Best Family Boardgames
November 20, 2017 12:58 PM   Subscribe

Ticket to Ride was a big hit with the grandkids last year. I'd like to get them another game. Suggestions?

I'm looking for a game that can be played by the whole family. Oldest child is 13. Youngest is four months. OK the four-month-old doesn't need to play, and the four-year-old can sit on someone's lap as part of a team, but I'm looking for something that is pretty expansive in terms of age range. Adults will want to play too. Ticket to Ride was perfect - and I already am aware that there are different versions, but I want to think of other games too. Assume we know about the classics - Monopoly, Clue, Yatzi, etc.

Please give at least a brief summary of why you think a game will be fun or what it's about rather than just a link. Thanks.
posted by FencingGal to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (43 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Dixit! Dixit has gorgeous illustrations, so everyone can find something to enjoy about it even if the particular game mechanics aren't to their taste.

Basically it's a game of loose storytelling. Everyone has a hand of illustrated cards, and the person who's it chooses one from their hand and describes what they see on their card cryptically. Maybe it's a picture of a rabbit and you say "through the looking glass." Then everyone chooses a card that could conceivably answer to that description, they all get mixed together, and then people vote on which they think was the original card. Points awarded from there.

It's a game that can cross a lot of barriers of age and education levels, since everyone interprets words and pictures differently but can usually find common ground.

Please choose this game and play it with your family and have so much fun. I tried to play it with my family once years ago and my dad described this card as "welfare whore bitch" and now I don't talk to my family. So.
posted by phunniemee at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

Forbidden Island might be a good choice. It's a cooperative game, so you're all working together to win, rather than competing.
posted by brentajones at 1:07 PM on November 20, 2017 [11 favorites]

Carcassonne. It's easy to get a hang of (you lay tiles to make up a medieval map) and has the potential to be nice to others or nasty, as you put meeple(tokens) down to claim different landmarks. Won over our friend who doesn't like many games.
Also there is an expansion already included in the box. Not kid tested in this house, but seems very kid friendly.

Settlers of Catan is another classic- it's been a while since I've played but it has similar 'lay coloured bits down' thing like ticket to ride but requires you to trade with other players. Lots of fun.
posted by freethefeet at 1:07 PM on November 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

I played Codenames with a group that ranged from eight years old to 50-something last night, and we all had fun. It's played in two teams, so it's easy for little kids to participate without their having to take on a full role. The generational differences add to the humor (e.g. my trying to use Herb Alpert as a clue for "whip" was a complete, but amusing, failure).
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:12 PM on November 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

We have played Sorry with kids from 5 to 20 years old. It is fairly simple, but there is strategy, too. Be sure to apologize if you send the kid's token back to Start.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:14 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Blokus is pretty fun as a quick-play strategy game. You fill in a grid as much as possible with your pieces and try to block others from being able to place theirs. The rules are simple but it's very competitive.

Another game I like is Forbidden Desert, which is a collaborative boardgame - it's all the human players on the same team, versus the game itself. Every player gets a role and a special power and the goal is to uncover all the pieces of a machine which allows you all to escape from the desert. The difficulty is adjustable.

Carcasonne is another competitive game around building a map. You build a kingdom out of tiles and fight for claims of it - bigger things give more points, but also are more contentious and can tie up your ability to claim other things so there's some risk/reward involved. At the end, whoever has the most points wins.
posted by one of these days at 1:16 PM on November 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

Second Codenames, it's pretty fun but simple. There's also a pictures version (might be more enjoyable for the kids) and apparently a Disney version (haven't tried it).
posted by neckro23 at 1:17 PM on November 20, 2017

Exploding Kittens. This has a good balance of chance and planning. Tested with 8-13 year-olds and adults.
posted by paduasoy at 1:21 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

The last 6 months or so my family has been playing Labyrinth (Amazon link). It's supposedly for ages 8+ but my 5 year old loves it, and my husband laughed when I brought it home because he played it a lot as a young teen. Basically, each player has some goal cards and has to move their piece on the board which is a maze that changes with each turn. The five year old and I particularly enjoy mazes and puzzles so it scratches that itch for us. It's not a massive undertaking to set up the game and it's easy to modify to make a shorter version. My almost 3 year old has no patience for it, but she likes to look at the pictures on the cards.
posted by stowaway at 1:21 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yep, go with Codenames. Do Pictures if your 4-year-old isn't reading yet, but grab the original too for when they're reading (you can even play with both at the same time!).

I play Codenames with a wide variety of people and everyone enjoys it. But the last time I played with family was especially charming--we learned that my 6-year-old nephew and his grandma are on the same wavelength and were unstoppable. It's also neat to watch siblings pick up what the other is putting down, if you will. Codenames! So fun.
posted by AmandaA at 1:24 PM on November 20, 2017

ZINGO! Basically Bingo but with pictures, making it easy for the little ones to play. Definitely one of my family's favorite games.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:25 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Carcassonne. Our family loves it. Simple, but potential for some fun strategy. There's a tablet version that works really well, too, although the physical board is more satisfying.
posted by nixxon at 1:26 PM on November 20, 2017

Our family had a LOT of fun with Ultimate One Night Werewolf. It’s a fast paced game where you are trying to figure out who is on team Werewolf and who is in team villager. Lots of lying, selective truth telling, and outright betrayal. Had no idea my daughters could lie so well. Has a companion phone app that makes it super fast and easy to play. :-)
posted by machinecraig at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Survive! is an absolute favourite in my family. No writing on the cards, so little ones can play it with help. Nothing makes kids happier then sending in a shark or a sea serpent to get their parents' or siblings' meeples...
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

We're living in a great age for board games so there will be many good options.

Seven Wonders has been a popular choice among my friends when trying to introduce non-gamers to today's type of board games. Things that we like about it:
  • easy to learn
  • play is mostly simultaneous (so no long boring waiting periods while everybody else takes their turns..)
  • plays decently with as few as 3 and as many as 7 players (sweet spot is 4-5 imho)
  • games are not interminably long -- generally they're short enough that the folks who just missed winning will propose another round to try and win the next one..
Serious gamers will probably think that it has too much element of chance but for social gaming it's easy, fun, and doesn't generally result in hurt feelings.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert have been mentioned. They're very similar, both cooperative games—all the players working together to win against the game—so I think they'd be a great choice for a family.

I love Forbidden Desert, but it's slightly more fiddly and complicated than Forbidden Island. For this age range I'd recommend Forbidden Island first, especially if the last game they loved was Ticket to Ride. Island's rules are more streamlined; it'll be easier to explain and remember all the rules, I think.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2017 [6 favorites]

Splendor and Evolution are a couple more resource-management games, both a lot of fun to play, and both have a similar difficulty level to Ticket To Ride in my opinion. I also enjoyed my first play-through of Concept last week, which is a beautifully-designed word-guessing game with a similar feel to classic family games like Pictionary/Taboo/charades.
posted by gin and biscuits at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2017

Apples to Apples is a lot of fun for a mixed age group. It's basically PG-rated Cards Against Humanity.
posted by COD at 1:57 PM on November 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I really like The Big Idea and other James Ernest games.

What I like about this game is that people are really rewarded for being creative and silly, which is great for family time and can help minimize the risk of a tantrum from kids (or adults) who have a hard time with overly competitive winner or loser games.
posted by brookeb at 1:58 PM on November 20, 2017

Camel Up is great for families. It's a light game that everyone can understand. And kids love camels.

I also recommend Ice Cool which is a dexterity game for kids. You flick little penguins around trying to collect fish.

The ultimate family/kid game in my collection though is Jamaica, which is a pirate themed racing game. It's really gorgeous too; great production value.
posted by teabag at 2:23 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

We have had way more fun than I thought we would with Switcheroo. It's a word game where you have to come up with words that fit the categories that start with a specific letter - or categories that can fit a word that starts with that letter. So there's a lot of room for silliness, and most of the categories are simple enough (name an animal you eat, name a job that requires gloves) that almost any age can come up with one for most letters. It has a timer but we've never used it.
posted by Mchelly at 2:41 PM on November 20, 2017

King of Tokyo! It is a dice-based game, similar in mechanic to Yahtzee, with a few other easy to learn elements. Great art, irreverent tone, plays quickly. All the players play monsters vying for control of Tokyo and to defeat the other monsters.
posted by jeoc at 3:07 PM on November 20, 2017

Telestrations or Concept.
posted by jennyesq at 3:28 PM on November 20, 2017

Cheers to Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne and CodeNames. We play those all the time (family aged 10,12, 45,47,78). We also love Ticket to Ride

We really Pandemic Contagion. We like Pandemic as well but are still learning so hard to say if it's going to be a winner.

rRummoli is also awesome, as is poker!
posted by Ftsqg at 3:32 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

King of Toyko is fun. My niecephews like Snorta! which is kind of like War (the card game) but where you have to memorize other player's animals and moo or oink at them before they do. They also like Catan. I just bought Codenames too!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2017

Matthew Baldwin reviews board games each year over at The Morning News. He hasn't yet done the 2017 edition, I think, but here are the older ones. Each review covers player count, genre, difficulty, and so on.

After you find some candidates, search youtube for the game and you can probably some board game nerds playing the game. It's truly a wonderful time to be alive.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:49 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

A second vote for one night werewolf. The free app can be combined with handmade and printed cards (instead of buying cards) for a free game. We always preface the first game (use only 1 werewolf and all villagers) with - "just follow the directions and the first round will be a test run, ready, set, go!" Once everyone has the idea, other player types can be added.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:23 PM on November 20, 2017

So the games I'm going to recommend are not what you would consider "expansive" BUT they are a ton of fun for people of all ages with a super fast learning curve and endless fun...not much skill...but endless fun. The first game is called Spot It. Which is like a competitive matching game. It's a fast pace game which doesn't last long but it's easy to set up and play again. Love this game. The other game is called zombie dice. Again it's a fast game as you can choose what to play up to. There's more skill involved for Spot It as it tests how quickly your brain can identify and call a match. Zombie dice is all luck but it's my favorite game to play with a group of people. These are good games to buy in addition to things like ticket to ride, etc. My wife loves the more expansive games...I love games that don't hurt my brain, haha. Good luck.
posted by ljs30 at 4:26 PM on November 20, 2017

Nth-ing Carcassonne.

Pit is very silly, very simple, and a lot of fun.

Possibly Balderdash, although that could depend on the four-year old's attention span / patience. But, it's one of those games that gets everyone at the table laughing a lot (usually there's at least one round per game that will have someone laughing to the point of tears) and that's fun even for a kid who might not totally get the joke.

Cosmic Wimpout (fancy version, basic version) is a fun "as many or as few players as you want" dice game that usually moves pretty quickly. When my sister was little she would help add up the dice. It's a good go-to to have in the stable for when people feel like playing a game but don't want to get embroiled in something long or complicated.

And although it is scorned by Very Serious Boardgame Afficionados, I'm going to recommend Dread Pirate because it is a visual and tactile delight, pretty easy to learn, and doesn't take too long to play. Snobby negative reviews complain that the main game mechanic is dice rolls, meaning there's no trying-to-out-think-your-opponents-three-turns-ahead strategy... but for a light family game you don't want to be doing heavy thinking, and random dice rolls help level the field for younger players. It's a fun, social way to pass the time which is how a family game should be.
posted by Funeral march of an old jawbone at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2017

posted by likeatoaster at 5:59 PM on November 20, 2017

I love a lot of the above games (Zombie Dice because it is fast and is the right combination of tiny amount of brain and luck, King of Tokyo because it's interesting over many plays) but my favorite for a largish mixed group is Telestrations. You each start out drawing a thing, then flip it over and the next person guesses, then hands the pad to the next person who draws from their guess etc. until you run out of people.

There is some way to keep score but I have never bothered, the fun is the show and tell at the end where you reveal your clue, show your drawing and then detail its inevitable devolution. It works with people who "hate games," is consistently hilarious and is a really good community-builder and bringer-together in a family or party setting. It wouldn't work with SUPER young kids who can't read yet- the 4 year old would need to be in a team with someone else- but since it is more fun the more terrible you are at drawing, we have played it successfully with smart 7 year olds (with modified rules like they get to keep drawing cards until they find something they understand and feel good about drawing).
posted by charmedimsure at 7:03 PM on November 20, 2017

Kingdomino just won the Spiel des Jahres, and is a fantastic family game for all ages.

Sushi Go is an adorable game with a 'take one, pass the rest' mechanic that helps to put players of different ages on an equal footing, but also introduces a mechanic used in bigger games like 7 Wonders. Get the larger Party version to enhance replayability.

Love Letter is the leanest, tightest game in the world. Sixteen cards, and the rules are 'take one, play one'. You're trying to deduce who's who so your letter gets to the princess. It's super fast.

If I had to pick three games for people who love Ticket To Ride and want to get more into board games, it'd be those three. And they're cheap!

Karuba has a similar tile-placing vibe to Kingdomino and is also excellent - you're building a path through the jungle to help explorers to reach temples and...look, I'm sure it'll all go into a museum and that local indigenous people will get their rightful cut of the action.

Black Fleet is a game about sailing around the Caribbean, delivering cargo and sinking pirates (OK, and being pirates and sinking cargo). It's bright, colourful, accessible and reasonably fast.

Tokaido is about a journey on the road from Kyoto to the capital, painting the scenery, collecting souvenirs, eating amazing food, and getting your butt touched by snow monkeys. It's competitive but also somehow relaxing. It's glorious to look at.

Burgle Bros is a cooperative game about a heist (think Oceans Eleven). It's got great artwork, is very exciting, and like Forbidden Island, you all win or lose together.

Cockroach Poker is a hilarious bluffing game, probably the most pure bluffing game there is. It's very easy to learn, and kids love the artwork.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:52 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

My 6 year old and 9 year old both like Munchkin. We adopted strategy in stages to make it easier for the 6 year old. So the first game it was really, kick down the door / loot the room or look and for trouble and done... We worked on cooperative play and mastering items and levels... THEN only on the 3rd game did I have my wife absolutely throw the cards to do me in... We started pushing to teach them how to strategize when to help and when to hurt... so the game has been progressive in how we've implemented the rules, and now they are very willing to betray everyone in the family!
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:47 PM on November 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

You guys are awesome! Thanks so much.
posted by FencingGal at 5:45 AM on November 21, 2017

If I'm not too late to the party, I wanted to suggest  Escape The Curse of the Temple. It's a cooperative game where everybody plays as an Indiana-Jones-style explorer trying to escape a temple before it collapses. My six- and -nine-year old love it, and the cooperative aspect means there's never any hard feelings. Each game lasts ten minutes and it comes with a soundtrack you can play to help pace yourself. (But be warned: my kids found the soundtrack too creepy and intense, so we just play it with an included timer. You might want to listen to the soundtrack before you play the game, and determine how your family will react to it.)
posted by yankeefog at 8:41 AM on November 21, 2017

I just want to second Labyrinth. We also love Ticket to Ride and Labyrinth has a lot of the same strategy-type stuff.
posted by jabes at 8:51 AM on November 21, 2017

Some great suggestions here.

I'd like to add Survive:Escape From Atlantis to the list. BGG calls it a family game, but we (a mixed group of 30 somethings) have a big closet with games of all kinds (Ice Cool to Gloomhaven and everything between) and this is a game we come back to often. Super easy rules, but enough strategy to be interesting, and a little bit of screwing other people over. (Gameplay: your meeplefolk are on a sinking island, you have to get them to shore while avoiding whales, sharks, and sea monsters).
posted by booooooze at 10:33 AM on November 21, 2017

My girlfriend's 8-year-old daughter is in love with a game called Rat-a-Tat Cat, which has something to do with how much she loves cats in general but also because it's a pretty simple and fun poker-style game. Most cards are numbered from 0 to 9; each player gets 4 cards, can peek at two to start, and then take turns drawing new cards and replacing old ones, with the goal of getting the smallest numbers possible. When a player thinks they have a lower hand than everyone else, they knock the table, and then everyone else has a turn to try to improve their hand if they can. A few special cards allow you to peek at your own cards or swap one of yours with someone else's, so it pays to try to remember who put what cards where. The daughter's memory and number skills are improving a lot as we play, it's pretty cool, and a typical round is about ten minutes.
posted by Errant at 3:08 PM on November 21, 2017

We are a huge game-playing family and my kids are 11, 11 and 9. Most of our favorites have already been mentioned, so I'll +1 to:
Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride
Spot It
Apples to Apples
Rat-a-tat Cat

Would also recommend Sleeping Queens - 3 of my kids' friends have bought this for themselves after playing it at our house. Easy and fun.
posted by widdershins at 3:32 PM on November 21, 2017

One thing about Love Letters -- I, a middle-aged person, have difficulty reading the tiny print on the cards.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:54 PM on November 21, 2017

Codenames is amazing and so n-thing it here -- but beware you don't accidentally buy the adult version, like my brother's girlfriend did for a family party with my parents.
posted by knownassociate at 12:08 PM on November 30, 2017

Matthew Baldwin's 2017 edition of the Good Gift Games Guide is now up.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:10 AM on December 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a better link to the Good Gift Games Guide for this year.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2017

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