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Best New and Classic Board and Card Games for Family Game Night

13 parent-tested board games and family-friendly food pairings

Malia Jacobson

Published on: April 05, 2021

family of four playing a board game

Bringing the family together for game night — what could be simpler? Families hit the game cabinet hard in 2020, fueling 20 percent growth in the board games market. But after a long pandemic year rolling the same dice or shuffling the same cards, you may be feeling less than inspired. We get it. Here are 13 parent-tested picks complete with family-friendly food pairings and our top tips to keep the game night tradition going strong in 2021 and beyond.

1. The Oregon Trail Game: Journey to Willamette Valley

Price: $40
Type: board
Number of players: up to 4
Best for: ages 14+
Plan to spend: 60+ minutes
Pairs with: trail mix

If the idea of loading up a covered wagon for a perilous journey west seems familiar, it should: The Oregon Trail Game is based on the iconic Oregon Trail computer game many parents (raising hand) played as kids. This updated, no-screens-required version sends players on a similar Westward journey as they hunt for food, manage limited wagon space and fend off threats, from disease to animal attacks. Enjoy swimming in nostalgia — just watch out for drowning hazards.

2. Wildcraft

Price: $37
Type: board
Number of players: up to 4
Best for: ages 4+
Plan to spend: 45–60 minutes
Pairs with: herbal tea

With the recent surge in interest in camping and hiking, parents are fielding more “Hey, what’s this plant?” questions than ever. This simple “Chutes and Ladders”-style board game teaches kids about plant safety and first aid, and can be enjoyed by pre-readers and adults alike. The game board and box are made with all-recycled materials and printed with vegetable-based inks on Forest-Stewardship-Council-certified paper. A portion of the proceeds benefit United Plant Savers.

3. Chickapig: A Farm to Table Game

Price: $25
Type: board
Number of players: 2–4
Best for: ages 8+
Plan to spend: 30–60 minutes
Pairs with: crunchy veggies such as carrots, radishes and sugar snap peas

This classic family board game feels as fresh as farm produce with its simple design, wooden game pieces and organic, folksy appeal. A collaboration between game creator Brian Calhoun (of Rockbridge Guitar) and musician Dave Matthews, this strategy game features fantastical creatures, hay bales and enough manure to keep kids giggling. “Not going to lie, I totally bought it because Dave Matthews is involved,” says Tacoma parent Breeayn Douhit. “Glad I did, though, it’s surprisingly fun!”

4. Trekking the National Parks

Price: $50
Type: board
Number of players: up to 5
Best for: ages 10+
Plan to spend: 30–60 minutes
Pairs with: huckleberry ice cream  
Dreaming of a national park trip, or want to relive memories from your last adventure? Trekking the National Parks takes players across the continent to set up camp and claim “Victory Points” at American national parks. While it comes in on the pricier side, a portion of the proceeds from this award-winning game support the National Parks Foundation. “This is hands-down one of our 2020 winners,” says Gig Harbor parent Brian Johnston.

4. Sleeping Queens

Price: $10
Type: card
Number of players: up to 5
Best for: ages 8+
Plan to spend: 20 minutes
Pairs with: milk and cookies

When it’s been a long week and you’re beat, remember that family game night doesn’t need to last for hours or drain every last bit of your energy. Sleeping Queens is a blessedly brief card game for the grade-school set that was invented by an imaginative 6-year-old. Play multiple rounds for a longer game night or keep the evening short and sweet with a single 20-minute session.

6. Kids Against Maturity

Price: $30
Type: card
Number of players: 4 to 8
Best for: ages 10+
Plan to spend: 30–90 minutes
Pairs with: kid-friendly snacks, from fruit roll-ups to cheese and crackers

If you want to share the hilarity of the wildly popular Cards Against Humanity game with your kids but can’t quite countenance its famously R-rated content, look no further. Aimed at kids who are outgrowing the much tamer Apples to Apples game but not ready for CAH, Kids Against Maturity is suited for family play. Players combine words and phrases to uproarious effect, with plenty of silliness and potty-themed humor to keep kids completely entertained.

7. Splendor

Price: $45
Type: card and token
Number of players: 2 to 4
Best for: ages 10+
Plan to spend: 30 minutes
Pairs with: jewel-tone gummies  

School-age kids who love Minecraft or simply appreciate a well-crafted strategy game will enjoy Splendor. Players are merchants attempting to build a collection of gem mines and shops by collecting jewel-tone chips to acquire points. The game has a historical feel without a complicated narrative, so families can easily enjoy it over and over again.

8. What Do You Meme? Family Edition

Price: $20
Type: card
Number of players: 4 to 8
Best for: ages 8+
Plan to spend: 30–60 minutes
Pairs with: hot cocoa bombs or another Insta-worthy snack

Having trouble finding a game even hard-to-please teens will love? Entice reluctant game-nighters back to the table with this sidesplitting family edition of the popular What do You Meme? party game. Players use 300 caption cards and 65 photo cards to create the funniest memes, as decided by a rotating judge. Simple enough to play after a tiring day of work and/or remote schooling, this affordable game deserves a spot in your feed (or game cabinet).

9. Ecologies

Price: $25
Type: card
Number of players: up to 6
Best for: ages 12+
Plan to spend: 60–90 minutes
Pairs with: locally grown produce and a healthy dip

Created by a biology instructor, Ecologies is a beautifully illustrated card game that’s educational enough to feel enriching — it’s been used as a teaching tool in science classrooms — with a healthy dose of competitive strategy thrown in. Players build and nurture their own food systems in biomes around the world and decide whether to disrupt their opponents’ ecosystems. But much like real-world food webs, sustainability isn’t something you achieve alone; trading with other players helps the game feel more collaborative.

10. Gnomes at Night

Price: $22
Type: board
Number of players: 2 to 4
Best for: ages 6+
Plan to spend: 15 minutes
Pairs with: Bugles (AKA gnome hats)

Searching for a kid-friendly game that’s more collaborative and less cutthroat? If highly competitive games are too intense for your younger children, check out Gnomes at Night, a cooperative maze game that allows players to work together. The game builds decision-making and communication skills as players team up to maneuver adorable magnetic gnomes through a maze. 

11. Sorry Classic Edition

Price: $18
Type: board
Number of players: 2 to 6
Best for: ages 6+
Plan to spend: 30–45 minutes
Pairs with: Twizzlers, Ritz Crackers or Tootsie Pops (all popular 1930s snack foods)

Patented in the 1930s, Sorry is a classic board game that grandparents will remember, and kids still love. Players attempt to knock one another out of the game — “Sorry!” (not sorry) — as they race around the board. The game reinforces sportsmanship and strategy with a fast-moving, familiar feel. The original version has spawned many spin-offs; unlike more modern editions that incorporate electronics, this version of Sorry features classic graphics and is 100 percent unplugged.

12. Ticket to Ride

Price: $55
Type: board
Number of players: 2 to 5
Best for: ages 8+
Plan to spend: 30–60 minutes
Pairs with: classic travel snacks (pretzels, peanuts and popcorn)

Kids who are outgrowing their childhood train set — or adults who never did — will love Ticket to Ride, a route-building strategy game on rails. The game takes players on a cross-country train adventure, where longer routes equal more points. Devoted riders can expand their collections with the 1910 expansion set or the Ticket to Ride Europe edition.

13. Poetry for Neanderthals

Price: $19
Type: card
Number of players: 2 or 4
Best for: ages 7+
Plan to spend: 15 minutes
Pairs with: nuts (or allergy-friendly alternative), seeds and dried berries

Fans of the uproarious Exploding Kittens card game will recognize its signature irreverent illustrations in Poetry for Neanderthals. This competitive word-guessing game takes just a few minutes to learn, so you can spend less time explaining the rules and more time cracking up together. It takes just 15 minutes to play, so you can play multiple rounds or squeeze in a quick game night before tuck-in.

Tips to take game night over the top

Don’t be daunted by age limits: Younger players can enjoy games aimed at older players by adjusting the rules or teaming up with a parent. Sandra Kimmet’s younger children, ages 6 and 8, play a modified version of the 12-and-older card game Ecologies. “They don't keep points, but they create their own biomes and make their own rules,” she says.

Keep it fresh: Minimize grumbles and eye-rolling from older children by establishing a fair system for choosing the night’s game. Players can roll a die (highest roll chooses the game) or simply rotate through family members to take turns picking.

Set a time limit: If family game nights tend to end in tears or frustration, set a time limit and look for games that won’t test the family’s patience or attention span. Games longer than one hour are best for kids ages 10 and older, while those with a 30–45-minute run time can suit players ages 6–10. 

Take a break from the table: The kitchen table isn’t the only spot for family game play. Depending on the game, you can play anywhere you’d like, as long as you have a flat surface. Invest in a puzzle board so you can move your game to the family room, rec room or even the floor.

Ban phones: Nothing kills the family-game-night vibe faster than one or more players answering texts or multitasking on their phones. Establish a no-phones rule during game play and collect them in a box before the game begins. If teens (or grown-ups) protest, a quick midsession break allows players to check messages before resuming game play.

Look for a video tutorial: For new games or those with complicated rules, the quickest route to an unplugged game night may be viewing a quick video tutorial beforehand. When at least one player has a good grasp of the rules, you’ll avoid the need to search for answers on your phone, and everyone can stay engaged in the game.

Brighten those bulbs: Don’t make eyestrain part of game night. Most games come with instructions printed in tiny print, so choose a spot with ample, bright lighting. Upgrading to energy-efficient LED bulbs or adding task lighting may be the easiest way to make game night more accessible and inclusive for multiple generations.

Serve easy, mess-free finger foods: Snacks can help keep kids’ energy up and ward off blood-sugar crashes, but nobody wants their favorite game covered in greasy fingerprints. Keeping snacks, napkins and hand wipes at the ready helps keep everyone fed and clean.

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