Unplug

Turn off the TV/tablet/phone/LeapFrog and play face to face with these 12 awesome, family-friendly games.


Zoo on the Loose

Objective: Lead five cuddly animal escapees on a playful adventure by following the directions on the cards. When the zookeeper card pops up, players must get the animals back in place as quickly as possible.

Ages: 4 and up

Players: 1 or more

Cost: $29.95

Why you’ll love it: Kids who dig stuffed animals will adore this simple game, which includes a large play-mat-style game board to help children recognize colors, understand spatial relationships and pay attention to details. It also encourages memory skills and vocabulary.

Where to buy it: MindWare.com



E-I-E-I-Go    

Objective: Each player repeatedly rolls three animal-sided dice in a race to match a specific farm animal. The first player to roll three matching animals wins the round (and a token). The first player to collect all four animal tokens (pig, cow, horse, sheep) wins the game.

Ages: 4 and up

Players: 2 to 4 players

Cost: $19.95

Why you’ll love it: This preschooler-friendly game is like a cross between Yahtzee and Tenzi with a dash of Old MacDonald trivia.

Where to buy it: MindWare.com


Pengoloo

Objective: Collect the penguin’s eggs by remembering their colors when your turn rolls around.

Ages: 4 and up

Players: 2 to 4

Cost: $29.99

Why you’ll love it: This imaginative twist on the classic Memory game helps little ones develop recall skills. Additional rules for older players allow for more complex play. And you can feel eco-friendly about this one because the manufacturer has vowed to plant two trees for every tree used to create the game’s ultra-cute wooden pieces.

Where to buy it: Marbles the Brain Store 



Bugaloop with HexBug Nano
                                                                                

Objective: The first player to get three plastic bug pieces to the finish — without getting pushed off course by a wandering HexBug — wins.

Ages: 6 and up

Players: 2 to 4

Cost: $30

Why you’ll love it: This sequel to the Bugs in the Kitchen board game sends the Hexbug through two clear pipes — and underground beneath the game board with no indication of when it will resurface — creating a suspenseful scene for players who must move their little plastic bugs forward by rolling a die.

Where to buy it: ABC Toy Zone


Qwirkle

Objective: Earn points by building rows and columns of tiles that share a common color or shape without allowing duplicates. The player with the most points wins.

Ages: 6 and up, but we think preschoolers could get an early start on this game, too.

Players: 2 to 4

Cost: $29.95

Why you’ll love it: This game mixes the matching fun of Dominoes with the excitement, scoring and strategy of Scrabble with 108 colorful, kid-friendly, wooden tiles. This 10th-anniversary edition includes four tile racks to help players organize their pieces.

Where to buy it: MindWare.com


Bounce-Off

Objective: Bounce pingpong balls into the grid to create the required patterns.

Ages: 7 and up, but younger kids can play too

Players: 2 to 4

Cost: $17.99

Why you’ll love it: This game is addictive and fast paced, and the challenge of bouncing the pingpong balls perfectly into place is surprisingly fun. It’s like a more precise version of beer pong (sans beer). 

Where to buy it: Toys R' Us


Slapzi
 

Objective: Match your picture cards to the right clue cards as fast as you can.

Ages: 8 and up

Players: 2 to 10 players

Cost: $20

Why you’ll love it: This pictorial game merges the urgency of the card game Speed, the tricky matching of Spot It! and even the judgement calls of Apples to Apples. And it has staying power, thanks to 65 clue cards, 120 double-sided picture cards and numerous ways to vary play. Also, it’s from the makers of the must-have dice game, Tenzi (which we also highly recommend for families).

Where to buy it: Kiddywampus


Ticket to Ride

Objective: Create railways between destinations according to your drawn cards.

Ages: 8 and up

Players: 2 to 5

Cost: $34.99–$49.99

Why you’ll love it: A board game doesn’t win Game of the Year awards in eight countries unless it’s really something special. This game boasts a perfect blend of "luck of the draw," strategy and competition as players race to connect train routes throughout the U.S. and Canada before other players capitalize on the same limited track space. Players who want to explore other eras and parts of the world should check out special editions and expansion packs dedicated to certain eras as well as geographic areas such as Asia, Europe, Africa, India and Nordic countries.

Where to buy it: Games by James


Rock Me Archimedes

Objective: Move your marbles from the center of the teetering platform to your end without letting either end touch the ground or tabletop.

Ages: 8 and up

Players: 2

Cost: $34.99

Why you’ll love it: This game helps kids develop strategizing and estimation skills. But it also incorporates the often-neglected idea that sometimes one must retreat in order to ultimately move forward. And the finished real-wood and polished marbles of the game are pleasing enough to the eye that you won’t mind leaving the game out on a table.

Where to buy it: Marbles the Brain Store 


Sock Puppet Charades

Objective: Act out what’s on your card using sock puppets and a collection of provided props.

Ages: 8 and up

Players: 3 to 6

Cost: $24.99

Why you’ll love it: What could be more whimsical than a game of charades with the kids? Charades with sock puppets! And these sock puppets are adorkable. With a limited number of basic props and many things to act out (a person, a thing and an action on each card), imagination and innovation are required.

Where to buy it: Marbles the Brain Store 


Suspend and Suspend Jr.

Objective: Hang all your pieces, suspended only by other pieces, without causing the whole structure to fall down.

Ages: Ages 4 and up for Suspend Jr. and ages 8 and up for Suspend 

Players: 1 to 4

Cost: $16.99–$19.99

Why you’ll love it: This game is simple enough for anyone with sufficient fine-motor skills to play, but it’s endlessly entertaining. Similar to games like Jenga, the goal of not being the one to cause the structure to fall down adds excitement and dramatic tension. Each player strategizes over where to balance each next piece. But with every turn, the entire structure changes. 

Where to buy it: Games by Jamesmelissaanddoug.com


Spot It! Hip

Objective: Race to spot matches between kitschy objects, hipster expressions, guilty pleasures and pop cultural icons.

Ages: 13 and up, but come on: Any kid who won’t eat the cards can at least try to play any version of this game.

Players: 2 to 8

Cost: $12.99

Why you’ll love it: Though there’s only one matching object between any two cards, the objects’ varying sizes make it surprisingly hard to spot them. Plus: Like all versions of this game, these circular cards come in a cute tin, not a flimsy box.

Where to buy it: Amazon.com


Amy Sutton is a St. Paul-based freelance writer and an avid player of board games, party games and card games. Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Parent. 

 See our other article about the benefits of playing board games as a family here.