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Last month, Slate’s parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting featured guest Jessica Waldock, a game aficionado from the home schooling and parenting site the Waldock Way, to offer Slate listeners personalized game recommendations. As host Elizabeth Newcamp put it, “If your family is anything like ours, games have been in high demand these last few weeks. And it’s getting to the point where you and your kids may have exhausted the games in your home.” Waldock and the MADAF hosts brainstormed some great options for kids of all ages, so we’ve put together a lightly edited and condensed version of the show transcript for you in the form of a Q&A. We hope their recommendations provide you and your loved ones with some new game inspiration. (Also check out Slate’s fantastic list of the 40 best family board games.)
Dan Kois: Our two kids are 12 and 15. The 12-year-old will play nearly any game. She loves them all. But the 15-year-old really likes cards. She likes the sort of the strategy that’s involved in that. But she is not interested in a long, complicated game. What I’m looking for is a game that has strategy and critical thinking and rewards in the sort of cards mode but doesn’t have so much strategy that it takes forever.
Jessica Waldock: One of our absolute favorite games—and I love it because it appeals to a very wide range of ages and people—is Dragonwood. Because of the ages of your children, I would step it up to their newest release, which is Dragonrealm. So it has a card feature, but it’s also going to have some other features with it. And it’s going to give you that cardlike feel, and it plays in less than 30 minutes.
Jamilah Lemieux: I have a 7-year-old who also struggles with games that take a long time to play. And she also doesn’t like losing. So most of the games that we play are typically imaginative, like we make up scenarios and we act them out. Is there a good game that, if it’s not cheat-proof, at least it will be fun for us when she cheats?
Waldock: First, because you said imaginative, I’m going to mention something and that is a Dungeons and Dragons–like game. So it’s role-playing, but it’s for younger kids. And I’m talking like 5 and older. It’s called Hero Kids.
There are also games that are called cooperative games. Now, a cooperative game means that you are all playing against the game. So, for instance, there’s a game called Race to the Treasure. The ogre is trying to beat you, and you and your child will be playing together against the ogre. So you either win together or you lose together. So there would be no reason to cheat because you can’t really set it up to cheat against the game itself.
What is your go-to game for your family?
Waldock: I’m going to have to name three because there’s three of us, and we each have a very distinctive favorite. And normally when we do family game nights, one of the ways we make everybody happy is we all bring a game to the table.
Hands down: My daughter brings Dragonwood to the table every single time. She absolutely loves it. My husband will pick Yahtzee every single day of the week, no matter what. He loves that you can play in that kind of a quick way, and that there is a little bit of strategy. But after, you know, like a long day’s work, it’s not so much strategy that it hurts his brain. My favorite? It was Rummikub for the longest time, and now I’m really, really loving Qwirkle lately.
Me and my sister, who is 13, love to play games. Some of our favorites are Qwirkle, Scrabble, and a few card games like rummy and hearts.
Waldock: Because he said Qwirkle, I’m obviously going to recommend Rummikub, since those are my two favorites. I think they will really enjoy that one. Another one that plays kind of similar is Blokus. And then because of the card games he mentioned, I would say Skip-Bo would be a really great option for them as well.
Elizabeth Newcamp: We have Blokus, and I like that even the little kids can play. Even if they don’t understand, they can put the pieces on.
We have one 9-year-old daughter. My husband and I enjoy playing Settlers of Catan with her, and also just basic board games. I’m personally into role-playing games, and a few card games. Do you have any recommendations?
Waldock: Because they like Catan, I would say Carcassonne would be another one that they would probably enjoy. It has kind of the same tile-laying trading-type play. Stone Age is another really fun one that I really, really like. And then because she said she likes role-playing games, I’m going to mention Here Kids again if they’re not ready to enter the world of Dungeons and Dragons.
We play games by Zoom with another family. So far, Family Feud and Battleship seem to work. Yahtzee was a little disjointed. We’d love more suggestions. The kids are 11 and 12.
Waldock: This has come up a lot lately, especially since so many of us are stuck home and doing Zoom for everything. Some of our favorites have been Hedbanz, chess, Mastermind, and Guess Who? And then you can do things like Charades and Hangman. I actually have an entire blog post on virtual gaming, and I have some free printables that go along with it, like for Hangman. Yahtzee and Quixx are also good ones.
I know she said it’s a little disjointed, but what makes it so great is if you’re playing with people who maybe don’t have a lot of games on hand, you can print one of those, and all you need is a few dice. So it makes it easy to not have to own a game in both houses and still be able to play.
Are there any online games that you suggest that we could play household to household?
Waldock: One of our favorites is Words With Friends, which is essentially just Scrabble. We also like Tsuro. That’s really, really great for multiple players. You can play with up to four people on that one.
Kois: We had another person who asked about playing with grandparents. There’s a game we love to play at home called Codenames, which is just a fantastic game. It’s great with adults, but also with older kids. Our kids really like it a lot. Codenames itself does not yet have a great online version, but they appear to have allowed a sort of a bootleg version of Codenames online created by just a fan of the game that allows you to create your own game with someone far away from you on their own laptop. Then you can talk to each other on Zoom, and use this page to play Codenames together. It’s at Horsepaste.com, and it’s very, very good.
For kids playing with grandparents, especially with littler kids, if you’re looking for something that they can do easily: We’ve been playing a lot of cards online. There’s a great sort-of old-school website called Cardzmania.com, which just allows you to create little personal tables to play rummy or hearts or, you know, even for littler kids, something like crazy eights with people far away.
Can you also cover games that only require a single player as an only child? I was stuck playing solitaire because not much else allowed for a single player, so games for older and younger kids, and adults who want to play a game alone, too.
Waldock: Among of my top recommendations are games made by the company ThinkFun. They have a ton of single-player logic games. What is so awesome about them is—every one we own anyway, Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix, Balance Beans, comes with a deck of challenge cards. They have easy, medium, hard, and super-hard meaning that that same game, my 5-year-old can play it, and my husband, who is almost 50, was also being challenged.
I would love game suggestions for a family of three with a 14-year-old who only likes video games. He will play Exploding Kittens, which ends up being a game of chance with three players. He has, once in quarantine, played Jenga with us. And he once played Mexican dominoes, only when we agreed to play Exploding Kittens. I’ve suggested Catan, Azul, etc., but he has no interest. Once in a while, he’ll play speed Monopoly, where you deal out the property cards and just skip all the turns around the board. What should we do? Give up and let him spend time online with his friends, or force him into family time and perhaps make him hate board games even more?
Waldock: Well, the first thing I would do is buy Bears vs. Babies, which is the new game from the same makers of Exploding Kittens. So if your kid loves that, buy Bears vs. Babies, because he may also love that. They had mentioned that he really likes playing speed Monopoly, so Monopoly Deal would be a good option because that’s card game Monopoly, and it literally is speed Monopoly. Because they convinced him to play Jenga, Suspend would also be a fun one to play. It’s kind of Jenga in reverse. So you’re hanging the pieces and trying not to make them fall. I wouldn’t force him, though. I would suggest trying like what we do, which is, “OK. Everybody bring a game to the table.” If his favorite is Exploding Kittens, that’s what he’s gonna bring to the table.
I have a 5-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. Are there any games that kids of these ages can play together without there being blood involved?
Waldock: I’m going to go back to cooperative games again on that one, because I honestly think that not having a winner is going to be the only option for there to be no bloodshed. For those two ages, Peaceable Kingdom makes the best cooperative games. Some of the ones I would suggest for them specifically would be Count Your Chickens, Hoot Owl Hoot, Mermaid Island, and Dinosaur Escape.