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Beyond Monopoly: Brain Boosting Games for 2018

Beyond Monopoly: Brain Boosting Board Games for 2018

As an educator, I’m often asked about what most helps children realize their potential. One of the most vital aspects is executive function. Executive function is the cognitive process that allow us to plan for the future, control impulses and make sense of external stimuli, including sensory input. Executive function is like the conductor of the symphony in the brain. Executive functioning allows us to plan ahead, organize, set goals, focus, prioritize, self- evaluate and stick with a task when it gets tough. Executive function is also connected to working memory, our ability to ‘see ourselves in our mind’s eye.’ This is important for everything from hitting a baseball to multiplication.

A fun way to help your child develop important executive function skills is to play games as a family. Board games are not only great practice for burgeoning executive function skills, but are also great tools for parents to see where your child may need extra support. Many of these games are particularly beneficial for developing social skills, turn-taking, and cooperation. Family interaction, through something like a family game night, is pure gold for today’s families who are often technologically connected yet socially disconnected. The following list are my recommendations for great family game play.

18 Great Family Games for 2018 in age appropriate order:

1. Charades for Kids

Three to six players can play this basic Charades game, which can promote game playing and social interaction even for non-readers, ages 4 and up.

2. Animal Upon Animal

Animal Upon Animal, a HABA game, requires fine motor skills, as players construct towers using cute wooden animals. Playtime is a brisk 15 minutes or less, but children (ages 4 and up) will want to immediately replay this game.

3. Sleeping Grump

My Elementary class loves this cooperative game, geared for up to four players ages 4 and up.

4. Enchanted Forest

My personal childhood go-to game involves both rolling dice and moving around the board, as well as a component of memory and deduction. Works with two to six players, though best with four players (ages 6 and up.)

5. Labyrinth

Brain-benders and mazes are wonderful tools to develop cognitive skills and Labyrinth is a fun maze game that adults and children ages 6 and up can enjoy. There is even a 3-D version of this game for added fun.

6. Qwirkle

To get the idea of Qwirkle, think of Scrabble, if it were played with symbols and colors instead of letters. Up to four players and ages 6 and up.

7. Dixit

Great for parties, Dixit is a beautiful story-telling game that can accommodate up to six players ages 8 and up. The storyteller must make up a phrase to describe one of the cards and players must try to pick out the correct card. This game inspires creativity and use of intuitive reasoning.

8. Bohnanza

Up to seven players can join in this card game, with the object of making coins by planting sets of beans and harvesting them. There is a lot of table talk, trading and deal making in this game. Ages 8 and up

9. Ticket to Ride

There are many variants to TTR out there, but the original edition features a map of U.S. and Canada. Players compete to build train routes between major cities. Up to five players can enjoy this easy-to-learn game. You and your family members (ages 8 and up) may also brush up on geography in the process.

10. Sushi Go

This fast- paced card game has players collecting sushi to score points. Play time is about 15 minutes and two to five players can play, though it is best with three or four players. This is a great game for ages 8 and up and is a great lead-in game for the more complex Seven Wonders (my all- time favorite game for teens and adults.)

11. Takenoko

Takenoko starts with a hexagonal tile, a farmer and a panda. Players will lay down plots, cultivate bamboo and feed the panda to score points from goals on cards. Suitable for ages 8 and up, the game accommodates two to four players with a play time around 45 minutes.

12. Splendor

Collect chips and develop your wealth with cards, with the goal of reaching 15 prestige points before your opponent. This quick and easy game is best for ages 10 and up.

13. Love Letter

This is a great quick game in a portable size, usually sold for under $10. Players (ages 8 and up) must make logical deductions, keep a cool demeanor, and make calculated risks to win. From a deck of 16, you must draw a card and play a card on your turn, trying to expose the identity of others and win the game by having the highest ranked card at the end. Suitable for two to four players, the game boasts a 20-minute play time and is great for teens. Variations include Letters to Santa and Batman Love Letter.

14. Ingenious

The game Ingenious centers on players placing domino- style tiles down on a game board to score points for each color group that he or she enlarges. However, the player’s score will only count in her lowest color category at the end of the game. One to four players, ages 10 and up, can play but the game can work for younger players with assistance.

15. Forbidden Island

Forbidden Island is an award-winning cooperative game for players ages 10 and up. The theme is a do-or-die race to recover four treasures before the island is flooded. By using various roles and working together as a team, you may be lucky enough to collect the treasure and escape the island in time. (Two to four players)

16. Settlers of Catan

One of the most popular board games in the world, Settlers of Catan features a map that changes each time you play. You must gather raw resources (by trade, theft, or dice roll) and build roads, settlements, cities and armies. Three to four players can enjoy the base game version, which is suitable for ages 10 and up. Expansions and other versions can add more complexity or number of players to the base game.

17. Pandemic

This cooperative game is suitable for teenagers to adults. Players must work together to eradicate diseases on a map game board. Each player is assigned a character with unique skills such as Scientist and Operation Specialist. This is the grown-up version of Forbidden Island. Best played with 3-4 players.

18. Codenames

Although this game is geared for teens and adults, some younger ages may be able to get the hang of Codenames. This is best played with teams, and can be perfect for parties and family gatherings. Teams must guess the identity of “Secret Agents” through one- word clues that can point to multiple words on the board by the team’s Spy Master. Each round lasts around 15 minutes and table talk can be hilarious.

Honorable Mentions:

· First Orchard, with heavy wooden pieces and rules that adjust to multiple ages, is a cooperative game for toddlers 2 and older.

· No Stress Chess is a great way to learn the classic game of Chess.

· Scrambled States of America is both fun and helps children over the age of 6 recognize U.S. States.

· Mysterium is Dixit meets Clue—a cooperative game where each player is given mysterious clues by the Ghost Player that relate to a whodunnit. This game is best for ages 10 and up and perfect for multigenerational play.

You can find these games at many retailers online, such as Amazon, as well as at local hobby and games stores. If you are in the Richmond area, check out World of Mirth and One Eyed Jacques in Carytown as well as The Dragon’s Den in Short Pump for fantastic selections of family- friendly games. For more information, check out and Wil Wheaton’s celebrity board games on

Note: This article is a revised from previously published article in 2015

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