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The Engaged Family Gaming team has the mission to provide information and support families who want to play board games with their kids (and video games too). We work hard to provide parents with the tools they need to make informed decisions about their children’s gaming. To facilitate this, we help parents who might not be “gamers” themselves learn to understand the games their children are playing and help them find great board games for their kids.

The “EFG Essentials” is a core collection of games we frequently recommend across different genres. The purpose of these essentials is to provide a starting point for families to engage with high-quality games. Below are our EFG Essential board games for kids.

Ticket to Ride 

  • Route Building and Set collection 
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Ticket to Ride on Amazon!

Ticket To Ride is the quintessential starting place for families looking for the next level in board games beyond Monopoly or Uno. This is the game that was the starting point for multiple members of the EFG team to become passionate about board games.

During gameplay, players collect and play matching train cards to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout the United States. Each player is working on completing their own secret routes. If another player claims a path they need, the player needs to try and find another path to complete their route, if possible. This also adds a potential “take that” element to the game.

On each turn you can only take one of 3 actions: draw Train Car Cards, claim a Route between two cities on the board, draw additional Destination Tickets. The object of the game is to score the highest number of total points. Points are earned from completing routes, and lost for incomplete route cards. Each round allows for players to plan, think strategically, and make tactical decisions.

Ticket to Ride has expansions for other geographical areas (EuropeAsiaIndia, etc), in addition to First Journey for younger players. We love the fact that this game has so many version and appeals to such a wide range of players.

  • See our review of Ticket to Ride here.
  • See our review of Ticket to Ride First Journey here.

Sushi Go

  • Card drafting 
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Sushi Go on Amazon!

Sushi-Go takes place in the fast-paced world of a sushi chef, you must be the most creative and the fastest of all to be the best! The game comes in a cute tin and plays two to five players.

Players start with cards in their hand based on the number of players. Then select one card to play before passing the rest of their cards to the next player to choose from!  The game plays in 3 rounds. The strategy of the game lies in making the most of the cards passed to you, while trying to stop opponents from making the combinations they need to maximize points. The most interesting dynamic of this game is the chopsticks.  They are played in one round, and used on a subsequent turn to play two cards at once from the current hand.  The chopsticks get passed on to be used by someone else.

Sushi Go! is a fun game to play with anyone, and it is a light streamlined game that is a perfect first card drafting game.

See our review here.

The Crew

  • Trick Taking, Cooperative Strategy
  • 3-5 players
  • Age 10+

Buy The Crew on Amazon!

Multiple award winner, the 2020 Kennerspiel Des Jahres and 2021 American Tabletop Casual Game, the Crew combines two unique gaming styles, cooperative game play and trick taking. Players take on the roll of a space crew trying to complete missions. The rule books tells the story of each mission as well as the conditions players need to follow to succeed. Once a mission is completes successfully players can move on to the next mission. The game has 50 mission, which increase in intensity both within the story and in the requirements needed to be successful.

The Crew does a great job of adding small elements to each mission to make the difficulty increase. It is done in a gradual way that keeps the game approachable for families. For a small game, and modest number of components there is a lot of game packed into the small box.

Abandon All Artichokes

  • Deck Builder (Deck Deconstruction)
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 10+

Buy Abandon All Artichokes on Amazon!

Winner of the 2021 American Tabletop Early Gamers category, Abandon All Artichokes has you build your hand of garden vegetables by deconstructing your deck of artichokes. In Abandon All Artichokes, players start with a hand of all artichoke cards. The goal is to abandon their artichoke cards and create a hand with other vegetables from the garden.

This is a great deck builder game for players new to that style of game, and has been referred to as a “my first deck builder” While the game is rated for age 10 and up this is a game that can scale down to slightly younger players. The non-artichoke vegetable cards have text with the actions the card allows. Young players being able to read the cards is helpful.

Qwixx

  • Roll and Write
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Quixx on Amazon!

Qwixx is a simple roll and write where all players participate in every dice roll. However, you must be strategic about the numbers and colors you select each turn. Roll and write games have a set of dice and each player has a scoring sheet. The genre of roll and write games have become more popular in the last few years, and Qwixx is the perfect game to learn the genre.

To play, there are six dice, two white, one yellow, one red, one blue, and one green. On a turn, the active player rolls and announces the total of the two white dice. All players have the option to mark any color on their sheet with the corresponding number.  The active player only has the additional option to add one white die with any one of the red, yellow, blue, or green dice to select a number on their record sheet. The more numbers you can mark off the more points you score. Players must choose carefully once you cross off a number you can not go backwards.

Kingdomino

  • Tile Laying
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Kingdomino on Amazon!

Kingdomino, the 2017 winner of The Spiel Des Jahres (The Game of the Year), and combines the universal simplicity of dominoes with kingdom building. It is a tile drafting and placement game for two to four players.  The game is played in short rounds.

First, tiles are laid out in a field and players take turns drafting tiles based on the order of the previous round. Players draw domino shaped tiles and lay them out in their 5×5 block kingdom. only one side of their domino needs to match the land the connect to, but it can gain them more points if both sides match. The goal is to sort their kingdom so that they have large contiguous terrain (lakes, forests, etc) to earn points. Points are calculated by taking the number of continuous terrain times the number of crown icons found on any domino in that terrain. The gameplay is quick, easy to teach, and the game ages down very nicely.

See our Spiel Des Jahres 2017 article here.

Forbidden Island

  • Cooperative
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 10+

Buy Forbidden Island on Amazon!

Forbidden Island puts players on an island that is slowly sinking into the ocean, and they need to work together to gather treasures then escape. Each turn is filled with tension as players flip over cards that indicate which tile will sink (and thus shrink the board). As the game progresses it really feels like the world is sinking.

The tiles are laid out in a set island pattern, and six cards are flipped from the Flood Deck. As cards are drawn from the Flood Deck, the corresponding tile on the board is flipped over. Which reveals a blue tinted version of the same piece. This represents the location “flooding”. If a flooded location floods a second time (via the same flood card being drawn later in the game), that location is lost to the abyss and both the tile and the corresponding flood card are removed from the game. 

The randomness of the tile layout leads to huge variety and replay value. The difficulty can be scaled to all abilities based on how high the water level starts the game. Even at the easy setting can provide a decent challenge for some of the most experienced gamers.

See our review here.

Pandemic

  • Cooperative
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Pandemic on Amazon!

In Pandemic, two to four players take on one of several roles, such as Medic, Dispatcher, or Researcher, in their quest to cure 4 diseases before time runs out and humanity is wiped out.

Game play follows a standard turn-based approach. Each player starts their turn by drawing from an event deck to determine where the newest infections are.  Then, they use location cards to move around the globe, treating diseases to prevent outbreaks.  Finally, they draw more location cards to restock their hand.  If a player can get three location cards of a single color and can get to a lab, they can create a cure.  The cure that won’t immediately eradicate the disease. Rather, it will make the disease easier to treat.

There is one way to win (working together to cure all 4 diseases), and multiple ways to lose (running out of time, being overwhelmed by diseases, etc.)  Players can change the difficult by increasing the starting number of infections.

See our review here.

Tsuro

  • Tile Laying
  • 2-8 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Tsuro on Amazon!

Tsuro is a tile laying game for two to eight players with a beautiful Asian aesthetic. In this game you are a flying dragon. Your dragon is represented by a colored carved token. Tsuro consists of tiles with twisting lines on them, a 6×6 grid on which to lay these tiles and a token for each player.

Each player has a hand of tiles. On your turn you do two things: place a tile from your hand onto the board next to your token and move your token as far as it can go along the line it is currently on. You continue to move it until it is stopped by an empty space with no tile in (yet), the edge of the board, or if you collide with player’s token. If your dragon reaches the edge of the board or collides with another player’s token, you are out of the game.

The goal of the game is to be the last player left with a dragon on the board. The strategy, therefore, consists of trying to drive your opponents either into each other or off of the board. While trying to extend your own route in directions that will make it difficult for your opponents to hinder your path.

See our review here.

Zombie Kids Evolution

  • Legacy/ Cooperative
  • For 2-4 Players
  • Ages 7+

Buy Zombie Kids Evolution on Amazon!

Your successes or failors affect the game in your future plays of the game, in Zombie Kidz Evolution. This is a perfect first step into Legacy games. Legacy games are played over a series of sessions and what occurrences in previous sessions permanently changes the game and can influence the next events in the game. In Zombie Kidz Evolution you are working together to protect yourselves and drive off the zombies in the school. All the staff at the school zombies. The rules start off very simply, and as the game progresses new rules and abilities are added.

Happy Salmon

  • Party Game
  • 3-8 players
  • Age 6+

Buy Happy Salmon on Amazon!

Happy Salmon is a great game for motivating your family to get up, laugh, and shout their way through a game. The rules also suggest being creative for a silent mode in locations where shouting is too disruptive. Each player gets 12 cards in their personal deck with three of each action card and the players who stand around a table. Each player shuffles their deck and flips it over so only one card is visible.

Once play begins, all players simultaneously say the name of the action on the revealed card. They are trying to find another player with a matching card. If no one has the same card the card moves to the bottom of their deck. If they find a match the two players perform the action and discard the card in front of them. The actions of Happy Salmon include: High Five, Fish Bump, Switch it up (where players switch places), and Happy Salmon (where players slap arms together) will leave players doubled over in laughter.  The first player to run out of cards wins.

Exploding Kittens

  • Player Elimination and Hand Management
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 7+

Buy Exploding Kittens on Amazon!

Exploding Kittens is one of the silliest games in our collection, and is a family favorite. There are fifty-six cards in the deck. The artwork is exactly what you may have come to expect from The Oatmeal. Characters such as Taco Cat and Beard Cat make an appearance alongside original artwork on each card. The game play is quite simple; the box claims it takes two minutes to learn. They weren’t kidding.

You can play as many cards as you like and you end your turn by drawing a card. If the card is an exploding kitten and you cannot defuse it you are out of the game. The last person standing wins. That’s it. The game really is that simple. The design is such that you never need to reshuffle the discard pile into the deck. There will always be a winner by the time the cards run out. 

This game is a lot more fun than one might think it would be. It plays very quickly and is very easy to learn.

Check out the review here.

Evolution: The Beginning

  • Engine Building
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Evolution: The Beginning on Amazon!

The Evolution Series by North Star Games has multiple games in this line. In the Evolution games you are evolving your creatures with various traits to help their survival. Each animal needs to have enough food or they die out and can go extinct. There is something for everyone in this series. For elementary age students you can start with Evolution: The Beginning. This is a simplified and streamlined version of the game good for ages eight and up. For older children: Evolution, Flight (which is an expansion), Climate, and Oceans.

The Evolution: The Beginnings the perfect lighter family game. It has streamlined the game elements of the Evolution series. For players new to engine building board games this gives a framework for that genre of game that is easy to understand. An engine building game is where the players are building something that will ultimately produce points for them in the game. The theme of Evolution is also very engaging to a wide range of players. It can be played with a wide range of players.

Block Ness

  • Area Control/Basic Resource Management
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Block Ness on Amazon !

Loch Ness Monsters are taking over the Loch, in Block Ness by Blue Orange Games. Players are vying for the limited space and trying to make their monster the longest before running out of room. To keep space limited and challenging at all player counts the number of players impacts the size of the loch (play space).

Each player gets 12 segments of their color monster, including a head and tail. Each segment is slightly different, they vary both in length and height. As players add to their monster, they can place a new piece horizontally or vertically only. Monster pieces can also (and eventually will need to) go over other monster pieces. The must be taller than the existing piece to cross over.

Block Ness is a great family game, and it plays well multi generational. The rules are very easy to learn and only takes 15 minutes to play, making it a great addition to family game collections.

Splendor

  • Engine Building
  • 2-4
  • Age 10+

Buy Splendor on Amazon !

Splendor

Blending a  balance of easy to learn rules and deeper strategy, Splendor is a fantastic game for older children and grown-ups alike. Splendor is a simple and elegant set collection game for two to four players. This is a game that is easy to teach, quick to learn, and will take a long time to master. The bottom line here; Asmodee has a huge hit on their hands as this has become one of our family’s favorite games.

In Splendor, players take on the role of Renaissance jewelers who are working to build their prestige and attract the attention of wealthy noble patrons. They do this by gathering resource tokens and spending them on development cards that represent new designs, tools, mining operations, and store fronts. The game is essentially a race to fifteen prestige points. Players acquire gems in order to buy mines, which in turn provide more gems (and ultimately points). While the gem-dealer theme may feel thin at times, the card drafting mechanic and  engine-building gameplay will quickly make this a family game night staple.

Check out our review! 

Skyjo

  • Set collection
  • 2-8 players
  • Age 8+

Skyjo is a great addition to any game collection. It supports of wide range of players and scales well at all player counts. Being able to support up to eight players is a huge asset. It is challenging to find a game, which is not a party game, that supports such a high player count. Skyjo’s rules are simple and easy to learn. It fits a casual gaming and multi generational gaming setting.

Players receive cards face down at the beginning of the round they reveal three cards. On their turn a player can either draw a revealed card from the discard pile, or they can take a card from the draw pile. If a player selects a revealed card from the discard pile, they must use it either for one of their face up cards or flip over a card and use it there. Should they choose an unknown card from the draw pile, then players can either substituted for a visible card or flip a card as well.

The round ends when 1 player has revealed all of their cards. One final turn occurs for the remaining players. Finally, players reveal their remaining cards and calculate points. There is a risk to ending the round, because that player must have the lowest score or their points are doubled. Additional rounds are played until one player meets or exceeds 100 points. The player with the lowest score wins the game. There is one special condition in the game.

Check out our review here.

Drop It

  • Dexterity/ Abstract Strategy
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 8+

Buy Drop It on Amazon!

Some of the best family games are easy to learn, but hard to master. Drop It has very simple rules and can be taught in minutes, yet has enough strategy within the simple rules to keep it engaging for all members of the family. Do not be deceived by the bright primary colors of the game, Drop It is more than a kids game!

In Drop It, each player has a collection of shapes in one color, and players drop them down the vertical game board to try and score points. The challenge come in meeting the criteria to score points. Along the side and the bottom there are colors (or shapes depending on the set up you select) and if your piece touches the side of the same color it does not score any points. Pieces also may not land touching another piece of a matching shape or color. The player with the most points when they run out of shapes wins.

King of Tokyo

  • Push Your Luck 
  • 2-6 Players 
  • Age 8+

Buy King of Tokyo on Amazon!

Attacking Aliens, Rampaging Lizards, Giant Robots, Mutant Bugs, and Ferocious Gorillas: this game has them all! King of Tokyo is a game for two to six players that combines a board game, a dice game and a card game. You play as one monster whose main goals are to destroy Tokyo and battle other monsters in order to become the one and only King of Tokyo!

At the beginning of the turn, each player rolls six dice. The dice show the following symbols: numbers 1, 2, or 3 (representing Victory Points that can be earned), a lightning bolt (representing Energy that can be earned), a heart (representing Healing), and a claw (representing Attack). The player with the most Attack dice goes first (the fiercest). Each turn consists of 4 steps: rolling and re-rolling the dice, resolving the dice, buying cards and using their effects, and the end of turn decision.

The fiercest player will occupy Tokyo, and earn extra victory points, but that player can’t heal and must face all the other monsters alone! When you add in cards that can have a permanent or temporary effect, like growing a second head, body armor, nova death ray, etc., you get a VERY exciting game. In order to win the game, one must either destroy Tokyo by accumulating 20 victory points, or be the only surviving monster once the fighting has ended.

See our review here.

Fire Tower

  • Area Control and Hand Management
  • 2-4 Players
  • Age 14+

Buy Fire Tower on Amazon!

Most fire fighting games are cooperative, but in the game Fire Tower, you compete with other players to protect your fire tower from the fire and spread the fire to your opponent’s tower.

Players are working to defend their Fire Tower, the nine squares in the corner of the board, and to breach their opponents. In the Fire Tower squares fire can spread, but water and fire breaks can not be used. Players take  a range of actions depending on the card they play. There are Fire cards that spread the fire regardless of wind direction.  Water cards put out the fire in a small area. Fire Break cards create areas the fire is unable to burn, but may not be added to adjacent spots with a Fire Break. Once fire reaches the orange square in the corner that player is eliminated. The player with the last unburned tower wins.

See our preview from when this was on Kickstarter here.

Dragoon

  • Area Majority/Influence
  • 2-4
  • Age 13+

Buy Dragoon on Amazon!

Dragoon, by Lay Waste Games, is a game where players take on the role of mighty dragons that are competing to build their treasure hoards on a remote island. Dragoon is a game that squeezes a lot of strategy out of a very small rule set. The game board is a cloth map and the components can come as metal or plastic. the Metal pieces are stunning and give the game a unique elegance.

A game of Dragoon takes place over a series of rounds. Each of these rounds has three different phases: Populate, Action, and Tribute. The goal in Dragoon is to be the first player to accumulate more than 50 gold at the end of the turn. Players do this by moving around the gorgeous map and choosing to either claim or destroy the settlements that pop up across it. Claiming a settlement gives a chance for gold each turn based on a die roll. Destroying it grants an immediate gold increase.

See our review here.

For Young Gamers

Rhino Hero

  • Dexterity
  • 2-5 players
  • Age 5+

Buy Rhino Hero on Amazon!

Rhino Hero is a competitive  3-D stacking game where players are building a tower of cards and moving Rhino Hero up the tower.  This is a great games for younger players and involves no reading.

This dexterity game directs players were the wall cards need to go on each turn.  Players have wall and ceiling tiles.  On their turn, the player first builds the wall in the place indicated on the ceiling tile and then place their ceiling tile.  Actions indicated on some of the ceiling tiles and those benefit the player, such as skipping the next player.  The game ends when the tower fall, a player places their last roof card, or all the walls are built. 

Animal Upon Animal

  • Dexterity
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 4+

Buy Animal Upon Animal on Amazon!

Animal Upon Animal is a dexterity game perfect for young games, where players are stacking wooden animal pieces.  On a turn, players roll a special die to determine what happens on their turn. If the player rolls one pip they add one animal, two pips the add two animals, the crocodile image has the player place one animal on the table touching one side of the base animals, therefore further expanding the base. The hand icon has the active player choose one of their animals and give it to another player who then has to add it to the stack. Finally the question mark icon has the other players determine which animal the active player has to add to the stack.

Should animals fall off while a player is trying to add one to the stack, the player who was placing the animals takes them if there are one or two that fall. Should more than two fall one two are kept and the rest returned to the box.The game ends when a player runs out of animals to stack, and the last player to place their piece can declare victory.

Hiss

  • Tile Laying
  • 2-5
  • Age 4+

Buy Hiss on Amazon!

Hiss is a competitive game perfect for very young gamers, where players draw tiles and try and build the longest snakes.  Each snake has different colors and players need to match the colors for adjacent snake pieces.  To build a complete snake they need to have a head, at least one middle body segment, and a tail. This is a game that easily scales down to the youngster players.

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel

  • Set Collection
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 3+

Buy Sneaky Snacky Squirrel on Amazon!

The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game is where you are collecting acorns to feed your hungry squirrel.  At the beginning of each turn you spin the spinner and that dictated the color acorn you can take or if another event occurs.  If a player lands on a storm cloud their acorns get blown back onto the tree. A sad squirrel means you lose a turn.  The thieving squirrel picture allows the player to steal one acorn from another player. The first person to fill their log with acorns wins.

This is a great simple game for very young gamers.

Hoot Owl Hoot

  • Cooperative
  • 2-4 players
  • Age 4+

Buy Hoot Owl Hoot on Amazon!

Hoot Owl Hoot is a cooperative game where players work to bring the owls back to the nest.  The goal is to get all the owls back before the sun comes up.  Each player has three cards dealt in front of them.  Players choose a color card to play, and draws a card to refill at the end of their turn.  With a color card the player selects an owl and move it to the next corresponding space of that color. If a player has a sun card they must play it, and the sun moves one space on the tracker. The difficulty can be increased by adding more owls to put back in the nest.


The EFG Essentials are reviewed and updated every few months to make sure we have the most current information for our readers. Last updated 7/31/21.


The EFG Essential Guide Collections

Check out our other Essentials Guides for great collections of games!

What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

Make sure to keep your eyes on Engaged Family Gaming for all of the latest news and reviews you need to Get Your Family Game On!

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Family game night doesn’t need to drain the family bank account. The board game industry has been growing for years! A lot of the press goes to $100+ Kickstarter campaigns and other expensive games, but there are plenty of great game that are also budget friendly! Take a look below for a list of 12 great family board games that could be yours for less than $20.

Codenames

Codenames is THE de facto party game in a lot of circles. It is simple to teach, can be played by groups of any size, and has a number of expansions that include everything from Harry Potter to The Avengers. Several of the expansions feature cards that have pictures as opposed to words so younger players can get in on the fun.

Exploding Kittens

This is an absurd card game that was a massive success on Kickstarter. The art was done by man behind The Oatmeal webcomic and the game itself, while simple, is easy to learn and fun to play. We wrote a review for the game a while back (Spoilers: We really liked it.)

Unstable Unicorns

Unstable Unicorns is a card combat game that features whacky unicorns. The art is adorable and gameplay loop as you pass between turns feels very similar to Magic: The Gathering (and I mean that in a good way). We enjoy it every time we play.

Apples to Apples

Cards Against Humanity is a non-starter for most families. This is especially true for families with younger kids. But, that style of game (The card game with a rotating judge) can be a big hit! Apples to Apples is the answer to that problem! It scratches that itch and is silly without being maddeningly offensive.

Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza

It’s silly. It’s fast. It’s challenging. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun. This is a card game where players slam cards onto the table while reciting “Taco, Cat, Goat, Çheese, Pizza” on a loop. The goal is to slap the cards your opponents plan that match what you just said. Sound bananas? You’re right! But, its worth it!

Kingdomino

Kingdomino is a tile laying game that can be taught in less than 5 minutes and is an incredible amount of fun. The idea is to try to build a perfectly square kingdom out of dominoes while trying to ALSO build large contiguous biomes (yes. Those are $5 words. But, trust me. This is a good game!)

Happy Salmon

Happy Salmon is really, really stupid. But, in the best ways. This is a great game for motivating your family to get up, laugh, and shout their way through a game. You can even buy two copies (there are two different color versions) so you can get up to 8 players. That is WILD.

Funky Chicken

Funky Chicken, just like Happy Salmon above, is also really, really stupid. But, it is stupid in the best possible way. The game play is similar enough that if you like one of them, then you should definitely get the other.

Dragonwood

Gamewright just has a way with games. They find these absolute gems and polish them until they gleam. Dragonwood is a combination of a set collection game and a dice game where players are competing to defeat monsters. The art is gorgeous and the theme is playful. I recommend this to just about anyone with kids who like to roll dice!

Sushi Go 

Sushi Go is the definitive card drafting game for families. The art is adorable. It is quick to teach. And playing it helps to lay the foundation for drafting games that you might play in the future. I can’t hardly count the number of times where I have said, “Well, its like Sushi Go except for…”

Forbidden Island

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice was one fo the first games we picked up after we started Engaged Family Gaming. We absolutely love push your luck dice rolling and the goofy zombie theme doesn’t hurt here. This is among the best values on this list.


What do you think? Sound off in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

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