It is that time of year again when people are on the hunt for gifts. Whether you’re shopping for your own kids, looking to get another family into board gaming, or wanting a game that everyone can play together on Christmas Eve, you’ll find something to fit your need here.
The games on this list are not the newest games, they are the games my family has played and enjoyed, games I would gift to others myself. I tried to come up with a good mix of older and newer titles to appeal to the varying needs of those you’re buying for.
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Families With Varied Ages
These games are great family games, but they also work well with families with a wide range of ages. Sometimes it is difficult to please both the 3rd grader and the high schooler on family game night, but hopefully with these games you’ll find one to make everybody happy.
If you have a Harry Potter fan in your family, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a must. A cooperative deck-builder, this game works well across a wide spread of ages, as long as one can read. Games based off of popular media can really be hit-or-miss, but this one is a winner. In it you will be playing one of the characters from the movies, defeating villains and building up your deck with spells and magical items. You will work through the 7 years, as the game gets progressively more difficult to beat. If your family is on the obsessed side as far as Harry Potter is concerned (I know we are) then you’ll probably want to get the expansion as well.
Potion Explosion is a clever set collection game using marbles as ingredients for potions that give you special abilities you can use during play. Reminiscent of popular app games, Potion Explosion is a good match for those who spend time playing light digital games. It also is a sensory delight. Between the happy clink of glass marbles rolling through the chutes and getting to handle the smooth, cool spheres, it has an appeal that is difficult to find these days.
Sheriff of Nottingham is a bluffing game that kids as young as 6 or 7 can easily pick up. It is also easy to teach to non-gamers and gamers alike, making it a good game to bring out to play when people visit. In it you take turns playing the Sheriff who must listen to each player’s claims of what they’re bringing into the city. If you think they’re lying you can inspect their bag, or ask for a bribe to let them through. This game often ends up in lots of laughter as each player tries to out-bluff the next. You would think that parents would be able read their children well enough for this to be an easy win. I assure you, this often isn’t the case, making this a great family game that even younger kids can win at. Already a favorite in your home? Be sure to pick up their new expansion.
An oldie but goodie, King of Tokyo is a fun dice-rolling game where you get to be giant monsters taking over Tokyo. Six dice are rolled for victory points, energy, healing, and attacking. For a game based on dice rolls, there is also a decent amount of strategy. When you’re in Tokyo you gain victory points, but you’re also the biggest target of the game and cannot heal. Cards also give you special abilities, making this more than simply battle Yahtzee.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a fantasy card-drafting game that can be played from ages 8 through adult. In it you will be using dice rolls to recruit citizens and purchase domains to help fight wicked monsters attacking the land. On a turn a player rolls two dice, then all players activate cards with the numbers rolled. Because of this the downtime is low, making it a good game to keep more active children focused. It has a snappy pace, and collecting citizens and fighting creatures makes for pretty satisfying gameplay. Like the world it takes place in? They also have the card game Villages of Valeria.
Pandemic is a great gift for families new to the board game hobby. Because it is a cooperative game a family can work together, allowing for children as young as 8 to make meaningful contributions to the game. In it you are working together to find cures of four diseases spreading throughout the game. It is challenging to beat and can become intense, so probably not a great fit for families with sensitive children, but those same qualities often make it an addictive addition to the board game closet.
For an amazing family experience, pick up Pandemic Legacy. Requiring between 12 and 24 plays to complete, Pandemic Legacy is sure to bring some great memories to your family game nights.
Spaceteam is a frantic cooperative card game that involves shouting at each other in attempts to find the necessary parts to repair your spaceship before time runs out. This is a good one for loud, energetic families looking for a quick game to play. Kids old enough to read complex words like the chaos of this game, as long as they aren’t sensitive to noise or pressure of limited time. It can play up to six players, so it is also good for larger families or when the kids have friends over.
Evolution is a game where you control the direction your species goes, which is usually in response to the development of your opponent’s species. You will be learning about adaptation and the interactions between species. Populations will grow, but then will you have enough food to feed them? If you have an animal lover, they are sure to enjoy being able to develop their own species. My youngest has been loving this game since he was 6, but kids will need to be reading in order to play it independently.
These are the games for children around ages 4-6.
Animal Upon Animal 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 you to pass the time in restaurants or waiting rooms.
My First Carcassonne works well with kids starting around 4 years old, and may be too simple for kids older than 6 or 7. 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.
If you have a creative child, Dixit 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 see things.
Mole Rats in Space is a cooperative game designed by the person who brought us Forbidden Island and Pandemic. This game brings similar elements seen in his other games, only simplified for younger players. In it you play mole rats trying to collect essential goods before escaping the snakes invading your space station. This is a fantastic play on the snakes and ladders type games, with good replayability. It is for ages 7-12, but I feel it can easily be enjoyed by children as young as 5 when playing with a family.
Kids Ages 7-12
Forbidden Island is a cooperative adventure game where you are trying to capture artifacts on a sinking island. If you succeed, and manage to all escape the island before it sinks, you win! 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.
Kingdomino was the 2017 Spiel des Jahres winner, and for good reason. In this tile-laying game you are expanding your kingdom with domino-style tiles, matching terrains as you go. By combining matching terrains with tiles containing crowns, you increase your points. This clever game is quick to learn and play, and has the perfect amount of strategy to appeal to a wide array of players.
Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game that is perfect for those looking for something with a checkers-like feel, only cuter and playable by up to 4-players. In it you will be moving stacks of sheep in a straight line, leaving one behind with every turn. You have to be careful not to get trapped because the person with the most sheep showing on the board in the end wins.
Go Nuts for Donuts is a fast-moving bluffing game where you bid to collect donuts to score at the end of the game. The art is cute and funny, and who doesn’t like donuts? I’ve watched many kids play this game, and it has been a hit every time. For something with a similar feel but without the bluffing and bidding aspect, check out Sushi Go! or Sushi Go Party! instead.
If your teens are already into hobby boardgames, see what type of games they already like and go from there. If you’re hoping to find something the entire family can play, or something that will tie in with an interest they already have, look below.
If you have a busy teen and need a fun game that you can play together in those rare moments that they’re free, Star Realms fits the bill. This space combat deckbuilder is simple to learn, yet has a depth that keeps you coming back for more. It is also portable, making it a great game to take with you when you take your teen out to dinner, or for them to play with friends when out and about. Added bonus: it fits in a stocking.
Prefer a fantasy theme over science fiction? Check out Hero Realms instead.
Mansions of Madness is perfect for the teen who enjoys spending their free time gaming, or who you think would enjoy a thematic horror adventure game. This cooperative game works well for the whole family, or can be played solo. If you have a hobbyist, or simply the creative type, add some paints so they can paint the miniatures, too. This makes for a great family activity, a perfect addition to family game night or something to do while watching TV together.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf is one of the favorites among my teen daughter’s friends. This is a social deduction party game where players use their bluffing skills to hide who they are while attempting to suss out the werewolf. Because it is so quick and engaging, it is often played repeatedly whenever it is brought out.
This game can be played with up to ten players, so it is a great one to bring out during the holidays to play with all the relatives, young and old.
Not a board game in the traditional sense, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a box of clues. You will be drawn into the world of Sherlock Holmes, working on solving a series of murders. This box contains ten cases to solve and is a gift that is sure to be a hit for any lovers of Sherlock or mysteries. It truly is like no other game out there. This works well with larger groups (up to 8), or can be played solo.
For Active Kids
Some kids just can’t sit still long enough for more serious games. Here are some of my active child’s favorite dexterity games.
Flip Ships is like a dexterity game version of Space Invaders. You must flick ship tokens through the air, aiming at alien invaders. You will get some special abilities along the way to help you beat the invasion, but it is a challenging game. It is so much fun, however, that even when we are losing there is a great deal of cheering and laughter. This is the only game that my boys (8 and 10) begged for after demoing at a convention, and I do not regret the purchase at all.
Do you have squirmy kids who like to act silly and crazy so much it is hard to get them to sit through a game? Roar-a-Saurus might be what you’re looking for. This fast and furious game has you rolling dice pretty much continually while gaining power-ups for your dinosaur and attacking other players, yelling silly things to do each action. It is loud and chaotic, and not something I would play without my kids, but it is great fun for children.
Ice Cool is the game of penguins at school, and it is adorable. Your penguin is attempting to snatch fish before lunchtime, while at the same time trying not to get caught by the hall monitor. This game has you flicking penguins all over the school, gaining fish as you go through certain doorways. It is very easy to learn, and guaranteed fun for people of all ages.
Happy Salmon is a quick and super silly card game. In its standard form it is loud, too, but unlike many other loud party games, this one also has a silent version which is sure to get you laughing just as hard as the original. In this game players call out the action that is on their card, hoping to get a match. Once they find one they perform the action with the other player, drop their card, and move on to the next action. It will play up to six players, but if you add the blue fish version you can play with up to twelve.
On the opposite end are those kids who love puzzles and thinking things out. Here are some games for them.
Purrrlock Holmes Furriarty’s Trail is a delightful deduction game simple enough for children as young as 8. In it you have a suspect you must make guesses about in order to learn its identity. Other players will tell you whether or not your guesses are leads, and from there you attempt to deduce who the suspect is. With a correct guess you’ll gain a clue that will help you catch Furriarty.
Century Spice Road (or Century Golem Edition) is my 10-year-old’s newest favorite game. This graceful strategy game has you harvesting and trading spice (or crystals in Golem Edition) in order to open up routes, giving you points at the end of the game. Many people prefer the art of Golem Edition (shown in photo), and my kids love the crystals it has, while others prefer the more thematic feel of Spice Road. Other than how they look, they are exactly the same game.
Happy Pigs is an economic game where you’re breeding, raising, and selling pigs. Each turn you choose an action between mating, buying, feeding, and selling. How many times you get to do that action depends on how many players chose the same action as you. You will work your way through the four seasons, trying to keep up with keeping all your pigs alive while making as much money as you can. People are often drawn into this game by its cute little pigs, however know that there is death and events like “Bacon Festival” so it isn’t one for vegetarians. Add even more cute animals with the expansion.
NMBR 9 is a spatial strategy game where you are stacking number-shaped tiles. Following simple placement rules, each player simultaneously places the same number according to a card drawn. Once the deck runs out, the game ends. To score you multiply the number of the tile with the level it is located on. This game is quick and a great gift for those who like puzzles or other spatial games like Blokus.
For Larger Families
As someone with four kids, I can understand the difficulty of finding a game that the entire family can play together. These games will play well with larger families, and are sure to be hits when you have extended family over for game night.
Camel Up is a betting and racing game for up to eight players. Guessing who will win correctly, however, is always a challenge, as the camels have a tendency of jumping onto the backs of other camels and catching a ride. This game is very engaging and can easily accommodate children ages 7 and up, while being a game that adults would have fun playing without the kids.
Telestrations is what happens when you combine the game of telephone with Pictionary. This hilarious party game has you drawing out a word or phrase, guessing someone else’s drawing, and sketching someone else’s guess of someone else’s drawing. Confused? Just know it is simple and so much fun to play. This is a game you can play with everyone in the family, as long as they are able to read. Telestrations plays up to eight players.
Tsuro is a lovely abstract strategy game that even the youngest children can play. Each turn you play a tile in front of you and follow its path. You must be sure the path won’t lead you off the board, however, or else it is game over for you. Quick and simple, this is a good game to bring out when guests come over or when you want a quiet game to play before bedtime. 2-8 players.
Mixing the subjective art of Dixit with a murder myster, Mysterium is a family favorite. In it one player is the ghost of the murder victim trying to reveal clues about the murder to the other players, the psychics. Unable to talk, the ghost is only able to communicate via surreal images and it is up to the psychics to deduce what the clue is referring to. Playing up to seven players, this is a great family game for large families with older kids, or to play during family gatherings.
Sushi Go Party! is the adorable set collection game that has you drafting sushi cards. No matter how you feel about sushi, everyone loves the cute art of this game. You can play it with children as young as 6 or 7 and yet it appeals to adults, too. Sushi Go Party! allows you to choose the menu for each game, giving it a great amount of replayability. This is a great choice for everyone, new and experienced gamers alike.