Tired of Hi-Ho Cherry-o? Sick of Sorry? Want to get your kids into some real games, get ‘em ready for some D&D or Pandemic in a few years? We’ve picked some of the best board games for small children to help turn your ankle bitter into full on board game geek.
Settlers of Catan Junior
Ah, Catan, the monopoly of “real” board games. For some it is a classic while for others it is the bane of their gaming existence. Love it or hate it the Junior version is a great starter for young children. The goal of Catan Junior is to be the first to build 5 houses on the map. You do this rolling dice to collect resources. There is a bit more strategy to it than that, but not a lot. The board and pieces are well made (all of my kids love playing with the cutlesses) and easy for kids to manipulate. All the cards are picture based so no reading is required. After a single session of helping my kids all three of them (5, 5 and 10) can play pretty independently. The game has just enough strategy to be fun for adults too.
Pros: Cards with pictures (no reading) well designed pieces, various levels of strategy
Skill: Decision making, turn taking, Resource Management
My local game store guru pointed me in the direction of this one and I am so grateful to her. The goal of battle sheep is to capture as much territory on the board as possible. The board is made up of interchangeable hexagonal styled pieces that can be arranged into a variety of shapes. Players take turns laying down different tiles to create the board, meaning no two games are ever the same. Once the board is set players take turns putting down their stack of tokens. Each turn player moves their stack of tokens (or a portion of their stack) to an adjacent spot leaving one token behind. Players can trap each other and capture territories. Battle Sheep is simple and fast paced. However, it is designed well enough for strategies to evolve as players get older or more advanced.
Pros: No dice, no cards, all action.
Skills: Resource Management, Spatial reasoning, long term planning
Lost in the Woods
A game with really unique game play. Players are not competing with one another per se, and technically everyone can win. The object of the game is to escape the giant’s house and move across the board to safety. Each round 1 player picks a wooden tree from a bag without looking at it. Each tree is different (containing different sizes, shapes, and holes placed in different areas). The player has 10-20 seconds to hold the tree under the table and try to memorize its shape by touch alone. The tree is passed around under the table as players take turns feeling the tree. Once it has gone all the way around, the tree is placed into a closed box. Then another player takes turns slowly flipping over each card in the provided deck. Every card has a picture of one of the trees. Players call out when they see the card they think matches the tree they felt. Once everyone has a card, players vote on who they think has the card that correctly matches the tree. The wooden tree is then pulled from the box and placed on the cards to see if any of them match. If one does, everyone who voted for that card moves forward one space. After two rounds the “Giant” begins to move forward, progressing one space every round. If the giant lands on an occupied space that player gets “eaten.” Players who have been eaten assume the role of the giant, allowing everyone a chance to play even if they lose.While it sounds super easy (and often it is) you would be surprised how often your hands will fool you. After a few drinks this could be very challenging for adults as well.
Pros: cooperative play (no fighting!), short, inventive.
Skills: Gross and fine motor skills. Voting/Decision making.
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel is a game that is in the same vein as your average board game like Hi-Ho Cherry O, so why is it on the list? Because it is just awesome. It’s simple, has a cute design, and is fun. Adults will get kind of bored with it quickly but it’s a great way to spend time with your little one.
Pros: Cute, well made, simple.
Skills: Gross and fine motor skills, matching, turn taking, problem solving, and decision making.
Ages: 3+ (my 10 year old enjoys playing it with his little brother and sister)
A simplified version of the game Gobblet, Gobblet Gobblers is like an elevated game of tic-tac-toe. The game is played on a 3×3 board. Players take turns placing their goblets down trying to get three in a row. The catch is that each player has 9 pieces. 3 small, 3 medium, 3 large. The larger pieces can be placed over smaller pieces allowing players to capture or recapture occupied spaces. This simple twist allows the game play to remain as simple as tic-tac-toe but make cat’s games less likely.
Pros: Simple, quick games, excellent wooden pieces that kids will love
Skills: Gross motor, decision making, strategic thinking.
Ages: 4+ (you could probably do 3 ½ as well)
My family is a bit split on this game, half of us like it while the other half do not. If you like games like Jenga or Operation that require a steady hand and dexterity, this is right up your ally. The game consists of one wooden figurine (the titular Superhero Rhino) and several bendable playing cards. Each card is designed to look like a house or a floor. The floor side of the cards have lines indicating where walls need to be placed. Players take turns building a tower out of cards and moving the Rhino around the tower. The first player to knock over the tower loses. While the gameplay is fast and fun, due to the card design we found the tower rarely makes it past 5-6 turns. Still, little ones may enjoy the challenge.
Pros: Short, simple game play
Skills: Gross and Fine Motor, Turn taking
My Little Pony RPG
This one involves a lot of reading and participation from the parents but it is a great time for all involved and a great way to teach behaviors and decision making in kids. Kids will need the ability to roll and read dice at the very least. Keeping track of gold, levels, items, and similar details on a character sheet is needed for deeper game play. My 10 year old and I did this for the younger kids. The My Little Pony RPG will introduce your kids to the world of Role Playing Games and is easy to customize to suit the needs and abilities of your kiddo.
Pros: Fun, creative co-op game play that is very inclusive.
Skills: Creative thinking, decision making, social skills, reinforces good values like kindness and cooperation.
Ages 5+ with some help