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November 9, 2008 6:17 PM   Subscribe

What are some great board games (if any) to play with a 3 year old?

What have played with a 3 year old that the child really enjoyed?

Some of my favorite memories as a child have to do with playing board games with my grandmother, aunts and uncles, etc. When I was 6 I used to play connectfour with my grandma who hardly spoke any english but we totally bonded over hours and hours sitting together playing this silly game. I really developed feelings of affection for her that lasted well beyond those years because the game did provide a structured space for just the two of us to spend those hours simply with each other.

Similarly my uncle taught me to play chess when I was 8, and I've been playing ever since. Here again, quality hours with my uncle just one on one, with whom I otherwise may not have had really much to say to or any reason to spend time with - plus with a game like chess, I do believe there was a true educational component (analytic skills) that it taught me as well, I'm really glad to have learned it at a relatively early age because of him.

My neice is three. My sister (the child's mother) hates board games. She never used to join the rest of us when we played. I'm going to watch my niece grow up in a house that abhors board games, and the child will never have those experiences and benefits (as I see them). So I'm taking it upon myself to make sure she does (plus as her uncle I'll get to spend fun structured time with her). Only problem is I havent a clue what such games a 3 year old would like (I want to start early with her; not to mention a host of additional benefits: the TV will be off, attention spans increase, analytic skills develop, etc etc).

If you have any experience therefore, card games, board games, any kind of structured game (involving 2 or a few people) that you've had great success with, I'd love to hear some ideas. She's only three so keep that in mind, but I'd also like to hear about any ideas that I could use over the coming years as well. Thanks!
posted by jak68 to Human Relations (40 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I think Go is a good choice. You can teach her a simpler version of the game to begin with, but it's a game that keeps on giving with much simpler rules than chess.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:23 PM on November 9, 2008

Candyland is classic, and my three year old niece plays that. I believe Hi-Ho Cherio is for about that age, and helps teach some simple counting skills.

Very cool of you. And remember to let her win on occasion.
posted by stevis23 at 6:24 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hullaballo by Cranium is amazing fun for three year olds. It is simple enough for a three year old to play, but fun enough for older kids (and open-minded adults) to play, too. It's like Twister (remember Twister?) but easier and more automatic. There is a small unit that audibly announces the next move (e.g. "crawl to a triangle" or "spin to a musical instrument") and then every several moves a "winner" is announced. It's quick-paced enough not to get boring for a three year old. I think any game that involves dice, for example, is going to soon test the patience of even a saintly and patient young one.
posted by balarie at 6:25 PM on November 9, 2008

Here are some ideas from
posted by gudrun at 6:27 PM on November 9, 2008

Go is far too complicated for a 3 year old. How about "Chutes and Ladders"?

posted by Class Goat at 6:28 PM on November 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ditto Candyland & Chutes and Ladders.

But another game that'll work when she's a bit older, like chess or go, is Yahtzee. My grandmother bonded with my brother and I that way. (Her other fav, dominoes, didn't interest us.)
posted by salvia at 6:42 PM on November 9, 2008

Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are the classics as they require zero, or nearly zero, decisions and skill putting both three year olds and adults on equal footing. It won't be long though before they can have fun with games like Sorry where you have minimal decisions and a good adult will use those decisions to ensure a sufficient number of child victories. Don't be surprised if even a little one beats you at Memory, maybe not at three but not much longer, and the best part is they know that this is a game of skill, but the skill used is not strategy, but merely pure memory in which adults don't have a huge edge.
posted by caddis at 6:50 PM on November 9, 2008

I bought Don't Wake Daddy several years ago for my little niece and nephews to play when they visit us and they absolutely love it. My niece was about 2.5 when she started playing it and had no trouble following the game. It's hysterical when "Daddy" pops straight up in bed -- eyes bulging -- and his nightcap flies across the table. Even the grownups scream and laugh.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:02 PM on November 9, 2008

My daughter used to beat me (when she was 4 years old) playing a Memory Game like this. She would fidget and play around and not seem to pay attention, but come her turn she would flip over matches every time. It was one of the few games that seemed to level the playing field for all ages. Ours had pictures of everyday items, but there's a big variety of ones available. (on preview, what caddis said)
posted by nelvana at 7:03 PM on November 9, 2008

Don't Break the Ice is popular. Hi-Ho Cherry-O will bore you to death, but the kids love it.

Also nthing Candyland and Chutes and Ladders.
posted by streetdreams at 7:06 PM on November 9, 2008

Totally Chutes and Ladders. But don't discount Scrabble just because it involves words and spelling. I (apparently, I don't actually remember this) used to pull out the Scrabble board and spend hours writing my name and easy things like dog and mom. When I was in high school, a friend of mine from kindergarten moved back to town and the first thing he said to me was "remember when we used to play scrabble together?!?!" Well, no, but at least it made an impression on someone.
posted by phunniemee at 7:08 PM on November 9, 2008

Cookin' Cookies
Husker Du
Regular playing cards (old maid, go fish)
posted by headnsouth at 7:08 PM on November 9, 2008

As a kid I looovedd the little plastic cherries in Hi-Ho Cherry-O! Also Candyland is a classic.
posted by radioamy at 7:09 PM on November 9, 2008

Oh! Oh! And you're never too young for Crazy Eights. That was one of the few games my brother and I could play without trying to kill each other.
posted by phunniemee at 7:10 PM on November 9, 2008

You're just not American if Candyland and Chutes and Ladders aren't your first two board games. I think Parchisi is generally next, but who knows with you crazy kids, maybe you jump right to Blind Date and Clue, even before Monopoly. Crazy Kids, you probably never even operated a proper pop-o-matic like in Sorry! or Trouble. Don't forget the classics like dominoes, checkers, and with just a deck of cards, WAR!
posted by Rafaelloello at 7:11 PM on November 9, 2008

IMO Candyland and Chutes and Ladders are too hard and seem kind of pointless to 3-year-olds I've known. The kids I've known seem to better enjoy those around age 5 or so.

A game called "Go Away, Monster!" was a HUGE hit, though, with my nephew, who was a very bright nearly-3-year-old when he got it. It's totally graspable and very fun (for him). It's not some intellectual challenge, but it teaches the principles of gamesmanship (taking turns, following rules, being a good sport). It doesn't matter if the child isn't afraid of monsters, it's still fun.
posted by tk at 7:16 PM on November 9, 2008

Both Hi Ho Cherry-o and Don't Spill the Beans were big hits when my little guy was three, along with (of course) Candyland and Chute & Ladders. The ones we got back then that he still likes to play (at age 4) are Don't Break the Ice, memory games and bingo types of games (we have an I Spy one) -- and Candyland.
posted by lgandme0717 at 7:46 PM on November 9, 2008

Go is not too complicated for three year olds. You can teach them the capture game, which is simple and (despite its simplicity) a lot more interesting than most commercial games. The biggest problem I can see is that they might try to eat the stones. That would be bad.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:52 PM on November 9, 2008

I should add that I could count to 21 by kindergarten, because my uncle taught me blackjack.

But I turned out to be a deviant little freak, so maybe you don't want to go there.
posted by stevis23 at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2008

BoardGame Geek has a few recommendations ....

Pictureka is cool , new and maybe not quite right for a 3yo
posted by doogyrev at 8:07 PM on November 9, 2008

3 years old?
I'd suggest Zingo.
Big hit with my family.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:09 PM on November 9, 2008

nthing Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and Don't Break The Ice. You could try War, too.
posted by Lucinda at 8:16 PM on November 9, 2008

Seconding "Go Away Monster." My two year old loves it, and it should be good for a three year old as well.

You should read Defective Yeti's recommendations for toddler games.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:56 PM on November 9, 2008

Seconding Zingo.
posted by Joh at 9:24 PM on November 9, 2008

At 3? Lego.
posted by dws at 9:25 PM on November 9, 2008

Response by poster: Some really great ideas, thanks everyone!! Pls keep 'em coming if you have more.

>"And remember to let her win on occasion."

Haha! I'll try to remember that ;)
posted by jak68 at 9:27 PM on November 9, 2008

Hungry Hungry Hippos had a profound effect on me as a small child. I remember very little of what the game actually is, but I spent quite a bit of time proclaiming it as my favorite game of all time. Also recommending Chutes & Ladders and Hi Ho Cherry-O.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:32 PM on November 9, 2008

Seconding Cranium Hullabaloo, my three-year old LOVES it. Also seconding any kind of memory or bingo game.
posted by brandman at 9:57 PM on November 9, 2008

Something to keep in mind for when the kid reaches about age 5: Mousetrap is a classic. But age 3 is too young for it.
posted by Class Goat at 10:10 PM on November 9, 2008

My supervisor plays simplified Carcassonne with his 3 year old twins. Take away the scoring and the pieces, and the game is just about taking turns drawing a tile, and placing it so that it lines up properly with the other tiles (as in the normal game).
posted by Fully Completely at 10:30 PM on November 9, 2008

We had lots of stress in our household over winning and losing boardgames when my oldest son was around 3, and we ended up buying some "cooperative board games". They ended up being household favorites, and my two sons (now 8 and 4) still happily play several of them with us. Here are the favorites in our house: Max (critters escaping a cat), Sand Castles (build them before the tide comes in), Caves & Claws (find the treasures, escape the jungle), and Harvest Time (pick the vegetables before winter comes).

They might sound hippy-dippy or crunchy, but seriously all these games are lots of fun, and a really nice change of pace from Candy Land etc. (The Defective Yeti, mentioned above, also recommends "Max".) We would second "Go Away Monster!" as well. (ps - We now play regular board games too.)
posted by chr1sb0y at 4:03 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

@Punchdrunkhistory Hungry Hungry Hippos basically involves repeatedly hitting a lever faster than the other player to make your hippo eat more marbles. It's good for this age group because it's fast, exciting and involves little skill.

@OP Good card games are Memory or Snap. You can substitute a picture deck if the numbers bore her. (You can pick these up at TRU.) Then progress into Go-Fish and Cheat, then Rummy and Blackjack.

If she does show an interest in numbers. Invest in a set of dominos. You can start out playing simple number matching games, then progress to the standard rules, which will give her a hand with her addition and multiplication. Also, setting up elaborate domino rallies? Never stops being fun.

Likewise there are word games that can be adapted for ability. A Boggle or Scrabble set will keep the two of you occupied for decades. Start by spelling words aloud and challenging her to see how fast she can spell it from the cubes/tiles. Then move her on to playing regular Boggle, only she's allowed points for words of two letters or more and you only get points for words of five letters or more. Over time you can gradually adjust the handicaps until you're playing as equals. Same goes for Scrabble, except that with this you can buy a Junior version with a reversible board so that when the kid is old enough to play by the grown up rules, you can just turn over!

Pencil and paper games you might want to try are Beetle Drive or Picture Consequences. Regular Consequences, Battleships and Bird-Animal will come as she gets older. You could also buy puzzle books and solve them as a team, (you take crosswords and the advanced stuff while she does Spot The Difference and the easier puzzles.)

Dexterity games are good too, there are the classics like tiddlywinks, marbles and spillikins or more modern fare like Buckaroo, Hungry Hungry Hippos and um... what's that shape-sorter game that pops up and flings all the pieces out if you don't complete it in time? I think it begins with C. Anyway, all of the above would work if she's not going to swallow the pieces.

I don't think any of the good logic games are suitable for three year olds, but bear in mind Chess, Backgammon, Checkers, Mastermind, Othello and Hasami Shogi for when she's older, with Connect Four, Tic Tac Toe and Nim as gateway games.

I'll probably think of a whole raft of other suggestions once I've hit send, but that should be enough to keep you going for a while. As you may have guessed, I played a lot of games with family growing up too. I totally agree with you about how they can cement relationships. Even when I first moved away from home and was far too consumed by the whole college shebang to worry about family much, I always found time to call my mom and be "Okay, seven down. 'Shaken Players Shift The Load.' Nine letters..."

When my grandmother got cancer she was able to hold a conversation perfectly normally, but she started making silly mistakes when we played word games. Scrabble can be a powerful diagnostic tool when it's coupled with twenty years experience of a person's playing style. Board games are serious business people; they can save lives!
posted by the latin mouse at 8:01 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

what's that shape-sorter game that pops up and flings all the pieces out if you don't complete it in time? I think it begins with C.

I think it's "Concentration" but I can't find any proof of it online. Only thing with a game like that : super-sensitive little kids might get freaked out by the pieces getting flung out.

(and yes I am sort of speaking from experience here)
posted by Lucinda at 8:50 AM on November 10, 2008

Try Blokus. It's pretty simple, but still has depth. I'm not sure a 3 year old could handle it, but a 5 or 6 year old definitely could.
posted by valadil at 9:27 AM on November 10, 2008

One thing about Candyland - it's very hard to lose on purpose if you don't stack the deck. And then the kid will draw wrong and screw it up. I'm not for always letting the kid win, but when you draw that card that lets you go almost all the way to the end of the board in one move and the kid draws that card that makes him go all the way back to the beginning, it sometimes becomes REALLY not worth playing. I like to win maybe every other time at most. I am pretty good at cheating at most other games, but when you pull that gumdrop card (or whatever it was) there are going to be tears...
posted by artychoke at 10:40 AM on November 10, 2008

Yeah, seconding cooperative board games. Competitive games suck when you're a young kid. Either you lose on purpose, which sends a bad message, or you beat a kid, and that's no fun. I think what makes board games really difficult is that they take what is effectively a game of total chance (rolling dice, drawing cards) and make it seem that it's about skill. When you lose (which is going to inevitably happen in an un-rigged game) you will feel like it's your fault somehow, even though there is generally not much you can do.

I had a lot of fun with Cranium and I hear that there is a version especially designed for younger children.

Also, be aware that a lot of games have small pieces that look a lot like candy, so make sure you watch your niece very carefully.
posted by Deathalicious at 2:55 PM on November 10, 2008

Go-Fish and Memory are games that a 3 yr. old can definitely get into.

Honey Bee Tree is one that every 2 & 3 yr. old that I've cared for has had and LOVED.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:24 PM on November 10, 2008

what's that shape-sorter game that pops up and flings all the pieces out if you don't complete it in time? I think it begins with C.
I think it's "Concentration" but I can't find any proof of it online. Only thing with a game like that : super-sensitive little kids might get freaked out by the pieces getting flung out.

(and yes I am sort of speaking from experience here)

It's called "Perfection" in the US, at least. Anyone who grew up in the '80s or early '90s knows the song from the commercial for reasons they can neither explain nor are entirely comfortable with.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:35 PM on November 10, 2008

It's called "Perfection" in the US, at least. Anyone who grew up in the '80s or early '90s knows the song from the commercial for reasons they can neither explain nor are entirely comfortable with.

Yes, that's it! And then there was Superfection where you had to make a cube out of two plastic pieces and then put THAT in the space.
posted by Lucinda at 9:22 AM on November 11, 2008

Mancala/Kalah seems like it would fit the bill. Use pieces of O-shaped oat cereal or raisins instead of stones if you're worried about swallowing.
posted by leapfrog at 12:07 PM on November 11, 2008

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