There are a lot of really awesome board games out there and after having a child I quickly realized that my love of gaming would be passed down to my spawn. Things started slow as she showed interest in playing King of Tokyo with us at the age of two however halfway through the game she would get distracted and wander off. By three she was interested in playing a full game and by four she wanted to play every game we had on the shelf. A few games I had to alter for her but once she started preschool I realized how much she had learned by letting her play with us. Her math, matching, reading and pattern skills beat anyone in her age group and I’ve found it’s the easiest way to teach her a new skill.
So what did we play? You might be surprised at the number of games such a young kid can play while supervised.
Castellan (Recommended by Mensa)
This and King of Tokyo are one of the first games I introduced to my child. It was super easy for her to learn and I could easily edit the rules to give everyone at the table a fighting chance. It also really helped her with learning how to take turns and I was always able to progressively make the game harder after she mastered the basic concepts. This is one game I always pull out when kids are around.
Edited Rules: For younger kids and those just starting out you can have them draw a single card from either pile and then have them build with those specific pieces. Once they get the idea of the game scale it up by adding cards to their hand.
Age my Child Played: 2, Recommended Age: 10+
Skills Requires: Not putting pieces in their mouth. Skills Acquired: abstract thinking, spatial awareness, taking turns and building focus.
Qwirkle (Mensa Select Winner)
This game was a big step for my child and it took her a few rounds to figure the game out. Colors, shapes and patterns were all being introduced at once so we started very slow. However a big bonus was that the tiles were easy to stand up on the table so she didn’t have to hold them. We also added a funny Qwirkle chicken dance whenever someone would get a Qwirkle. A must do when teaching children as it made her really focus on getting her own Qwirkle.
Edited Rules: Nope
Age my Child Played: 3, Recommended Age: 6+
Requires: None Skills Acquired: Memory, color, shape and pattern recognition.
Tales & Games: The Hare & the Tortoise
The Hare & the Tortoise is by no means an introductory game for very young children but it was the most substantial game out of the first three Iello Tales & Games series. I was also very surprised to see that she was beginning to strategize on how to win the game by picking the right winners and trying to get them across the board faster. She would also try to figure out which characters you had in your hand and would sometimes help you win too. Over all i was impressed with how she used all the skills she’d been learning along the way.
Edited Rules: Nope
Age my Child Played: 4, Recommended Age: 7+
Requires: Holding more than one card in their hand. Skills Acquired: Counting, deduction and simple game strategy.
Terror in Meeple City (a.k.a. Rampage)
I don’t think anyone would shy away from running a monster though a city, destroying buildings and chasing down meeples. This game is still one of my child’s favorites and monster sounds are mandatory when we play. Although this game might not have as much substance as the others, it still does wonders for your children’s finger dexterity. Something we tend to forget about until they start trying to hold a pencil and write.
Edited Rules: We got my child a taller chair for the table so she would have the ability to perform all monster maneuvers.
Age my Child Played: 4, Recommended Age: 8+
Requires: Not putting pieces in their mouth. Skills Acquired: Counting, color matching and finger dexterity.
Snake Oil (Mensa Select Winner)
Snake Oil is a house favorite and all kids really seem to love this game. There’s something about the silliness and creativity of selling your merchandise with a funny story that kids love. Also you get to freely argue with adults on why your product is better. Which means my kiddo gets to be as silly and sassy as she wants during the game.
Edited Rules: Nope
Age my Child Played: 4, Recommended Age: 10+
Required Skills: Reading but it’s not a must, you can easily read them the cards after everyone has made their selection. Skills Acquired: Imagination, creative problem solving.
Hive (Mensa Select Winner)
I introduced my child to Hive when she was 4 ½ and I was expecting it to go badly but she had asked me to play the little bug game for an entire week before we sat down to play. Since each bug has it’s own individual set of rules I thought it would be too much information but by the end of the night she was Queen Bee and even had me thinking very carefully of my next move.
Edited Rules: We played the first game with one type of bug and the bee. Then each successive game I would add a new bug with its rules.
Age my Child Played: 4, Recommended Age: 9+
Required Skills: Child must be ready for advanced gameplay. Skills Acquired: Critical thinking, strategy, memory.
This is an awesome game for children beginning to read or spell. Encouraging my child to read was a painful process. She just didn’t want to do it, however introducing it as a game gave her the drive she needed to succeed. There’s just something different about learning when a challenge is involved! Overall we had to start very slow with edited rules for this game but who doesn’t like a game about going crazy!
Edited Rules: While playing this game I would keep the core/root words on the table and then have my child add to them. Things like AT or AM. Then everyone would try to make a full word with a card from their hand and the core words on the table. A giant bonus if they could make a whole word on their own from the cards their hand.
Age my Child Played: 5, Recommended Age: 10+
Required Skills: Alphabet recognition, sounding out words/letters. Skills Acquired: Reading and spelling
Mice and Mystics
My child LOVES Mice and Mystics. She’s fascinated by the story, figures, cards and really enjoys playing as a team and helping others. This is also where she started learning her math skills. Adding up Dice and Card symbols and then seeing if she was above or below a success.
Edited Rules: None
Age my child played: 5, Recommended Age 7+
Requirements: Patience for a longer game. Reading but an adult can certainly help with it. Skills Acquired: Math, teamwork.
Overall I’ve slowly taken the time to build my child up to the more complex games on this list. I always recommend starting slow with children or else they can become easily frustrated. Also you as the parent have to make sure you’re aren’t disappointed if they lose interest halfway through the game.
Also keep in mind your child might not see the game in the same light as you do and their goals might not be aligned with winning the game because winning is not always important when you can collect a BAZILLION SHEEP MEEPLES in Agricola. In the end they’re still learning things and having a ton of fun with the family.
Have I missed your family’s favorite game? If so let me know below!
Great post. We’ve turned our passion for games into teaching opportunities for our two kids as well. We’ve even gone so far as to open a game store specifically aimed at parents seeking to use games to help their kids develop skills. Always looking for games that fit this bill and an explanation on the rationale, so thanks for this article!
That’s awesome to hear! I feel like a lot of games get categorized into “just a toy” or “too advanced” for children but they can learn a lot from them. From learning something as simple as waiting to take a turn; to Advanced strategic thinking! Thanks for reading and getting your kiddos gaming educated.
This is possibly one of the best posts I’ve seen yet on introducing your child to games. I appreciate your addition of the altered set of rules when playing, and I also like that you indicated the age at which you played with your daughter. It was also cool that you progressed (in the list) from simple to more complicated.
I have a 9, 6, 4, and 2 right now and it’s cool to be able to play a range of games with them depending on their ages. My 9yo daughter and I have a 10×5 list that we’ve been working on.
I recently introduced her to Istanbul and Yspahan and she does great at both. She regularly beats me at Star Realms and Gravwell. Speaking of, Gravwell would be a great addition to your game list. Mensa nominated, great for counting, solving disputes, and spatial understanding.
Thank you so much for reading Andy and I appreciate all the Kudo’s on how I organized my list! I always start any children new to board games at the top of this list and have them work their way down. Also I’ll have to take a look at Gravwell! Thank you for the suggestion.
Catan Junior; Monster Factory; Sleeping Queens; Carcassonne.. My now 9- and 6-year-old learned gaming on these games (plus Munchkin & Dominion for the older), but they were both early readers.
Cooperatives like Mice and Mystics were huge as we entered the world of strategy games. Our older daughter (8) is, shall we say, too competitive for her own good, so cooperatives were a good way to help her enjoy the game play for it’s own sake and build some strategic thinking skills. The younger one (5) loves to play for the sake of playing, and in addition to Hive and King of Tokyo that were already mentioned, has really been enjoying Splendor this summer. The 8 year old likes Relic Runners and Small World. Cauldron Quest is a cooperative that the kids can explain and play with friends on their own with minimal hard feelings. I second the kudos for including the age at which your kid played; our non-gaming friends seem to think that 5 year olds can barely manage their own game of Candyland.
Can anyone help me track down a copy of Unspeakable Words? It seems long out of print.
Gerald, Unspeakable Words is currently having issues fulfilling their Kickstarter (Unspeakable Words Deluxe) . However after take care of their backers I believe they should have some long awaited copies to sell!
Thanks for the heads up! I’ll keep an eye out for it, then. No rush, I guess.
There are good replacements for it, like Paperback, that will come out soon, and Letter Tycoon
These board games have been big hits with my five-year-olds:
The Enchanted Tower (Their favorite game. It’s easy to learn, very satisfying tactile gameplay, and the key-turning is great suspenseful fun. They love to cackle whenever they play as the evil wizard.)
Gulo Gulo (Great fun for even three-year-olds who can be surprisingly good at snatching up the eggs. My kids beat me regularly.)
Chicken Cha-Cha-Cha (The best Memory game we’ve ever played.)
Chateau Roquefort (dropping mice into the trapdoors = fun)
Hey, That’s My Fish! (tough to keep the playfield orderly, but fun)
King of Tokyo (I read the cards to them, they like the die-rolling and monsters)
Thank you so much for your gaming suggestions guys. It looks like I’ll have a few games to look at this weekend!
Oh my goodness, this is awesome. What with my first child about to be two, I’m trying to figure out what games to get them based on “recommended ages” and boy howdy, it’s tough. This is super helpful knowing that I don’t just have to get “My First Orchard” as her first game. To the ones who have gone before and blazed the trail! Here Here!