Category: casual 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.


What Can Angry Birds Teach us About … ? At the Forefront of Angry Birds Research

With over a billion downloads, Angry Birds is the most popular casual gaming app of all time, so it’s only natural for social scientists to investigate it. Here’s the results of some recent items I found while searching for what educators and others have been researching about the game.

David Kelly, blogging at Misadventures in Learning, notes design elements in Angry Birds spark positive influences for skill acquisition. Players can jump right in with little to no learning curve, follow multiple paths to success, and are offered incentives toward productivity. Its initial platform design assists in simple productivity as well:

One of the reasons Angry Birds is as successful as it is is its accessibility.  Unlike console video games, Angry Birds was designed for mobile devices. It has no tether restricting where it can be played and was in fact designed for mobile phones, a device many people have with them throughout the day.

In addition, the level structure of Angry Birds is packaged in small chunks.  An attempt at a level can be completed in less than 30 seconds.  It’s the perfect design for mobility.

Pertti Saariluoma, Editor-in-Chief of Human Technology, noted the games’ designers professed they have no idea why the game is successful. Indeed, Saariluoma notes, good game and software design often is intuitive rather than proscribed.

Market research firm offered up a handy infographic showing demographics and other data from the game. Interesting nuggets include: a total of 53% of players use the free version with the majority occasionally feeling “addicted” while playing. The firm noted Michael Chorost’s article in Psychology Today listing the “addictive” elements of the game. These include simplicity, reward, and realistically simulated physics. Dr. Chorost speculates a dopamine burst may be released, making the gaming experience a pleasurable one for players. As far as using Angry Birds in the classroom, Dan MacIsaac over at SUNY-Buffalo State notes that Google returns over a million hits for “physics teaching Angry Birds.”

Mobile apps in general are receiving scrutiny from researchers, and Angry Birds is often mentioned since it’s the most popular game. Matthias Böhmer over at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, Brent Hecht, a PhD. student at Northwestern, and their colleagues released a large scale study of mobile app use at Mobile HCI 2011 in Stockholm. They found users spend about an hour a day on their phones, but only about a minute at a time with mobile apps. News apps were found to be more popular in the morning, while gaming apps are more popular in the evening:

Weather checking is, not surprisingly, largely a morning activity, as is the checking of one’s calendar. On the other hand, users’ desire to fling Angry Birds at pigs is absent in the morning, and only picks up in the early afternoon and into the evening. Kindle usage behavior is even more focused in the late evening.

Angry Birds and other popular mobile games will probably continue receiving attention from researchers, with efforts likely to include discerning design details that can be adapted to more educational endeavors, as well as a continued commitment to incorporating the game itself into academics. Research always lags pop culture. By the time several thorough studies of Angry Birds are published, if any ever are, the game will likely have faded in popularity and been replaced by the next new thing.