Top Pick of Board Games for Family Downtime

Anna Dusseau | 12th March 2020

It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon and there’s nothing much to do. The morning was a caffeine-fulled adventure into papier mache death masks and rescuing a family of toads from the end of the garden where they seemed intent on seeking the afterlife themselves upon the grave driveway beyond. And yes, we washed our hands after. Calm down, backseat drivers! The afternoon was meant to be a homeschool forest trip (posh term for 5 or 6 families climbing the big hill at the back of the woods and taking turns on a perilous rope swing amid peals of nervous laughter) but now, look at the weather! Even your adrenaline junkie son isn’t pulling his boots on and, instead, has crawled behind the sofa to check out the battered selection of puzzles and games on offer. Good shout, kiddo. I know, I know..board is a homophone of bored and yes, I too used to smile through gritted teeth when my kids suggested a bedtime round of Hungry Hippos, but that’s before I discovered proper board games. Ones that make you think and are actually a tiny bit fun. So, come rain or shine, Thursday is the day to make a pot of tea and get stuck into some great family board games. Let’s do it!

A fun and easily-played little racing game for younger children which teaches colours but also has a level of strategy and forward-thinking which should engage any reluctant older siblings to join in for at least a turn. Make your way around the race track by playing out your colour cards to your best advantage (and, clearly, give yourself a sore throat by over-revving that imaginary engine when it’s your, monkey, dance!)

Come on, don’t tell me you haven’t got this on your shelf? I mean, it takes about half an hour to set up, by which time the rain is bound to have stopped! Mouse Trap really is a laugh, though, and always hypnotic to watch the satisfyingly Caractacus Potts-esque progress of that shiny metal ball which spells life or death for your plastic mouse. Have you set it up correctly? Is it all going to work? Get cracking and find out.

Oh, come on! You think you’re too cool for this but, I promise you, you’re not. What looks like a simple balancing game suitable for developing fine motor skills in your single-digit offspring, quickly turns into a ferocious competition, as you try to show them – again and again – how it should be done and discover, hey, it’s not that easy. Boom! Mum got schooled. And that’s what home education is all about, folks..

There are so many snap circuits out there – from basic sound and light to much higher level remote cars, boats and spiders – that if you have a budding electrical engineer in the family, you are sure to find something to suit all ages and interests. Super-satisfying and time consuming, this is an absolute homeschool essential as it affords you at least 20 minutes of meditation or unpicking choking hazards from the baby’s clenched fists.

This is a bit of fun – cheap, simple concept and takes less than 5 minutes to play. You’re essentially turn-taking, building something like a house of cards from which you have to extract the rhino (plastic figurine, not a real one..wake UP, Sarah!) and move him/her (ours is ambiguously named Bobby) up to the next level without knocking the cards down. Great for sharpening kids’ dexterity. Not so great for sausage-fingered dads.

No, it’s not ‘basically like Charades’. Not at all. In fact, it’s quite tricky and the most difficult level cards are, even for adults, something to ponder before having a go. Apparently, my opening crisp packet sounds more like waterboarding which, being curious homeschoolers, quickly became less about my skill and more a question of where our 6 year old had discovered this term. It’s fun though. Try it. The game, I mean.

Okay, okay! Not technically a board game (actually, most of them aren’t but c’mon, a girl’s gotta choose a title..); however, I saw a box of these at a friend’s house yesterday and was immediately determined to add it to the list. A great game for waking up brains at breakfast, or to have in your pocket for train stations and coffee stops, this creative story-telling brain teaser gets everyone involved and can be played several ways.

Uh-oh, here comes another fine motor skills test for the grown ups! Like Buckaroo for Mensa alumni, this technical game has a natural magnetism that will bring out the best – and possibly the worst – in adults and children alike. You might even witness your sulky teenager slink out from behind their subscription copy of Private Eye (kids are so political, these days!) to have a go. I mean, you never know.

You’ve got the Busytown books, right? Because there’s nobody under the age of 10 who won’t spend hours pouring over the comic yet downright informative lives of Huckle, Sergeant Murphy and Wild Bill Hiccup, whose detailed illustrated adventures are visually reminiscent of the What-a-Mess series. And turning it into a board game? Stroke of genius, Richard. I’ll happily part with £20 for that.

Now then, steady on. Yes, it’s a curve ball. And at the village fete, I am guessing this is the game next to the lucky dip in the grandparents’ tent, which your kids run past on their way to the bouncy castle because – well – they’re not extras in the recent adaptation of Little Women. Trust me when I say, though, that this game is a flippin’ investment and, for once, you might be able to drink your coffee a degree or two above stone cold.

So, has it stopped raining? If the answer is no, why not put the kettle on again, wrap up this epic game of Scrabble which you sense is entering dangerous territory as your daughter fumes over a tricky line of consonants, and see if ordering one of these games can’t cheer everyone up? Because, when papier mache is drying and beloved pet toads are making a bid for freedom, there really isn’t a whole lot else to do.

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Published by Anna Dusseau

Writer | Educator | Homeschooling Mum

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