We’re in the middle of a renaissance in board games, with literally hundreds of exceptional new titles being created every year. Many of those games are specifically designed for children, while the majority are not. There is a small category of modern board games, like Catan and Ticket to Ride, that have been scaled down or otherwise simplified with kids in mind. They allow families to share modern classics together at the table, and they’re perfect for the current moment.
Here’s our picks for the best simplified board games to play with your children. Consider supporting your friendly local game store if you’d like to pick them up.
Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition
Cards Against Humanity: Family Edition is not a joke, but the game itself is very funny. Originally slated for release in fall 2020, the “card game for horrible people” has been completely rewritten and turned into a PG-rated edition. The card game is currently in beta testing, and the developer is making the print-and-play version free for everyone to download and experience for themselves. Families are encouraged to preview the material ahead of time and take out anything they don’t like. Feedback from playtests can be sent to the developer using Google Forms.
Settlers of Catan is synonymous with the rise of modern board games, but the base game — now simply titled Catan — can be a tough pill to swallow. That’s why there’s Catan Junior, which, in my opinion, is secretly the best way to play the game. This family-friendly version of Catan doesn’t rely as much on social interaction and opaque strategy. There are also several modes of play in the box, which can ramp up the complexity ever so slightly for older kids or dial it all the way back for kindergartners. Just be sure to keep track of all the playing pieces when you clean up. I speak from experience when I say that stepping on one of the little plastic pirate ships is worse than stepping on a Lego.
Everyone wants to get into tabletop role-playing games right now, but that can be a heavy lift for families at the end of a busy day. There are plenty of great dungeon crawlers out there on the market, but none of them are quite as family-friendly as Labyrinth from Ravensburger Games. Players must race to be the first to exit the ever-shifting maze while carrying as much loot as they can. It’s fast-paced action that can easily burn off some energy before bed time.
Note that there are multiple, excellent versions of this particular Ravensburger game, including a Frozen 2-themed version for young children, a Harry Potter-themed version, a special two-player version, an advanced version with a big plastic dragon, and a version that takes place underwater.
Just don’t confuse this game with Labyrinth: The War on Terror (a game by an instructor at the CIA); Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Board Game (featuring art depicting the late David Bowie); or the many classic wooden dexterity games that are also called Labyrinth.
My Little Scythe
Designed by Hoby Chou and his daughter Vienna Chou, with art by Katie Khau, there’s no better example of a simplified, family-friendly board game than My Little Scythe. Originally a My Little Pony-themed total conversion of the hit board game Scythe, it was later retooled without Hasbro’s intellectual property and picked up by Stonemaier Games itself. My Little Scythe retains virtually all of the same award-winning mechanics as the original game, but is faster to play and easier to learn.
Ticket to Ride — First Journey
Like Catan Junior above, Ticket to Ride — First Journey is a straightforward adaptation of the classic train game. Players get tickets, and have to create routes on the map connecting various cities to score points. There’s also a version with a European map as well.