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Games For Kids

Mail.

Could you suggest some games that adults and kids can play together? My 6 year old daughter is a great gamer, but I have trouble finding games suited to both of us. She usually beats me at Mancala, and we play Clue and Monopoly, but I'm looking for something more interesting. Perhaps Ticket to Ride?

It's our lucky day, David: yours because I recently sent a list of just such games to a friend of mine with a seven-year-old daughter, so I've already done the legwork on this one; and mine because ... well, because I've already done the legwork on this one, so I get to compose an entire post just by cutting and pasting from my Sent mail folder. Sweet.

Here's a few suggestions. I'm sure my readers can offer more.

Family Strategy Games

  • A-Maze-Ing Labyrinth: This game is routinely cited as one of the very best for kids. Players race through an ever-changing maze, trying to acquire treasures and magical items. This is one of those rare "children's" games you will find yourself playing with your spouse or friends, even after the kids have gone to bed.
  • Pick Picknic: Players can either play chickens (and score points by eating grain) or foxes (and score points by eating other player's birds), and your success will depend not only on what you choose, but what everyone else chooses as well. A neat little game of bluff and outguessing.
  • Carcassonne: Hunters & Gatherers: There are a plethora of games in the Carcassonne line, but I think Hunters & Gathers is the best for children, as it captures the fun of the base game with even simpler rules. It's part light strategy game and part jigsaw puzzle, as players assemble a map of a prehistoric landscape. Lots of fun, and another that parents will enjoy even absent the offspring.

  • Cartagena: Imagine Candyland with pirates. And a dash of actual strategy. And ... well, I guess I already mentioned the pirates, but they are a real selling point. Arr!
  • Blokus: Blokus is one I recommended to adults in my 2005 Good Gift Games Guide, but the game is so simple that kids can play it as well. Though slightly more complicated, Ingenious is also a fine choice for an abstract family game.

Memory Games

  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha: If you want to get your ass handed to you by a seven year-old, memory games are the way to go. And Chicken Cha Cha Cha is one of the best. This one skews a little younger -- more to the five- to six-year-old set -- but slightly older kids will probably like it as well.
  • Enchanted Forest: Attractive wooden trees are randomly distributed around the board, all of which are identical except for the pictures on their bottoms. You may peek at the image beneath a tree as you pass it on the path, but when the King asks for a particular item will you remember where you saw it? Aimed at the younger girl market, but enjoyable by all.

    Dawn Under: This recent title was nominated for the "German Game of the Year" award last year. Players try to get rid of their vampire cards by finding like-colored crypts for them to sleep in. Sounds a bit macabre for a kids game, but the mechanics are simple and the illustrations are cutsey.

Dexterity Games

  • Gulo Gulo: The great thing about dexterity games is that they level the playing field: adults can usually beat kids in strategy games, youngsters will typically whip their parents in memory games, but games like this are a challenge for everyone. In Gulo Gulo players are wolverines, trying to carefully steal eggs out of a nest without setting off the "Anti-Wolverine Alarm System."
  • Igloo Pop: Pick up a small plastic igloo, shake it, and guess how many small plastic beads are inside. That's the entire game, but it's remarkably fun -- at least until your five year-old clobbers you at it.
  • Klondike: This game won the "Children's Game of the Year" award. Put a mix of gold and black marbles into a dish; the active player then has to "pan" for the gold, attempting to flip the black beads out and keep the gold beads in, while the others wager on the outcome.

Cooperative Games

  • Secret Door, The: Family Pastimes makes a whole line of cooperative kid's games, and this is reputedly their best. Race around the mansion, and try to deduce which three items have been stolen by thieves before the clock strikes midnight. It's a take on the classic memory game, but with players working as a team instead of in opposition.
  • Scotland Yard: One player takes the role of "Mr. X," darting around London and attempting to elude capture; the rest play Scotland Yard, and coordinate their movements to trap the criminal mastermind. This game is geared more towards older kids (10+), but if a younger child is part of an older "good guy" team she'll do just fine.
  • Break the Safe: If catching thieves isn't your thing, you could instead try to Break The Safe (and avoid capture) yourself. Players are secret agents, infiltrating an enemy's compound and attempting to get away with his secret plans, dodging traps, guards, and dogs all the way. The game is played in "real time," as the player frantically try to reach their goal before the clock ticks down to zero.

And by the way: Ticket To Ride might be a little advanced for a six year-old, but it's a great game and you should pick it up anyway. If you'd like a train game that a youngster could certainly play and enjoy, take a gander at TransAmerica.

Posted on February 16, 2006 to Games





Comments

Most excellent article. We have a 4-year-old who is going to have an innate love of board games WHETHER HE LIKES IT OR NOT, DAMMIT, and some of these look like they'll be a nice addition to our arsenal. I mean, collection. We're all a bit tired of "Karottenklau" and "Go Away Monster", anyway.

Posted by: Jan on February 17, 2006 1:36 PM

You missed SET. Which is perfectly within the grasp of a 6 year old, and yet frequently causes hair loss in Stanford students.

Dan

Posted by: Dan on February 17, 2006 1:39 PM

I disagree about Ticket to Ride though - we play it with our four year old and we all enjoy it. We do alter the rules a bit though for her. She plays with her cards face up, and only has a couple route cards. Sometimes she plays according to her routes, and sometimes she just places sections (seemingly) at random. It really increases the challenge and complexity for my husband and myself, because she likes to take up the short one and two connector routes first all over the map. We also play Hunters and Gatherers with her, and she really likes the map building concept.

I'll have to keep these other ones in mind too, as we are definitely a game playing family and we're always interested in ones we can play together. Thanks for putting this list together!

Posted by: Amber on February 17, 2006 1:59 PM

I'd recommend Nobody But Us Chickens as an alternative to Pick Picnic -- reduces the game to its essence. My 4 & 6 year olds love it and regularly beat us at it.

For Sale is, for some reason, another big hit with my 6 year old. He also enjoys playing Through The Desert, Samurai, Lost Cities, and Battle Line... maybe not a coincidence that they are all Knizia designs: simple mechanics but with enough depth to make it interesting for the adults playing as well.

I also second all the recommendations in the Family Strategy section. My kids love all of them.

Great list!

Posted by: Bay on February 17, 2006 2:09 PM

Dang it! and I was thinking pinnochle and craps. Think of them as counting games.

Posted by: Carla on February 17, 2006 2:20 PM

We've played Cluzzle with our 6 and 10 year old nieces, and they *LOVED* it. The 6-year old did need a bit of help from an adult, but otherwise it's a great game for all ages (it was literally a 6 to 60 set of people playing over the holidays).

Posted by: Tom N. on February 17, 2006 2:24 PM

One of my favorite games is Apples to Apples. Very easy to play, but it translates so well into any age group. As long as you can read, you can play.

Posted by: John on February 17, 2006 5:19 PM

I'd like to suggest "Rat-a-tat Cat" as a quick, easy and fun alternative to a game like UNO.

Posted by: MrChucho on February 17, 2006 6:35 PM

Six is old enough for Ticket to Ride. At least, my 6yo wins reasonably often, and has fun.

Posted by: Brian on February 17, 2006 8:55 PM

I'm pretty impressed by the way some of these games have stuck around. I remember playing Labyrinth as a young'un, and my parents still have it, waiting for the upcoming grandchildren.

Posted by: Amanda on February 17, 2006 9:13 PM

It's nice to see a mention of Scotland Yard. I had very fond memories of playing this as a teenager but recently couldn't find my old copy. My wife got me that new edition for Christmas, the one in the metal case and the Mr. X cap. Still a lot of fun.

Posted by: Alonzo Mosley (FBI) on February 18, 2006 5:15 AM

Seconds for Rat-a-tat-Cat and Apples to Apples-- there's a junior version of Apples to Apples as well. I'd also recommend Mamma Mia, Flux (NOT the stoner version) and Frog Juice.

Posted by: Sara on February 18, 2006 8:06 AM

My 7 and 8 year old cousins love to play Settlers of Catan. I grew up playing various poker games.

Posted by: Anonymous on February 18, 2006 8:05 PM

Games for kids and adults... Pigmania! If you're not familiar, think of a dice games that used two pigs instead of dice. The only thing that might be iffy for kids is the "Making Bacon" position where the pigs soemtimes land piggy-backed...

Posted by: Debra on February 18, 2006 8:25 PM

I'd also suggest Tally Ho!, Bohnanza & Balloon Cup. My 7 year old loves planting the stink beans in Bohnanza.

Posted by: studebacherhoch on February 19, 2006 4:26 AM

I'm in a software team project class right now where we're to make a networked game. One of the teams is making Carcassonne:
http://dforge.cse.ucsc.edu/projects/carcgame
It's still in development, but it should be done in about 4 weeks if you want to help them test it out. It's being done in Java, so it's cross platform.

Posted by: Kunal on February 19, 2006 11:51 AM

A-Maze-Ing Labyrinth is a definite pick, and so is Set. Another classic (but not a board game) is Milles Bornes. I'm glad to learn about the others, as well. I would also suggest Bitin' Off Hedz by Cheapass Games (a great way to use those little plastic dinosaurs strewn all over the floor), and possibly, if you've tried Clue and everyone involved has a twisted enough sense of humor, "Kill Dr. Lucky." For something really different, there's a Yoga Garden Game which involves some dexterity and flexibility, tipping the scale a bit toward younger players, perhaps, but still fun for those who have trouble sitting still. I also personally like the PowerPuff Girls board game, which had some interesting mechanics, but all players need to be able to tell/read time.

e

Posted by: edalton on February 19, 2006 7:43 PM

Another shout out for Apples to Apples. Fantastic kids game that adults will enjoy too. You must have three players, however. That's the only downside. But great game.

Posted by: scott on February 20, 2006 6:12 AM

Ooh, what about Consequences? The picture one OR the words one. And Charades! My dad and I used to play the Dorkiest Game Ever when I was little, where one of us would think of a word, and the other would come up with as many synonyms as possible for it. Then we'd check the thesaurus and give a point for each one we'd got. I think this was officially called the Game of Geekiness. Or it should have been.

Posted by: Nothing But Bonfires on February 20, 2006 7:25 AM

Rat-Tat-Cat is a definate thumbs up. Memory wise, my 4-5 year old loves Ramses II. Africa is another favorite of hers. For Sale works, as does Circus Flokati. Loot is a favorite of hers as well.

Posted by: Windopaene on February 20, 2006 8:46 AM

I totally agree about Enchanted Forest, personally, however I just found out over the Holidays that my Dad likens this game to slow torture. I recommend Ghost Party, although perhaps they don't make it anymore?

Posted by: anna bella on February 20, 2006 10:20 AM

Any good ideas for those a bit younger, like 2.5 to 3 years old? I'll check out Karottenklau and Go Away Monster. I'll also check out some of the other games since if they don't work now, they'll work in of couple years. My little guy watched his cousins play Stratego over the weekend. He grasped the square to square movement, but failed to realize that his hard, plastic dinosaur wasn't a game piece and kept smashing the board and pieces. You can imagine how his cousins loved that.

Posted by: Tom on February 20, 2006 1:17 PM

I LOOOOOVE scotland yard. Fantastic game.

My absolute favourite, though, is the Game of London, which is based on the Great Game of Britain. You basically race around trying to get to all of the sites on your cards and back to the starting place before anyone else. It's confusing the first time if you aren't familiar with the geography, but once you get started, it's addictive... AND you start to memorize the London underground!

Posted by: Anonymous on February 20, 2006 3:50 PM

I read your description of the Amazing Labyrinth game, but it didn't click until I saw the picture - I loved that game when I was little! I definitely recommend it... and I'm thinking about trying to dig up one for me on eBay :)

Posted by: geeky on February 21, 2006 8:03 AM

Two more card games: Once Upon a Time (Atlas Games) and the Rocky & Bullwinkle Party Game. These are both storytelling games in which you use cards to trigger plot twists. R&B also has spinners for key abilities for each character, and a very silly general theme. OUAT is more fairy-tale oriented.

For very young players, Race to the Roof is not bad. But at that level, finding a game that adults and children both enjoy becomes rather a different task. The adult perspective becomes one of being able to enjoy doing this activity with this child, rather than specifically playing a game. At that age, they have a hard time grasping game rules (I tried to teach a group of 3-4 year olds 3x3 bingo once, and gave it up as a bad job) and when they play hide & seek they always all hide in the same place (often together).

edalton

Posted by: edalton on February 21, 2006 8:14 AM

Here's several we've been playing with our children since under 5 (children are now 7 and 10)

Frank's Zoo (a favorite)
Mama Mia
Rivers, Roads and Rails

Posted by: celkins on February 21, 2006 11:50 AM

RoboRally is definately not easy to play with default rules, but modify the rules to use a play-from-the-hand approach, and I think you can turn one of my all time favorite games into a very friendly game for younger audiences.

Posted by: Caleb on February 21, 2006 1:44 PM

YES! Settlers of Catan highly recommended.

Posted by: yes on February 21, 2006 5:07 PM

Our all time favorite family card game was Flinch, we all enjoyed it, from my parents to me and my sister (I'm 6 years older than she is). we used to go up to Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park every summer, and we often played Flinch at one of the card tables in the Lodge to fill the evenings before we tired out.

Posted by: dragonet2 on February 24, 2006 11:23 PM

Help. I am hosting a church party where the theme is wild game night. I need one more game. It has to be an indoor game, involving animal or camping games. Both adults and 7-17 year olds will play. I only have three days! Any suggestions?

Posted by: Sherry on March 1, 2006 6:26 PM

please find out games like which means treasure hunts or trading etc.so that everyone can play.

Posted by: mahathy on March 26, 2006 4:25 AM

Nice List... cant wait to try these games with my nephews...

Posted by: Jamire on March 26, 2006 9:38 PM

these are absolutely awesome.
Thank You!!!

Posted by: Jamire on March 26, 2006 9:40 PM