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Long before the pandemic, families used to gather in the evenings or on weekends to enjoy the spirit of competition through friendly (or perhaps cutthroat) competition. Of course, now that the pandemic has us all spending a lot more time together at home, board games have exploded in popularity as a form of old-fashioned entertainment.
We’ve rounded up our favorite family board games for families of all ages, from classics you might’ve played when you were a kid to brand-new games that are sure to become instant hits. Whether you’re looking for a strategy game to challenge your teens, a trivia game to work those brain cells, or a lighthearted racing game that’s based on the spin of a dial or a roll of the dice, we have a pick for you. Check them all out below.
Days of Wonder Ticket to Ride
Another German-style board game, Ticket to Ride is a railway-themed board game in which players compete to claim train routes. Points are awarded for the total length of train routes, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins. In the original version of the game, the board is a map of North America, but new versions of the game add plenty of geographic diversity, from individual cities to full continents.
While this is ultimately a strategy game, it’s a pretty simple one, so kids as young as six years old can definitely figure it out.
Czech Games Codenames
Codenames is one of those games that’s secretly educational—it’s all about word associations—but it’s also plain good fun. In a nutshell, two teams compete to crack the secret codenames of spies. The board starts as a 25x25 grid of cards with words on them, each of which represents an innocent bystander, a spy, or an assassin—a designated spymaster offers their team one-word clues to help them figure out which words are hiding their spies. The game ends when a team successfully IDs all of their spies (they win!)—or when a team accidentally IDs the assassin (they lose!).
Parker Brothers Pictureka
Keen eyes are the key to winning Pictureka, an all-ages, I Spy–like game where players compete to find doodles on the board. Now, the complete board is actually made up of nine double-sided square boards filled with doodles. To prevent players from memorizing the board, they can be arranged in any order and orientation, as long as they stick to a 3x3 grid. Players compete to win individual cards depicting doodles that they’re tasked to find. It’s the perfect game for kids (or adults) with limited attention spans—the game is very easy to learn, and playing a full round is super fast!
Catan Studio Catan The Board Game
One of the biggest games on the market today, Catan is a German-style board game where players take on the role of settlers on an island. The goal is simple: grow your settlement by harvesting resources (sheep, wheat, wood, clay, and ore) and building out infrastructure. Reaching certain development milestones awards you victory points, and the first person to ten points wins!
While it’s a relatively simple premise, there’s plenty of strategy involved, and quite a bit of socializing as you negotiate deals with (or steal from) your fellow settlers. As such, the manufacturer recommends this game for children ages 10 and up.
Hasbro Gaming Monopoly Classic Game
A New Year’s Eve classic, Monopoly is a lesson in the wild world of capitalism; players compete to drive each other into bankruptcy at their own financial gain. More specifically, it’s about real estate, as players snatch up properties around the board (spaces are named after the streets of Atlantic City) and make their opponents pay rent.
The game was originally invented by Lizzie Magie in 1904 under the title The Landlord’s Game; the current version we play was developed by Charles B. Darrow, who sold his game to Parker Brothers in 1935, making him, not Magie, very rich.
Known as Cluedo in the United Kingdom, where it originated in 1943, Clue is a murder mystery game in which six suspects are accused of murdering one Mr. Boddy (or Dr. Black in the U.K. version). Players, each of whom takes a role as one of the suspects, attempt to determine the murderer, the murder weapon, and the murder location, as they travel around the board, which is set up as an English manor house. The board game inspired an infamous 1985 movie that was originally a commercial flop, but has since developed a cult following.
Hasbro Gaming Trouble
While Trouble is a racing game, it’s a little more complicated than some of its kin. Players race to get all five of their game pieces around the board; if a player’s piece lands on top of another player’s piece, the bottom piece must return back to the start (hence the “trouble”). What really makes this game revolutionary is the Pop-O-Matic die container. A plastic bubble in the center of the board contains the dice; players press down on the bobble, and its base pops and causes the dice to roll. Not only is this an ingenious way to prevent the loss of the dice, but it’s also just a fun tactile piece of the game for players.
Mattel Games Blokus
Blokus is an abstract strategy game that makes Tetris look easy. Two to four players compete to place as many tiles as possible on the board, adhering to a strict set of rules as they do so. To begin the game, each player chooses a color and is given 21 tiles of different Tetris-like shapes, each comprising one to five squares. Each player places a piece in a corner on their first turn; in subsequent turns, each piece placed must touch at least one square of the same color, but only via a corner, not via an edge. Different color tiles, however, are allowed to touch in any configuration. Gameplay ends when all players can’t place any more tiles—they tally up the total number of squares they have in their remaining tile pieces, and subtract that from their score. The highest score wins.
Spontuneous The Song Game
For musically inclined families, Spontuneous gives players a chance to show off their vocal talents—or lack thereof. Players first come up with a list of “trigger words,” or words commonly (or not so commonly) found in song lyrics; they then alternate turns as “Tunesmith,” reading out one word from their list. The other players must then sing a five-word string of lyrics that includes the trigger word. (For instance, if the trigger word was “see,” you could sing “o say can you see.”) The first person to accurately sing a snippet of a song with the trigger word gets to roll a die and advance on the board.
Avalon Hill Betrayal At House On The Hill
It’s not often that board games are creepy, but Betrayal at House on the Hill definitely has a chilling vibe. Players play as one of six different characters—initially all on the same team—who explore the haunted house on the board (it’s made up of a series of room tiles that change each time you play). When monsters, ghosts, or some other paranormal spook enter the game during “the haunt” phase, one of the players will betray the others by forming an alliance with enemies, and it’s up to the other players to defeat them.
Hasbro Games Trivial Pursuit
Canadian board game Trivial Pursuit is a classic, challenging players on their general trivia and pop culture knowledge as they race around a board. The premise is incredibly simple: answer trivia questions correctly to move around the board and collect wedge-shaped game pieces. The goal is to answer enough questions to collect one piece from each of six trivia categories, which range from history to entertainment in the original game. Since the game’s debut in 1981, there have been dozens of special editions added to the game’s family, many of which are tied to specific pop culture themes, like movies or specific decades.
Hasbro Gaming The Game of Life
Teach your kids all about real-world responsibilities in The Game of Life, a board game that was invented by the original Milton Bradley himself in 1860. Interestingly, that game’s goal was to simply make it to “happy old age.”
One hundred years later, the modern version of the game was launched. The game actually simulates real life; players start the board game in college (or they can choose to skip college), then as they progress around the board, they get jobs, buy houses, get married, have kids—you get the picture. Of course, life often throws some wrenches at you along the way to keep things interesting… Ultimately, the goal is to have the most money when you reach retirement. In one sense, it’s kind of an interesting commentary on contemporary society, but hey, it’s also just a board game.
North Star Games Wits & Wagers
Wits and Wagers is a family-friendly gambling board game that doubles as a trivia game. Players are asked a numbers-based trivia question (e.g., how many counties are in the state of Texas, or in what year was slavery banned in the United States), to which they must write down a response on a card. Those responses are revealed and placed onto the board in numerical order; players then place bets via chips on which response is closest to the right answer (without going over!). Whoever ends up with the most chips at the end of seven rounds wins. What we love about the game is that you don’t actually have to know the answer to a trivia question to win—you rely on the collective knowledge of the group to inform your bets.
MindWare Qwirkle Board Game
Qwirkle is a tile-based game that’s somewhat similar to Scrabble, but without letters. Instead of letters, tiles have one of six shapes in one of six colors. The goal is to place down lines of tiles that have matching colors or matching shapes, based on which tiles are already placed on the board. Players start with a hand of six tiles. In the first turn, you may either play either colors or shapes, forming a line of matching tiles based on your hand. Then on subsequent turns, players must place tiles from their hand adjacent to existing tiles on the board, matching either their color or shape. Scoring is based upon how many tiles exist in the lines you create with your move.
Mattel Games Pictionary
Hope you paid attention in art class in school—Pictionary is similar to charades, but instead of acting, you need to draw your words for your teammates. Players are split into two teams, each of which starts with their game piece at the beginning of the board. The goal of the game is to reach the end of the board first; you get to advance if your team guesses the word correctly. Words are assigned to the illustrators via a series of cards, and they range from something as simple as an object to as difficult as an action. Oh, and there’s a timer involved, so you need to draw quickly!
Hasbro Gaming Candy Land The World of Sweets Game
A straightforward racing game, Candy Land is ideal for younger placers. The rules are as easy as can be, and gameplay is entirely based on chance. Players start at the beginning of the board, and they draw colored cards one at a time. You simply move to the next square on the board that has that color. Some cards have double squares, in which you get to move forward to the second square of those colors. For a little extra flavor, there are special character squares across the board; if you draw their card, you must move forward or backward to those character squares. And there are also “licorice” squares on the board—if you land on one of these, you’re stuck there until you draw another card of the same color. And that’s the entire game!
Hasbro Gaming Hi Ho! Cherry-O
Another game fit for younger children, Hi-Ho Cherry-o is a game of chance, all based on the results of a spinner. The board has four cherry trees, one for each player; little cherry game pieces are placed onto each. Players take turns spinning the spinner, which tells them how many cherries to pick from their tree and place in their basket. But some spinner options dictate that you must return your cherries to the tree (*gasp*). The first person to pick all the cherries off their tree is the winner!
Ravensburger Disney Villainous Strategy Board Game
Disney fans, this one is for you. Villainous is a strategy board game in which each player plays as one of six iconic Disney villains: Peter Pan’s Captain Hook, Aladdin’s Jafar, Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, Robin Hood’s Prince John, Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts, and The Little Mermaid’s Ursula. The mission is to achieve your character’s ultimate goal before the other players achieve theirs, which typically requires a bit of sabotage—this is a villain game, after all. The most skilled players are the ones who balance achieving their own objectives while thwarting the other players’ plans.
Hasbro Gaming Scrabble
No collection of family board games would be complete without this absolute classic that was conceived way back in 1931. The game can be played with two to four players (or four teams) and lettered tiles (with varying points values) are combined to form words, crossword-style, on the game board. Although it's designed for those aged eight and up, it's the most fun when it's played among those with similar reading, spelling, and skill levels.
Z-Man Games Pandemic Rapid Response
If the dog-eat-dog dynamics of Monopoly aren’t your speed, consider this cooperative game in which everyone works together to stop the spread of global outbreaks and epidemics before mankind is wiped out. Players take on roles (doctors, scientists), applying their creative problem-solving skills in ways that are at once, complex, strategic, and extremely fun. This game is ideal for teens and adults, with two to four players.