It can be hard to bring people together; everyone is off doing their own thing but sometimes you just want to experience the wholesomeness of a group activity between loved ones. But how can you convince the kids to get off Instagram or your partner to stop building that damn spice rack they've been obsessing over for the past three weekends? Why, with the best board games in town, of course!
Whether it's board games to play at Thanksgiving or board games to play at Christmas there’s plenty to entice your family into sitting down and engaging with one another beyond a superficial level (with not a single version of Monopoly in sight). Regardless of whether you’re playing with seasoned tabletop gamers or children under the age of five, there are board games to suit the experience and age of everyone in the family.
Best family board games
It’s a sad fact that many family board games designed for younger audiences are either terribly dull or insultingly simple. However, our list of the best family board games is guaranteed to not bore the pants off anyone playing - no matter who the game is intended for. From fantasy co-op board games to fast-paced card games, these are perfect for building relationships and getting cozy on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
1. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
What could be more family-friendly than the fantastical adventures of the famous boy wizard? There are a lot of terrible licensed Harry Potter board games (*cough* the Harry Potter Miniatures Adventure Game *cough*) so you have to be careful about cynical cash-grabs, but Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a bonafide well-designed movie board game. This co-op board game for two to four players has you assuming the roles of classic characters from the film series including Hermoine Granger, Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley and, of course, Harry Potter himself as they attempt to gain an education whilst thwarting the schemes of the evil wizard Voldemort.
Designed to be played in a series of chapters loosely based on the books, Hogwarts Battle sees players working together to complete the seven school years featured in the Harry Potter film franchise. Players have access to a unique deck of cards including allies, spells and magical items that differ depending on which character they’ve chosen to play as. Each year requires players to use their decks to gain new cards and acquire enough power to prevent that stage’s villain from successfully fulfilling their nefarious plans.
Hogwarts Battle works as a family board game because it’s incredibly accessible in regards to teaching deckbuilding mechanics and it provides some excellent fan service for all the Harry Potter lovers out there.
First of its name, Kingdomino has spawned an entire series of board games based around the premise of connecting - you guessed it - dominos. Imagine classic beginner board game Carcassonne but simpler and lighter on the French theming, and with less passive-aggressive placement of farmers and knights, and you’ve pretty much visualised the core concept of Kingdomino.
A game for two to four players, Kingdomino is all about matching tiles and building a cohesive environment for your subjects to live in. For you see, you are a lord and you’re looking to expand your kingdom (or kingdom-ino) but so are all the other lords and there’s just not enough land for all of you - hence where the actual gameplay of Kingdomino comes in. Each turn players get to select a tile of their choosing from a shared pool with every tile having two sides, just like a normal domino, that can show a variety of terrain, such as water, grass, forests and houses - not like a normal domino. Once selected the tile must be placed adjacent to a matching tile - for example, water connects to water - with the aim being to create a five-by-five grid containing as many connected tiles and valuable crown symbols as possible.
However, there is a limited number of tiles available and the game ends once a player has successfully created their grid, so everyone is going to have to be on the ball if they want to collect the most points possible. This is what makes Kingdomino a great family board game as it involves a lot of player interaction and the desired amount of conversation to make for a really fun time for everyone involved.
3. Valley of the Vikings
Kids just love How to Train Your Dragon, don’t they? And what do those films have apart from dragons? Vikings. Which is why Valley of the Vikings is sure to be a hit with younger audiences. As for adults? Well, bowling seems to be a fairly popular activity regardless of your age and Valley of the Vikings has its fair share of rolling balls.
A fantastic dexterity board game from the ultimate family-friendly publisher, Haba, Valley of the Vikings is a simple test of accuracy, skill and daring that’ll guarantee plenty of wacky fun. Players take it in turns to hit a small ball using their designated ‘viking bat’ down a ramp and into a set of barrels, with the aim to hit their coloured barrel over so that their assigned token can move across the docks. The further along the dock your token moves the greater number of coins you collect, with the player holding the most coins by the end of the game being named the winner. However, players have to be careful as any barrels they hit move the corresponding tokens regardless of whose turn it is - with any tokens reaching the end of the dock falling into the water and ending that player’s turn.
That’s just how simple Valley of the Vikings is. It’s a straightforward board game of guts and gusto that requires little to no swatting up on rules, just a willingness to have let loose and have a laugh.
Buy Valley of the Vikings on Amazon.co.uk
4. Magic Maze
Magic Maze sees players looting a fantasy convenience store for the essential adventurer’s tools they need for upcoming quests - not exactly the kind of moral lesson you want to be teaching kids but it’s in the name of fun so there’s nothing really wrong with it.
A rather unconventional co-op board game for one to eight players, Magic Maze requires its participants to work together whilst avoiding being too loose with information, as everyone is only allowed to communicate for very short periods of time whilst playing. Each player has access to a single unique action whether that be moving in a certain direction, accessing a new area or using a particular square, but you aren’t limited to controlling a single character. This means that players are welcome to apply their individual action to any number of heroes - however, they’ll still need to be careful to collaborate as every character has a favorite shop to visit, and all heists need to be executed simultaneously if our heroes want to get out before the store guards take notice.
With its three-minute time limit and the bizarre ruleset, Magic Maze is a fast-paced and chaotically fun experience that’s incredibly easy for everyone to get their heads round.
5. Slide Quest
Video games have become increasingly popular over the last decade but with so many keeping the action online - rather than in the living room - they don’t really encourage a huge amount of social interaction between people in the same house. However, what if you had a family board game that was somewhat similar to a video game? Let us introduce you to Slide Quest, a co-op board game wherein players need to work together to help their brave little protagonist sashay their way through each perilous level whilst avoiding the many dangers that block their path.
The first thing you might notice about Slide Quest are the funny little plastic handles attached to each side of the game’s box, these are what the players will be using to move their little hero figure across the board. Unlike in Flip ‘em Up! - another fantastic dexterity board game that involves artful sliding - Slide Quest has its players controlling the board rather than moving the actual character token.
Each person takes charge of a side and coordinates with the other players to gently coerce their hero around various obstacles and holes to reach the end goal. Having to manipulate such a precarious board with other people inevitably makes playing Slide Quest a lot trickier than you’d initially think, but the satisfaction you feel after successfully curving your figure around a hole is really rather gratifying.
Slide Quest also requires a surprising amount of communication between players, with everyone needing to occasionally stop what they’re doing and discuss who needs to do what next. All this collaboration makes for a very effective family bonding exercise and could do a lot to bring everyone together - if only for an hour or so.
6. Machi Koro
Family board games with city-building themes can often seem a little overwhelming and perhaps not the most accessible choice for younger audiences - getting your five year old to play Cities: Skylines may be a tad ambitious. However, there ways for less experienced players to bask in the glory of growing their very own metropolis - one of them being the adorable and accessible board game Machi Koro. Bearing an appealingly bright Japanese setting and plenty of elements to excite children - theme parks, bakeries and cheese factories, to name but a few - Machi Koro sees players fulfilling their mayoral duties by attempting to expand the city and support its citizens.
Unlike some of its contemporaries Machi Koro keeps gameplay and decision-making simple, with players looking to complete landmarks and buildings by rolling dice and spending money. On each player’s turn they’ll choose to roll either one or two dice with the aim to score a total that matches the number attached to one of their buildings, which will then activate that building’s effect and benefit its owner. However, players will have to be cautious about how many dice they choose, as any numbers rolled also apply to their competitors’ buildings as well. As player cities grow to include more and more buildings the risk of rolling an opponent’s number becomes greater.
What makes Machi Koro such an accessible game beyond the simple dice-rolling mechanic is that it involves absolutely no score-monitoring or point-counting; once someone has successfully constructed every building and landmark in their city then they’ve won. This straightforward approach towards city-building makes Machi Koro a perfect family board game to play with people of every age.
7. Stuffed Fables
Publisher Plaid Hat Games is renowned for adventure board games about flights of fantasy, with Stuffed Fables being perhaps its most family-friendly example. Unlike the slightly denser and darker dungeon-crawler Mice and Mystics - which is still one of the best board games around - Stuffed Fables keeps the gameplay lighter and the tone far more whimsical. In Stuffed Fables players take control of a brave band of cute little stuffed animals as they attempt to rescue their owner from the clutches of a devious villain. But they’ll have to use every inch of bravery as they encounter menacing foes and any number of dangers in their quest to save the day.
A co-op board game for two to four players, Stuffed Fables contains a good mixture of exploration, combat and narrative decision-making with each of the game’s chapters being driven by an adventure book included in the box, that players are invited to read from as the story continues. In fact, the adventure book doesn’t just serve the purpose of storytelling as its pages also form the game’s map, with one side being the board and the other displaying information about the chapter. Each chapter will present a different scenario with new enemies to fight which players will have to work together to defeat - whether that’s by coordinating combat strikes or sharing their stuffing to help heal each other - and eventually make it to the next chapter.
Stuffed Fables is a wonderful introduction to adventure board games that remains enchanting whether you’re young, old or something in-between.
Alternatively called Spot it! Dobble is perhaps one of the most popular card games in the known world and continues to be re-released in various forms including Star Wars and Frozen-themed versions. Its straightforward pattern-matching gameplay makes playing Dobble a universal experience that can be translated into any language and enjoyed by pretty much everyone, which makes it one of the best beginner board games to introduce to anyone.
Packaged into a pleasingly tiny little tin, Dobble is a card game for two to eight players wherein everyone tries to spot the matching symbols on each of the featured cards. Playing Dobble is a simple process of flipping over two cards and identifying which symbol is included on both, with the first person to do so becoming the winner of those cards. This then continues until all 55 cards have been taken, after which the player with the most cards is declared the winner. Most versions of Dobble also come with alternative rules that nevertheless continue to focus on observation and reactionary skills, which also happen to be great skills to encourage in children.
Being such a small and easily obtainable card game should make Dobble an instant family board game classic, worthy of joining any holiday packing list or gracing the surface of any dining table.
Another adorable Japanese-themed family board game, Takenoko is all about feeding pandas - which as we all know are one of the cutest creatures in the entire animal kingdom. In Takenoko you play as a keeper to the bamboo forests that are often frequented by the noble panda bear, and must successfully tend to the plants in order to appease the Japanese Emperor who so loves the black-and-white beasts.
This rich narrative translates into gameplay through players having to manage their different land plots eventually cultivating them enough to provide plenty of bamboo to feed the pandas, whilst still having a decent amount to present to the Emperor by the end of the game. Players can grow one of three types of bamboo - green, yellow and pink - by placing them on a tile of the same colour and gradually adding more pieces to their ever extending stalks. As the pandas move across each tile they consume some of the bamboo planted there, with players needing to replace any pieces eaten if they want to collect a good score once the game ends.
Takenoko is a really accessible way to introduce a ton of classic board game mechanics to newer players such as tile-placement, route-building and set-collection. It also helps that the game’s art style is incredibly aesthetically pleasing and it’s fairly easy to get ahold of a copy as well.
10. Cobra Paw
Rounding out this here list is a party board game about cat ninjas called Cobra Paw - although the name is actually more of a metaphor for having quick reactions and a tendency to steal other people’s stuff. You know, just like real cats do. There’s very little to Cobra Paw beyond being a fun family board game about grabbing dominos, but when it comes to pleasing everyone in the family it’s often best to play things safe.
Cobra Paw features a collection of double-sided dominos showing a variety of mysterious symbols, each one matching a side of the two dice included with the game. When these dice is rolled the players must desperately dash to collect the matching domino as quickly as possible from the shared pool - or another player’s own pile, if they already claimed it. Once all the dominos have been taken the player with the most tiles is declared that round’s winner. There are alternative rules included in the box but they’re all general variants of the same game, which is certainly not a bad thing because Cobra Paw is absolutely brilliant.
Despite not being the most nuanced of experiences Cobra Paw is still an excellent way to spend a brief moment in time with your loved ones, yelling boisterously and snatching dominos all together. It’s also a seriously quick board game - but you’ll definitely want to play again and go.