Every December 26, our family has a Christmas tradition: we play family board games.
Usually I buy us a special game each year–a newer game that maybe many people have never heard of, but we try it out and play it and have a great time!
One of the most popular posts on this blog is my post on two-player board games. I wrote it originally a few years ago, and then I kept replacing some games with other great ones that people recommended, so it’s been constantly updated. Some are old staples, but some are newer games that are really fun!
Today I thought I’d chime in with 20 of our board games to play as a family.
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When I was younger, we only had a few basic board games that everybody played: Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Clue, Risk, Scrabble, Boggle. Remember all those? With Life & Sorry, the big drawback that I always found is that it wasn’t really about strategy; it was just about the die rolls. Then Monopoly can be a dangerous game, because it tends to be quite vicious and cut-throat. I know many people who got turned off of board games because of how brutal Monopoly games were! And Risk just takes FOREVER, and can get vicious, too.
Nevertheless, when our kids were younger, we were determined to find games that we could play, the second they were old enough, because it gave us something to do as a family. And right around the time the girls got old enough to play, there was an explosion of new board games. We’ve kept up with quite a few of them, adding to our collection constantly (and Keith and I even do date nights at a local board game cafe!).
So I’d like to share here some family board games you can play with younger kids, and then branch out into board games that you can play once they get older.
Great Family Board Games for Families with Younger Children
This inexpensive game was our family’s staple for years! Basically each player is growing their own beans. Yes, beans. (Bohn is German for “bean”.) There are a whole variety of beans in the game–blue beans and green beans are really common, but cocoa beans are worth a lot (the game makers are very smart). And the stink beans make everyone laugh!
You can only plant one type of bean in each field, and you start with two fields, which you can expand over time. And you have to plant the beans that are in your hand in order. So if you have a bean that you can’t plant, you have to trade it for something you do want. It’s the trading that’s the fun part, and kids have to be old enough to understand that a cocoa bean for a green bean is a really bad trade, no matter how much their sister tries to con them into it. But it’s really easy to learn and kids love the pictures!
I always liked this game because it taught such great spatial skills! Basically, each person gets their own colour (you can only play with 4 players, or you can play with two and each get to do the other colour). And each of your pieces has a different shape. You have to play all of your pieces to win (or the game is over when no one else can place a piece). But your pieces can only be placed corner to corner–no two sides can ever be against each other. So it takes some thinking! But even young children can conceptualize it.
Okay, this card game sounds really gruesome–but it’s seriously fun! When our kids were little, all of their friends coming over for play dates always wanted to play Guillotine.
Basically, you’re a French executioner and you have to cut off people’s heads (they get cut off just by being at the front of the line when it’s your turn). And each person is worth a different number of points. The king is worth a ton. But the martyr is worth NEGATIVE points if you kill him! You have action cards in your hands which can shuffle the deck or move people around so that they come up for execution when it’s your turn.
It’s really, really easy to learn, and even younger children can get the hang of it. And it’s not as gruesome as it sounds (plus you can teach a lot of history!)
Here’s a card game where it’s all about matching–or not matching.
The cards have different colours, different shapes, different fills, and different numbers. A “set” is something with three cards where each element is either ALL the same, or ALL different. So you could have a set where they’re all purple, they’re all ovals, and they’re all fully shaded–but the numbers are all different. Or you could have a set where one is orange, one is purple, and one is green, and three different shapes, and three different fills, and three different numbers.
The neat thing about this game is that there’s NO advantage to being older. So kids can win as often as adults do (and our kids often beat us!) And it’s great at teaching patterning.
A must-have as soon as kids can read!
Everybody gets a bunch of nouns in their hands–from your teacher to a banana to John F. Kennedy Jr. Then an adjective is turned up, and everyone has to decide what in their hand best fits! One person judges, and hilarity ensues.
There’s a junior version for kids who aren’t as adept at reading as well!
One of Joanna’s favourites (Joanna works with me on the blog!). She says:
“Arboretum is a game about building a beautiful park composed of different tree varieties in numbered cards in front of you. But there’s a catch: everyone else is building one too. Each player creates a path of trees moving from the lowest value tree of that type to the highest. Your path can have a mixture of tree species, but you’ll get bonus points if you go all maple all the time (or jacaranda, or whatever.) The catch is that tree species can only be scored by one person and the determination of scoring isn’t the cards you’ve played… it’s the cards in your hand! This is a really fun puzzle that’s quintessentially easy to learn but hard to master. It’s fast and the art is beautiful and somehow my sister-in-law always beats me.”
Strategy Family Board Games for Age 8 and up
Honestly, this is one of my favourite’s (and Katie and David’s favourites, too!). Plus it’s likely one of the easiest to master when you’re young.
This is a cool game where you build the city and you add tiles every turn, while placing your people to “claim” points. You get points for farming, or for a road, or for cities. It isn’t hard to learn and it doesn’t take very long, and every game is different because you build it! Plus there are a myriad of super fun expansions that add more variety to the game. (In fact, if you’re an expansion person, I highly recommend the Big Box version that comes with multiple expansions. This is the one Katie & David have and we love playing it!).
I think Carcassone is an easier one for younger children to master–but there’s also a junior version.
This is one of our new ones for 2019!
Can be played with 2-4 players. Basically, you build a forest. But there’s only one problem: your trees need sunlight to grow. And the sun moves around the board–and bigger trees end up shading the smaller ones. It’s a great game because it teaches kids what forests are actually like. The trees end up seeding and intermingling with each other; there’s a constant race to the top; and forests do better when the bigger trees die and rejuvenate.
It doesn’t take that long, either. I think younger children can learn this one pretty easily. Plus it’s just really, really pretty.
Done by the same people who did Photosynthesis–and we love Photosynthesis!
I have to admit I haven’t played this one, but it looks so interesting and it has such great reviews that I had to mention it. Here’s how it’s described:
“In this very unique game, each player’s board is a 12-sided 3-dimensional planet core. Throughout 12 turns, select landscape tiles representing oceans, deserts, mountains or frozen lands, and arrange them on your planet to create the best ecosystems. Win Animal Cards while fulfilling your own ‘’Natural Habitat’’ objective and create the most populated planet in the universe!”
Strategy Family Board Games for Ages 10 and Up
I’m using the age of 10 here a little arbitrarily–so much depends upon your kids and how mature they are and how they’re able to understand rules.
Here are some of the awesome new (or new-ish) board games that we’ve been enjoying over the last few years (and for several of them, I’ve left the link in for the junior version of the game, too, if you have kids around ages 7-9).
Every time we have people over for dinner we play Ticket to Ride. It’s fairly easy to explain, and lots of fun to play! You start the game with three “routes”–routes that you have to build joining two cities. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, your routes overlap. (Like Toronto-Miami and Chicago-Miami). Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, they don’t. (Toronto-Miami and Seattle-Las Vegas). But you build your routes with your trains, and sometimes you even block other people in!
(Although it’s different each time you play because you have different routes, the strategy doesn’t really change, so I’m putting it in this category). And I think this is one that children on the younger end can master!
And check out the junior version for even younger children as well.
A family board game staple! You build your initial settlements on resources–grain, iron, brick, sheep, or wood–and then each resource space has a number associated with it. Every time someone rolls that number on dice, you collect the resources for that square. And with those resources you build things–roads, settlements, cities. And that gets you points. But you can also block people in (that’s mean!) or try to get a monopoly on a resource. It’s really fun! And if you have more than four people, there’s also an expansion set for 5 or 6 players (we’ve used that; it works well).
This game will be to the next generation what Risk was to us.
We love the Seafarer’s Expansion–makes it so much more interesting!
And Catan has a junior version, too, so that younger children can master it.
Here’s a different kind of game because you’re not in competition with each other–you actually cooperate! Four diseases have broken out in the world, and your team of specialists has to cure them before they infect the populace too much. So you have to work to your strengths as characters.
We’ve really enjoyed this one over the last few years, and each of my girls has bought it as well.
Another of Joanna’s family’s favourites!
What if you and your family were a bunch of medieval quack doctors trying to brew the best potion during a 9 day potion-brewing tournament? Then you’d be playing Quacks of Quedlinberg. We love this game since it’s silly and has a lot of variability – making it fun to teach since you never *quite* know how to put the ingredients together into your bag to make the perfect cauldron concoction. It’s also great to play with kids or those who aren’t familiar with board games. Pull too many cherry bombs out of your bag and you’ll explode your brew, causing catastrophe. But never fear, the next day’s tournament is always approaching, with new horizons and opportunities.
(As a note – this game has a nice event deck included that has a fortune teller on it as art. This doesn’t have anything to do with the cards and psychics aren’t a feature of the game, but I wanted to let you all know just in case. If you’re uncomfortable with it, you can always play without the random event at the start of each round.)
Can you work together to spread the gospel–and write the New Testament? In this Bible based game, you all play different apostles, with different gifts and strengths. And you need everybody’s gifts to get the gospel around the known world, and get the New Testament written, despite trials and persecutions.
We played this a ton last spring, and won about 50/50. What really surprised me was how accurate it was–you really do need the apostles’ gifts to actually get everything done.
I wrote a longer review of Commissioned in this family board games post.
This is an epic game. Last summer, this game was what our family played, over and over again. It’s a longer one, but it’s really fun and you learn a lot of history. Each era, 7 empires are available for play (but the game can only be played by a maximum of 6 players, so each turn at least one empire is buried). You each choose an empire, and play that out. What happens when the Romans arrive? They take over everything! But within one empire they’re almost eradicated. And what do the Mongols do? Sweep through Asia. You’ll find that the empires tend to expand exactly how historically they did, which is really interesting.
We were playing the older version, and they’ve created a new streamlined version now with easier battles, so it likely doesn’t take as long!
Strategy Family Board Games for Age 10 and up
Okay, 10 is a bit of an arbitrary age. Some kids may have the concentration and staying power to play when they’re younger, and some may need to be older. But these are all ones that we’ve enjoyed either recently or since the girls were teens. These are staples of our family board game nights!
(and often games have junior versions for younger kids, and I’ve linked to them as well).
We LOVE Dominion. Each Dominion game comes with 24 or 25 different cards which all do different things, but you actually only play with 10. So each game you can switch it up and something new will happen and the strategy will change! It’s super fast to learn and super fun. This was our family game back in 2012, and it’s become a staple. The next year I added an expansion to it–Dominion Intrigue, which adds more cards that you can potentially play, with a bunch of other suggested strategies.
We’ve played it with our own kids, but also with friends away at a cabin, and with people just over for dinner!
Just look at how many expansions Joanna’s family has! Now, the original game is great on its own. But if you’re like us, you may want some expansions because it changes the game and it’s always new!
For some reason, this is one of the few games that I ever actually win. I’m not sure why–but I think it’s because your strategy has to constantly change depending upon what resources you get. You choose a different era of the ancient world, and then you have tasks that you have to complete. Each era has 7 turns, and you get to choose cards and try to amass the most wealth, while also trading with those around you. I really enjoy this one, and it’s not that hard to explain. It takes about half an hour for each era.
There’s also a wonderful 2-person version of this one that Keith and I played twice this weekend (and I won both times!).
This is a new one that Keith and I recently discovered at our board game cafe (and which is one of the hottest sellers this year!). It’s a spatial game, where you have to build different buildings on your grid, but each time you build a building, you use up space that could be used for more buildings. So you have to plan ahead.
But what makes this one awesome is that every game is a different combination of things that need to be built, so no one can “coast”. You have to adopt a new strategy each time!
It’s great for spatial skills, too, plus it’s really pretty.
Great Family Board Games Teenagers Will Love
Want some games that are more geared towards making you laugh? Here are some more geared towards teenagers (although most teens will love the strategy ones, too!)
This card game exploded onto the scene last year with all of its exploding kittens and laser beams and sometimes goats. It’s just plain funny–and the cards and action cards are funny, too (if you like that kind of humour). You draw cards and play until someone explodes, so the goal is to get points before the other person happens to explode. We gave this one to our kids who live out of town last year, and they really like it, too!
If exploding kittens and guillotine weren’t gruesome enough for you, here’s the Gloom game! Each person has their own unfortunate family. Your goal is to kill off every member of your family in as gruesome a way as possible, and to have bad things happen to them. They may be “mocked by midgets” or “pursued by poodles”. And you can play happy things on your opponents (which will aggrieve them to no end). And it makes the game even more fun if, when you play the card, you make up a story to explain what happened.
When we were first getting to know our now son-in-law, Connor, we played this game. He was remarkably good at coming up with sad, unfortunate stories and circumstances. Not sure what that said to us. 🙂
So if you want to make this Christmas special for your family, why not do what I do every year, and choose a game or two as a family Christmas present? And then take a day during the holidays and play games all day! You can even stay in your pyjamas and just hibernate as a family. That’s what we do, and honestly–it’s my favourite part of Christmas, because we’re all together again and having fun!
There’s still time to order the games in time for Christmas, especially with a prime membership.