My husband spent hours as a college student at the University of Washington playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends. Now, years later, he enjoys playing Munchkin, a popular board game often described as “Dungeons & Dragons for kids,” with our son and his friends. Board games are a great way to connect families and communities. And board games build skills. You can easily engage a math-o-phobe with Monopoly or a reluctant writer with Scrabble. Another perk: Board and card games travel easily and don’t need batteries.
We consulted staff from three of our favorite local board game shops — Uncle's Games, Card Kingdom and Blue Highway Games — for recommendations on games this year that will make great holiday gifts. (Note: Prices are based on one source and will vary.)
Games for preschoolers (ages 3–5)
Richard Scarry's Busytown, by Wonderforge ($24.95)
This game encourages teamwork and uses the artwork found in the Richard Scarry books. Players work together to find hidden items on the board — solving Busytown mysteries — and travel to the picnic via road and ferry before the pigs eat your food. In the process, kids learn to focus their attention on detail and love saying, “I found it!”
Zingo, by ThinkFun ($19.95)
This speed bingo game is a hit with young and older kids. Players have fun while enhancing their reading, memory and matching skills. Other versions focus on building special skills: Zingo Spanish-English, Zingo 1-2-3 for math, Zingo Sight Words for reading, and — new this year — Zingo Word Building (spelling) and Zingo Time-Telling (Time).
Robot Turtles, by Thinkfun ($25)
Inspired by the Logo programming language, the game teaches basic coding concepts to kids ages 4 and up. Parents love the game also because it is very easy to play with their kids, who have fun while learning about the basics of programming.
Games for school-age kids (ages 6–10)
Spot It! Disney Frozen Alphabet, by Blue Orange Games ($11.99) (new game)
Your princess lovers will “let it go” and love this version of Spot It, the best-selling speed matching game, that teaches the alphabet via letters and illustrations inspired by the hit Disney movie. Other versions include Spot It! Numbers and Shapes and Spot It! Alphabet.
Monopoly Junior, by Hasbro ($16.99)
Who doesn’t love playing this classic board game that engages the whole family and builds math skills? This special version is just like classic Monopoly but easier for younger kids with one single currency of one-dollar bills, easier calculations and kid-appealing locations to purchase including a toy store.
UnNatural Selection, by R&R Games ($10.95)
Similar to Apples to Apples, players pick a creature to enter into a contest. Before the judge declares a winner they can play other cards to modify the entries. Kids will crack up as they create silly combinations. Who is better, an overweight gorilla with a toothache or a gigantic goldfish with big teeth?
Sleeping Queens, by Gamewright ($10.95)
Sleeping Queens is a best-selling card game where players build math and strategy skills playing with knights, dragons, kings and queens. Parents appreciate the colorful and durable cards and that the game is easy to follow but fun for adults to play as well.
Tweens (ages 11–13)
King of Tokyo & King of New York, by Iello ($39.95) (new game)
Use Yahtzee-style dice-rolling as your giant monster tries to take control of Tokyo or, in a new version, New York. Careful risk management will allow you to stay and score points, but you become a target for all other players who are trying to kick you out.
Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, by Gamewright ($24.99) (NEW)
Forbidden Island is one of the most popular cooperative board games for tweens. Players go on a mission to capture four sacred treasures from the ruins of an island before it sinks into the water. Forbidden Desert is a new version where players work together to find a flying machine that will let them escape the desert before they run out of water.
Munchkin, by Steve Jackson Games ($24.99)
This wildly popular role-playing game comes in a number of versions and expansion options. Once your tween has played one version, he or she will want the others. It is a very fun game for the whole family.
Telestrations, by USAopoly ($34.95)
Did you like playing Pictionary before kids? Then you’ll love this game, too. Telestrations is a game that works well for kids or adults or mixed groups. It is a drawing game where limited artistic ability makes the game even more fun to play. Erasable sketchbooks move around the table as players alternate between drawing a phrase or guessing what other players have drawn.
Games for the whole family
Ticket to Ride ($50) and Ticket to Ride: Europe ($50), by Days of Wonder
If your kids fell in love with Thomas the Train and are still loco for locomotives, they'll love these award-winning train adventure games that build geography skills and engage the whole family.
The Settlers of Catan, by MayFair Games ($40)
This is one of the most popular games for multi-age families who play to gather resources and build settlements. The line has expanded to include many editions including Catan: Junior ($35) for ages 6–10, the new Ancient Egypt edition and a Star Trek Catan ($55) for the Trekkies.
If you are looking for a great gift to give a family that travels, this “Scrabble in a bag” game is it. Players race against each other to build crossword grids. It's now also offered in other language versions including Spanish, French and German.
Concept, by Asmodee ($30)
This engaging and fun game has been described as “Pictionary without having to draw” and “charades without having to mime.” Its easy rules help the whole group start playing quickly, using creativity to convey concepts.