Last week we discussed a few principles for playing educational games with children. Games that will allow them to play increasingly complex and (hopefully for you!) more interesting games as the years go by.
In today’s post, I’m going to provide a long list of recommendations. These are the games that I’ve had lots of success with, but your mileage may vary! I’m still surprised when Noah seems disinterested in a game that I think is amazing and ought to be appropriate for his ability. If your child shows no interest in a game, just leave it and move on to something else. There are enough great games out there that they don’t need to love everything you love.
These games are roughly in the order in which I would introduce them:
This is a LEGO game, which means you have to build it out of LEGO before you start. The game is a simple dungeon crawl, but is a great stepping stone to proper boardgames.
A light-hearted, push-your-luck game, which recaptures the scene from Indiana Jones where he grabs the treasure from the temple and is being chased by a giant boulder.
This one is old, but so much fun. It’s another simple dungeon crawl on large map tiles that rapidly spread out. Play it on the floor – you need lots of space!
The classic gateway game. Who doesn’t love completing routes with trains?! I prefer the Europe version as it’s a little friendlier.
Yet another simple dungeon crawl, but the implementation is engaging. It’s old again, but it’s very cheap: it’s a great bit of fun for the money.
Another great gateway Euro. Grow bamboo shoots and then get the super-cute panda to eat them all! The basics are simple, but there is plenty of scope for strategy when they get used to it.
This one is every boy’s dream toy. Like LEGO, you can have a great time building the map before you start. The game itself is a simple miniatures war game, but it’s hard to find now as it’s out of print.
Another classic gateway. Collect gems and spend them to get cards worth victory points. Lots more strategy than first appears, but simple enough to play from a young age.
This is a simple, pattern-spotting game that’s remarkably addictive. You will beat them easily to start with so give them a chance, but with practice they will become very good at it.
Pick a giant monster and attack each other by rolling dice. What’s not to love? Just be careful with the player elimination – they need to be mature enough to handle losing.
The original micro card-game, it always surprises me how much kids like this one. It’s quick and they love the bluffing and guessing aspects of it.
For the ultimate superhero fan. We spent hours and hours playing this one. I wouldn’t recommend playing it with more than two players though or the downtime becomes untenable.
I’ve played this with a wide range of kids who have never played games before and it always goes down well. They will struggle at first and younger ones might want to play with an adult, but they always want to play it again after the first game.
There’s quite a bit of text for a deck-builder, but it’s Magic: The Gathering meets deck builders and plays smoothly and quickly. Much stronger thematically than Star Realms for some reason.
Choose-Your-Own-Adventure in a boardgame. You just can’t go wrong with this – it’s superb! Don’t try to play it all at once though – it’s long.
The perfect party game for kids. They absolutely love pointing guns at each other (which should worry me really). It looks like mindless fun, but developing a winning strategy is much harder than it looks.
This is a superb intro to heavier Euros. It’s worker placement with farmyard animals and it’s quick. It’s been a family favourite in our house for years.
I wasn’t expecting my son to like this one as much as he did, but something about having to out-think your opponent really grabbed him. This is the short, two-player, Stratego-like Lord of the Rings game and he loves it.
This is a bit of a bear to teach as there’s a lot to take in initially with all the different races, but once players get the hang of it, it’s a great introduction to war games.
Engine Building 101. Clean (at least the base game is) and perfect for teaching efficiency. It’s a really good introduction to Euro strategy.
Bucketloads of theme and lots of fun. It’s programmable movement, but it’s co-op, so it doesn’t matter too much when it all goes wrong (which it will!).
Once they get a taste for empire building, they will love Civilization. It’s long so I would play it over several sessions, but the decisions involved are fairly straightforward and intuitive.
Again, I was surprised that Noah enjoyed this one as much as he did, but it’s one of his favourites. It’s a ladder-climbing game played in pairs and a classic game all round.
This is the perfect game to head into medium-weight Euro territory. Working out how many resources they get when they roll the dice will be tricky at first, but they will learn so much.
My son is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings. This is the co-op LCG. It’s heavy and contains lots of text, but has oh so much theme. I reckon I’ve logged over 50 hours with Noah on this one. It’s fantastic!
My ‘proper’ dungeon crawl of choice. Kids will love the miniatures and the co-op nature makes it a great family activity. The card-play is tricky and will develop a strategic mindset.
You can’t really go wrong with Star Wars, but this game is hard to play, which is why it’s much further down this list. Not because it’s complicated, but because there’s lots of text and it requires a lot of spatial awareness.
Kids love social deduction and no game streamlines it better than ONUW. It will take them a while to figure out how to lie effectively though. Maybe you shouldn’t play this one with them after all…
Enigma constructs a game around a series of classic puzzles – it’s very educational. I wouldn’t expect my son to like it for exactly that reason, but he loves it. More than me. It’s weird.
Word games will be much harder for kids to play, which is why I’ve put them at the bottom of this list, but they are very educational and Paperback is one of the best.
It will take a while for them to be able to act as clue-giver, but if the family are playing, they can join in with the guessing and will really enjoy being involved with what they will perceive as a ‘grown up’ game.
That’s actually a small fraction of the games that I’ve played with Noah over the years. If they can cope with many of the games on this list, it won’t be long before you can move into heavy Euro territory if you so desire. From there, they will be able to handle just about anything.
Are there any particular games that you’ve had a lot of success playing with Primary school age (5 – 10) children?