Hey gang! It’s Andy Larson here! Not only am I the host of the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast, but I’m also the father of two adorable young kids which you’ve probably seen or heard on the podcast before. As a result, I’m constantly on the prowl for anything and everything that might provide even an hour of family oriented quality time to fill up the hours between when they wake up and go to sleep.
This is especially true on weekends and holidays when I don’t have the benefit of school in helping provide suitable distraction from starting fires and poking the cat with a broom.
That’s why I’ve become a big connoisseur of board games. I mean, I’ve always loved table top gaming, but in recent years, the whole family man urge to play games with the young-ins has become quite pronounced. So if there’s a new or interesting board game out there on the market, chances are that we’ve at least tried it at the Larson house at one point or another.
However, with the Christmas season around the corner, I thought to myself that there must be other parents out there with young kids that are starving to play something other than just Candy Land, Mouse Trap, or Monopoly Jr. for the 300th time. So with that in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of 5 board games that are kid tested and approved that you might not know of in hopes that maybe some poor shlub out there might heed my good advice and pick up at least one as an extra present under the tree this holiday season.
I will say that given the decided bent of this website as well as my own tastes, all of these games have a decidedly geeky flavor to them, but trust me, geek is cool nowadays. Kids eat this stuff up with a spoon! Besides in addition to being geeky, most of these games I have found are pretty darn educational to boot, so I’ll be including some details on that at the end of each entry.
5.) House of Danger
(Choose Your Own Adventure)
Any fan of GotS worth his salt knows that I’m a big fan of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series to the point that I got my son, Jakob, also hooked these terrifically interactive narratives where you spend most of your time holding your thumb down on the page while you make your selection just in case you picked the wrong one.
As a result, we were overjoyed when Z-Man Games released this adaptation of the classic CYOA book “House of Danger” as a cooperative board game for the entire family. Playing a lot a team based RPG lite, players read off a series of cards with the same classic choice based decision making to determine the direction of the story and collect items while also occasionally rolling the dice to overcome challenges and battle foes.
As I mentioned, given everyone is actually playing together as the same detective investigating the mysterious Marsten Mansion, there’s a decidedly non competitive vibe to this game which might be appealing to some parents who want to keep the family squabbles to a minimum and just enjoy each others company.
The only drawback to the game is that once you’ve played through the entire way, it might be difficult to replay it given like the CYOA books themselves, you already know the same path to victory. However, with 5 extensive chapters full of stuff to explore and plenty of dead ends, it might take you several game sessions to actually overcome the House of Danger. My suggestion for parents in that regard is to restart the game from scratch every time you reach a “The End” card, instead of taking the game’s suggested penalty on rolls. Doing this will also help stretch the game’s shelf life.
Finally if Science Fiction is more your style, they just came out with a second version of this game with the classic “War with the Evil Power Master” edition. That’s definitely on Jakob’s Christmas list for sure!
Educational tip: Take turns reading the cards as a family including all the children. Encourage them to act out what they are reading to help draw everyone into the narrative and make for more of an exciting game session!
4.) Space Park
Thanks to Kickstarter over the past couple of years, I have been introduced to one of my favorite indie board making companies in the business, Keymaster Games! You might have heard about me previously gush about these guys on either the podcast or earlier this year when I named their Campy Creatures game to be one of last years best board game pick ups!
Although I could have suggested Campy Creatures as an entry on this list, some parents might be turned off by some of the “horror” aspects of that game even though as the name suggests, all the monsters are indeed “campy”. However, more to the point, I feel like that game requires some pretty high level thinking as you have to predict what multiple other players are going to do very quickly and react, something that I do think is more in line with a teenager or older.
But I still wanted to highlight some of the absolutely bombastic games that Keymaster is putting out and so I decide to include Space Park instead, given it’s rules and game play are a lot more linear and therefore easier to be picked up by preteens or even younger. I will say that my 7 year old son really loves this game, so it’s definitely one that can be played by kids even that young.
Space Park revolves around sending collecting resources from different planets turn by turn which you then use in a variety of different ways to ultimately get points which allow you to win. Perhaps you are attempting to collect enough crystals to earn a fancy badge worth 6 points, or maybe you just want to harvest and turn in pink crystals from Cosmic Canyon for individual points. Whatever your strategy, this game boasts a pretty formulaic and simple concept that is easy to understand but also difficult to master.
Plus it’s got some incredible retro 50s style art which I just find gorgeous. Besides, Keymaster is a young hungry game company, folks! Get out there and support them like you would any small business!
Educational Tip: Math! This game really does focus on problem solving around not only how is the best way to earn points, but also pattern recognition and manipulation as you have to ensure the spaceships are going to be in the right places at the right time to collect exactly what you might need!
3.) King of Tokyo
Do you remember Magic: The Gathering? Of course, you do. Otherwise I would have had to severely mock you for living under a rock for the entire decade that was the 90s.
Anyways, what if I was to tell you that the creator of that game, Richard Garfield, actually developed other incredibly awesome games you can play as well. Well, I don’t about “games” as in plural, but I can definitely say he had at least one more home run with the fantastic Kaiju family beat ’em up game entitled “King of Toyko”.
Yep, if there’s one thing I know about kids they love roleplaying as big monsters that stomp around kicking building and breathing fire on each other. So when you take that concept and merge it with the dice rolling game aspect that we all know from the classic Yahtzee, you have a game that kids love but is easy enough on adults to grasp the rules of.
With a host of colorful, well designed Kaiju creatures to choose from such as MechaDragon or Cyber Bunny, plenty of different strategies that can be employed to win, and most of all fairly short games lasting 15 to 20 minutes tops, this game has become a staple at the Larson House during Family Game Nights. And as parents, throw on some Blue Oyster Cult in the background to make it extra cheesy as well.
“Oh NO! There goes Tokyo! Go! Go! Godzilla!”
Educational Tip: Again…MATH! Sincerely, when Jakob was like 4 or 5 years old, this was one of the first games that I used to reinforce basic math concepts such as addition. AND IT WORKED! Plus, this game teaches strong resource management as well as risk/reward skills.
I gotta say that if there’s probably one other common denominator among those that visit GotS daily other than comic books it has to be Dungeons & Dragons. Whether you are an active player, someone that dabbled in the past, or like my co host, Chad, who is aware of the game but it’s just not his cup of tea, chances are you have at least a basic understanding of the world’s most famous table top RPG.
However, RPGs can be extremely daunting for geek parents to introduce to their kids, given they often rely on some pretty high level imagination skills but more to the point, they require a pretty robust attention span given there’s often times no board to give visual cues and keep kids engaged.
There are also some parents that would rather play traditional board games with player pieces and dice, and that the entire concept of introducing a 5 year old to the realms of orcs getting their heads chopped off is not their jam.
Never fear though, because it seems as if the creators of D&D always had a fool proof back up plan for those that fall into this camp, and that was the game “Dungeon”.
First created in 1975 in part by the godfather of D&D, Gary Gygax, this simplified board game version of a traditional D&D “Dungeon crawl” adventure boils down to four simple steps that any one can understand.
- Move to a Room by rolling two 6 sided dice
- Fight a Monster in a Room by rolling two 6 sided dice
- Win = You get treasure . Lose = You lose treasure
- Be the first to collect “X” number of treasure value and return to the start!
Of course there are some additional optional rules such as some starting classes that make it easier or harder to fight some of the monsters. Plus there’s also some items you can pick up along the way to make the game more interesting. However, in the end, it’s a pretty basic game which introduces some basic concepts of RPGs without bombarding anyone with way too much information.
Not a fan of the mythology of D&D? Pick up some other player character pieces at a local comic or hobby shop and change things up! For example, we play the game at the Larson House with my Masters of the Universe Mini figures, pretending the entire board is the gigantic Castle Grayskull! My kids absolutely adore it!
Educational Tip: I know I keep harping on Math, but this is another great game for that. You have to collect “X” number of gold value worth of treasure to win. Each treasure has a gold value assigned to it. Kids have to use basic math to figure out if they have enough treasure yet to race back to the start. Presto! Math Skills for the Win!
(Escape from Atlantis)
When I was coming up with this list, my co host, Rob Stewart, said that if Survive didn’t end up on this list as number 1, he would eat my cowboy hat, just simply because of how much I’ve gushed about it to basically everyone.
Well as much as it would be my Christmas present to watch Stew eat a straw hat dosed in A-1 Steak Sauce, I would be lying if I didn’t list this game as my number 1. I feel like in the last 20 years, it is THE BEST new board game I’ve been introduced too, and it has such simple premise and universal appeal, that it’s easy for everyone to pick up and start playing.
Sincerely, most people that see the game with it’s wooden little meeples and hexagonal game board pieces immediately think of another board game that’s recently become quite popular in “Settlers of Catan”. As a result, some who think that game is a little too complicated for their tastes might shy away from this exciting race to escape from a sinking island. But that would be a grave mistake indeed because this game has it all!
It’s at times extremely cooperative, as you must constantly forge alliances with a host of other players to access boats as your people struggle to make the trek away from the slowly disintegrating island of doom and make it safely to the mainland. However, at the same time it’s extremely competitive as the game forces you to take control of a myriad of sea beasts including whales, sharks, and the dreaded sea serpents which can drown and/or devour your fellow players, ruining their chances of claiming the most points in the end from their successfully saved survivors.
I feel like gamers from 6 to 60 will enjoy this game immensely after only a few minutes. It’s action packed, exciting, and cutthroat while at the same time balancing that with a healthy dose of strategy and some blind luck.
My suggestion would be to pay extra and buy the 5 and 6 player extension as it really is a even better game with the more people you can cram around the board. However, I wouldn’t play with any of the expansions with the extra creatures, like the dolphins or Kraken squid thingie. Those things just make the game overly complicated which ruins one of the biggest charms in my opinion in how classically easy this game is to play.
Educational Tip: Given one of the main rules of the game is you have to remember which of your meeples has the highest point values and ensure they get to safety first, this game really can help improve memory recall as an overall strategy for winning!