Category: Board Games

Play a Board or Card Game with Your Kids

It’s summer time again and that means time to plan out some family activities. Might I suggest spending time playing some board or card games with your kids. It really doesn’t need to be summer to play games with your kids, though. All of these are great activities year round.

Playing games as a family is an activity providing several benefits. First, these games can be activities shared by the whole family. Many summer activities are enjoyed in isolation, but a good board or card game can involve everybody. Second, many social skills can be taught to kids of all ages through gaming. These include but are not limited to learning how to take turns, learning how to strategize to defeat opponents, and learning cooperation skills including diplomacy and negotiation. Additionally, board and card games offer controlled opportunities to teach your kids how to be gracious in both winning and losing.

With that in mind, here are some choices for family board and card games, arranged by appropriate age groups. All of these are available on Amazon, and I’ve provided links. Full disclosure: if you buy one of the games after clicking over to Amazon, I receive a small percentage of the sale. The proceeds are used to maintain this site.


Pre-K & Kindergarten

Candyland has been around a long time. This was the first game my parents bought me, back in the day, and like many others it was a nostalgic choice to purchase for my own kids. I don’t remember a whole lot about playing the actual game, but what I do remember from playing it in Kindergarten was the joy of engaging in an activity with my parents. Game play is very simple, involving the drawing of colored cards which allows players to advance to the next square of the same color. No reading is required. The benefits of playing Candyland include introducing children to rules based systems, and the concept of turn-taking.

Chutes and Ladders
Another classic, Chutes and Ladders also requires no reading to play, and is great for ages three and up. One thing it also excels at is introducing young children to big numbers, as players from the first square to the hundredth.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It
My kids love Richard Scarry’s books with Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and all the supporting cast of characters.. Much like the Where’s Waldo series (link), there is a ton of detail to discover in the Busytown books. This board game continues the tradition of the books, and involves many find and discover activities. It’s very interactive for children; the six foot game board can be stretched out on the floor.


1st through 6th Grades

Brain Quest Smart Game
The first player to spell out SMART wins. The neat thing about this challenge game is questions on the cards are offered at different grade levels. Categories include Reading, Math, Science, Art, and The World. It’s a quick and fun game, and the kids might learn something, too.

Ticket to Ride
I can’t say enough good things about this excellent board game that serves as a great introductory strategy game. Players collect train cards and claim railroad routes to cities in North America. Multiple miniature train cars, cards and “tickets” help make this an excellent board game, well worth the money. There are several Ticket to Ride variations, and some players prefer Ticket to Ride: Europe.


Middle School & Up

Apples to Apples
This great “word comparison” party game is perfect for families. Players are dealt cards with nouns which are matched to an adjective card. The combinations can be quite amusing. This game has become something of a phenomenon, winning awards and finding its way into several households. It’s even spawned some imitators. It certainly belongs in your family game collection.

Wit’s End
In some ways, Wit’s End might remind you of Trivial Pursuit, but the differences are appealing. Besides correctly answering trivia questions while moving across the board, players are presented with brain teasers and other intellectual challenges. It’s also a good game to play with teams.


High School & Up

Risk is the classic strategy world domination game. The rules are simple: attack neighboring territory with numerical advantages and hope the dice are kind. I have this listed under high school in part because I spent many hours playing it in high school. However, I have introduced it to kids as young as 6, playing a simplified version. Beware that younger kids may not have the attention span needed to play a full game.

Axis & Allies Revised Edition
Axis & Allies is like Risk on steroids. Plan a whole Saturday or even a weekend to play a full game. Rules take some time to learn if it’s your first time. The original version had some flaws which the revised edition address. It’s a great board game.

Heroscape Marvel Game Set
Heroscape is like Chess on steroids. Multiple game pieces including soldiers, dragons, etc. have differing capabilities and fight it out on a hexagon game board that can be assembled in seemingly infinite variations. Unfortunately, the game is no longer being produced. But, you can still find it on Amazon and elsewhere. I picked up the Marvel game set because my kids are big fans of the super heroes and villians, and playing with the pieces brings added fun. The Marvel game set is stand alone, or can be incorporated with other Heroscape sets if you decide to buy them later.

This is a phenomenally popular deck building card game. Each player starts with the same 10 cards, but buys different ones in turn, hoping for an advantage. Games can be played in about half an hour or so, with two to four players.

The Settlers of Catan
Some diehard board gamers who’ve played for years have moved on to newer titles, but this remains a most excellent introduction to German strategy games. It’s one of the most commercially successful board games ever. Terrain hexes and resource cards allow for differing game play. It’s a lot of fun, and should be in every game closet.


Finally, if all these games seem intimidating, especially some of the newer ones, or those you have never heard of before, consider a good old classic combo set of Chess, Checkers, Nine Men Morris, and Tic-Tac-Toe. The set reaches all age groups, and the games are timeless.

Parents, remember that time spent with your kids is precious, and time spent playing games with your kids is time well spent.


39% of Top Crowdfunded Companies are Game-based

Last year I noted the rise of Kickstarter in funding educational games. A year later, Entrepreneur Magazine has listed the top 100 crowdfunded companies. An astonishing 39 out 100 companies are game-based.

  • 19 are in the Video Games/Gaming category.
  • 16 are in the Tabletop Games category.
  • 4 are in the Games category

The largest company funded to date is OUYA, for the development of their $99 open source home video game console. Pronounced “OOO-yah,” the company raised an astonishing $8,596,474 from their Kickstarter campaign, which had an initial fundraising goal of $950,000.

Of interest to educational pursuits, the OUYA console is inexpensive, and is allowed to be modified by end users. It runs on the Android system, so any educational apps developed for Android users should be able to be played on the OUYA. Finally, Minecraft, which has seen successful educational appropriation, will likely be viable on OUYA as well.

I stated last year, “It’s possible professors and students may turn to crowd funding in the future when designing educational games for research purposes.” I stand by that statement. The potential benefits are becoming increasingly apparent.


Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Researches and Designs Social Games

I’ve been conversing via e-mail with Dr. Mary Flanagan, the founder of Tiltfactor at Dartmouth, where she is the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities. Dr. Flanagan and Tiltfactor are doing exciting work in educational gaming. One of the key areas many researchers think it’s strongest is the social arena. This is where “fuzzy” concepts that are so difficult to teach through reading and lecturing can be more effectively transmitted via gaming. Consequently, Tiltfactor focuses on social games, including health and educational initiatives. Here’s a paragraph from their website explaining the organization’s purpose:

Tiltfactor is the first academic center to focus on critical play–a method of using games and play to investigate issues and ideas. Our mission is to research and develop software and playful art that creates rewarding, compelling, and socially responsible interactions, with a focus on innovative game design for social change. We are interested in the processes through which designers imbue their games with moral, social, and political values, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and the corollary processes through which these values are interpreted by players. Our approach involves extensive cross-disciplinary work among the Humanities, Social Sciences, the Arts, and the Sciences.

The academic gaming lab is funded in part by the NEH, NSF, and Microsoft. The center has researched and developed a remarkable list of educational titles. These include, among many others:

It’s exciting to see strong academic centers involved in educational gaming efforts like Tiltfactor is, and I encourage other educators and researchers to examine their work. As with most government funded initiatives, such as Josie True, the end product is freely available to schools and teachers. The research potential from their many efforts is considerable, and a list of selected books and articles Dr. Flanagan has written is here. Last but not least, Tiltfactor blog posts can be found at grandtextauto.

Chess Helps Troubled Kids in School

An old board game is put to new uses in St. Louis, as The Wall Street Journal reports on Innovative Concept Academy.

Chess has been a part of after-school programs for at least 40 years, but mainly in the suburbs. In the last decade, it has exploded in popularity in urban areas as research showed that students who play chess do better on achievement exams, especially math.

Founded recently for troubled students by Juvenile Court Judge Jimmie Edwards, chess is a required part of the school’s curriculum.

The twice weekly chess classes are mandatory for most of the school’s 97 students and are an integral part of Mr. Edwards’s strategy to curb bad behavior and teach alternatives to violence. He knows that chess won’t solve all the behavior problems, but says it offers lessons about self-control and critical thinking.

“Most of my kids are impulsive, reactionary and they lash out without thinking through the consequences,” said Mr. Edwards, who walks the school’s halls almost daily. “Chess teaches them patience and teaches them that there are consequences to bad decisions.”

“In chess, you can lose your queen,” he added. “In life, you can lose your life.”

It’s an uplifting story of an old game put to new use.

Settlers of Catan Conquers Silicon Valley Social Set

I wrote about the learning elements embedded in one of the world’s best boardgames, Settlers of Catan, back in April. This morning, The Wall Street Journal has a front page article describing how the game has taken Silicon Valley’s social set by storm. CEOs of Internet startups play it, new employees are introduced to it in social gatherings, and competitions are common.

Although a boardgame, many new users find the online version or the Apple iPhone app useful for learning the basics, and good practice for RL matches. This is something of a switch from what we’ve seen with popular videogames that can be leveraged for learning, where players go offline to pick up tips and strategies, such as the studying of history books by avid Civilization fans.

Speculation regarding its popularity in Silicon Valley centers on the game’s similarity to starting a business. Here’s the key paragraph:

LinkedIn’s Mr. Hoffman, who estimates he has inducted nearly 40 Silicon Valley executives into the game, says tech entrepreneurs are drawn to Settlers because it “most closely approximates entrepreneurial strategy.” The title pushes players to collaborate and swap resources to get points, while the random rolls of the dice force people to constantly revamp their strategies for winning. That’s much like running a start-up, Mr. Hoffman says.

Very interesting. The game is available on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. Might make a good gift for the budding entrepreneur on your list.

Tam, P. (2009, December 17). An old-school board game goes viral among Silicon Valley’s techie crowd. The Wall Street Journal, A1. [Online.] Retrieved December 17, 2009 from

Free Graph Paper with 95 Graphs Grids and Games

There were times in college I needed a sheet of graph paper, and wished I could just print out a copy in Word and be on my way. I finally ended up making my own, and thus added to a wide collection of cut and paste resources.

Such material is especially prevalent among teachers the world over, and Paul Edelman has created a successful site for sharing it all. TeachersPayTeachers is the former NYC public school teacher’s site, and it was recently profiled in a New York Times article, which is where I found out about it.

Intrigued with Mr. Edelman’s successful site, I gathered several cut and paste items and assembled them into a document entitled “95 Graphs Grids and Games.”

The doc is divided into four sections. Section One is devoted to graphs and graph paper, and offers 30 selections that can be printed or shown on an interactive whiteboard. Section Two features number grids, including multiplication tables up to 15×15 and several number lines. Section Three centers on language arts, and features alphabet grids and writing lines. If you need some lined paper you can simply print out one of four full page selections and let kids write away.

Finally, Section Four is for games, and I included several that teachers can print out or use in other applications. Traditional checkerboards and/or chess boards are included, along with simpler fare like Tic-Tac-Toe templates. Three Soduko templates are included: those for traditional Soduko, Hyper Soduko, and Six Way Soduko. The three modifiable Soduko templates can be edited in Word.

Finally, two samples of the medieval board game Nine Men’s Morris are included, a small playing board and a full page version. Nine Men’s Morris was a popular board game in the Middle Ages, and rivals checkers in its simplicity, style, and strategy. Unfortunately, Nine Men’s Morris faded in popularity while Checkers remained widely played. There are several variants for Nine Men’s Morris, including Eleven and Twelve Men’s Morris, Six Men’s Morris, Three Men’s Morris, and Achi, which is an African variant. I offer board layouts for each. Finally, I included a code-substitution game of my own design that students can use to create their own secret  codes.

Offered as a free preview for 95 Graphs Grids and Games: one of my favorite full page graphs, “Graph Paper 16.” So, even if you aren’t interested in shelling out $3.00 for the whole 72 page document, you can grab a great graphing paper template gratis.

What Can We Learn from The Settlers of Catan?

I’ve been catching up with my paper copy of the April issue of Wired, and came across a great article by Andrew Curry on what is widely considered the world’s greatest board game: Die Siedler von Catan, or in English, The Settlers of Catan.

The story Curry weaves is fascinating. Germany is the world’s epicenter for boardgames, selling hundreds of thousands every year and drawing fierce competition for the annual Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year), the Pulitzer Prize of German boardgaming.

Master gamesmith Klaus Teuber spent four years perfecting Settlers, running beta versions past his family and tweaking the competitive elements. Released at the Essen Game Convention in 1995, it was an instant hit, and has gone on to sell over 15 million copies in 30 languages.

Derk Solko of and Jesper Juul both have nice quotes. Pete Fenlon of Mayfair Games, the company distributing English versions of Settlers, helps to fill in details regarding its popularity:

“When a lot of us saw it, we thought this was the definition of a great game … In every turn you’re engaged, and even better, you’re engaged in other people’s turns. There are lots of little victories—as opposed to defeats—and perpetual hope. Settlers is one of those perfect storms.”

A hint at the educational potential of the game could be found in a comment by Russ Roberts, an economist over at George Mason, who indicated Settlers was perfect for teaching the free market system to his children. Settling the game’s island requires the administration and trading of resources. Different resources become scarce or plentiful and require skills to manage and barter.

The next frontier the game has to conquer is the American marketplace, where traditional titles hold sway. Herr Tauber indicates the plan is to introduce video game versions for the Xbox and PC. The hope is this will provide the boardgame version of The Settlers of Catan a stronger foothold in the American marketplace (nearly a quarter million copies have sold in North America since last January).

German boardgames in general are showing impressive gains in popularity over here. Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande Games estimated his company sold a half million licensed copies of German games for American markets last year. Meanwhile, Herr Tauber has launched to introduce the game to audiences online.

Curry, A. (2009, April). Monopoly killer: Perfect German board game redefines genre. Wired, 17(4). 60-72.

UT-Brownsville Mixes Chess Mastery with Academics

The AP has a good story on the chess program at University of Texas – Brownsville. Brownsville is down in the Valley, and is the southern-most campus in the UT system. The chess program at UTB ranks among the elite in the country, with students participating in tournaments against others in better known schools. Last year, it was named Chess College of the Year.

The article highlights the story of Axel Bachmann, an 18 year old chess phenom recruited by the university and riding on a full chess scholarship. The Paraguayan immigrant has attained grandmaster status, an elite group of less than 1,000 players worldwide.

Chess program director Russell Harwood learned of Bachmann through another of UT-Brownsville’s top players, Daniel Fernandez. Fernandez met Bachmann through South American chess matches. UTB’s president offers a nice quote in the article:

“I understand the relationship of learning a game of great discipline and rigor like chess and learning,” said Juliet V. Garcia, UTB president. “It just makes sense when you have this pool of chess babies [in the Valley].”

Garcia said children in South Texas have tremendous potential for chess. The region has produced Fernando Spada and Fernando Mendez, the Brownsville boys to whom Garcia offered scholarships. …

It’s also a source of pride for a relatively young school in a far-flung locale. Last year the school’s team beat Yale and Stanford head-to-head and finished ahead of schools including Harvard, Duke, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins.

Anytime a game can offer kids a full scholarship to college, I’m all for it. Chess goes to show that thinking games can offer scholarships just as well as traditional sports games.

Sherman, C. (2008, February 17). Brownsville school an unusual chess incubator. The Bryan-College Station Eagle, p. A9.

Electric Football Still Draws a Crowd

The Wall Street Journal had an intriguing article yesterday by Mark Yost on electric football. Like many of us, I had one of these as a kid. Who could resist turning on the electric playing field and watching 22 figures move around in random directions as the sheet metal vibrated? And best of all was getting to “kick” that little cotton football across the room.

Alas, my game was lost in the mists of time and parental housecleaning. I was interested to learn, though, that fans of electric football still exist. There are leagues with playoffs, and an official electric football Super Bowl. The game, originating in the 1940s, is still being made by Miggle Toys.

Fanboys spend time customizing the player figurines, much as model railroad or toy soldier aficionados. They also seek a competitive edge, altering the bases of linemen so they don’t move as much (better blocking), and of wide receivers so they “run” faster.

Such simple pursuits really gin up the nostalgia in people. I suspect Miggle Toys will see a nice boost in sales from this article, considering that WSJ is one of the nation’s top selling newspapers.

Yost, M. (2008, January 30). A Super Bowl for kids who never grew up. The Wall Street Journal. p. D10.

Bring Your Avatar Into RL with a 3-D Printer

Read an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal about a company using three-dimensional printers to create personal figurines of World of Warcraft avatars. 3D printers have been around a while, but were prohibitively expensive. Article author Robert Guth notes that some models are going for as little as $5,000, though good ones will run 10 times that. They work by spraying a polymer in patterns that harden. Thus, users can “print” three dimensional models rather than the usual 2D arrangements on paper.

FigurePrints, LLC is opening shop this week, with an exclusive arrangement tied to Blizzard’s World of Warcraft franchise. It is expected that players can place orders to have their toons printed as figurines in the $100 range. WoW avatars are highly customizable, with thousands of options in clothing and accessories. Many players obsess over the look of their characters, and it is expected the novelty of creating a figurine based on a player’s personal character may well prove lucrative. The possibilities for other uses seem unlimited as well. FigurePrints was started by former Microsoft exec Ed Fries, and the company uses printers made by Z Corp.

Guth, R. A. (2007, December 12). How 3-d printing figures to turn web worlds real. The Wall Street Journal, p.B1.