Anyone who grew up enduring grim, endless games of Monopoly might think that board games are not something they want to share with their own children. But there’s been a tabletop revolution in the last two decades, with a wave of new, enjoyable yet challenging games, ranging from fun, social, Werewolf-style whodunnits, to Twilight Imperium, a vast, sprawling battle for galactic domination which can take up to 12 hours to play.
These games provide an opportunity for families to get together without having to stare at a screen, and help kids develop valuable skills of turn-taking, negotiation, and strategizing. Handling cards and pieces improves fine motor coordination. And of course, there’s the all-important life lesson of not flipping the board when things go wrong.
We asked our friends on WeChat to suggest games suitable for playing with kids of different ages. Here are some of their favorites. (Where possible we’ve linked to Taobao listings where the games can be purchased. It’s always worth looking for the lowest price, but be aware that pirated copies of board games are often available, much cheaper but with lower quality components. Always remember too to check the language the game is in! For more information and reviews we recommend the excellent boardgamegeek.com.)
Based on Richard Scarry’s beloved books, this award-winning game has players racing across a two meter board, trying to find objects to help them get to Picnic Island before the pigs eat all the food. It’s cooperative too, so the little ones don’t cry when they lose.
2-4 players, age 3+, playing time 30 minutes.
Players roll colorful dice, and have to spot combinations of shapes and colors to score points.
2-4 players, 4+, 5-15 minutes.
Sigfrid and Donatella
This should appeal to more active kids, as climbing the pyramid-shaped board involves completing challenges like running round the table, roaring like a lion, or (most difficult of all) staying still till your next turn. Unfortunately it’s not currently available from Taobao.
2-4 players, 5+, 30 minutes.
Another pattern-matching game; players have to place blocks, matching either the colour or the shape to adjacent blocks. Sounds easy? In fact the strategies in this popular game run surprisingly deep.
2-4 players, 6+, 45 minutes.
A co-operative game in which players have to work together to tackle global outbreaks of deadly diseases. It’s great for creating drama: “OK, we’ll airlift Mom to Buenos Aires to contain the situation there, and I’ll meet you at the Moscow research station. Together, we can find a cure…” Replayability is limited, but Pandemic: Legacy adds a storyline, in which characters develop and events in one game affect the next.
2-4 players, 8+, 45 minutes.
This is a calmer game with a spiritual dimension, representing the various paths we can take to enlightenment. Players walk their own path by laying tiles in front of their piece, but decisions made by others can change everything.
2-8 players, 8+, 15 minutes.
The twist in this game is that you hold your cards facing outwards, so you can see everybody’s hand except your own. Players work as a team to create a spectacular fireworks display by laying down the cards in sequences. It should be peaceful, but can get quite tetchy when people don’t pay attention. “Listen to me very carefully. This card – THIS ONE – is green. GREEN.” But satisfying when you work it out together.
2-5 players, 8+, 25 minutes.
Why not spend an evening growing bamboo, to feed the insatiable appetite of the Emperor’s panda? That’s the premise of this quirky game. Sadly we couldn’t find it on Taobao.
2-4 players. 8+, 45 minutes.
Another dice game, this time a variant on the “do you bank your wins, or roll again?” game known to this correspondent as Zilch.
2-6 players, 8+, 15 minutes.
Riotous fun, but fiercely competitive, so best for older kids. Each player mixes together two decks of cards, so you can play as Pirate Dinosaurs, Alien Wizards, or any of countless combinations. The key to the game is combining and chaining powers so that you smash the bases at the right time; and of course, foiling your opponents’ plans.
2-4 players, 12+, 45 minutes.