The snow is falling, the temperature is dropping, and chestnuts are being roasted on open fires. Ok, so we’ve never actually roasted any chestnuts on an open fire, but we sing about it a lot this time of year. The other thing we do a lot of this time of year is play family board games.
So what are the best board games to pull out on cold winter nights?
Well, that depends a lot on who and how many people are playing. That’s why we think it’s important to make sure your game shelf or game closet is supplied with a variety of family board games so you’re ready for any occasion.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of the top board games that we believe every family should have on their game shelf.
These are the 10 board games that we’ll make sure to rescue if our house is burning down – or at least the first to buy again if the fire marshal stops us from running back in. And with over 160 games in our game closet, this is a tough list to make. They’re all great board games and we have no hesitation in recommending all of them to every family out there.
Note: Even though we’ve listed the manufacturer suggested ages, we find that often times those ages are higher than necessary. Most likely your kids will be up to the challenge before then.
10 Must-Have Family Board Games:
1. Ticket to Ride – Strategic fun
Ticket to Ride is a fantastic family board game that’s great for people of all ages. Players compete to build train routes on the board and earn points based on the length and destinations. We love that it has a good balance of strategy and luck and is simple to learn and play. Learning to plan your route based on your cards and knowing when to block others are the keys to a good strategy. There are different versions to choose from – we like the Europe version the best. But any version is a must-have.
See our full review of Ticket to Ride: Europe.
2-5 Players, Ages 8+, 45 Minutes, Around $40
2. Blokus – Spacial recognition and planning
Blokus is an abstract strategy game with colored Tetris-shaped pieces that players are trying to play onto the board. The only caveat to placing a piece is that it may not lie adjacent to your other pieces, but instead must be placed touching at least one corner of your pieces already on the board. Blokus is great for developing spacial recognition skills as well as strategic planning. As the game nears the end is when it really gets tricky – and fun.
See our full review of Blokus.
2 or 4 Players, Ages 5+, 20 Minutes, Around $20
3. Settlers of Catan – Resource building
Settlers of Catan (now just known as Catan) has been at the top of the best selling hobby board games for a number of years. And there’s a good reason for it. When it was published in 1995 it established a new type of game experience. What we love about Settlers of Catan is that even when it’s not your turn, you still participate. Any time a player rolls a number that corresponds to where your settlements or cities are located, you get a reward – your spot produces those resources. And you’ll use those resources to build and expand further. The variable layout of the tiles and numbers make it a fresh game every time you play.
See our full review of Settlers of Catan.
3-4 Players, Ages 10+, 90 Minutes, Around $35
4. Carcassonne – Create your own world
Carcassonne is another good game that has a great balance of strategy and luck and is another hugely popular family board game for good reason. In Carcassonne you build a country side full of cities, farms, and roads. You randomly select a tile and place it so the board and countryside grows over the course of the game. You place your miniature people (Meeples) on the tiles depending on how you want to score points. And that’s where the strategy comes in. Good placement of your meeples will determine your success or failure.
See our full review of Carcassonne.
2-5 Players, Ages 8+, 60 Minutes, Around $25
5. Pandemic or Forbidden Island – Cooperative play
Pandemic is a great cooperative board game. When you’re not really in the head-to-head competitive mode, it’s good to have a board game where you can all work together to defeat the game. In Pandemic diseases are breaking out around the world and your team of experts need to work together to clean up the mess and find cures for the diseases. And Forbidden Island has been described as Pandemic-Lite. In Forbidden Island your team of experts is searching for treasure on a sinking island. It has a variable board set up so the game offers a new challenge every time. And you can also increase the difficulty level if you’re feeling particularly daring.
See our full reviews of Pandemic and Forbidden Island.
Pandemic: 2-4 Players, Ages 10+, 60 Minutes, Around $25
Forbidden Island: 2-4 Players, Ages 10+, 30 Minutes, Around $15 (best valued game out there)
6. Mastermind – Deduction
Another 2 Player family board game that we recommend as a must-have in your family board game collection is Mastermind. Mastermind is the classic game of solving a code. One person creates a code and the other takes guesses along the way and receives subtle hints to help them deduce the correct pattern. It’s another great thinking game that can challenge both young and old alike. And if you want a little more of a challenge look for Super Mastermind where the code contains 5 colors instead of 4.
See our full review of Mastermind.
2 Players, Ages 8+, 15 Minutes, Around $15
7. Chess – Every piece has its role
We think everyone should own a chess set and know how to play it. The classic game of chess is a great way to develop thinking abilities. We love that every type of piece (from Pawn to King) has it’s unique way to move, that you have to look forward a few moves to plan your attack, and that you have to anticipate the moves of your opponent. It can be a challenge for younger players to pick up on. But if they start learning young, those thinking capabilities will pay future dividends.
2 Players, Ages 6+, Time and Cost vary widely
8. Sequence – Team play
For a great game that’s played in teams and allows for a large number of players to participate we say Sequence is a must-have family board game. Of course, Sequence is really a mix of a board game and a card game, but a lot of board games also require cards, so we’ll include Sequence in this list. It’s a very rare occasion when we don’t play Sequence at a large family gathering. Even when we just want a quick game on our own family night, Sequence hits the table most often. And since we have 6 in our family we can mix it up between 2 teams of 3 and 3 teams of 2 for different dynamics each time.
See our full review of Sequence.
2-12 Players, Ages 7+, 10 Minutes, Around $20
9. Chutes and Ladders – Bad things can happen
Yes it’s just a roll and move game and there isn’t any strategy involved. But that’s just what young tikes need. For little kids, this is a must-have board game where they learn a number of critical things. They learn how to take turns, that being behinds doesn’t mean you’ll lose, and that bad things can happen and they’ll be able to deal with it. This is a great start to teaching young kids how to lose gracefully.
2-4 Players, Ages 4+, 20 Minutes, Around $10
10. Boggle – A competitive word find OR Word on the Street – A tug-of-war of words
Now there may be a few in our family that wouldn’t include Boggle on this list. In fact, if they knew it made the list, they would disavow having any part in this must-have family board game list. And while they will continue to complain, I believe you need to have a word game in your board game collection. So while it’s on the list for now, we’ll leave it up to you to pick your favorite word game. Just make sure that you get at least one word game in your collection. If you don’t like the Boggle “word find” route, then the first one that we’d recommend take it’s place is Word on the Street. Whereas Boggle is a quiet game with everyone staring at the letter dice, Word on the Street is noisy with everyone hollering and grabbing letters.
See our full review of Word on the Street and Word on the Street Junior.
Boggle: 1-8 Players, Ages 8+, 10 Minutes, Around $15
Word on the Street: 2+ Players, Ages 12+, 20 Minutes, Around $18
Need even more ideas for board game gift ideas? We’ve put together a list of over 40 games to consider for giving as presents – broken into 8 categories. Check out our Board Game Gift Guide.
We’d love to hear what your “must-have” family board games are. Which games would you make sure to rescue if your house were on fire?
And be sure to check out the Top 10 Must-Have Family Card Games.