2016 Game Shopping Guide
Thinking about buying games to give this holiday season? Check out The Family Gamers list of our favorite gift ideas this holiday! We’ve featured gifts for all ages, party games, and two player games! We’ve featured some great stocking stuffer options as well! Check out the list below with links for your convenience!
Games for toddlers (3 and under)
The primary goal of playing a board game with a toddler is learning turn-taking. Board games a toddler can play won’t be the most interesting for an adult, but we can still do better than Chutes & Ladders or Candyland!
- Hisss – a great introductory game, this uses simple color-matching, and can be played either competitively or co-operatively.
- Don’t Break the Ice – A little bit of a pain because it needs an adult to set-up, but kids as young as 1 year old love this game, because they can hit stuff with hammers!
- HABA “Keep It Steady” (AKA Zitternix) – if your toddler is ready for smaller pieces, this simple dexterity game will be fun for years. We’ve played it with a group of adults and still had a blast.
- Thinkfun Roll & Play – If your toddler is NOT ready for small pieces or even turn-taking, this might be your best bet. A giant puffy cube that they can roll, and action cards (roar like a lion) matching the color of each side.
Do you have an iPad? Touch sensitive games are great for young children. Our favorites are:
- DinoTrucks – DinoTrucks is a sandbox game. Literally! You control an excavator driving around in a sandbox unearthing all sorts of interesting things. Including dinosaur fossils!
- LEGO Duplo – There are a number of LEGO Duplo themed games, which guide a child through a series of themed activities (In DUPLO Train, you build a train, fill the cars, then drive it). There’s no end goal and no “wrong” way to play.
- Toca Kitchen – Our favorite game from Toca Boca. Choose a customer, choose a food, then cook it. Will the boy like fried fish? Only one way to find out! There’s no penalty for picking a bad match, your customer will eat it anyway, making funny faces as they do. There’s also a free version (Toca Kitchen Monsters).
- Osmo – The Osmo system is a fantastic way for tactile learning for little children that will grow with them. Osmo is a custom mirror and stand that allow your children to play with physical items on the floor or table that Osmo will recognize with companion apps. Starting with Osmo Tangrams, then continuing to Osmo Words, Osmo Coding, Osmo Creative, and even Osmo Pizza Co, Osmo is a terrific system that has a lot of longevity.
Games for young children (3-6)
At this age, kids still need practice taking turns, but can begin to use some strategy as well. These games use pattern-matching, counting, and simple strategy; no reading required.
- Skunk Bingo (Gamewright) – spin the spinner, then put animal cards into the “log”. If any pop out the other end, add them to your bingo board. There’s a bit of memory and strategy involved (what you put into the log will probably “pop” out for another player), without being overly competitive.
- Maze Racers – build a marble maze on a magnetic whiteboard. Then swap mazes with your partner and race: who can get the marble from start to finish fastest? This head-to-head game teaches some strategy and the two-part play (build then race) helps it stay fresh even after many plays. Best of all, you can come up with your own challenges to help the game grow with your children.
- Mmm! – a co-operative or single player game. Players are mice trying to steal food from the pantry before the cat catches you. Roll the dice, place them on the board to cover up food items. If you don’t cover a whole piece of food (2, 3, or 4 spaces), the cat moves one space forward. There are harder variants for older children or adults. This game was a runner up for the 2016 Kinderspiel des Jahre, the most prestigious award for children’s games.
- Press Here the Game – Based on the award winning picture book, this game has boards with 3 or 6 empty circles. On each player’s turn, they draw a token and decide where to place it on the board. The catch? Once a token has been placed, that creates a pattern for that board that all other players must follow. This game sparks discussions of pattern-matching and rules with our preschoolers.
- (Stocking Stuffer Option!) Story Cubes – roll the dice and make up a story with the pictures. Not a competitive game, but great for stretching your child’s creativity as well as your own. This is the base game, but there are so many varieties to choose from (even Batman cubes)!
Games for older children (6-12)
At this age, children are ready for more challenge. Here are a few games we love playing with children in elementary school. Some reading is required here, but most games can still be played with only one player who reads well.
- Castle Panic – Castle Panic is a cooperative game in a medieval setting where the players are working together to protect the castle walls and towers from invading monsters. Cooperative play allows parents and older children to teach strategy to younger children without sacrificing their ability to win!
- Machi Koro – Machi Koro is a die rolling game that relies heavily on luck (rolling dice) to obtain currency to continue in the game. Use the currency to purchase cards that help you on other die rolls and eventually pay to unlock all of your win conditions! Machi Koro is a great game that involves math and simple probability.
- Mastermind – A Classic from Pressman, Mastermind helps teach logical deduction with no words or numbers involved!
- Dragonwood – A dice and card based game with poker like elements that help players work on pattern recognition, counting, probability, and strategy. Play straights, flushes, or of-a-kind sets to defeat monsters and save the day!
- (Stocking Stuffer Option!) Santa’s Little Helpers and the Ice Cube Jam – A simple strategy game where you play as Santa’s elves gathering supplies for Santa to make jam. With some simple choices and straightforward gameplay, it is an easy game to learn and play and is lots of fun for all.
Games for teens and adults (12+)
- Pandemic Legacy – Another cooperative game, Pandemic sets the players up as a CDC team ridding the world of some terrible infectious diseases. The “Legacy” series are games that permanently change as you play. The board game has a plot, with different events happening every month. This adds heightened tension to an already tense game in Pandemic, with every choice having potentially permanent effects. Pandemic Legacy is a little more complicated than an entry level game, but for your gaming family and friends, this is a home run. Season 1 is out now, and Season 2 will be released next year.
- Codenames – Winner of the 2016 Spiel des Jahres, Codenames is a fantastic group game where one person for each team is the codename clue giver and the rest of the team has to identify secret agents that are being described by the clue. This is a game that stretches the imagination and is tons of fun for everyone involved.
- Ticket to Ride – Many people view Catan as the “gateway game” to the modern world of board gaming, but we think Ticket to Ride fits the bill better. Gather route goals and build train routes across the United States for victory points! Ticket to Ride involves a little bit of luck and a lot of strategy managing the train car resources you have available. It’s definitely more fun than Monopoly but not an overbearing strategy game. There’s even a kid’s version!
- Lords of Waterdeep – This is a resource management game that relies heavily on the Dungeons and Dragons theme turned on its head. Instead of getting quests from lords to complete for experience, like the role playing game, in Lords of Waterdeep you are the one giving the quests! The resources you acquire are party members, and you’re working to complete the most quests for the most points as efficiently as possible. Lords is very well balanced and lots of fun, especially if you like the theme. If you like this, there’s more! You can also check out its excellent expansion.
- (Stocking Stuffer Option!) Hanabi – One of our favorite games to play when it’s time to “Think Different”. In Hanabi you are working with everyone else at the table to put on the best fireworks show possible. The catch? You cannot see your cards! The brilliance of Hanabi is in managing the “clue” tokens to give other players enough clues to make decisions about their cards without forcing anyone to discard cards needed to make better fireworks explosions. Hanabi is a great game in a small package that really changes up the card game dynamic and expectations.
Two Player Games
Do you find yourself with only one partner to play with, but still want to try some board games? here are our top picks for two player games:
- Patchwork – A quilting themed game about putting the best quilt together on your board. An adorable theme matched with excellently balanced game play make for a surefire hit.
- Star Realms – Star Realms is a spaceship combat deckbuilding game. The game is styled like a traditional trading card game (Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon) but combined with deckbuilding. You can play ships, destroy enemy resources, or attack your opponent directly to win. Star Realms is an award winning game with a great pedigree. If you prefer fantasy to sci-fi, check out Epic by the same team. Both of these are excellent stocking stuffers as well!
- Jaipur – You are a merchant seeking to impress the emperor with your wares. In Jaipur you must balance selling resources or taking resource cards to get the highest value chips for each resource. As the game goes on the resources are worth less, so it’s important to get in early! Jaipur plays quickly and a wonderful two player game that isn’t too vindictive.
- Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – This is a two player variant of the award winning Agricola. You start with a 3×2 board that you need to build fences around and then acquire animals. Animals will breed when coupled and the game is a race to see who can build the biggest farm with the most valuable animals. ACBaS is a lovely worker placement game that will leave you wanting to play again.
Do you ever end up with more than the 4-6 players a game usually can handle? Here are some great party games we love:
- Bring Your Own Book – Do you like the idea behind Apples to Apples but are sick of the derivative style? Bring Your Own Book offers a twist. Instead of having stock noun cards you use to describe the adjective being judged, each player brings one of their own books to the table, and chooses a phrase out of that book to match the topic. Bring Your Own Book is never-ending fun because the books are always different. A perfect game for the book lover in your family.
- Duple / Anomia – These are two very similar games that involve quick wit and fast thinking. Each player draws from the deck and places their card face up in front of them. If the symbol on their card matches the symbol on someone else’s card, it is a race to provide an appropriate answer! In Duple, this answer is a word that matches the category and contains the letters on both player’s cards. In Anomia, each card also has a subject, and the players must name something that matches their opponent’s subject. The games are very similar but Anomia is a little harder since some of the subjects can be a little more difficult than simple words. Both are fun!
- ClusterFight – Another game that taps into the Apples to Apples style of gameplay, ClusterFight seeks to answer the question “Who would win in a fight?”. Players play a fighter card face up around the circle, then, everyone votes (in secret) who they think will win the fight. Finally, in reverse order, each player plays an effect card that can dramatically alter the fight (Love Potion Number 9, The Fight is Actually a Spelling Bee, etc). The judge is the final arbiter of who wins. Whoever played the fighter and whoever voted for that fighter win points, and the player with the most points after everyone is done playing wins.
The best thing about buying new and different games for your children is that you can enjoy them too! Happy Holidays, and Play Games with your Kids!