The first time I brought a board game to the family, I remember it vividly. One cold winter night, we were all together at home in the family room, brainstorming things to do. I had recently purchased a new board game, Ticket to Ride, and I decided that would be the activity for the evening. As I pulled out the game, laid the board down, and began to read out the rules, you can see the subtle spark of interest. Even my parents, who originally didn’t seem like the video gaming type, were reminiscing about the Golden Age of Train Travel, when their kids (aka my two younger siblings and I) were merely deer in the headlights of train whistles.

Board games promote unique family strengthening. They promote communication, teamwork, healthy competition – essential things in growing a family. While playing the game, family members will engage in a fun and memorable conversation, share some of their unique findings, and get away from the digital screens that keep us so separated. This is the reason why I made the board games a part of our family – to have a place for us all to meet, learn about each other, and socialize.

In this article, I will explore some of the amazing advantages playing board games brings to families, including the impact they can make on simple cognitive and social skills, all while having some good (mostly) friendly fun. I will include some advice on how you can start your own stack of cardboard and start turning off the television in favor of some good old-fashioned plastic miniatures and meeples.

The First Step – Choosing the Right Game

Choosing family-friendly games is key to maintaining that positive everyone-included atmosphere at family functions. A family-friendly game is one that is equally as much fun for kindergartners as it is for grandparents. It’s for families—all families. These are all games that have been designed and tested for big age ranges, ensuring that whether young or old, or anything in between can play together. A good family-friendly game requires teamwork, creativity, but most importantly, having fun. Nothing brings dusty relatives together and forces inter-family politeness than a good game. Choosing family-friendly games is key to maintaining civil behavior across all age ranges.

Choosing a board game suitable for my entire clan was a petrifying process. There are just so many choices. I wanted to find a game we could all play regardless of age or skill level. To get me started, I researched game reviews online, got suggestions from family and friends, then simply visited local toy stores. Once in the toy store, I evaluated each game for appropriateness, based on (1) game rules (i.e., the easier to understand, the better); (2) length of time per game; and (3) a maximum number of players. I also wanted to buy a game that older and younger participants both had a fair shot at winning.

After much thought, I purchased a highly recommended game called Ticket to Ride. Gameplay consists of building train routes on a map. Simple enough for kids to grasp, yet still strategically satisfying for adults. And the game pieces? Brightly colored and fun to play with! Ticket to Ride succeeded in my household in a way that surprised me; we all played together for many hours. It was so much fun to gather around the dining table, strategizing and laughing. I would bring out this game at any family gathering, and it felt great knowing anyone in my family could engage in a game of Ticket to Ride. But selecting a game title was more challenging; you’ll need to cater to the wildly different tastes that people will have.

The Initial Reactions

Initially, everyone in the family had a different reaction. I could see a quizzical look on my dad’s face—almost a mix of curiosity and skepticism—like a protective layer of comfort food for one’s brain, asking, “Is it really going to be all much fun and excitement as compared to the games I grew up with?” My mum adopted the most neutral, peacemaker-like position, with a generic smile, rolling her eyes along with the operationalization of the rules of the game. With the kids—filled with innocent, relentless energy—on the other side of this table, I could see their twinkle eyes ready to dig out treasure-trove of fun from this game beyond, at the expense of their 爷爷 (Grandpa) and 婆婆 (Grandma).

The beginning of the game was peppered with amusing moments of mild frustration: Dad, wrestling with the instructions, bemoaning the loss of “the good old days” of simple games like go-fish and shuttlecock while Mom called for regular suspensions of game action to clarify the rules. Through it all, the children’s spirits remained high. They laughed, made mistakes, and bounced in sheer joy at the proceedings. Even the most curmudgeonly of grownup sensibilities couldn’t hold out for long against such a bombardment of infectious fun. The biggest laugh of the evening arrived when the youngest among us fumbled a handful of meeples to the ground, the event greeted by a gentle groan of empathetic disappointment.

I was using a little finesse to handle both reactions. It was important to give everyone patience without allowing the chorus of negativity to take over. I continued to emphasize the only thing that really mattered in those moments: having fun. After enough small victories were celebrated, and funny little stories of the game retold, the individuals settled into patience. By the end, even the most skeptical of Dads was starting to look like his younger, more competitive self. I was secretly loving every minute of it. We had a chance to become closer as a family than I ever would have imagined.

The First Game Night

Your first game night promises lots of fun and family action. You can buy a variety of board games. Go-to classics are Monopoly, Scrabble, and Clue; modern board games like Tokaido, and Labyrinth, and Adventure Time Love Letter may also appeal to different age groups—and your family’s interests.

Be sure to create an inviting game room atmosphere by arranging furniture in a practical way. Comfort is key, as well as functional lighting.

Don’t be afraid to think about furniture from the perspectives of the players. You are going to set food and drink around. Setup is a big deal. But so is safety.

You probably work to keep things clean all day and make the home comfortable. So set the drinks down in places that people won’t knock them over.

You should put chairs by a coffee table so that people have someplace to put their drinks.

If you want to have a successful game night, you have to set the right atmosphere. Throw on some fun, low-key music in the background to set the mood. Have everyone set their phone face-down in the middle of the table to limit distractions. Explain the rules for each game before you play to eliminate any rules lawyers who will stop at nothing for the W. It’s fun to get competitive, but the overall goal should be to enjoy each other’s company.

There’s no shortage of challenges when you’re hosting an event like this. Your games might be met with all sorts of opposing viewpoints. As for what types of games work the best, that is largely a matter of preference. Board games are polarizing. A game that some absolutely love may be one that others completely despise. There are perhaps only a handful of games with near-universal appeal — games that everyone will actually want to play. To complicate things further, others might want to argue about the rules or the way the game should ideally be played. To mitigate these problems, you should have a range of different games for players to choose from. This gives players options, which you can make use of to great effect. In other words, take an approach that everyone can agree on. It’s bound to happen to you, so when it does, you can do this: Just whip out more games. More importantly, be a cheerful host when you do. Use this as an opportunity to talk through the specific shared experiences that playing different games will offer. This is one of the most powerful things you can do here.

Fostering a Love for Board Games in Children

To make a board game appealing to children, it needs to be a mix of two components: the right type of game and it’s fun to play. Make the game visually fun and super simple. Many times, bright colors and a fun theme are more than enough to sway the child to give it a go. If the game involves a fun story, then even better! For example, the game “Candy Land” has a very colorful backdrop and an exciting narrative that the children can follow along with, making the game more approachable! So does the game “The Game of Life!”

My youngest and oldest had different initial levels of interest in playing board games. As a classic “digital native,” my youngest didn’t want to stop playing his beloved video games. But he came around. We started with “Chutes and Ladders because it has simple mechanics. Plus, who doesn’t get a thrill from avoiding the chute or climbing the ladder? My older child took to “Catan Junior,” one of the simpler resource management games. he loved the challenge of planning and developing his pirate island hideouts. He tries to win every time he rerolls. The takeaway is to know your kid and choose a game that is developmentally appropriate.

Be sure to consider a game’s complexity and the lessons it might teach. For the youngest players (toddlers and pre-school), this will be games that offer instruction on basic skills: counting, color recognition, and, most importantly, taking turns. As children get a little older, it introduces games that require players to think about their next move (strategic thinking), solve a problem, or work together as a team. My two favorite games designed for players ages 6+ or 7+ are Ticket to Ride: First Journey and Blokus. These game makers know how to do fun. At the risk of alienating the “books only” crowd from which I come, the best way to get children hooked on wanting to join in endless games of Monopoly, Ticket to Ride, or Catan is to pick games that are fun for their age.

Engaging Adults in Board Game Hobbies

Including adults in the board game experience multiples family fun and memory-making. And who said board games are only for children? Board games are a clever excuse for adults to engage with toys geared toward their taste (fun, strategy, and often brainpower needed). They give young children the “ah” feeling that play does not need to dissolve once a person becomes of age. Play is actually a healthy and fun part of adult life that should never be taken away. Board games remind the “big kid” population how much they miss play too, and wish they never had to let it go. Who could they tell? Their children will deepen their bond after sharing in the fun.

What is remarkable are the stories I hear from families about their love of board games. For some, playing board games weekly has become a beloved essential in their busy schedule as a family. Parents—who also oftentimes are adult children of live-in baby boomers—who become the enablers of weekly family game activities…Catan, Ticket to Ride…will stoke familial hilarity and the fun of personalized family competition as no other competitive event might predictably do.

If you’re an adult who’s thinking about getting into board games, there are a few that come particularly highly recommended:

“Catan” is one of those games that you just have to play. It’s a classic game of strategy, negotiation, and resource management, and it’s a go-to game for a reason. “Pandemic” is a great representation of the cooperative games category. Here, you’re all playing together to save the world from disease outbreaks. This design naturally leads to a lot of pushing and pulling and generally a lot of discussion. The game is enjoyable and very talkative, a hit at many conventions and gatherings. . “Codenames” is a word-based game where you have to help other people guess your word (based on the number and color you give) before the other team guesses theirs. The game is highly addictive, analytical, and fun, and it’s a bundle of joy to play. It learns quickly, plays fast, and is reliably fun – one of those games that “makes you think (in a good way.)”

The best adult board games are not only typically easy to learn but are also skill-based to keep the plays competitive!

As a final note, including adults in board games can turn a classic children’s game into a legendary family tradition. You’re creating laughs while strategizing. You’re cheering on your team while competing in a family-friendly game of wits. All in all, there are ways that you can have time for yourself and still have great fun! Personally, we’ve found that board games are one way to bring your family together and include everyone: young or old.

Building a Board Game Collection

What began as an unassuming collection—likely including Monopoly, Scrabble, and other hit games for consumers—has since formed into a widespread library of varying types of games. When we first started, we’d get the “new cool game” from anyone that gave us a suggestion. In the beginning, we would often get new board games during holidays or birthdays. Now, we’ve moved onto more niche-specific games that aren’t the easiest for random members to join. Whether it be various mechanics or genres, we have lots of different games.

When choosing new games, we wanted to consider the likes and skill levels of everyone in the family. We found that reviews, gameplay videos, and sometimes even trying digital versions of games helped us select the right ones. We also enjoyed attending board game conventions or visiting local game stores, where you can often play a game before you buy it. We mostly found that including the whole family in the game-buying process helped us ensure that each new game was one everyone would enjoy.

It’s been great to have a variety of games because some have been perfect for casual nights with family when I want us to play something light and quick-to-learn with lots of laughter and conversation and I don’t want to spend all of my evening focused on the game. We have other games that are always saved for when we are specifically having a “game night” with friends because they require lots of focus, strategy, and usually take longer to play. It’s great to have variety in the complexity of the games because then you will have something on hand to fit your mood and hopefully the time constraints you feel on any given day.

To sum up, we’ve grown our board game collection intentionally, out of a shared passion for the hobby. We’ve considered all of “our” (meaning the four regular members of our family) interests and played a LOT of games to curate a truly fun collection. We rotate regularly. Some of our games are quick hits after a meal; others can entertain a crowd at a party; others still are suitable for all-night, deep-dive game marathons.

Bringing board games to my family was a transformative experience that deepened our connections and will be remembered fondly. It originally started as just trying to find something that might occupy everyone and be semi-fun. It turned out to provide the foundation needed to bring everyone together. Our game nights made the family feel less like an entity we were all tired of and into an actual “family”. This brought about so much communication, found through talking about the games and each other’s favorite moments, as well as discussing strategies. It allowed us to feel okay with being competitive with one another while still learning how to work together to beat certain systems.

The joy of sharing experiences through board games was a common refrain. The power of togetherness was basic and elemental and found in every moment, whether in victory or hilarious error. Game night gave us an opportunity to put aside our digital realm, to ignore the chronic busyness that defines us—to come together. It was where we decided to be human, to be communal. Game night: an exercise of engaging, of being here now. For a few hours there was solidarity, there was uniformity. It was a great place to be.

If you haven’t already started, everyone, I encourage you to as well. There is more than family bonding at stake. We’re talking staggering memories and fun to bring people in. You get to choose what you like because there are thousands upon thousands of published historical games. You choose what you like. Set aside an evening, and let the games begin!