Chris Blattman

Top 10 family board games we discovered during the pandemic

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Jeannie and I played a LOT of board games with the kids over the pandemic. We still do. But if you’re like me, long games of Monopoly induce brain fog, Clue is dull and morbid, and Sorry makes you sorry you ever bought the damn game.

What we wanted were games that were fun and engaging for kids as young as 7, but were great for adults as well.

There were five clear winners, all of them games that I (and most of my friends) had never heard of:

  1. Splendor. Because all kids at heart want to be medieval gem merchants. This is the most fun to play, and I hate it because my 15-year old niece keeps beating me. Kids might be more attracted to the Thanos version.
  2. Evolution. Build wacky species and attack your children’s animals.
  3. Minecraft. This was the one I least expected to enjoy. But German game company Ravensburger put together an elaborate and super original board game—possibly the longest and most complex game on this list. It’s great.
  4. Quarto. This is an infamous strategy game that is also fun to play with adults, but kids can get into it.
  5. Project L. A fun tile-laying game that moves quickly. New and popular enough that it’s sold out on Amazon! Try here.

Then there are a few games that are better known but not on everyone’s shelves.

  1. Santorini. A classic award-winning game of
  2. Ticket to Ride. You should know this one already and if you do not you should buy it.
  3. Pokemon trading card game. O ye skeptics, hear me out. I thought these cards were just for collecting and wasting allowance. But if you learn the actual card game, it is hugely complex and engaging and a lot of fun.

Lots of people mentioned others to me—Cribbage, Quirkle, Blokus, Mastermind, Set, and so on—but none of these measured up to the above.

Finally, in those early involuntary home school days of the pandemic, I tweeted about the educational games we found. Almost none of them were worth playing more than a few times. If I had to pick two exceptions, it would be two geography games. Because kids were getting trips to Ohio and Colombia confused. And these second-generation Canadian immigrants to the USA couldn’t find their parents’ home on a map. So I recommend:

  1. Continent Race. Find Abkhazia on a map! You would think this is incredibly boring (and it is for you). But they like it.
  2. Scrambled States of America. More fun for parents (and educational for US immigrants like myself, who never did figure out where the hell Arkansas was on the map).

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2 Responses

  1. We haven’t played any of the first five games you mentioned (Splendor’s on our list), though we have several Ravensburger games (Scotland Yard) and puzzles, and they’re excellent. We’ve been able to play the following games with both pre-teens and grandparents:
    (1) Codenames (Picture Edition) – The picture version relies less on cultural knowledge, and kids are often more creative with their clues. For small groups, we have a pool of guessers, rather than teams.
    (2) Rummikub – This is a little more difficult, but over time kids pick up on patterns. Also easy to pack and take in a bag.
    (3) Azul – Choose tiles and put them on a board to fill a wall. This is our current favorite. It also has a mechanism (tile choosing) by which you can kinda help other players.

    I know your focus was on kids, but it’s generally difficult to play family games across generations, and almost as hard finding new games to play with my parents and their siblings as with our nieces and nephews. My parents’ generation mostly grew up playing card games, where there’s an immediate strategy (e.g., bid and get tricks) with a long term goal that’s mostly an aggregate (e.g., get to 500). So games like Ticket To Ride, Camel Up, and Wingspan, which have different levels of strategy and point scoring, aren’t that fun for them.

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