It also helps if your kids have had LOTR read to them or watching the movies (animated or the Jackson version).  Rules available here:

    There is also a FAQ for the rules floating around the interweb tubes somewhere.

    One of the best board games I have ever played!

  13. A couple of good ones for really young kids include:

    The Kids of Carcassonne (A light game, but there is a slighter deeper strategy that can guarantee an adult victory if you play that way. I just enjoy the time playing games with them):

    Tsuro (My three year old needs a little help, but my six year old regularly beats me):

    Forbidden Island (Maybe a little too old from a 4 year old, but as it is a cooperative game, everyone can help the younger players. My three and six year old love it):

    Catch The Match (This is a challenging game that even my adult friends like to play. It is almost the exact same game as Spot it. Little kids are surprisingly good at this. My six year old has been beating adults since he was four and delights in doing so):

    Lego Minotaurus: (My kids really enjoy this game. They really get into sticking it to the adult players.):

    Froggy Boogie (A memory game with a twist):

    Ribbit (A secret identity race game that’s been reimplemented a number of times):

  14. I think the card game Set ( ) would be great for young ones learning pattern recognition. It might be a little overwhelming in its original form for a four-year old, but it would be trivial to simplify it by removing all but one color (or pattern or shape or number or some combination of traits) and add cards back in as she gets the hang of it. I learned of the game from a friend who has been playing it since he was quite young– the benefits of having a parent who managed an educational toy store. 

    1. I was going to say Set as well, despite it not being a board game.  Actually, that’s one of its advantages: you can carry the deck of cards anywhere, and we have.  We’ve even played Set in foreign airports with other people’s children who don’t have a language in common with anyone in our family.

      Also, it’s dirt cheap, so it’s an easy gift to leave with a family after teaching them to play it.

      4 year olds are not too young to play it with just the all-solid cards.  In fact, one of my children got so good that she could beat any adult — except the family friend who introduced us to the game, and occasionally her mother — by the time she was 6.  Yes, she is in advanced math now that she’s a teen.  Coincidence?  I think not.

    2. My kids liked Set as well.
      Another game my daughters liked was Magic Labyrinth, although it’s not a 4 year old’s game.

  15. My friend Rob Bartel designed a great simple-but-strategic family game, Two by Two (not to be confused with the older game of the same name). It’s listed for ages eight and up, but I agree with the review on Wired’s GeekDad blog, which suggests that a smart six-year-old would enjoy it. The GeekDad review is also much closer to my experience than the Amazon review!

  16. Waldschattenspiel looks brilliant. Thanks for that. Although, I think I might like an alternate light source…
    My daughter is almost 3. We’ve been enjoying Kids of Carcassonne, Labyrinth Jr., Go Away Monster, Animal Upon Animal, and Viva Toppo! (which is great for rolling and counting pips. It’s a nice “push your luck” game with cute wooden mice).

    For those who haven’t seen it, this is boardgamegeek’s ranked list of kids games:

    And ranked family games (definitely for older kids):

  17. Another game that should be on everyone’s shelf is Mister X (or Sherlock Holmes – they keep changing the name) from Ravensburger.  A challenging cooperative game for older kids and adults.  A classy game is Pentago ( is a game from Sweden – a “score four” type game with a real twist – each turn includes twisting the board.

  18. is there anywhere we can order Waldscattenspil? I see lots of interest, but no where to acutally purchase. Now that there are those non flammable tealights, seems like this is something that should be brought back!

    1. My daughter bought a set of Rory’s Story Cubes at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Being the dedicated Doctor Who fans we are, we play our own version: Dead Rory Story Cubes: Every story must culminate in Rory’s death.

  19. My daughter is only two so I’ve been patiently waiting… when the time comes I want to try Dixit that was in the roundup, I understand it’s like a game version of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, players have to tell stories based on picture cards.

    A light kids game for practising dexterity is Elk Fest

    And finally I suggest Elfenland. It’s largely movement or traveling based like Uncle Wiggly or even Ticket to Ride, but wrapped in a nice fantasy theme. Suggested age is 8, but I really think you can go younger:

  20. Wow, Waldschattenspiel looks awesome! I am =not= a kid person, but that is a game that I would actually buy =in the hopes of finding friends with kids I can play it with=. It’s that damned cool. Mostly ‘cuz I can imagine being a kid that age myself, playing a game of being a dwarf in a forest in the flickering candlelight. Consider me impressed.

    But curses, it seems to be out of print! This is the 21st century, dammit; anything I want should be mine at the click of a button! Nooooooo!

  21. Snail’s Pace Race was a lot of fun at our house too. Dean & his brother loved “Slamwich” and “Rush Hour” is a nice puzzle for which you can get different levels of set-up cards.

  22. I would like to take this opportunity to remind people that most towns and cities have independent toy store/game stores. The people working there know games and what game is right for what family.  All these links to Amazon and BGG are great for taking some stranger on the internet’s advice, but they can’t match the experts at a real toy store.  Sure Rory’s Story Cubes are fun, but so are Thinkets and Tell-A-Story and Tell Tale and several others.  Depends on the kid, the family, the situation.  

  23. Not to rain on your parade, but you WILL be expected to play Candyland, and you WILL be expected to lose often.

  24. Not exactly a board game, but still fun: Munchkins. It’s a very simple rpg-style game, in which you draw cards for your race, armor, weapons, other items, and enemies. It’s best if played with 4+ people, as you can choose to help a fellow player beat a monster in exchange for something.

    You might need to wait until your kid’s a bit older to play it (it requires a lot of adding up points from your armor and weapons and your level to see whether you beat the monster, as well as strategy, and frequent rule-bending), but it’s very fun to play as an adult. When I go over to my brother’s place we usually play it after smoking some pot, which makes it quite hilarious. What’s really fun is that they have several different types of decks, like Star Munchkins (space-themed), and Munchkin Cthulu (obvious). They also seem to have added Axe Cop to their collection… hm.

    They also seem to have an actual board game style of play, but I’ve never tried that.

  25. We enjoyed Zapp Zerapp with our son when he was 5-7 -ish . He’s kind of outgrown it now, but it will be broken out of storage now his sister is getting old enough. We mostly play Catan now, with Niagara, Powergrid, Pandemic and Saboteur coming out when there are more players.

    Sorry is a brilliant game for teaching good sportsmanship in losing. You can slightly increase its longevity and complexity by dealing each player a hand of 2 or 3 cards and ‘draw one,  play or discard one’ at each turn.

  26. One game my brother taught me as a child was 52-pickup. That one I learned fast, and never played it again.

  27. on the other blog I commented to agree about Looney Lab’s card games – my kids especially enjoy Aquarius and 7 Dragons. Now they can read they’re trying out some of their other games. My favorite first board game to give is Haba’s Orchard because the beautiful wooden fruit is so much fun to hold and use. The regular size game is great. It comes bigger and smaller, and a simplified version for toddlers, but the fruit in the regular size is so lovely I stick with that version.  It’s also a cooperative game which some kids need a little more than others to keep them engaged in games. All of you play against the raven who wants all the fruit.  Raven rarely wins, though…

  28. Haba makes a lot of great games that we enjoy, some of our favorites are Orchard [it’s cooperative], a little Snow White dice game in a tin, and a big, elaborate game called A World of Adventure that is really 4 games in one which can be played separately or consecutively.

  29. My little ones enjoy these…
    Gulo Gulo:
    Chicken Cha Cha Cha:
    Loopin’ Louie:

  30. The current garish-primary-color Enchanted Forest board is a travesty. See if you can find a vintage original!

    Also, I second “Orchard”. Oh, and let’s not forget Kids of Catan!

  31. A really great first game for kids is Cranium Cariboo.  Very simple game where you look for letters or numbers, and try to find colored balls hidden under the board.  Every time I’ve played it with young (2 -3 ish) kids, they’ve loved it.

  32. Our four-about-to-turn-five year old loves retro and Euro games.  Current favourites: ‘The Goblin Game’ (HeroQuest!), 1976 edition of Battleship, Forbidden Island (with his older cousin, mum, dad and aunt), and Castle Panic.  

    I really recommend Halli Galli, a simple fruit card game that’s interesting for adults and kids.

  33. Gamewright Games has some excellent offerings for kids ages 3 and up.   Others have mentioned Go Away Monster, Slamwich, and Forbidden Island- when our daughter was very young we also enjoyed:

    Feed the Kitty (a very easy to play dice game with little wooden mice)
    Hisss (a card-matching game where everyone tries to collect the longest multicolored snake)
    Hang Four (a simple resource management game about surfing)

    Our daughter is 8 now and Forbidden Island is our current fave.   It’s a cooperative game that even non-gamers can pick up quickly and enjoy.  We also play Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and the classic island escape game Survive!

  34. My little one loves games (awesome, hope this is true in the future). She has mostly your standard affair. I did make one D&D Adventure for her that we played and she liked.

    I’ve heard Legos Minotaur Labrinth is fun, and I’d like to try it.

    Someone mentioned SET – and yes – that is a great game.

    I was seriously thinking of making a dungeon themed board game for 3-6 year olds.

  35. Post bookmarked!

    My 6yo loves Pirateer; we started playing when he was 5 as there’s no reading, just counting.

    Everybody recommended Sorry! Sliders, but the game board couldn’t physically hold up to a 5yo boy, and lasted exactly 2 games.  Sorry! Sliders on the game console (part of Hasbro Family Game Night) is a hit though.

    He also regularly kicks my butt at checkers.

  36. I scanned through the previous comments, and I don’t *think* anyone has suggested:

    Sumoku: The math is basic enough for young children, but there’s a layer of strategy that keeps it interesting for adults and makes it possible to lose on purpose without being totally obvious.

    Tier auf Tier, also called Animal Upon Animal: No need to take a dive on this one — there’s a good chance that your four-year-old will hand you your ass without any help whatsoever.

    Although I posted online sources for explanatory purposes, I concur with the PP who recommended going to your local game shop for suggestions.  Our favorite one holds a monthly game night, when people bring their own or try out the shop’s.  We’ve bought and enjoyed many games that never would have crossed our path otherwise!

  37. I loved this game as a kid:

    As you can guess by the link, it’s a Ravensburger game called Labyrinth.  It says 8-12 years but I think I started playing it younger than that.  The concept is simple you place tiles on the board kind of like Settlers of Catan and they make a maze.  Each player then gets extra tiles and they use them to shift an entire column on the board so they can move their piece closer to the treasure chest.

    It was fun because I was pretty much on a level playing field with the adults and each game is different because the layout changes.

  38. I recommend China Topf, by Haba.  Lovely game pieces, simple mechanics, great for fine motor skills and fun. 
    Another one is Little Bear: Berries, Cherries, Apples and Pears.  You only need to count to 2, and even though you roll dice, you have to decide which direction to go, which mixes chance and strategy.  It also throws in a little cooperative element when you pick someone else’s fruit for their basket.  It has a lovely wooden board and pieces. 
    And I support the aMAZEing Labyrinth suggestion.  You can muck with those rules like to make the game harder or easier, and we STILL play it here, even though The Beastie is 14.

  39. Lots of good recommendations already — the ones I’d add are:
    Rat-A-Tat Cat and Sleeping Queens, both by the excellent Gamewright.  I’d take their age recommendations with a grain of salt, though.  My 4yo is very good at Sleeping Queens (and will play it as many times as you let him), but can’t quite handle the math involved in Rat-A-Tat Cat.

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