I grew up in a board-game-loving family. Even now, when we are planning to see each other, someone will ask what board or card games each family member is bringing to the gathering. My brother and I have played the same three Ravensberger games (Enchanted Forest, Labyrinth, and Barricade) on Christmas Eve since the early 1990s, and our spouses now join the tradition. Our favorite card game (Five Crowns) is pulled out most afternoons when we’re together, and our favorite team game (You’ve Got Crabs!) sends everyone into giggles.
Of course, as a kid, I just thought that the games were fun to play. But board games are a great way to learn vital social skills – turn taking, following rules, teamwork, tolerating losing, being a good winner, managing disappointment, having a flexible mindset… They are also a wonderful way for us to spend time together as a family. For an hour, everyone (teens included!) puts down their phones and we’re engaged and connected, sharing laughs and gently teasing each other.
So what board games are this child therapist loving right now? Here are my top five:
There are tons of versions of Fluxx on the market right now. Fluxx The Board Game is great for kids 6+, and the card games are better for older kids (8+). The only real rule in Fluxx is that the rules can change at any time, making it a great game for working on flexibility, organization, and managing frustration.
This is a great game for two to four players. Gnomes at Night is a cooperative game from Peaceable Kingdom, and it’s best for kids 7+. The goal of the game is to work as a team to collect as many treasures as possible within the time provided. Sounds easy enough, right? The catch is that you have half of the treasures on your side of the board, and your teammate has the other treasures on their side, and you cannot see each other’s boards. You have to find ways to communicate with each other about which direction your gnomes need to move. There are four levels, so if you master level one, you can challenge yourself to try a more difficult board. It’s an amazing game to work on teamwork and communication skills.
Forbidden Island is a cooperative game, best for ages 8+. I know, I know… two cooperative games in one list?! But Forbidden Island is actually really fun, and is definitely a favorite in our social skills groups. The premise of the game is that you and your teammates are stuck on an island, and you need to work together to collect treasures and get back to your airplane before the island gets washed out to sea. This game is fantastic for practicing communication, cooperation, remaining flexible, and strategizing.
I love many of the Cranium games, but Conga is particularly fun! Easy to learn and great for families, Cranium invites you to answer questions by sculpting, acting out, or guesstimating the answers, while the other players try to guess what you’re thinking. This game is fabulous for developing a theory of mind, as well as encouraging creativity and thinking outside the box.
The original Code Names is a party game for adults/teens, but Code Names – Pictures is great for kids (8+). Played on teams, there are two “spymasters,” each one leading a team of “field operatives.” Giving one-word clues, the spymasters try to help their teams discover the locations for the secret agents. Great for teamwork, communication, impulse control, and organization.
There are so many amazing games out there right now. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the best games ever, but a jumping-off point for trying something new or rediscovering an old favorite. The most important thing is to put down your devices and enjoy each other for an hour or so. Your kids will thank you for it!