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Strategy Board Games for Your Next Family Game Night
Strategy board games have been around for centuries. They sharpen critical thinking skills while friends and families enjoy a friendly battle of the wits. Whether it’s a one-on-one round of chess or a strategy game enjoyed with a group on game night, strategy board games offer a break from your computer screen while you explore different worlds and exercise creative problem-solving.
We’ve rounded up five popular SimplyFun strategy board games that are some of the best games for families and are sure to spice up your next game night. So, get your game face on and get ready to play!
Explore Different Planets with Planet Voyagers
2-5 players • 30 min
Three, two, one blast off! Travel from planet to planet as you strategize your way through the solar system. The journey begins at the sun, where players plot to play a card from their hand or launch their rocket. Compiling planetary data will give you a competitive edge over your opponents. The first player to reach Neptune or earn 12 points wins the game. Planet Voyagers will test your research and strategy skills as you oooh and ahhh your way through space exploration. It's one of the best family games of 2021 and a great family board game for adults.
Brew Up a Winning Potion with Amalgam
2-4 players • 30 min
If you are looking for a fantasy strategy game that stretches your planning and decision-making skills and is one of the best games for families to play together, explore the wisdom of the wizard with Amalgam. Where your pawn lands will determine your ingredients as you use strategy to create potions, adapt to obstacles, and make good use of your cards. Your use of memory will help you collect similar ingredients for a stronger result. The player with the best potion by the end of the game wins!
Test Your Planning & Spacial Reasoning Skills with Katachi
2-4 players • 30 min
Matching colors, shapes, and sizes aren’t as simple as this strategy board game sounds. Roll the dice to determine your play as you think on your toes to move your pattern pieces according to color, shape, or size. Planning and moving your tiles in multiple matches per turn is the goal. The strategy player with a stack of three matching squares in their corner wins the game! A great family board game choice that's also an award winner!
Earth, Wind, Fire and Water with Matter
2-4 players • 40 min
Matter is a fun board game of elements that requires critical thinking to control areas of the board for points. A cross between rock paper scissors and chess, you’ll use elements in this strategy game to make sense of problems and use critical thinking to solve them. Compete for score tiles by strategically placing your elements and markers. The player with the highest value element adjacent to a score tile will win those points, and the player with the most points at the end wins! Tag this one as a great family board games for adults.
Plan it Out then Dish 'em Out
2-4 players • 40 min
Here's one of the best games for families to play together! Rival diner owners hustle to seat and serve the morning rush of hungry customers that have arrived for breakfast. Different food types have longer cook times, so planning is everything. Players receive points for each successfully completed order and lose points for wasted food and incomplete or incorrect orders. The player with the most points when the flow of customers runs out is the winner. This fast-paced game will keep you on your toes, just don’t burn the bacon!
Social Games for The Best Game Night Ever!
Game night board games have made a comeback, and for good reason. Whether played virtually or in person, social board games encourage friends, family, and co-workers to bond over a little friendly competition. The result? Laughter, learning, and an opportunity to get to know each other that much better.
Get ready to POP your favorite kettle corn and unleash the laughs with the best games for families to play together. We promise they’ll be the star of your next virtual or in-person game night!
Ready, Set, Build with Asymbol
Channel your inner architect as you build 3D forms from fun wooden shapes with Asymbol. Players take turns building 3D objects drawn from a subject card while others attempt to guess what they are making. The creative builder and correct guesser each score a point per round. Be the player with the most points at the end of the game to be the Asymbol champion!
- Why it’s a Game-Night Hit: Asymbol turns up the fun with building blocks that make guessing or building subjects a challenge. No wonder It was one of our best family games of 2021!
Can You See Eye to Eye?
Ice-cream brands? Things that squeak? Can you see Eye to Eye with your fellow players? The goal of the game is to write down three answers per category card. You’ll score points on popular responses, for instance, ice cream flavors. However, you’ll receive a penalty block when no one else matches your answer. Eye to Eye is one of the best games for families to play together…like a game of Family Feud but with Veto cards that help you skip difficult categories. The player with the least amount of penalty blocks sees Eye to Eye and wins the game.
- Why it’s a Game-Night Hit: Eye to Eye is a fun social ice-breaker game that helps you get to know your fellow players. You’ll score points when you see Eye to Eye in this family board game favorite!
Don't Let the Ice Tumble
Balancing ice blocks can be a slippery task. Ice Tumble is a two-part social game that stacks up the FUN while continuing to be one of SimplyFun's best games for families to play together! In phase one, players take turns rolling the die and collecting ice blocks from the pile. The key is to be extra careful not to shift any additional ice blocks, resulting in a penalty. In phase two, players roll the die and carefully stack their blocks on the ice tower. The first player to successfully balance all their ice blocks and place their Fox Pawn on the top of the stack wins the game!
- Why it’s a Game-Night Hit: A variety of rules in this game keeps it interesting, like the variations in difficulty between the ice block shapes. Ice Tumble will keep you on your toes as you take turns adding blocks to the slippery stack.
Spell It Out with Word Bits
Think fast! Name a food item that has the letters A & E? You guessed it, CAKE! That’s how we roll when we play this fun family board game, Word Bits! In Word Bits, players roll the letter die and race to spell words in a category using those letters. Draw a card to determine your word category & dice count. Then roll the appropriate number of dice to determine the starting letters. Be the first to think of a word using the letters on the die that fits the category card to score points!
- Why it’s a Game-Night Hit: Word Bits is a fun family board game and a fast-paced vocabulary game that will make game night a blast!
Road Trip Activities: 7 Awesome Car Games to Play with Kids
Whether you’ve chosen to drive to your next family vacation or are embracing the journey as part of an epic family road trip, a little preparation goes a long way to making an extended car ride with kids go as smoothly as possible. Meals and snacks are high on the list, as well as plenty of pit stops for kids (and parents) to stretch their legs. However, with everyone packed into a small space for hours at a time, you’ll definitely want to plan for on-the-go family entertainment as well. Creating a kid-friendly music playlist or downloading some family-friendly podcasts or audiobooks can really help the hours go by. Furthermore, you won’t regret having a few interactive games in your back pocket to play together as kids get bored. Here are some favorites to add to your list!
License Plate Game
A classic travel game for a reason! Find a free map printable online and have the kids color in each state as they find license plates from those states on the road.
Pick a category and take turns naming things that fit that category. Categories is one of the most popular car games to play because it is fun for all ages and easy to tailor to interest and knowledge-base. Use categories that have lots of possible answers to keep the game going: fruit, countries, Harry Potter, famous people, and superheroes are all fun options!
Ask a Question
Road trips are a great time to do some family bonding, so take the opportunity to dig a little deeper by incorporating ice breaker questions.
Some fun conversation starters for kids could be “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” or “If you had $1,000,000 to give away, what would you do with it?” Not sure what to ask on the fly?
Check out these fun games for Ice Breakers: Family Stories Chat Ring, Are We There Yet? Chat Ring
First Letter/Last Letter
This is a variation on the category-naming game that makes it a little more challenging for older kids and parents. Choose a category and take turns naming things that fit the category; this time, however, your word has to start with the last letter of the word used by the previous player. For example, if your category is “fruit” and the player before you says, “banana,” your fruit has to start with the letter “a”…apple!
The Alphabet Game
Another classic travel game for kids that has stood the test of time is The Alphabet Game. Keep your eyes peeled for letters on the side of the road, on highway signs, on license plates, etc, and try to find A-Z in order!
“I spy with my little eye…”. There are lots of variations on this rhyme, but the point of the game is for one player to spot something, and have other players guess what they see based on a general clue, like the color of the object. The tricky part when you’re driving is making sure to pick something that will stay visible for at least a few minutes while everyone takes turns guessing.
Tell Jokes or Riddles
Don’t forget to bookmark a good list of kids’ jokes or easy riddles & brain teasers. These jokes and riddles are great when you need extra car games to play that help pass the time. Happy traveling!
About the Author
Alexandra Fung is the co-founder and CEO of Upparent, a parent-to-parent website where families can discover and share recommendations about local events and activities, things to do with kids at home, kid-friendly recipes, books, toys, products and more. Alex is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and NYU School of Law, and prior to founding Upparent, represented children and families in the nonprofit sector for many years. She lives in Southern California with her husband and four kids.
Written by: Alexandra Fung, co-founder and CEO of Upparent
What do YOU learn when you play a game with your child?
When we hear parents talk about gameplay, they are usually approaching the topic from what their kids learn while playing. But the bigger opportunity is for what you as a parent can learn when you play games with your kids.
Most parents feel they have a solid understanding of what their child knows. And for the most part that is true. However, a parent’s knowledge is often based on assumptions – if he knows this, he must know that, or if he can read, he must know the meaning, and so on. The reality is that you may not completely know what your child knows. So how can you find out?
Gameplay, especially family board games, is an amazing way to get in tune with what your child understands and where the gaps may exist. It is a way to get ahead of the game, so to speak, in identifying areas that could potentially block the learning process down the road. Here are a few examples:
- A mom was playing a skip sequencing game with her child. In the course of the game, she noticed that her child was only building sequences like 1,3,5 and 1,5,10, and 2,4,6. After some inquiry, she found out that her child didn’t know that there were other sequences like 1,7,14, a conceptual stumbling block for more advanced math.
- Grandma was looking at an alphabet puzzle that used shaped pieces to form a picture to order the alphabet. Unless you already knew the order of the alphabet, you couldn’t work the puzzle. Based on her grandson’s ability to work 100-piece puzzles she dismissed the 26-piece alphabet puzzle as too easy until she watched her grandson struggle to put it together. Though he knew the letters, he didn’t yet know how to sequence them.
- In another case, a young boy with autism was playing a color, shapes, and matching game and placed a piece on the board that matched four out of five sides in both color and shape. This was one of the most difficult plays to make and earned a huge number of points. Others playing the game questioned the play thinking he was not capable of such a score while he beamed, knowing that he was right and showing his intelligence and ability!
What steps can you take to get in tune with what your child knows? It’s easier than you think. Begin by identifying the major concepts for your child’s current year curriculum. Then look for games that have appropriate content. Remember this content may be visually embedded in the gameplay (like levels of math, strategy, or language) and not necessarily listed as the purpose of the game. Open the box and start playing! Observe the actions your child takes during the game. Are there strategies that you would use that you don’t see your child take? Are there certain concepts, words, or phrases that he or she seems to ignore (or possibly doesn’t understand.)? Are you always helping with the math so that it goes faster? Maybe your child is struggling in this area. The key is to watch and listen while you enjoy the fun of playing together so that YOU learn how to help your child keep progressing and growing!
How do I get my child to play?
Often parents ask, how do I get my child to play a board game? Children nowadays may not have the play skills they did many years ago. This is why it is so important for parents and family members to set aside time to play with their children, as often as they can. Did you know playing games is just as important for teenagers as it is for toddlers? They learn social skills and specific skill development that the game is trying to teach, and even better they get that special bonding time!
Starting games at a young age is an excellent idea to get toddlers used to the social structures of taking turns, patience, and winning and losing. These can be challenging skills to teach at this age and should be done at an introduction level. When encouraging toddlers to play games, allow for a lot of movement. For example, when everyone goes around once, allow for a jumping break, dancing break, or sensory break. If the game is a “sit down game” and your child has trouble sitting for longer than a minute, cut the game in half or take out some of the steps. This way the child will understand the point of taking turns, starting something, and being able to finish something, and the concept of what the game is trying to teach them.
Games are great for the preschool age range because they are like sponges - they love to learn new things. Winning, losing, sharing, taking turns, and patience are all difficult social skills to master at this age. An electronic game likely does not teach children these skills, but a fun board game for preschoolers will! Just like toddlers, it is important to remember that movement with preschoolers is crucial. Preschoolers should be able to sit for a game for up to three minutes. If at first, they can’t last this long, try for as long as they’ll allow and continue to work them up to a longer span of time. Start with a goal of 30 seconds. Then, set a timer to make sure that you are not pushing the limit and play the game every day or every other day. When they are successful for a few days or a week straight, add 30 seconds to the timer. Make sure to reward their small successes! Nothing extravagant is needed, just a high-five or loving hug will do the trick. Sooner or later, you will have helped your child to play for up to three minutes or more.
This is another great age to play family board games if you have not already! Children at this age perhaps have not yet been molded by peer pressure; they still care what their parents think and want to please them. School, however, can be a tough adjustment. Many students lose their confidence in their early elementary years. As a parent, you can help them gain this confidence back through playing fun board games for the entire family. Pick a day or two a week and put it on the calendar. Make sure to include all family members and ensure that the older kids and adults who attend come with a positive attitude! Remember, kids will mimic what they see in adults so if an adult looks annoyed or bored with family game night, then it’s likely a child will do the same.
- Pro tip: Ask your child’s teacher what they are focusing on in class or if there’s a subject your child could use a little extra help on. Then, look for a corresponding game that would support that subject or subjects. Children learn best through play!
Tweens and Teens
Tweens and teens are some of the toughest age groups to convince to play a game that isn’t on an electronic device, especially if you have not already implemented family game nights into their routine.
Try introducing games when they are not in their regular setting, such as on a vacation. If you tell a teen or tween that you are now mandating playing family board games on a weekly family game night, chances are they are going to roll their eyes and reject the idea. Offering a game night when they are already in an unexpected setting like a family vacation, on babysitting duty, or anywhere where they are not in their typical routine, they’ll be more likely to entertain a new activity.
- Pro tip: Give them an incentive. If they win, they don’t have to do dishes for a week but if they lose, they’re on garbage duty all week. At this age, they are driven by what they can gain. Take advantage of this to teach them better social skills and life skills through gameplay.
The thing to remember is that play is fundamental in shaping how children learn. What is even more important is for parents to play alongside their children. Children learn best by having a model or someone guiding them and giving them options. Another important thing to remember is to not give up. Keep trying! It may be difficult to spark interest or keep their attention, but perseverance ends up winning the battle in play and learning.
Tips For Parents to Make Family Life More Playful!
Understanding the benefits of play is just the first step towards a more playful life. The next step is to find ways to integrate play more deeply into your family life. Here are some tips, some cautions, and some general thoughts to consider on how your family can benefit from the activity of play while you maintain the fun!
- Find your balance. A tried-and-true wisdom is “All things in moderation.” Well…we can all play more. Try to set aside at least an hour a day for your children to play. This will bring more balance to their lives that may be filled with school, homework, scheduled activities, and more. And you too may even find some downtime to relax!
- Play one game a week as a family. We know families are busy. However, you can probably find 30 minutes a week for a family game. You and your children will no doubt have fun, bond together, and probably discover something new and interesting.
- Relax, this isn’t a test. Play for enjoyment. Win some. Lose some. Always have fun.
- Set Expectations. Some people expect to be good right away when they try something new. The reality is that most everyone is not the best when they first try something new. It is important for children to learn that they can get better and better, but it is normal to do poorly at first.
- There is NO wrong way to play. Just pick something that looks interesting and go for it. If you don’t like what you are playing, then change the rules or pick something else.
- Follow the leader. In this case, make your child the leader. When it is playtime, let your child decide what they want to do. If they change their mind, go on to the next thing. When children play, they often stop one activity right in the middle and then switch to something completely different. This is what healthy play looks like, following your passions and interests.
- Let them learn on their own. Let your child figure it out on their own as much as possible but provide support when asked for or needed.
- Experiment. Try lots of new play experiences and expect lots of trial and error.
- Failure is good for you. It is important to appreciate and allow children to fail often while playing. This is natural and will often motivate players to continue to strive and often take significant risks to achieve goals. This builds the tenacity and persistence needed for successful learning.
- Let failure happen gradually. Children need to learn how to fail. They will automatically want to change rules and options in their favor. Let them change the rules, “cheat,” or modify play as needed while learning a game and building confidence in their skill. They will gradually let the rules take over and not feel upset if they have a setback or loss.
- Children can accept failure when they feel strong and secure. Direct correction or challenge for being “wrong” or “bad” will make a child not want to play; let them gain confidence slowly.
- Talk about play. Ask your child about what they did and why. Discuss your moves and why they did or didn’t work. This helps them learn and improve and helps you better understand how your children think.
- Reduce your expectations. Children will learn by playing. Don’t expect them to know all the answers or have all the skills when first playing a game.
- Provide scaffolding. Scaffolding means providing just a little bit of support, enough so your child can make successful play as independently as possible. Don’t tell your child what to do; rather give them options. “What do you think would happen if you moved here? Or here? Tell me what you are thinking. How will that help you to get where you want to be?” Support them by offering possible results or options to think about.
- Model social interactions. Positive social interactions involve caring about others and making sure their needs are met as well as yours. For example, when playing, model asking, “Whose turn is it?” or “I want to wait to see what happens after everyone has a turn.” Modeling caring can also involve commenting when others do something well or showing sensitivity when something does not go well.
- Model problem solving. Problem solving involves studying a situation, recognizing and weighing options, and making good decisions. For example, in a spatial reasoning game play, “If I move this way, I gain two spaces, but if I move this way, I may get to get an extra turn.” Or “I don’t see a match of the pattern on my card, but if I turn my card, I see a match.” Talking about your thinking tells children new ways to approach a problem in the game.
- Talk about skills. Help children figure out solutions by talking about what they are thinking. This enables the adult to analyze how the child sees a situation and make helpful suggestions. For example, when talking about math problems, the adult can see how the child sees the problem and approaches solving it. The adult can then suggest where the child may be missing or misinterpreting something.
- Reinforce following the rules. It may take the child a while to learn to follow and accept the rules. When you see them following a rule, let them know you appreciate it.
- Reinforce learning, not just success. Tell children what they did that helped them win. For example, “I love how you moved the letters around. That really helped you find lots of options for words.” Reinforcing effort has been shown to be more important than reinforcing right answers or winning. This is called building the Growth Mindset.
- Reinforce good sportsmanship. Tell your child you are happy, and they are “a good, supportive player” whenever they wait patiently to take their turn or tell another child it is their turn; when they get a setback or loss and don’t react negatively; and when they complement another child’s play.
- Laugh! Games should be fun! Laugh at your mistakes. Make silly comments. Tickle your child’s funny bone. Encourage children’s silly comments. Make the game fun, not stressful. Games should be about the process, not the outcome.
- Bring in all ages. Although not all family members may be used to participating in a family game night, research shows that cross-age play is good for everyone and builds bonds across generations. Bring on the grandparents! They’ll love the family interaction and may even introduce some old games they used to play that turn into the new, best games for families to play together.
- Set up a regular time and place for family gameplay. Making gameplay a special event shows that games and family time are important. Turn the screens off and let play among family members be the focus. Let the kids determine the day and timeframe, and then make playing family board games a regular event.
- Make games available. Have an accessible place for games and places for children to set them up independently. Set rules about picking up pieces and putting games away so they are intact for future play.
- Let children know that both play and games are a valuable use of time. Children need to know that play is not only okay, but it is also important. Tell children that you want them to play, and any type of play is valuable. Give them time for outdoor, pretend, construction, game, artistic, and narrative play.
- If you want children to sit still and pay attention in class, have them run around first.
- To help children develop empathy and respect for others, have them engage in rough-and-tumble play.
- If children want to excel in sports, play strategy games like chess and various card games.
- To help children become great readers, encourage dramatic play where kids make up their own plays or stories.
- If you want to help them learn to solve complex math problems, have them build and take things apart with their hands.
- To help children build strong social relationships, have them play lots of social games.
- Play is NOT always fun. In fact, the emotions children often experience while playing include excitement, frustration, awe, surprise, amusement, determination, joy, sadness, anger, contentment, freedom, and empathy. When they are done, children may say it was fun. But they are probably feeling more of a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, or even determination to do better next time.
- Play is NOT always easy. In fact, if it is too easy, children will get bored and will want to move on to play with someone or something else. Children are drawn to a challenge. If the challenge is just past their current ability, they will often practice until they reach their goal, i.e., meet the challenge. This is a powerful motivation. And best of all, it comes from inside the child.
- Have a child that doesn’t pay attention. Adults can help children pay attention by choosing things that they are interested in, finding aspects of the game that the child likes, and reinforcing the child’s efforts and persistence.
- Have a child that doesn’t like to lose. When first learning how to play games, allow children to play with a partner. As they learn to enjoy the game, they will see that not everyone wins every time. Adults or older siblings can also model being a good loser and enjoy watching someone be excited when they win.
- Have a child that doesn’t like to take turns. Make watching what happens in the next turn part of the excitement of the game. For example, you might say, “I wonder what Daddy will do. What do you think he’ll do in his move?” Remind them to watch others and think about what they want to do on their next turn.
- Have a child that wants to play by their own rules. It is normal for young children to want to change the rules. When they are first learning to play, this is fine. Making up rules and helping others follow their rules is a creative process. They can gradually add in other people’s rules, until the adult says, “I think you are good enough now that you can play the game by the rules in the box.”
- Have a child that only likes video. While children often like video games, TV, and other screen-based activities, they often love to play away from the screen. But, the adult may have to limit all screen time and make sure that children have at least one hour of unstructured playtime a day. At least a half hour of family game time per week is recommended and when this takes place, children will often want to play more.
- Have a parent that doesn’t like to lose. Play games that are non-competitive or do not involve strategy, such as Eye-to-Eye. Remind adults that when playing competitive games, they are important role models for how to be a good sport.
- Have younger and older kids that don’t want to play together. Find games that are not competitive, but fun for all such as the Family Stories Chat Ring, or games of chance such as My Mine.