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Totally Together

Starting a Family Game Night

June 6, 2011 by  

We play a lot of games in our house. This is a photo of the family game shelves in the garage. The board games and puzzles are accessible to the big kids, but out of reach from the baby. I try to maintain a “one or two games in the house at a time” rule, to limit lost or damaged pieces.

Since my kids vary in ages (9, 6, and seventeen months), we have quite a few to choose from– but truly only play a handful on a regular basis. I always thought it would be a good idea to have a way to rent board games. Or a lending library. This might be neat to set up in schools, or through your church or neighborhood— something free the whole family can enjoy that promotes togetherness.

If you’re new to playing board/card games with your children, do not expect everyone to have fun and get along perfectly. This is real life. Go with the flow, and try not to be a dictator. Rules are important, but good sportsmanship is a much more valuable lesson to learn. I’m okay with bending rules or getting new cards/scrabble pieces to keep a game moving along and to retain interest, but the family needs to agree. Anything sneaky is cheating, and that’s not okay.

It’s not about winning or losing. It’s how you play the game. — Grantland Rice

words to live by!

Preschool Games (no reading required):

Candyland— this is THE classic preschool board game. This game teaches the “luck of the draw,” taking turns, and color recognition. Ages 2.5 or so and up–child needs to be able to not flip the board, and understand taking turns.

Chutes and Ladders— the other classic preschool board game. This game has a spinner, and is a great way to introduce numbers. Try to just enjoy and not turn each play into a math lesson. Let the math come naturally— learning is best when it’s not forced, anyway! ages 4 and up.

Memory— this simple matching game is fun for all ages. If you have very young children, start with only 5-10 pairs, then build up. When I taught preschool, I started the little ones right around age 18 months. You’ll be surprised at how quickly small guys figure it out!

HyperDash— great indoor game on a rainy day, or outdoor game to let a pack of kids run off some energy. The ages on the box says for ages 7 and up, but I think that recommendation is completely out-of-whack. There are batteries, but this is a fantastic preschool game–I’d say for ages 3 and up.

Connect Four–a large version of tic-tac-toe, Connect Four is appropriate for ages 4 and over, and I still really enjoy playing with the kids. This is a good way to teach planning-ahead and strategy– important skills for more advanced games.

Go Fish, Uno, Old Maid, Crazy Eights (you can usually find these games at your local Dollar Store)– great classic card games to toss in the diaper bag, beach bag, to keep in the glove compartment, etc. You can customize the games for smaller children by limiting the amount of cards in play. Although the Uno deck says for ages 7 and up, I taught a group of 4-year-olds who picked the game up quite quickly.

Jengafamily building game, or a solo game. It’s kind of tricky to rebuild the stack for small children, but lots of fun to knock down, or to watch mom or dad “mess up” and knock the tower over.

Young School-Aged children (but still fun for older kids/adults!)

Battleship — beginning strategy game, teaches graph/cooordinates-reading. 2 player game, ages 6 and up (looks like Amazon doesn’t carry the regular vs.; you’ll need to look locally).

Bananagrams— introduction to scrabble; no scoring needed. Easier to play on the run than scrabble, and feels more organic (although we do play a fair amount of scrabble).

Apples to Apples Jr. — we love this game for building vocabulary, and for just a great family game. Children need to be able to read/sound out words. Ages 6 1/2 or 7 or so and up. GREAT game for a large group, family gathering with all ages, etc.

Boggle — fun, quick family game. Builds vocabulary, promotes reading/word-making. ages 6 and up or so. Fun for adults—Adam and I get quite competitive with Boggle.

Yahtzee — Great math skills game. This game also sets up the framework to play poker, which is a valuable skill, right? :-) (gotta be better than Liar’s Dice… at least…)

Older Elementary-aged children to adult

Clue — the new version has added a few more rooms and weapons, and “intrigue” cards. Our family ignores the intrigue cards, and plays the classic way– we just try to solve the crime. If you’re playing with teenagers or an adults-only game, you might want to use the intrigue cards. This game is best with 3 or more players.

Blokus — Remember the old Game Boy game, Tetris? (there’s probably an app for that now, huh?) Blokus is a boardgame version of Tetris. Players use geometric blocks to build board presence and block players. Teaches spatial awareness, logic, and strategy. The game works the best with 4 players, although you can play with 2 or 3.

Carcassonne My friend, Kelly, from The Spunky Coconut told me about this game, and we’ve been playing it every couple days ever since. My kids cheat too much when they play on their own— I’d recommend having an adult involved. This is our current favorite, and when/if we outgrow this game, there are add-ons available. Great way to introduce more advanced games like Risk (which we own, but I still haven’t figured out!).

Cranium Family — This family game combines classics like pictionary, charades, and name that song in an entertaining (and not too challenging) way. (PS. Amazon is listing this for $57 right now, which is absurd. I have no idea why.)

These are our current favorites, but I’m ALWAYS on the lookout for great new games. If you have any other suggestions for me to keep an eye out for, please let me know!

Post a comment · 25 Comments »


25 Responses to “Starting a Family Game Night”

  1. Julia @ Papercrank on June 6th, 2011 11:20 am

    Hi, Stephanie!

    We like board games too! I suggest: Ticket to Ride, Forbidden Island, Rumis (which might be called Blokus 3D now), Break the Safe, and The Settlers of Catan. Forbidden Island and Break the Safe are different because they’re cooperative games – everyone works together to win.

    If you’re looking for even more games, try The site may be overwhelming, but the search box is very useful. Also, there is usually a good description for each game.

    • Stephanie on June 6th, 2011 4:26 pm

      ah! these are all great suggestions. I’ve heard of the Settlers of Catan and debated about that one before going for Carcassonne (they’re pretty similar?)
      thank you!

      • Kristi R on June 19th, 2012 10:27 pm

        No, Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan are nothing like each other. :) They are both gateway games into the world of Euro games (harder games). Settlers is awesome!

  2. JJ Kunard on June 6th, 2011 3:33 pm

    We would add Rummikub and all versions of Sequence to your list. My kids are now 9, 11 and 13 but we have been playing both since the little one was about 5. There is some strategy involved, but even little ones can get them.

    • Stephanie on June 6th, 2011 4:25 pm

      I’ve heard of Rummikub but not Sequence. Thanks for letting me know—I’ll look for them!

  3. Tawna on June 6th, 2011 9:05 pm

    We love boardgames too! Faves with my kids (7 & 5) right now are UNO, Guess Who?, Hi-Ho Cherrio, Sorry!, and Monopoly Jr. The best place to get games is Goodwill! We have scored TONS of great games like Cranium & Elefun for less than $5 each!

    • Stephanie on June 7th, 2011 11:20 am

      excellent idea about goodwill. great thinking.

  4. Beth on June 7th, 2011 5:29 am

    Two of our favorites are Hoopla and Whoonu–both by Cranium. They are both fun for older elementary on up and adults too! Hoopla is a cooperative game that requires everyone to work together to complete charades-like tasks before time runs out, but using methods that are not just charades. Whoonu is a game of trying to decide which of several items will be the favorite of the person who is “it” for the round, and scoring points based on the ratings of “it”. It’s awesome for helping people get to know each other better… I’m playing it as often as possible with my in-laws-to-be :)

    Another that isn’t a board game, but way fun: Spoons!

    • Stephanie on June 7th, 2011 11:20 am

      spoons! is that a drinking game? I’m going to have to google the rules. :-)

  5. Kim (Cook It Allergy Free) on June 7th, 2011 9:02 am

    Our game closet looks just about the same as yours. We are big gamers here too (board games, that is, not videos, LOL). We travel everywhere with a couple of games in our aresenal just in case there are some shouts of “i’m bored”.

    By the way, what a brilliant idea for renting board games, Steph! I think it would be a good idea to even do with a group of friends. We have been thinking of starting a family AND friends game name once a month, where we have a few of our close family friends come over with their kids and we get a couple of different games going. Just too bad you and I do not live closer together. If you ever make a road trip through AZ, you all have a gluten free place to stay. I think we would have some fun for sure! 😉


    • Stephanie on June 7th, 2011 9:55 am

      absolutely, Kim. we’d love to come for a visit. :-)

  6. karen on June 7th, 2011 9:07 am

    For non-readers—–Feed the Kitty, Hiss, and Leaping Lizards–all three are from GameWright. Lots of fun, not too lengthy, and not terribly annoying for adults.

    • Stephanie on June 7th, 2011 9:55 am

      GameWright! I don’t know that company, thank you for letting me know!

  7. Holly @Frugal Living Now on June 7th, 2011 9:25 am

    Love your detailed list of game suggestions for each age group! I would love to link to this from my frugal entertainment page – you don’t mind, do you?

    • Stephanie on June 7th, 2011 9:38 am

      I’d be honored, thank you. Actually, when we do gamenights on the weekends, Adam and I always comment on what a cheap night it is— just as fun as bowling, etc. and I don’t have to put on shoes! :-)

  8. Betsy on June 7th, 2011 3:53 pm

    Great post. Our wonderful local toy store does do a lending library for games! Picolo Mondo in Portland. I’ve made sure to buy a few so that it feels fair.

    I second Blokus and add Hiss for the non reading set .

  9. MemeGRL on June 7th, 2011 6:00 pm

    Two enthusiastic thumbs up here too for Hiss and Feed the Kitty (which is really LCR for little kids)–we LOVE these games at our house. (We have boys ages 5 and 7.)

    And two awesome ones: Sleeping Queens and Rat-a-Tat-Cat. Sleeping Queens was actually created by a young girl; there is either math or matching involved (in discarding cards to pull new ones, players can either get rid of matching cards OR cards that add up to an equation (so a 2 and a 5 and a 7) and there are less-competitive ways to play too. Huge hit.

    Rat-a-Tat Cat involves a little more math, so I’m usually teamed with the five year old; the goal is to have the lowest total on your cards at the end of a round. Some strategy, some math, some luck. The version we have has a “Super Peek” feature, with those red cellophane glasses, that let you see what everyone has, and of course the kids love it.

    And my five year old adores Life as well. Timeless!
    Thanks for the great suggestions–we’re always up for new games!

    • Stephanie on June 8th, 2011 7:54 am

      MemeGRL, I’m wracking my brain, but can’t figure out LCR?

  10. Annemarie on June 7th, 2011 7:58 pm

    A great game for all ages is Zingo. You get cards like bingo but you match simple pictures with words. There are easier and harder sides to the cards and a fun dispenser for the tokens.

    I’ll second Sleeping Queens and in a similar vein is Frog Juice. Junior Monopoly is an easier, faster version of the grown-up one and works well with the elementary set.

    • Stephanie on June 8th, 2011 7:54 am

      ack, there are so many new ones I haven’t heard of! this is fantastic.

  11. Missy on June 12th, 2011 8:32 am

    Just what we were talking about! Love that you keep them outside! This blog is perfect timing for summer organizaion…going to searchbit for all your tips!

  12. Kitter on June 16th, 2011 2:38 pm

    Qwirkle! It’s a great game. It’s fun for kids (6-ish and up) and adults too.

  13. Kristi R on June 19th, 2012 10:49 pm

    Fluxx is a great card game, probably suitable for age 8+. You have to be able read, and keep track of the changing rules, but it’s a simple game that is tons of fun.

    Once they get basic Fluxx, there are other varieties of Fluxx like Zombie Fluxx, Star Fluxx, Monty Python Fluxx, and Pirate Fluxx. They’re made by Looney Labs games.

    Forbidden Island is a cooperative game where you try to gather treasures from ruins on an island before the island sinks under you. Board Game Geek lists it as age 10+

    Two by Two – you move around your arks matching pairs to rescue stranded animals while the waters rise. Good for younger kids.

    For teens and adults – Dominion. Hands down one of the Best. Games. Ever. :)

    King of Tokyo is a great one that could be played by older elementary kids but is probably even more fun for adults. Can play with 2, but it’s much better with 3-6.

    Hubby and I own a game store, and you’re welcome to send us an e-mail if you have questions. :)

    • Stephanie on June 20th, 2012 6:30 am

      this is wonderful information, thank you!!! I appreciate you taking the time to share.

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