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Best Children’s Board Games

By Melissa Summers

I know it’s getting a little heavy on the gift-giving Christmaukkah postings here, so let’s just call this: “Family Bonding Not Gifting!”

I mentioned before I’m not particularly good at general “playing” with my kids. Meaning anything which involves freestyle imagination. My brain shuts down and I’m left wearing lots of beads, a tiara and pink pumps unsure what I’m supposed to say next. It sounds like high school when I put it that way. I’m better at activity based playing, things like playdough, reading books or putting together puzzles. We’re also big fans of games now that we have two children who can *mostly* follow the rules without several tantrums because: “Max just rolled a SIX!!!! AHHHHHH!”
Good times people. Good times.

I was thinking the other day as we played a really nice game with the kids, and Logan and I enjoyed it as well, how different this is than some of the games we’ve played over the last four years. Like, for example, that one time we played ‘Trouble’ for 9 hours because it wouldn’t end and I finally impaled myself on the “PopoMatic die-rolling bubble” just to make it stop. You don’t think it’s possible to impale oneself on a rounded object, but it is, if one is desperate enough.

What games can you play with your kids without attempting to impale yourself or needing to be completely drunk (and so incredibly irresponsible) to enjoy? I have some! We enjoy them at least and no one has ever attempted to hurl themselves into moving traffic while playing these games. Maybe we have a cocktail while playing, but not to endure the game, these games are enjoyable.

cardgames.jpgYou played these games as a child, but I bet you don’t remember the rules. That’s fine, kids love learning with you. This set of classic games includes Old Maid, Rummy, Crazy Eights and Hearts is sturdy and so very 1950’s. These games are easy to learn, quick paced and short. Perfect for small attention spans and parents with a lot of (figurative) pots boiling. Other easy-to-play card games: Uno and Go Fish. Also, for small hands try making your very own card holder.

memorygame.GIFWhen I asked a few moms with smaller kids what their favorite games are, quite a few mentioned Memory in all it’s incarnations. I understand if you have to have the Disney Princess version in your house. I’ve been there, I had the My Little Pony version. I like this wooden version as well, but be warned, there are no trademarked characters in this set. I know, I know, your kids want trademarked characters, but what about candy?

hullabaloo2.jpgHullaballoo is the best game when you have 14 children in your home and you want them to work out their energy in a (reasonably) focused manner. Just turn on the call box, lay out the vinyl markers and let the machine tell them what to do. When we play with the kids, they love watching Logan and I do the ‘Funky Chicken’. I know it makes no sense, just get the game.

greatstates.gifLaid Off Dad mentioned how much his son loves Great States Jr so I asked him what they love about it. “”Love” is such a strong term as far as the adults go, because it does tend to get repetitive after you play it every single night for two weeks.” Yes but do you have to drink a fifth to play it? No? Well then, it’s a good game. He says his 4.5 year old can name the states by looking at them and he can read the cards, “he’ll also be chock-full of arcane trivia, like how The Birthday Song was written in Kentucky. Stuff like that really slays the ladies.”

zingo.jpgZingo is another game that came up in my discussions. It’s a fast paced version of Bingo with two skill levels, so it grows with your child. Kids love pulling the Zinger (wow, I’m glad I got to write that phrase), which dispenses cards. Parents love a couple things (besides pulling the Zinger) (Twice! I got to write that twice!), the fast pace and the early literacy skills word association builds.

connectfour.jpgClassic games from our youth also came up often when asking friends what games they like playing with their kids. Connect Four is simple and fast so I enjoy it. I sound like I have ADD, maybe I do. Another I loved as a kid but haven’t bought for my own children is Perfection. Does anyone remember Superfection? In my house it wasn’t enough to be Perfect, you had to be Superfect!

applestoapples.jpgMaddie got Apples to Apples Jr. for her birthday this year and it’s been a big hit. We played it at a friends house with their 8 and 10 year old sons and it was a great test of the game as it kept the adults and the kids entertained and even kept Max from begging to play the boy’s Xbox for about 35 minutes. The game is simple to learn and holds the interest of kids (our five-year-old plays on a team with a grown up) and adults.

All these games sound like winners given my fast, easy and reasonably engaging for adults and children criteria. Conversely, if I wanted to die a slow painful death at the end of December 2006, before I could see 2007, I would buy Dog-Opoly for my daughter. I’m praying Zingo and Great States Jr. save me from that fate.

What games can you play with your kids without falling asleep?

Related Content:
2006 Melissa’s Anti-Gift Guide
2007 Melissa’s Anti-Gift Guide
Best Children’s Board Games
Kids’ Digital Cameras Reviews
Best Children’s Holiday Craft Ideas
Handmade Holiday Gifts To Make With Kids
Best Children’s Crafts Websites and Resources
Best Personalized and DIY Gifts
Dear Santa Letter Week: children’s stationery & resources
The Best Handmade Holiday Cards For Kids
The Holiday Open House: Five Easy Steps for Hosting

Melissa Summers
About the Author

Melissa Summers

Melissa Summers was a regular contributor writing Melissa’s Buzz Off.


Melissa Summers was a regular contributor writing Melissa’s Buzz Off.

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  • Tina

    December 7, 2006 at 1:21 pm

    Wonderful post!!! I am the same way (would like to plya games with my son), but we’re still at the Candy Land age. I’m going to print this one off for ideas for the next few years + gift ideas for the nieces & nephew!

  • Tara

    December 7, 2006 at 1:23 pm

    There is a great website for those of you who want to check out any type of board game (children’s or adult): My husband has found quite a few unique and entertaining games by reading the reviews on this site. It might save you from impaling your drunken self on a pop-o-matic bubble in the future!!

  • edenmarriottkennedy

    December 7, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    Great post, Melissa. I’ll be picking up several of the games you mentioned and putting them under the tree.

  • kate

    December 7, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    Great ideas! My daughter is still too young for any game besides Peek-a-Boo or De-Tassle The Momma. But, my husband’s little (8 & 10) cousins intro’d us to Apples to Apples when we were babysitting and we just LOVED it. Seriously, people. It kept 2 adults and 2 video-game obsessed boys hysterically occupied for 40 minutes. They only had the adult version, but I imagine the kids’ is just as good.
    My favorite moment? The green apple was “Cuddly”. The youngest kid played “Danny DeVito”. Classic.

  • sozzled

    December 7, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Pass the Pigs is a fast moving all ages type game that we love. Milles Borne when your kids geta little bit older…Blokus rocked our house last winter (easy to play WHILE drinking, which to me is key) Thanks for the post, it is reminding me I need to add new games to our christmas list…

  • jkopftwins

    December 7, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Oh man, my husband comes from a family of Dutch Blitz addicts (it’s sort of like two-handed solitare)… building card piles of numbers and colors. You may have to Google it; it’s easy to find here in PA but I’m sure it’s pretty rare elsewhere! I should mention my husband never, but never, manages to defeat my stepdaughter in this one — so you don’t even have to ‘let’ them win. If their reflexes are fast, they’ll get the gist of it quickly.

  • melissaS

    December 7, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    Love Pass The Pigs! I never even thought of that one to play with the kids, but why not? Super easy to pick up, fun for me, fun for them.

  • iheartnewyork

    December 7, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Oooh — a favorite subject. I have an 8 y.o. and a 5 y.o. We enjoy Sorry, Blink, LCR (the dice and chip game in a little tube — it’s brainless but fun), Guess Who, Scrabble Junior and we’re just starting to move onto the real Scrabble with our 8 y.o. Go Fish is always fun, as is War, since all you need is a regular deck of cards.
    Also, I found a game through this amazing site: called “Pitch Car” that is so much fun for kids and adults. Very hard to find in the U.S., though.
    I’m not a fan of Perfection or Connect Four, sorry. The former scares the bejeebus out of the younger kids when it pops — and all those pieces! — and the latter is just so tedious. Feels like tic-tac-toe to me. Does anyone ever really win?

  • kelli

    December 7, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    SET is a pattern/color/number recognition game that is great for many ages ( Once you explain the simple rules, the game goes quickly. We used to play with my cousin when she was 4 or 5 and she could beat the pants off of us.

  • veg4me

    December 7, 2006 at 7:12 pm

    My 8 year old has discovered the joyous simplicity of checkers.
    Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to beat him as of yet, which makes him love the game even more.
    Memory (the Toy Story version) is a big hit with my 5 year old.
    Alas, her memory is better than mine.

  • Sarah

    December 7, 2006 at 7:58 pm

    We love Labyrinth in our house and find it challenging even for grownups. Each player is trying to get through a list of goals located at different places in the maze. The configuration of the maze changes at each turn, making it harder to achieve goals. It’s a bit like chess in that it requires thinking a few moves ahead and a good spatial sense.
    Mille Bornes is also a lot of fun. It’s a French card game in which the object is to have your car travel the most distance first. But beware! There are all kinds of blocks other players can impose on you: speed limits, accidents, out of gas, flat tire, etc. There are also four special protection cards; if you get the gasoline protection card, for example, no one can place the “out of gas” card on your car for the entire game.

  • Melanie

    December 7, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Go Fish, checkers, puzzles, Chutes & Ladders – I don’t mind all of those, and I actually really love a good puzzle. I’m like you, I get bored with the long games. I got my son Connect 4 for Xmas because he’s obsessed with checkers (got him those, too) and I’m hoping that will be as fun as I remember. My husband and I have also been playing Guess Who an awful lot (the boyo’s not that interested in it). Who knew a grown man could love Guess Who that much?

  • nancy

    December 7, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    I just recently found a cool version of parcheesi in a game store. Very fun, easy for lots of ages of kids and doesn’t have that damn pop o matic bubble.

  • Michelle

    December 7, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    Memory is always popular, but my four year old beats me every time.

  • Joy H

    December 8, 2006 at 1:18 am

    Recently got 4-way Countdown. Perfect b/c the kids can play together easily w/o us OR we can join in and it’s still fun. (all while fine tuning their math skills) Careful: has potential to get long.

  • Kim

    December 8, 2006 at 2:18 am

    Having 3 children, each 3 years apart, games the whole family can play (without having to PAY the oldest to pretend to have fun) is a challenge. After we recovered from the 2-year board game boycott after the baby almost died when he sucked a Hungry Hungry Hippo marble down his esophagus, we’re now big fans of the Cranium series. They have great games for all ages, preschool to adult. You’ll have enough fun without alcoholic lubrication that you won’t beg your husband to put you out of your misery.

  • karen

    December 8, 2006 at 10:58 am

    Just wondering if Apples to Apples Jr. would be good for my 5 1/2 yr old son? I’m looking for games this year for Christmas and that one sounds right up his alley but is 7+…thanks.

  • melissaS

    December 8, 2006 at 11:21 am

    Max can play Apples to Apples (he’s 5.5, b’day 3/20) but it works best if he has a little help so we usually have him on a team with me or my husband. In a few months I’ll bet he’ll have the hang of it alone.

  • karen

    December 8, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Thanks Melissa…I’m headed out now to get it!

  • andrea from the fishbowl

    December 8, 2006 at 4:17 pm

    Those are great suggestions. We’re a big game-playing family around here. I’m the same as you… I find it hard to play dolls or Barbies but give me directions and a pair of dice and I’m on fire!
    I have a particular soft spot for classic retro games. I’ve managed to buy a bunch at various chuch/yard sales. The ones I’ve listed below are all circa 1970. With hilarious photos of happy families on the covers.
    – Rebound: we all love it.
    – Trouble
    – Perfection
    – Battleship
    We’re also keen on Monopoly Jr., Connect 4, UNO and Go Fish.
    Speaking of cards, I just bought a pack of vintage children’s playing cards. I’m not sure who loves them more: me or my daughters.
    (Pictured here)

  • jellybeans

    December 8, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Uno is a fab card game I played as a kid and picked up for my 4-year old.
    It’s the kind of card-game you can play concurrently to carrying on a seemingly normal adult conversation . . . and what parent doesn’t love multi-tasking.

  • Leta

    December 10, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    Love this post! My family has always been big on playing games and this is something I hope to pass on to our kid(s). Thanks for all of the recommendations. I think any game gets old after playing it every night for two weeks! I can’t wait until our daughter is old enough to do some of the more “adult”ish games. We got her Memory (Disney Princess version, sigh), Cootie Bug, and Gone Fishin’ for Christmas. I second the Cranium recommendation, love those. Even more fun if played while enjoying adult beverages!

  • Jeanne Blumberg

    December 14, 2006 at 2:54 pm

    The best game ever for 4-6 year-olds was Husker Doo. It was a Swedish version of Concentration. No reading involved, just pictures. Unfortunately it isn’t made any more and I can’t even find one on E-bay.

  • Suzanne

    December 29, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    I have two kids, 9 and 6. Blink is a fabulous game (really easy to learn, really quick, one of those games you can take with you to play at the airport or doc’s waiting room or wherever). We discovered LCR (Left, Center, Right) just this holiday season and love it as well. Other faves: Pass the Pigs, Apples to Apples (but you have to have at least four people for that one), Mancala and Trouble (sorry, but I really *like* Trouble :-P).

  • Alissa

    January 2, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    if only i’d read this BEFORE purchasing trouble and attempting to impale myself… i guess i just didn’t want to die bad enough.

  • bordapparce

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