Board Game Suggestions for Young Children

Finding board games for children can be a difficult challenge. As a parent whose passions include board games, I had been looking forward to the day when I can introduce board games to my kid. My primary motivation for doing so is to spend time and connect with my child. If she winds up picking up life skills like sportsmanship and strategic thinking or if she, god forbid, also becomes as big a board game nut as I am, that’d be great too! 

The difficulty for board gaming parents is to find games that fit their child’s interests and, most importantly, their ability levels. 3-year olds aren’t going to grasp traditional board games like chess or checkers, so you’ll have to find games that are a better fit in terms of their capabilities and thematic interests. At the same time, it helps if parents find a board game that can engage adults to some degree. After all, I can’t imagine a parent will find Candy Land a compelling play experience.

Thankfully, there are a lot of board games that lie outside the traditional offerings for parents to turn to. So in this guide, I’ve cobbled together a list of games for you to consider introducing to your little one(s). 

Board games for children ages 2-3

At this age, kids should hopefully be able to recognize shapes and colors, be able to differentiate between one and two objects, and have some degree of manual dexterity. With that in mind, here are my suggestions:

First Orchard board game

First Orchard

Why kids might like it: First Orchard is bright and colorful and the fruit pieces have a lot of heft to them. The game itself is relatable too: you and your child work together to harvest all of the fruit before a hungry crow reaches the orchard gates and devours them all. While this game is one step beyond the randomness of Candy Land, there’s some decision-making to be had. And if your child is at the stage where they can match colors to objects and need some practice taking turns and cooperating, First Orchard is a great place to start.
How to play: On your turn, you roll a die that has colors and a few symbols. Roll a red and you can harvest a red apple. Green lets you add a green apple to your basket. And yellow for pears and blue for plums. Roll the basket and you get free reign to decide which fruit to harvest. But roll the die and if the crow picture comes up, the crow steadily marches one step closer to the orchard, threatening the crops. If the crow reaches the gate, you’ve lost. The crow then wreaks havoc on your fruit trees. But if you scramble and harvest all of the fruit in time, you win!
Skills taught: Color matching. Taking turns. Cooperation. Some probability.
Purchase from: Amazon 

Animal Upon Animal board game

Animal Upon Animal

Why kids might like it: Like First Orchard, Animal Upon Animal is also a smorgasbord of bright and colorful wooden components except these are animal-shaped! And from my experience, kids love playing with animals. Aside from the components, what sets Animal Upon Animal apart is that this is more of a dexterity stacking game. Think of it as something akin to Jenga. As you stack your animals up, there’s potential for a catastrophic collapse of your animal clump. That dramatic destruction is something kids can certainly get behind.
How to play: Animal Upon Animal is another game with dice. But also stacking wooden animals! You start out with a bunch of animals and a crocodile as the foundation for your animal pyramid. On your turn, you roll a die. Roll one dot and you pile an animal atop the pyramid. Roll two dots and it’s two animals that go on the pyramid. A crocodile allows you to expand the base of your pyramid while a hand allows you to give an animal to someone else to stack. Roll a question mark and other players get to decide which animal you must stack. If the animal pyramid falls while you stack, you’ll have to generally take one or two animals back into your inventory to stack in a future turn. Be the first person to stack up all of your animals and you win!
Skills taught: Fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving.
Purchase from: Amazon

Board games for children ages 3-4

At this stage, kids should be able to play with basic jigsaw puzzles and make spatial connections. Their play patterns should also allow for a rich foray into role-playing or imaginative play (like playing pretend). So the below games should fit those capabilities nicely. 

My first Carcassonne board game

My First Carcassonne

Why kids might like it: If your kid is like mine, by the time she turned three years old, she became obsessed with jigsaw puzzles. The biggest draw that jigsaw puzzles present for her is the gratification when she joins separate pieces into a cohesive whole to create a beautiful image.  My First Carcassonne is like that, except the tiles are a bit more freeform. Because there’s virtually no restrictions to where a piece must go, the landscape of Carcassonne will evolve organically in each game, allowing the story of this iteration of the annual Carcassonne festival to be just different enough to be interesting. 
How to play: My First Carcassonne, like its grown-up version, is a tile laying game. Each turn, a player will take a tile and place it onto the board. Unlike its more mature sibling, every tile can connect to every other tile. As you place tiles, you’ll create a web of roads where the kids of Carcassonne can explore and play. Close off a road segment and all players with kids in that segment can place one pawn onto that segment for every kid in that segment matching that player’s color. Be the first to place all of your pawns on the evolving map to win the game.
Skills taught: Color matching, spatial reasoning, counting.
Purchase from: Amazon

Rory’s Story Cubes

Why kids might like it: And speaking of storytelling, Rory’s Story Cubes is all about storytelling. If you’re in a position where your kids are asking you to make up a bedtime story and you need help, give Rory’s Story Cubes a roll. From there, get your child’s creative juices flowing and help them put a story together when they roll the dice.
How to play: You take all nine of the Rory’s Story Cubes and give them a roll. There will be pictures/symbols on each die face and it’ll be up to you to turn those symbols into a coherent story. Know that the symbols on the dice can be interpreted in many different ways. And if you need a helpful tip, try grouping 3 dice into an intro, 3 into a middle, and 3 into an ending. There’s no winner or loser. Just cool stories that emerge from rich imaginative play.
Skills taught: Listening, building and telling stories, creativity. 
Purchase from: Amazon

Board games for children ages 4-5

By this age, their reasoning skills should be more firmly developed and you can introduce them to trimmed-down rulesets of some great gateway board games. But in case you’re looking for something that fits their unique abilities, I’d recommend giving the below games a look:

Outfoxed

Why kids might like it: Outfoxed’s premise is simple: Mrs. Plumpert’s prized pot pie has gone missing and the sly foxy filcher’s afoot. The chase is on to gather clues and figure out which fox is responsible. That it’s a cooperative game should help ease you and your kid in. Best of all, when you see your child have that ah ha! moment when deducing the culprit, you’ll be left feeling proud at your kid’s progress.
How to play: In Outfoxed, you start by setting up the foxy suspects around the board. One of those will be the thief. You’ll then shuffle a random thief from the thief deck into the clue decoder. On each turn, a player will declare whether they’ll search for clues or reveal a suspect. If they succeed in searching for clues and are able to reach a clue space, they get to slide a card into the clue decoder to determine whether the thief was wearing that item of clothing. This allows them to eliminate all suspects that don’t have those clothing items. If they succeed in revealing the suspect, turn up 2 suspect cards from around the table and use existing clues to determine whether any of those suspects might be the thief. But if the roll fails, the fox begins to move three spaces towards its foxhole to escape. Identify the suspect and nab the miscreant, and you win! If the fox reaches the foxhole and escapes… better luck next time.
Skills taught: Cooperation, deductive reasoning, visual discrimination.
Purchase from: Amazon

Ticket to Ride First Journey

Why kids might like it: The reason why kids will find Ticket to Ride First Journey enjoyable is the same reason that Ticket to Ride so easily grabs older gamers’ attention: the magical, tactile pleasures of playing with trains and using those trains to build routes. And it works for my child because she is an absolute fanatic with trains. She enjoys playing with her train track sets, using those to build routes and watching the trains navigate those routes. So being able to bring those routes to life while playing with plastic trains matches her interests perfectly.
How to play: This game isn’t too dissimilar to Ticket to Ride: you start out with a bunch of tickets telling you which destinations to connect.  Each turn, you can draw two train cards from a shuffled deck or claim a route. The train cards themselves come in different colors and allow you to claim routes on the board. To claim a route, see what color trains the route requires (say yellow), see how long that route is (3 spaces long), and turn in that many train cards matching that color (3 yellow train cards). Then, place your trains on the route you’ve just claimed. If you’re able to completely connect 2 destinations based on your route tickets, then draw another ticket from the deck. If you connect a West Coast city to an East Coast city, you get a bonus Coast to Coast card that counts as a ticket. Be the first player to complete 6 tickets and you win! 
Skills taught: Counting, color matching, spatial reasoning, planning.
Purchase from: Amazon

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