When my kids were 3 and 6 and I was slouching over the chutes and stairs, dying inside and wishing the fire alarm would go off for the afternoon break, I couldn’t picture this: These same kids, 19 and 22 now, unload their dinner plates, turn off their phones, and put Court of the settlers of Catan, before you tell my old lady how badly they plan to beat me. Let the wool and brick trade begin!
The good news is that there are better games out there now than there were when my kids were young. An early investment in gaming is worth it. Plus, the games are so pointless that when you play with your child, you give them the message that spending time together is worthwhile enough. Which is an incredibly beautiful message, isn’t it?
I’ve narrowed this list down to games for kids a little Older adults and can begin to think strategically. (Therefore, there are no team games, word games, or dexterity games.) I also don’t include our current favorite, viticultureBecause it takes four hours to play, after a month I spent trying to analyze the rules. But rest assured that all of the following games have been thoroughly scrutinized over the course of several years by one very special family. We hope you are like them.
Rivers, roads and railways (5-12 players, ages 5+)
When they were kids, my kids would play with this transportation tile game as if it were a low-rent 2D train set, creating various networks of highways, byways, and sometimes a matchbox zoom in/out. Then, at some point, we saw that there were actual rules, and we got many years of playing it as the mildly competitive matching game it was built to be.
waterworks (2-4 players, age 8+)
Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers (2-5 players, age 8+)
cupAnd the quartoAnd the cathedral (2 players, age 7+)
We call these “wooden games”, and they are all logic games for two with beautiful pieces and simple rules – but with amazing depth of play. Think: chess, but not too long or boring. I usually lose out because kids used to use the left side of their growing brains, and my left brain is now more cluttered and shrunken into the over-developed right brain where all my many feelings of menopause live on expansively. Anyhoo, it’s great games and great to boot.
Blokus Duo (2 players, 7+)
Mix Express (2 players, 6+)
Dutch Blitz (2-4 players, age 8+)
This is a surprisingly cheerful game (“goot vonderful,” as the box itself boasts), although the colors aren’t great, and the Amish boy and girl theme, as my daughter describes it, is “weirdly heterogeneous.” Yet we played it, oh, gazillion times, increase or take a billion. It’s all about consecutive card stacking (think: Spit or Solitaire) and stress speed (think: perfect), so don’t play it with anyone who tends to argue or hurt their feelings. The expansion pack, sold separately, enables you to increase the number of players to 8 and create the ultimate CHAOS.
dot it(2-8 players, ages 6+)
Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza (3-8 players, ages 8+)
Qwixx (2-5 players, age 8+)
We’ve played this game in airports, at the sink while our bed dried up after a camping rainstorm, and at home when everyone only has a minute to play before getting back to what we should be doing. It’s a predictive game of throwing dice, like a cross between Shut the Box and Yahtzee and something to lose in the casino. Easy to learn, quick to play but never boring.
shaking (2+ players, age 8+)
Welcome to your perfect home (1+ player, over 10 years old)
Sushi Joe! (2-8 players, ages 8+)
If the only good thing about this card game is the adorable illustrations – all those grinning and winking maki rolls and dumplings and shrimp – you’ll still like it. But it is, in fact, a fascinating game, and a game with more depth of mouth-watering allure might lead you to imagine it. It is also another great introduction to the world of strategy games. Full disclosure: The extended party version might be our favorite, but it’s a bit more expensive.
point salad (2-6 players, age 8+)
her wings (1-5 players, over 14 years old)
magnificence (2-4 players, age group 10+)
Since it doesn’t take long to learn or play, this engaging game makes a great introduction to other resource-gathering games that are harder and longer – for example, Settlers of Catan, or the almost intricate, almost unsurvivable and heart-wrenching (but fantastic) game of Agricola. In addition, everyone loves the gem theme, and gem chips are cute and heavy.
Ramicap (2-4 players, age 8+)
Azul (2-4 players, age 8+)
ticket to ride (2-5 players, 8+)
I book this guide with railroad themed games and this game is a doozy. The objective seems simple enough – complete the various road objectives by placing trains on the map – but the game designer describes it as an extreme balance between greed and fear (hello, worst breath!). We’ve played this game in regular rotation for over 10 years and still every time we play it I declare it my favorite game. And train lovers (aka kids) will naturally be drawn to it, too.
Chinese Checkers (2-6 players, age 6+)
power grid (2-5 players, over 13 years old)
gaming rack in Catherine’s house tour
ideas? What games would you like to add? Please share below…
Catherine Newman, author of Children’s Social Skills, What can I say? And a funny sadness novel coming for adults, We all want impossible things (Harper, November 2022). she has written for a cup of joe Around Raising teenage boys And the Being an empty nestAnd the her house tour Make people cry (in a good way).
(Photo by Guille Faingold/Stocksy.)