Part two of my series on Board Games and Kids focuses on the younger players: those that are ages 6 and younger. If you missed out on the first post in the series, you can read it here.
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All four of my children are gamers in one form or another. I suppose it is part of being raised by and taught by a geeky mom. We’ve used games in our homeschooling curriculum, spent time creating our own expansions of games, and spent quality family time with distant relatives playing video games online. Games are simply part of our family’s lifestyle.
Because of this, I often get asked about what games are best for getting kids into tabletop gaming. Now, I don’t know what games are best for this, there’s simply too many out there and different children are drawn to different things. But I do know what games were hits in our family, and I’d like to share them with you.
The ages I had in mind when writing this were between 4 and 6. Many of the games are designed for older kids, but I found that game publishers tend to underestimate children. The good news is, these games will have longevity, and will also work well with getting older kids into the hobby, too.
In making this list I asked my children what games they remembered enjoying when they were younger, and went with what they had the most fond memories of.
This game works well with kids starting around 4 years old. It may be too simple for kids older than 6. By that time you may be able to start introducing the original Carcassonne to them.
In this game you simply place tiles and meeples according to placement rules. It is pretty basic, but it sets the stage for more complex tile-laying games down the road. The things my kids loved the most about this game were the theme (rounding up farm animals) and finding all the animals that are on the tiles. There are all sorts of creatures to discover among the art. It is little details like this that really capture the imagination of children and draw them in.
This game was bought as a gift for my youngest when he was 3. We had played it at a game store and he was really good at it, so he asked for it for Christmas. That was 5 years ago and nobody has beat him yet.
In Fastrack you’re using an elastic band to “sproing” (my kids’ word) discs to the other side through a small opening, while the other player simultaneously does the same thing. Whoever gets all discs off their side first is the winner. It is fast and furious fun, perfect for the active child in the family.
Mancala is a very old game, and there is a reason it has stuck around. It is easy an easy to learn strategy game that is perfect for children because you can scale the difficulty. Start with 3 stones to learn the game. After practice you can move up to 4, then look online for further variations of the rules to add complexity and replayability.
In addition to being a fun game, it also helps practice several different math skills, including counting, number sense, and pattern recognition.
We have had Enchanted Forest in our family for 15 years now. It was one of my first family game purchases. I just happened across it at Goodwill one day, and it became a favorite.
In this game you must use your memory and the luck of the dice to win. I’ve found that my memory is usually not quite as good as those of the kids, so the playing field tends to be pretty level when playing with them.
Enchanted Forest can end up running a little on the longer side as far as kid games go, so it is best suited for those with longer attention spans.
The other abstract strategy on our list, Hive, is the game my oldest played most often with his younger siblings. It was a game that the (then) 13-year-old liked that a 4-year-old could grasp and play, too.
It also makes for an excellent portable game. The sturdy pieces wipe clean and there is nothing that may blow away so you can play at the park, beach, or on camping trips.
If you have a creative child, this could be a great choice for your family. In Dixit one person comes up with a word that would best reference the art on one of their cards. Then everyone else plays a card they think best represents the word. Each player then guesses what the original card is, usually resulting in laughter and explanations all around. The art is whimsical, and it is always a lot of fun to see how your children sees things.
This role-playing game has your kids making a character, either answering questions or rolling a die for random creation, and then drawing what the character looks like. Then you can take them on adventures. It is non-violent, requiring children to use problem-solving skills instead of a combat system to overcome obstacles. This has been one of the most read books in our home. Even if not playing, my kids are filling out character sheets and drawing the characters they build. And, even though my younger kids are now 8 and 10 and playing Dungeons & Dragons, they still go back to Little Wizards regularly.
This is becoming a classic preschool dexterity game. The goal of the game is to be the first to stack all your animals without toppling the animal tower. The roll of a die will tell you if you stack 1 or 2 animals, pass an animal to another player, or add to the base by placing an animal on the table. This game is bright, cute, and a lot of fun. My 8-year-old still asks to play it, so it has longevity. They also make a pocket-sized version, making it a game to take with your to pass the time in restaurants or waiting rooms.
You may remember this simple dungeon crawler from your own childhood. Dungeon! first came out in the 70’s, making it a nostalgic choice for many families with geeky roots. If your little ones are into wizards and rogues, want to defeat creatures, and take their loot, this is the perfect start. Our kids started playing this game when they were 4. As the rules are, it is much too long of a game for most young children, but the win conditions can easily be changed to shorten the game. This makes for a great game to start young and watch them grow into it. If they already have experience with the game, this becomes a game they can play independently around 7 or so.
Forbidden Island is a cooperative adventure game where you are trying to capture artifacts on a sinking island. If you do it, and manage to all escape the island before it sinks, you win!
This game is designed by Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic and Mole Rats in Space. Like those, there is a built in timer, as well as an escalation of intensity that really makes for an exciting game.
Because it is cooperative you can have a wide range of ages playing together, including children who are quite young. Even if they have to go roll on the floor or dance around the room between turns, because everyone is working towards the same goal, they won’t be at a disadvantage because of their high energy level.
There are many other games that my kids played when they were younger and several that they wanted to add to the list, but there wasn’t enough room. Here is some of the runner-ups:
- Spot It
- My First Stone Age
- Fairy Tale Spinner Game
- Harvest Time
- Teddy Bear Mix & Match
- King of Tokyo
- Catan Junior
- Treasure Falls
Whatever you end up playing with your little ones, have fun! With a little patience and practice you’ll soon be amazed with their game play abilities, and you’ll be making great memories, too.
What games have you used to get children started with board games?