Family games: In our house, we love card games and board games! It’s a great way to engage our brains and spend time with each other. Here are some favorites.
Whether you play with a regular deck of cards, or you use a set made specifically for the game, the rules are simple. Spread a bunch of cards face-down on a table. Take turns picking two up and revealing what they are. If you find a pair of matching cards, you get to keep them and do a second turn. With very young kids new to the game, start with a small number of cards, say, eight, for starters. As they get better you can add more cards. Once kids master this game, they progress very rapidly to being able to beat adults at it, which makes it all the more fun.
Players: 3+, though it can work with 2.
Another game that can be played with a regular pack of cards or a custom deck. The rules are simple, and allow players to pluck cards out of each others’ hands. This can be a cause for hilarity or for a teachable moment about dealing with frustration and competition, depending on the time or the child.
This game is mostly based on luck, but there’s enough decision-making that you can imagine your wins are due to your wily card play, while your losses are simply by chance. It doesn’t take long for packs to get worn from so much use. If you’re looking for a similar game with regular cards, do Crazy 8s.
As soon as kids have the fine motor skills to place and remove the blocks, they are easily hooked on this game of suspense, in which players take turns removing blocks from the lower parts of a tower and adding them to the top. Bonus: the blocks are useful for anything kids might want to build.
A Qwirkle set consists of 108 tiles in six different colors and six different shapes. Players take turns putting down the tiles and gaining points for each sequence. It encourages pattern recognition and tactics. The longest sequence: six tiles of the same color or shape, gets 12 points and the right to say “Qwirkle!” Finding individual sequences is satisfying, and this is an absorbing and soothing game that adults can enjoy as much as kids.
This game gives a mind-bending challenge to sort cards into different sets by their shape, color, and shading. The official rules call for it to be a speed game, but if you have a child who isn’t interested in that kind of competition, you just take turns or even do it cooperatively. The business of sorting the cards is so absorbing that it can hold a kid’s attention (and yours) just fine without making it a contest.
Players: 2 to 5
Created by a team that includes Matthew Inman, the creator of the Oatmeal, this card game “for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats” delivers goofy jokes with every card, and has a fun structure, in which every game ends up in a climactic battle to see who will be the last standing when the exploding kittens come out. Stay-at-home bonus: the game creators have come up with “Quarantined Kittens,” a way for people to play Exploding Kittens together through video chat.
You can buy a wooden mancala set with 48 glass pieces, or you can make your own board and improvise your own pieces out of rocks, beans, pennies, or whatever you have available. You can play it outside by digging the 14 holes and finding small objects to be the pieces. (The beach is a convenient place to do this.) This game is more than 2000 years old and it endures for a reason. The rules are simple, but playing is a fun exercise in strategy.
In this game, inspired by a gorgeous medieval fortress town in France, players lay down tiles to build walled cities, farms, monasteries and roads. What I love about this game is that even if you are well down in point totals, it is easy to stay engaged because you have the project of building smaller goals: such as finishing an individual town or road. For my family, this game was the introduction to grown-up complex board games. We’ve played many intriguing games since then, but this is still my favorite.
This is a fast, easy-to-learn card game in which each card can be two things, a vegetable, or a way of getting points for different vegetable combinations. Fun perk: hearing your picky eater kids say things like “give me the cabbages!” For some reason, the age recommendation on the package is 14+, but there is nothing about the game that makes it unsuitable for younger kids. There’s arithmetic to do when adding up the score, but in my view that makes it more suitable for kids learning their math facts, not less. And it is just as much fun for adults as children. Each game takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but allow more time, because nobody is going to want to stop at just one round.
Players: 2 to 5
Players compete to build railroads across the United States in this board game. It presents a fun challenge because while the rules are easy to learn, the game itself calls for some involved strategy. And with the whole family playing the roles of gilded-age-railroad magnates, things can get goofily cutthroat.
More fun and family games: