Giving board games as gifts sounds like a great plan. Games are fun, they make memories, they’re more likely to get used than some kitschy knickknack that’ll just sit around collecting dust.
So that’s why we’re here. We’ve got your gift guides for the holiday season, and leading up to the holidays we’ll be covering the best gift ideas for different types of people: beginning gamers, college students and hardcore gamers — plus, we’ve got a stocking stuffer guide.
Today we’re talking about the best games to give as a gift to families. My primary criteria for family-friendly games are that they’re easy to learn and interesting for adults as well as older kids.
Takenoko has a simple premise: you are one of the Japanese Emperor’s court members, and your job is to provide for the giant panda given to the emperor as gift. Takenoko is about resource management and strategy. Players have to choose what kind of bamboo to grow, take care of said bamboo by irrigating it and planting more, and complete different objectives (worth varying amounts of points; the most points at the end of the game wins), all while feeding the panda.
Play time: 45 minutes
Age Range: 8+
Catan is on just about every list of “must-have” games, gateway games, gift games, etc. It’s ubiquitous, but there’s a reason. Catan is pretty easy to learn, and there are a ton of expansions to choose from, so you can choose which version of the game you want to play. That’s perfect for families, where you can play a basic version with the kids but still bring friends over to play with the expansions once the kids are in bed.
Players place settlements and roads on the board and get resources from nearby territories. Use those territories to build more roads and settlements, and complete other objectives. Players can trade with each other to get resources (which is the source of the infamous “Wood for sheep?” meme).
Part of the reason Catan makes such a great gift is that there are so many expansions and extras that you can get that if you stick with it, you have gifts for the next several special occasions covered. Just make sure you have a large table.
Players: 2-6 (with 5-6 player expansion kits; otherwise, 2-4)
Play time: 90 minutes
Age range: 10+
It also bears mentioning that Catan has an even more kid-friendly, pirate-themed version of the game, Catan Junior. Play is shorter and simplified, but very similar. Instead of the Robber, the game has a Ghost Captain.
Play time: 30 minutes
Age range: 6+
Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is another one of those games that pops up on nearly every list, again, with good reason: it’s a simple game. The goal is simply to claim railway routes between different cities on the board by collecting colored railway cards and trading them in. Players also collect destination cards that determine which cities they must connect. Some are naturally easier than others. They lose points for any incomplete routes but gain points for completed ones. The biggest issue with Ticket to Ride is that you have a relatively big board, so like Catan you’re going to need a good sized table.
Play time: 45 minutes
Age range: 8+
Sushi Go! is a really simple card game, similar in concepts to 7 Wonders (which we’ll talk about later). Players pass cards to each other and try to collect pieces of sushi to win points. However, the key is that there are a variety of strategies you can choose: collect dumplings, or pairs of tempura pieces, or nigiri. That way, players aren’t necessarily competing for the same pieces. But you want to keep an eye out for what your fellow players are doing and make sure you don’t pass them the card they need to beat you.
Play time: 15 minutes
Age range: 8+
What are your favorite family-friendly games? Tell us about them in the comments!