Board Games

Parent Q&A

  • Games or puzzles for kindergartener

    (17 replies)

    Due to COVID concerns, we're keeping our not-quite kindergarten aged child home for this 2021-2022 school year. I work from home full-time, my partner is self-employed and also working from home, so our family spend basically all day together. We squeeze in "lessons" on letters/pre-reading, math, cooking, arts/crafts, sports (baseball and swimming mostly), and trips to the nature parks through out the week, but we're out of ideas for indoor puzzles or games that can be played by one child during the times when my partner and I both have to be on calls. Legos, marble run, and jigsaw puzzles can only carry us so far. 

    Anyone can give me some good ideas? Our criteria:

    Non-electronic games only. 

    Games/puzzles that can be played by single child (assume 6 y.o.) or multiple persons.

    Available for purchase online (doesn't have to be Amazon, actually prefer not...), either new or used.

    We don't mind paying more for QUALITY toys if it will be engaging.   

    We're not interested in games that require us to buy add-ons to make it worthwhile, or take up a lot of room, because we will likely be moving in about a year. 

    - Crankity by Fat Brains Toys

    - Rush Hour Traffic Jam Logic Game

    - Dog Crimes

    - regular deck of cards

    - Sleeping Queens (2+ players)

    There are many wonderful educational games which can be found on an iPad.  Your child is at the ideal age to learn programming.

    Oakland Public Library has a wide variety of toys and games for checkout (for free with your library card which is also free, in case it needs saying), and with automatic renewals, you can keep them for a couple of months. You can also put a hold on them through the website and then pick them up from your closest branch -- or you can go in and let your kid pick something out. The main library on 14th street has the most comprehensive collection. We checked out a set of Magnatiles a couple of months ago and our kid still plays with them every day.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Board game for 4 year-old on airplane

Dec 2013

What are the best board/card games for a 4-year-old on a long plane trip? traveler

Depends on your 4yo-- We take those dollar store pocket-sized jigsaw puzzles in a baggie. Stickers. travel sorry. books. little Lego sets. a box of colored paperclips (makes all sorts of jewelry!). audio books/songs with a $12 MP3 player from ebay. coloring 'velvet' drawings and other small 'crafts.' trav'l'n family

When my daughter was that age, we had a great time with card games and they are so easy to take with. We had been given Go Fish and Old Maid decks that came from Walgreens with cute illustrations. Also, Uno is a great one - just be sure to get a 'My First Uno' deck, as it simplifies the rules and leaves out the cards with more complex functions. We had one that was Angelina Ballerina but the My First deck comes with different characters.

Also, not a card/board game, but my daughter used to really enjoy magnetic playsets that let you create scenes with magnets and are very portable. They have them in all sorts of characters and interests - from firemen to Diego, etc. Have fun! Card player

We like a game called 'Rush Hour' but it depends on the 4-year old. Any 'memory' type card game can work if you downsize to the number of cards that fit on the tray table. Or make your own miniature version with smaller cards by printing clip art and cutting them out. Or print your own bingo cards (use your child's name or some letters that they are learning (b vs d, p vs q) and play a little 2-person bingo. Things that you print out like this take up less space, can be kept in a sandwich bag, and you don't have to worry about lost pieces.

If you child likes making up stories (mine didn't) Story Cubes might work. Get some Highlights High Five or Puzzle Buzz magazines - they have preschooler games in them. Some of the magazine games require scissors which are not allowed on the plane, so you might need to cut out the pieces before you leave home.

At age 4, my son loved tic tac toe and playing with animal-shaped Japanese erasers like they were action figures, and the smallest lego set (It had around 60 pieces and you might want to rig a piece of felt or a shoebox lid to minimize dropping them on the floor).

My son is 7 now but has been doing 5+ hour plane trips 4x/year since he was 1 week old. These were his favorite things when he was 4:

1. KUMON books = 'my first book of Mazes' , first book of Letters, Words, Writing, Cut/Paste, etc. You can pick up lots of KUMON books at Barnes and Noble

2. Books on tape = 'Frog and Toad' are a *must* at 4 y.o. And all of the books are available for download or on CD. My husband had a knock-off iPod and we loaded it up with 'Frog and Toad'. The author is a great reader, and there's even a bit of background music to move the stories along. Simply an awesome story collection.

3. an 11x14 inch Wipe Off Board with assorted markers and a proper eraser. Wipe Off Board to draw pictures is a totally different experience than a coloring book. All ages love to have a Wipe Off Board for long air trips.

4. A proper little-kid head set for music, stories, etc. My son got his at 2 years old and is still using it at 7. We bought a Califone headset You can purchase at Amazon for a good price. Five years of constant use, and ours is still going strong. We have the 'listening first' model in a cool color. Your child will look like a pilot wearing them!

The only card games my kid liked at 4 were 'pitty-pat' and 'battle'. These didn't keep his attention like the 4 items I note above. Antoinette

Good game for a couple or a family

June 2013

Lately I've been wishing that my husband and I had a good game - cards or a board game like backgammon - that we could play together instead of watching TV or movies at night. I'd like a game that's challenging enough to give us satisfaction over many years to come; a 'lifetime pursuit' perhaps. We also have a toddler, and my hope is that he could play with us eventually too -- so it needs to be fun for two but also scale as our family grows, and not so complex that it's hopeless/boring for a kid. My husband's family plays Euchre together, but from what I understand it's not great to play with just two people. Any other recommendations? house of cards Gyrowheel

My husband and I play games nearly every night after our 2 year old goes to bed, and we too hope she can play with us when she's older! A few of our board games are good for 2 people but also fun with more: Dominion is our favorite(there are lots of expansions that increase the variety of the game), Ticket to Ride, Blue Moon City, and Yahtzee. (I started playing Yahtzee with my family when I was pretty young so I'm hoping that will be a family game soon for us.) We also enjoy cards and dice games and you can look up lots of options online or in a game book. If you're into word games, I used to really like Upwards, but my husband beats me so badly every time that it's no fun anymore! Looking forward to others' suggestions. Rita

My husband and I (now 'empty nesters') play Boggle a lot, and have played soem since the kids were young. Of course, toddlers/pre-readers can't join in, but as soon as the kids could write a little, they played too - with more lenient rules (they were permitted to use two-letter words, and didn't have to limit themselves to adjacent letters at first). As they got older, they had to adhere more closely to the real rules.

We also really liked the game Set, until one kid got so good at it it was hopeless for the rest of us! game player

Try cribbage - My family loves it, and many family members have very nice cribbage boards, heirloom quality. You don't need to make an investment when you first start, but if you like playing, you can make it special. cribbage fan

  • Chess. Fantastic and very old game that is plenty challenging at many many levels.
  • Go. More complex than chess. No so easy to grasp.
  • Beckgammon you mentioned, but not gambling on it takes away some of the edge. Still a very good 2 player game.
  • Cribbage. The English love it.
  • Othello. Not the deepest, but challenging. A bit like checkers.
  • Checkers. Not as simplistic as it may seem. The world champion for many years was a professor of mathematics in Florida.
  • Lost Cities. Good two player card game.


Board Games for the Family

Jan 2009

It may be too late for Christmas this year, but we're always looking for fun board games to play 'round these parts. I just read the annual SF Chron's game reviews and a lot of the reviewed games are are for teens and adults. What are the games that your family plays and enjoys most and what makes them enjoyable? My kids are 5 (almost 6 - not much of a reader) and 8. Thanks for your help! Molly G

When my son was in that age range we used to enjoy some games in their junior versions: Junior Trvial Pursuit and Junior Monopoly. Also have heard ''Caddoo'' is good for 6 and up. Good luck. Dianna

Our daughter is 7 and she loves to play Apples to Apples (kids version) and Scattagories (we usually pair her up with an older kid or adult) Ali

Hi- We have picked up so many board games from yard sales and only last week did we pull them out of the closet and start playing them. So far, BUnko and Cranium (for 6 year olds) is the favorite. Bunko is good cuz the kids can keep score themselves, and it involves adding dice, which improves math, and there's a pink fuzzy die that gets passed around. Cranium is great, interactive and has age-appropriate tasks on the cards. My son loves it when he has to act something out or go find items around the house to match the card's description. Have fun! anon

I played Apples to Apples once and it was a great game for all ages. I've been meaning to buy it. Player

We have many board games, but here are the ones that we go to most often:

  • Blokus
  • Clue
  • Apples to Apples Junior
  • Yahtzee

The game shops recommended in the Chronicle article are right on, particularly End Game in Oakland and Black Diamond Games in Concord.

Board games for pre-readers

Dec 2007

I'm seeking game ideas for a 3.5 year old (boy). Such games help to break the monotony between cries of 'let's play cars' and 'let's play trains'. I'm seeking more game options, yet I find it really hard to go to the store, read game packaging, and have any idea if a game will spark any interest. Here's my experience so far:

  • Opposites, eeBoo: two piece puzzles showing opposites. The shape and color of the cards provide far too many clues, but they can spark discussions about the opposite pairs.
  • Break the Ice, Milton Bradley: plastic ice, and a hammer. You knock out blocks until the skater falls. Great fun. Can be played cooperatively or competitively.
  • Slamwich, Gamewright: card flipping memory game, when a sandwich appears, the first person to slam it gets it.
  • Katamino, Gigamic: block fitting puzzle, brilliantly conceived. Sliding difficulty ranges from toddler to Phd. This one will be good for decades.
  • Rush Hour Jr., ThinkFun: sliding parking lot game. Ignore the age 6+ on the box, my 3 year old loves this game because of the car obsession. The Jr. version is frustrating because of unique vehicle colors, rendering expansion kits practically useless.
  • Connect Four, Milton Bradly: dropping the checkers down is fun. For him.
  • Chutes and Ladders, Milton Bradly: spin a wheel, and move that many numbered spaces, unless you land on a ''good deed'' or ''bad deed''. But: my child can't figure out why sliding down is a punishment not a reward. Unclear graphics (and lack of proper counting skills on the kid side) make it hard to stay on track.
  • Bear Race, homemade: four bears race to the honey. Each bear has a number. Roll a die to see which bear moves forward one step.
  • Pipes, homemade: on graph paper, each person tries to build a continuous pipeline, and block the opponent's pipeline at the same time.
  • Cariboo, Cranium: flip doors to reveal balls which act as a key to unlock a treasure chest. Unfortunately limited, as there no extra door cards included or available. If you're willing to laser print up new cards, this could be a fun platform for all sorts of games. This is the game that taught my preschooler to cheat (he looks sideways to see if a ball is under a door).

Is there a place parents can try out new games? Or buy them and return them if they don't work out? And are there more pre-reading games that involve some semblance of skill, not just blind luck? Bryce

Go check out Ravensburger games. great options for the little ones. for reviews and good prices, try gaming mama

Try Sequence for Kids. It's a variation on Connect 4 where you try to place four chips in a row by playing animal cards that correspond to animals on the board. The great thing about this game is that it can offer fun and challenges to kids of various ages. For the little ones, you can play a version where they pick a card and then have to find the matching animal on the board--don't worry about getting four in a row. Then as they get older, you can introduce the four-in-a-row concept (or start with three). It's easy to dumb down your own play to avoid winning all the time by just playing whichever card you got last rather than trying to deploy your cards strategically. We also use the animal cards to play Go Fish (they come in pairs) and my kids like to play with the chips. By the way, don't buy CandyLand--it sucks. Sequencer

We've liked Match-a-Balloon, Animal Bingo, and Sequence for Kids. The latter can involve skill and strategy, but be advised that by the time your child reaches the age of being able to enjoy a game of some complexity, he might also arrive at the point of hating to lose! heidipie

Memory (there are lots of versions). Also try Games of Berkeley (Shattuck at Center); they have knowledgeable staff. R.K.

Try Set. It is a great game. Each card has various characteristics -- shape, number, color, shading. You make sets of 3 cards where all of the characteristics are all alike or all not alike. So you could have cards with 2 blue ovals where one is solid, one is striped, and one is empty. For a younger child you probably want to cull the deck so there are only 3 characteristics to match instead of 4. Set fan

Forget the people who say Candyland sucks! It can get a little boring for the grownups, admittedly, if you don't allow yourself to get excited when you get Queen Frostine and disappointed when you get Plumpy. Candyland is a great game for little kids: my 5-yr-old has loved it for 2 yrs now, and she could actually play it when she was 3 or 4 (with a grownup, not with other kids). No reading required.

Chutes & ladders is fun: NOBODY cares that good things=ladders, bad=slides. Well, eventually they notice it. And so what if slides are fun for him? It gets worse when he realizes that slides=potentially losing!

Other great games for little kids include some that you don't have to buy, like tic-tac-toe, go fish, crazy 8s, and the one where you draw dots on a piece of paper in a grid and each person takes turns connecting two dots, then gets to put their mark whenever they complete a box (& the most boxes win). You can also buy Uno, which is a crazy 8s-type game, and you can buy fish, but make sure the ''suits'' and the fish types are easy for a pre-reader to distinguish. Checkers is also doable but don't get too sophisticated.

And with a regular deck of cards, aside from go-fish and crazy 8s, eventually, when the child learns numbers you can play War (bigger number takes both cards), or Old Maid (make matches, kind of like go fish, but leave the joker or Old Maid w/ no match). (No, I don't like the name either, but you can always change it).

Memory is really the best game for keeping that age entertained, and I am often beat if I let my daughter turn up 3 cards while she turns up 2. She remembers things I don't (though she cannot keep the cards tidy!) The old-fashioned one was the best, with memorable pictures, but the new ones are ok, and are available with your kid's favorite images-except that if you get, say, the princess one, there are literally 8 different cards with Jasmine, for example, in different pozes, and it's frustrating. Get an older version with completely different pictures if possible. Soon y ou'll also be able to play Mancala too. And then there are very simple games w/ no equipment, such as, choose a number between 2 and 6! Or find a word that rhymes with... Or, I'm thinking of an animal with 4 legs.. an animal that starts with c a purrs, an animal that hops.. a food that's green... etc.

Hi-ho cherry-o and Trouble are also good games, as is Trouble, (even the counting thing takes a little practice at that age). At the earliest ages, the best games are those w/o a ''winner.'' (e.g., don't count the memory matches, and the game just ''ends'' when someone gets to the end). Soon they'll have to learn to accept losing The period when your pre-reader can do more sophisticated games, like children's monopoly, Blokus, Set, etc. is janet

Games for 5-year-old that promote manual dexterity

Nov 2007

Hello, My sister-in-law just called to tell me the results of some testing they did for my 5-year-old nephew. He scored quite high on some things (he's reading chapter books, for instance) but is slow to translate the thinking into writing at the same time. So although he is intelligent enough, the tester suggeted he work on manual dexterity skills to practice working his brain and his hands in sync. She suggested bead stringing? I'd love to help him out, of course, and was wondering if my fellow BPNers could recommend some appropriate games or toys I might get him for Christmas. He is the usual rough-and-tumble boy with mostly good coordination and concentration skills. Any suggestions? Thanks in advance

Hi - I had a child with some dexterity issues and a few things that helped and she loved were:

1) The game Operation or Alien autopsy. This could be a little challenging for a five year old, but my daughter loved the idea of the game and was thus willing to keep trying.

2. Blockhead or Jenga - She preferred Blockhead, it goes fast and held her interest for many rounds

3. We taught her how to knit. The book ''Kids Knitting'' is fabulous. For a younger child there is spool knitting. They sell knitting mushrooms with four prongs and the yarn is simply wrapped around and over and makes a pretty string. jmzgl

Personally I think that this is not really needed - most boys develop unevenly, and it would be a very rare 5 year old whose writing skills (or any fine motor skill) were on a par with his reading level or, especially, his gross motor skills.

that said, you can search on the web under ''fidget toys'' and find lots of things that can be kept in a car, for instance, for idle time.

For games / strengthening, though, try an occupational therapy site. Rubber bands used as guns take a lot of dexterity, but boys love it. Get a small tub of therapy putty, which comes in various stiffnesses, and tell your sister to embed the child's allowance money in it every week (assuming he gets 50 cents, for instance, put 5 dimes or 10 nickels deep in the putty, let it cool off to harden again, then make him get them out! works great, as the reward happens automatically at the end of the exercise. Then trade him for quarters and reuse the nickels next week!)

Legos are great for fine motor dexterity.

So is knitting, though 5 is a little young. Lots of boys learn to knit between 6 and 9; he could start early. Have him knit a ''blanket'' for a pet, if he has one. resources:

hope that helps you get started. - Nancy

I would suggest Lego's for a boy. While the tester's intentions are good, if your nephew is a 'rough and tumble' typical boy as you describe, he may not like the beading all that much. Lego's nowadays are smaller, more intricate and require a bit of skill to put together. If you get him some of the sets that make particular objects, such as Star Wars or Harry Potter themed, he will surely get a manual dexterity workout.

There are also these smaller boxes of Legos called Lego Creator 3 in 1. These sets create three different objects from the provided Legos (and they are SMALL!!!). A few of those would go a long way with your nephew. My son received one at a birthday party and it has been a huge hit for him, and admittedly a challenge for him to put together..... LogicalMama

Hello! I have a just turned six year old and I thought of one of his favorite games for your nephew. It's called ''Perfection'' and it has little shapes to fit into their matching spaces while being timed. If he likes games, he may not even realize he's practicing maual dexterity skills! Good luck! Also an aunt

I recommend that you look at You can search for toys that promote fine motor skills there. They are also a great, local company and offers developmentally sound toys. -savy mom

Games for 7yo Monopoly Maven

Oct 2005

My soon to be 7 year old nephew LOVES to play Monopoly both board game and computer version. I played with him when we visited this summer and the then 6 yr old would say things like ''You need to mortgage your properties, Aunt Kris!'' I was impressed. I don't think I knew what a mortgage was until high school!

I'd like to encourage him to play games like this rather than some of the mindless video games he plays(they belong to his older brothers ages 11 and 13). Anyone have any suggestions of ''monopoly-like'' games computer, video or board games that I could get him for his birthday?

Thanks! Aunt of a future Donald Trump

Some of the board games that my son (now 11) and family have enjoyed playing are Careers, Aggravation, and Carcassone. Carcassone is one of the best we've seen in a while - a great strategy game, which never turns out the same twice. There are several version; we have the ''Hunters and Gatherers'' version. Barbara

For board and card games, go to Games of Berkeley or one of the other excellent game stores in the area, and ask for recommendations. Be sure to tell them how precocious he is. He might even be ready for a serious strategy game like Settlers of Catan. For video and computer games, I'm told that ''real time strategy games'' require you to use your imagination and not just your reflexes. Examples include Civilization, Sim City, Age of Mythology, Never Winter Nights, Final Fantasy 7 (my resident expert tells me some of these may be outdated). jenny_guy

My kids loved Roller Coaster Tycoon, a computer game in which the player builds amusement parks. The designing of scary roller coasters is fun, but the real focus of the game is running a business. The player must figure out how to finance the building of the park, set prices low enough so people will come but high enough to support the operations, keep attendance at the right levels so there are not excessive lines, pay workers to maintain the machines and keep the grounds clean, etc. It is a mini economics lesson. Should be right up his alley. Leslie

My nephew loves Cadoo. It's made by the same people who do Cranium but it's for younger kids. I think there's one for 5 - 7 year old and one for kids a bit older with a different name. It was fun and challenging for the adults too. There's trivia, music, art all mixed into one game. Not as capitalist as monopoly but still fun. Get Out of Jail Free

When I was younger, I liked those tyccon games... and seriously, I'm 25 and I wish I still had them. The best, in my opinion, was rollercoaster tycoon and pizza tycoon. You make your own parks/businesses and it can be pretty detailed or pretty quick start... so I think it would grow with a child pretty well. Hope that helps... Sarah

Our 11-year-old son loves ''money'' and strategy games too. When he was your nephew age he played Roller Coaster Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon computer games. Now he enjoys Sim City. There is also a great board game called Risk (The Game of Global Domination), but you have to brace yourself since it takes hours to complete. Our recent family favorite is the award-winning The Settlers of Catan board game that might go into the ''ideas bank'' category since your nephew is a little too young right now. gld4tos