Top 10 games to play with your kids ages 3-5
Craig Bowser
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I have two boys, ages 5 and 6. As a family we play games several times a week, and have been doing so for well over a year now. We've tried a lot of different games over that time. I just wanted to share some of our favorites. These games are not in order of preference, but rather in the order in which you could introduce them to your children. As we move on to more games I'll continue to add our favorites to this list.
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1. Board Game: Rory's Story Cubes [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:1860] [Average Rating:6.36 Unranked]
Craig Bowser
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This is a game that is not a competition. It is a set of dice where each die face has a different picture on it. These can be used in many ways. The simplest of which is to divide up the dice among the players, roll the dice, and take turns telling a story using the pictures on the dice. This game lets children be creative and use their imagination. The rules are pretty much what ever you want them to be. It also helps teach them the basic gaming concept of taking turns.

This game is great for young children as long as they are old enough not to put the dice in their mouth, probably ages 3+. It makes a great distraction when waiting for a meal at home or at a restaurant. This game can also be used an idea generator for drawing or story writing as the children get older. You just can't go wrong with this one. It should be in every family's collection.

Age: 3+

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2. Board Game: Animal Upon Animal [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:731] [Average Rating:6.86 Unranked]
Craig Bowser
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This game features distinctly shaped animals that the players take turns stacking on top of each other. The goal is to be the first player to successfully get all of their animals onto the stack. There are several games that have this as the core concept. But this one is the best. The pieces are very high quality, and have adorable artwork on them. The shapes of the pieces allow them to fit together in countless different ways.

Small hands actually have a bit of an advantage in this game. So, unlike a lot of games, the kids have a high chance of winning without the adults having to take it easy on them. My kids just love this game. We play it a few times a week, and it never gets boring.

Age: 3+

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3. Board Game: Spot it! [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:861]
Craig Bowser
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This game is all about object or shape recognition. The game consists of a deck of round cards, each with a variety of objects on them. The key is that every two cards have exactly one object in common. Finding the match is the game. There are a few ways to play this, but our preferred way is to flip over two cards, then everyone tries to shout out the match as quickly as they can. Whoever gets it first gets the cards. We go through the whole deck this way. Then everyone counts their cards in the end to determine the winner. There are other variants included in the rules.

This game is more challenging than it looks because the objects can vary in size from card to card. This is a game that you'll have to vary your level of competitiveness to ensure your children are having fun at first. But it won't take long before your child is beating you, even when you are trying hard. There are also several versions of this game so you can get that one that will most interest your child. We actually own Spot it Jr.! Animals which has only animals on the cards.

Age: 3+

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4. Board Game: The Magic Labyrinth [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:850]
Craig Bowser
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This game is essentially a maze that you can't see. The board is a collection of squares with different symbols on them. Tokens that match the symbols on the board are drawn from a bag. And players must navigate to those locations on the board. However hidden walls will stop your movement and force you to start over again. This is achieved by a series of walls that are under the board, hidden from sight. Each players pawn has a magnet in the bottom of it. And a metal ball is placed on the bottom of the board, held in place by the magnet. As the pawn moves the ball moves too. But if the pawn tries to pass from one square to another, but a wall is blocking the way, the ball will drop off. This indicates that you can't go that way. If there is no wall then the player is free to continue moving. The player who makes it to the token first claims it, and a new token is drawn. The first player to reach five tokens is the winner.

This game is great for several reasons. First, the rules are extremely simple and very intuitive. Second, it takes no time at all to set up. You just open the box, place the pawns and start playing. Third, it is a great memory exercise. Trying to remember which path is safe and which is not provides a nice level of challenge for both children and adults. And the activity is much more exciting than flipping over cards looking for a match. Fourth, the kids get a real kick out of watching their parents hit a wall and have to go back to their start spot. Fifth, this game makes failure only a small set back, as players will get many chances to find new paths. This game helps children learn to keep a positive attitude despite a little failure. This is something that can be hard to teach.

Age: 4+



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5. Board Game: SET Junior [Average Rating:5.34 Overall Rank:12932]
Craig Bowser
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SET is a classic game originally published in the 80's. In SET, you put out a group of cards and look for certain combinations of cards called sets. A set is defined as three cards where each characteristic on the card (number, shape, color, pattern) is the same or different on all three cards. SET junior is a new children's adaptation that is fantastic for pattern recognition and critical thinking. To reduce the complexity, the cards have one less factor. So only the number, color, and shape are variables. The game comes with a double sides board. One side is an introductory game suitable for kids as young a 3. It is a matching exercise, and the way the board is laid out, any three cards matched in a row make a set. When a set is made, I found it best to ask the child "What is the same about these three cards, and what is different?"

After only a few games on the beginner side, or with a child that is a little older, you can use the advanced side. On this side you are basically playing the original game SET, just with simpler cards. This is where the game really shines. You lay the cards out on the board and search for cards that make a set. The searching and evaluating keeps kids engaged. This game is the complete opposite of mindless games like chutes and ladders or candy land. I can't praise this game highly enough for the critical thinking skills it introduces. It is just fantastic. Once your child has mastered SET Junior, just upgrade to SET.

Age: 3/4+

Beginner side.


Advanced side.
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6. Board Game: Taiga [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:7492]
Craig Bowser
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This game is a lot like memory, but it has a deduction element as well. The game has several large wooden pucks that have animals painted on both sides of them. A tile is placed in the middle of the pucks, that is the animal you are looking for. The goal is to find all four of the given animal. So players will take turns flipping over pucks until all four are found. Whoever finds the fourth one gets the tile. Then a new tile is placed in the middle, and you repeat until all the tiles are gone.

Here is where the game deviates from memory. There are five different animals in the game. All four pucks that have a fox on one side have a different animal on the other side. So if I am flip over a moose and find a fox, then I know that none of the other moose have a fox underneath. You can use the information, combined with memory, to help find the animal you are looking for. This small change really elevates the game. In the beginning your child will probably play it as just a memory game. But as they catch on, you can introduce the deduction element.

Age: 4+

 
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7. Board Game: Guess Who? [Average Rating:4.77 Overall Rank:15428]
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We actually own the Monsters Inc. version of this game called Who's Behind The Door Game? Monsters University. It is pretty much the same game, but with monsters instead of people. Everyone probably knows this game already. But if not, the basic idea is that each player has a person card. And they take turns asking questions to each other in an attempt to narrow down which person card the other player has. Questions like "Is your person wearing a hat?". The reason this game is so good is because it keeps children thinking and engaged. Trying to come up with questions, then applying the answer correctly to eliminate people from the pool.

A fun trick for playing this game with older children or even adults is to get two cards a piece. Then your questions will be "Do both your people...?" and "Does either of your people...?". It is actually quite challenging and strategic to narrow down the choices in as few questions as possible.

Age: 4+

 
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8. Board Game: Doodle Quest [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:2209]
Craig Bowser
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This game is all about developing spacial reasoning, a skill not often learned in games. Each player is given a piece of clear plastic, a marker, and an eraser. A challenge card is placed in the middle of the table. It may be a picture of some fish. It will also have instructions like circle the fish (this is just a basic example, the ones in the game are much more creative). Then each player will draw circles on their piece of plastic in the places they think will enclose the fish. Then players will take turns placing their plastic over top of the card in the center to see how well they placed their circles. Players will earn point for how well they do. And the game takes place over a number of rounds, each with a different challenge.

The game comes with a ton of challenges in the box, with varying degrees of difficulty. It can be a little harder for young kids to grasp at first. But after a few tries they'll get the hang of it. It is really a fun game, while challenging for for both kids and adults.

Age: 5+

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9. Board Game: Forbidden Island [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:587]
Craig Bowser
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This is a cooperative game where all the players are working together to collect the treasure and escape from the island before it sinks into the sea. Each player has their own character, complete with a special ability that is unique to that character. Players take turns moving around the island, taking actions to prevent the island from sinking, and collecting treasure cards. When enough treasure cards of the same type have been collected by a single player, they can be used to claim the treasure. Once all four treasure have been collected the players have to make it back to the helicopter pad to escape the island.

This game is just fantastic in every way. First and foremost, the co-op nature of the game makes it very easy to play with adults and children. I just love everyone working together to beat the challenge at hand. Second, the production value of this game is fantastic. All the components are top notch. When a child sees the treasure pieces, they will immediately be drawn into the game. And the price of this game is amazing for the production quality.

Every time you play the game you lay out the island tiles in a random arrangement. So each game will pose a unique puzzle to solve. In addition, the game comes with various difficulty settings to keep it challenging for even the most experienced players. If I was forced to pick one game on this list as the "best" game, it would be this one. I think every family should own a copy of this game. The game is simple enough for a 5 year old to grasp with some help, but also deep enough that older kids and adults can enjoy it too.

Age: 5+

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10. Board Game: Machi Koro [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:740]
Craig Bowser
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Thought about playing monopoly with your children? Stop right there! Monopoly is fine, but it takes too long, offers very few meaningful decisions, and quickly gets stale. It had it's time, but game design has come along way in 80 years. Enter Machi Koro. In this game each player is building their own little town. Everyone starts off with the same small buildings, and several face down cards called landmarks. On each players turn they will roll the die (or two dice later in the game) and earn income if the result matches one or more of their buildings. Some buildings even let you earn income when other players turns if their roll matches your buildings. After income is earned, the player can then purchase additional buildings from the center of the table. The buildings all provide additional sources of income based on different die rolls. The landmark buildings can also be turned face up instead of buying a card from the middle. They serve two purposes. First, once turned face up, they give the player a special ability or bonus. Second, when a player has purchased all their landmarks, the game ends, and that player is the winner.

This game offers a meaningful decision on almost every turn. Should I spend my money on a new building? Which building should I buy? Or should I start saving up for my next landmark? Turns are quick, and the ability to earn income on other players turns keeps everyone engaged. This game is also very flexible. When I first introduced my children to the game I slimmed down the building choices. We only played with a few landmarks. I took out the buildings that required two dice. This shortened the game down to about 15 min. Which was perfect for them. I've since added them back in and game game length is up to 30-40 min. I sill hold out some of the buildings that have some strong negative effects on the other players. You can tailor the card selection to your specific game play preferences.

As the kids get more familiar with the game they will notice how some of the buildings form combinations that can earn a lot of money. I also highly recommend picking up the first expansion, Machi Koro: Harbor, once they have the hang of the basic game. It adds new buildings, and creates a rotating market of buildings. It is a nice upgrade from the static pool of buildings. It keeps the game fresh play after play.

Age: 5+

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