Family Gift Ideas: Tabletop Games

Games are pretty popular in our home. We have a lot and we play a lot. Every Christmas we tend to get at least a couple of games and then spend Christmas afternoon enjoying them together!

I’m often asked which ones we specifically enjoy most so I got together with the kids and we put together some recommendations. Whether you are just starting to explore tabletop games or you’re a veteran, I hope you find some inspiration for something new to try.

Something to keep in mind is that all people are different. This list is based on the experience of myself and my two children and not intended to be used in the place of personal knowledge about your child/ren.

Some children are drawn to luck, others get excited about strategy, some like a challenge, some are keen on words or numbers or dice or cards or themes (cats are big here) and some children are not interested in games at all.

Our children began forming an interest in games around 3. At this point of initial enthusiasm, I think the two most important considerations for first games is length of play and the element of chance. Children of younger ages tend to be more distractable (though this is obviously not always the case) so it is a safer bet to begin with shorter games.

As for luck, it is the universal equaliser; the higher the element of chance, the more level the playing field naturally becomes. I personally don’t believe in arbitrarily influencing the outcome; it’s dishonest, children are more perceptive than you think and if your children are paying attention (spoiler: they are) then they’ll be observing how to play poorly which not only cements your requirement to keep tempering your ability but sells them short of their potential. [I intend to write an entire piece about this soon].

Beginner; fast, simple and with a high element of luck.

Pass the Pandas

Pass the Pandas is a dice game so very much luck reliant! Each player begins with a set of dice and depending on what you roll, you take different actions. There are only three options, with three sides blank so very little concepts to remember and it is a quick game (and can be made quicker by starting with fewer dice).

Number of Concepts: 3
Reading Required: No
Average Play Time: 10mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 6/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 6/10
My Fun Rating: 7/10

To be honest, we actually play this game quite often so I was surprised by the kid’s ratings but I think it is more the go to when we either don’t have much time or we are eating so only have one available hand. It’s simplicity is a selling point for those newer to gaming but my kid’s lamented “too easy”.

Slamwich

Slamwich is a variation on the classic game of snap where the focus is on creating sandwiches; either with a pair of cards to form a double decker or with one card between two matching cards to make a classic slamwich.

Number of Concepts: 3
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 15mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 8/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 7/10
My Fun Rating: 7/10

Though this game is quite basic, I think one of it’s draws is that it can be quite hilarious when you start thinking about the sandwich combinations: peanut butter and tomato? Sausage and jelly? It can inspire a lot of laughs!

Jenga

Jenga is another classic and in this variation it is played upon a shaking platform giving it a fun twist. If you’ve never played before this game involves removing planks from a precarious tower and trying not to be the one to cause it to collapse.

Number of Concepts: 1
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 10mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 10/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 2/10
My Fun Rating: 5/10

This is a hands on game which suits kids who are keen on that sort of sensory output like Aubrey. For Immy, she finds it not as stimulating or in her words “too boring”. She’s also not keen on the loudness and choas the ensues when it falls everywhere whereas for Aubrey, that’s a major selling point.

Mystery Garden

In this game players try to earn tiles by guessing the picture on it. Each tile is an element of the game board (an animal, object or element of nature) and players ask yes or no questions to try and determine which it is. Each question has the game character move forward one space and if they reach the castle before the picture is guessed, then the tile is kept by the answerer. This game can be collaborative which makes it very accessible and can be made more difficult by beginning the character further along the game board so that less questions are able to be asked.

Number of Concepts: 1
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 10mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 9/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 8/10
My Fun Rating: 6/10

Both kids really love this game as well as similar ones played without a game board like 20 questions or I Spy or Animal/Mineral/Vegetable. I have to say that I’m not as fond and find it quite repetitive.

Memory

Memory is a game that can be played with a standard card deck but our cat lover loves this version which features the wildlife of Africa and therefore many of the big cats. Memory is another game that can be made more or less difficult by increasing or reducing the number of matches in the game or by exploring more or less cohesive patterns of setting them up.

Number of Concepts: 1
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 10mins (depending on number of matches used)
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 8/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 8/10
My Fun Rating: 8/10

I think the ratings for this are at least mildly influenced by the pictures of the game but it is definitely one played often around here and one I also enjoy.

Twister

This is one of Immy’s highest recommendations, she is a big fan. Twister is a classic and just a lot of laughs. Whilst it is not always the case, many children are far more flexible than their parents but I’ve been seeing a personal trainer all year and am starting to close the gap in our household!

Number of Concepts: 1
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 10mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 8/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 8/10
My Fun Rating: 8/10

There isn’t much else to explain, people in this house just love laughing at contorted bodies.

Intermediate; medium length, multiple concepts and beginning to introduce some strategy.

Yahtzee

Yahtzee is a dice game where each play tries to fill out various dice conditions towards the highest score. This game employs a heavy dose of luck as all dice games tend to but also a decent amount of strategy and some level of understanding that at times, you have to take that zero.

Number of Concepts: 5
Reading Required: Numerals Only
Average Playtime: 25mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 8/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 8/10
My Fun Rating: 10/10

This was one of my favourite’s growing up so there is definite nostalgia mixed up in my thoughts but we love it; nothing more exciting that watching that final dice complete a yahtzee!

Rat-a-Tat Cat

This card game sees each player with four turned down cards in front of them that they are trying to move towards the lowest possible score. This is done by trading with the draw or discard pile but as the cards are turned down you have to remember what you hand is or risk making a bad trade. The difficult can be adjusted to suit those playing: players being able to look at each card before play begins, players being able to look at only the outside cards before play begins or players being able to look at the outside cards even during play.

Number of Concepts: 3
Reading Required: Numerals Only
Average Playtime: 5mins per round (we tend to play 5 rounds)
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 6/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 7/10
My Fun Rating: 8/10

The biggest selling point when we originally bought this game was of course, the cats. It was well loved when it originally joined our collection a couple of years ago and was first choice for a long time. It is one that is very customisable in terms of difficulty as well as length as you can play to a certain score, time or number of rounds depending on what suits.

Sleeping Queens

This game is won by waking enough queens (either 4 or 50 points whichever comes first). Queens can be woken directly by a King card or you can steal another players Queens by use of a knight (which can be defending by a dragon). Each turn you replenish your hand to 5 so when you’re hand is filling with numerical cards, you can trade them for new cards by making sums or collections of similar numbers.

Number of Concepts: 5
Reading Required: Numerals Only
Average Playtime: 10mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 8/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 7/10
My Fun Rating: 8/10

One of the things the kids enjoyed about this game was that the concept was devised by a kid! It is a game that benefits from some numerical knowledge with the cards ranging from 1-10 and sums able to be created out of as many cards as possible but can be played without; cards being traded in singularly and in pairs also.

Loot

A game of pirates trying to amass the most gold. You spend your time trying to sail and defend merchant ships (carrying gold) while also trying to steal other’s merchant ships using pirate boats and the pirates themselves.

Number of Concepts: 4
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 20mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 2/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 10/10
My Fun Rating: 9/10

This is one of Immy’s most favourite games and I too enjoy it. Aubrey is very not a fan, citing it to be boring (though she adds for good measure that she is not as interested in most games). Though this game has an element of luck with a level of dynamic strategy involved; needing to adjust your approach based on the actions of others. This is a game where your hand can become very dense and difficult to hold and peruse.

Expert; lengthy, complex and strategic.

Hot Tin Roof

This game involves care taking pairs of cats and helping them rejoin each other over rooftops by creating pathways (or paying to use pathways others have created). When you join your pair, you gain a sardine with the aim being to acquire the most sardines before they are all gone.

Number of Concepts: 5
Reading Required: No
Average Playtime: 30mins+
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 9/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 9/10
My Fun Rating: 10/10

This game I believe is the most universally loved in the list and obviously, the cats have something to do with that but beyond that it is a very engaging and enjoyable game. It is not the most complicated game though involving some strategic decisions but it can run quite long (we have had games span over an hour) so that is something to keep in mind.

The Big Fat Tomato Game

First thing I need to say is that this game is quite brutal. You are a farmer trying to grow the most tomatoes; you defend your crop and attack other’s crop and your luck can turn on a dime so one must be able to handle a sometimes heavy dose of disappointment. It is also quite complicated with each person’s turn involving 5 steps as well as multiple optional manoeuvres.

Number of Concepts: 10+
Reading Required: Yes but detailed pictures
Average Playtime: 20mins
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 7/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 8/10
My Fun Rating: 8/10

The opening made this game sound pretty awful but one thing it is is very fun. Sure, things can go super wrong but they can also go super right — definitely high risk, high reward. Aubrey said she would have given it a higher score if it wasn’t so hard. Neither of our children are independent readers but after a few times playing are able to remember most cards based on the pictures and if not, somebody who can read simply helps them to do so.

 

Bohnanza

This game involves each player tending to two plots of beans with the option of expanding to a third  though we most always play with the third plot being standard and the game rules outline other variation possibilities too. You can at any point pull your crop up in exchange for coins (varies based on bean and the number you have accumulated) and the aim is to acquire the most coins before the deck has been expended.

Sounds simple enough until you realise that each turn, you are called to plant at least three new items; if they match what you’re already planting, then they can join that plots string but if not, you need to pull something up (occasionally for no coins depending on the level of completion) or trade them off to somebody else (and that can often be for free because you’re negotiating from a position of weakness).

Number of Concepts: 7
Reading Required: Numerals Only
Average Playtime: 30mins+
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 5/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 10/10
My Fun Rating: 10/10

This is another long game but very beloved by Immy and myself, it is so much fun and one of the regular first choices for play. One other thing to keep in mind is that you can end up holding many cards which can be difficult for smaller hands AND you cannot shuffle your hand, it must remain as you draw it which even as an adult can be easy to forget in the moment when you’re first starting to play. Aubrey has actually never played but gave it a 5 based on observation.

Dominion

Dominion is a deck building game in which each player tries to acquire as much as possible of the unclaimed estates. Dominion is played with different variables each game and has over 20 expansions worth of card options so it is an ever changing and dynamic game with millions of possible combinations. It is easily the most complex game in this list.

Before each game, a selection of cards is chosen and laid out as well as the gold and estates. Each player begins with a small deck of 10 cards (7 gold and 3 estates), drawing 5 cards for each turn and using these cards to take up to one action and one buy. Using the gold the have they then buy further cards that can influence their amount actions, buys or gold in future turns so that they may then increase their potential to buy more expensive cards and so on until their deck is producing enough each turn to purchase estates. At the end of their turn the hand is placed in the discard pile which is shuffled to become the new draw pile once that is depleted. Your deck becomes bigger and bigger as the game continues.

Number of Concepts: potentially hundreds but at least 15
Reading Required: Yes
Average Playtime: 30mins+
Aubrey’s Fun Rating: 1/10
Immy’s Fun Rating: 9/10
My Fun Rating: 10/10

This game is one we often play on Friday nights which we spend with my family and it is very enjoyed by all. It involves reading but again, has pictures that can be just as usable once one is familiar (though as the game can be altered the number of things to remember is drastically increased). This game also involves shuffling as each person builds and maintains their own deck though one could easily assist with that process. There is a lot of strategy that goes into building a efficient deck as well as a number of things to keep track of during your turn.

In reality any child can play any game; sometimes they might just require a little more help and practise. The best game for them will always be the one they want to play.

Game on!

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the awesome post Jess. I am in the process of choosing games for Christmas and while some of these we’re on the list (from seeing you play them LOL) there were others that weren’t, and I appreciate your descriptions and analysis. Super helpful. Maybe add affiliate links so you can earn some income for your hard work. You deserve it. Thanks again. 🙂

    1. Glad it was helpful! I don’t have affiliates that sell games though I could apply for some easily, I’m a lazy blogger lol. Maybe I’ll add them one day 🙂

    1. We originally had it in the list because I enjoy the game myself but when it came to reviewing it, the kids both rate it a 1/10 so not very popular around here!

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