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Bored with a house full of kids? Here’s the best way to spend a rainy afternoon, whether your opponents have just learned to talk or are right over there, glued to their phones.

a little kid playing candyland
Twenty20

Ages 3-6

The Classic: Candy Land

The setup is as simple as it gets. Players draw colorful cards to move through delicious destinations like Peppermint Forest and Licorice Lagoon as they race to King Kandy's Castle. But you won’t find a sweeter introduction to the world of board games. Writes one reviewer, “I think of all the games we play, this one has been the best for teaching our [kids] how to be gracious winners and losers, and to deal with the disappointment of setbacks.”

The Modern: Qs Race to the Top

Roll the dice, move your monkey figurine to a colored square and pick a card. Those will dictate either a question (“Name one thing you like about each person in the room”), an action (“Do ten bunny hops!”) or a situation (“Q [the titular primate] is sometimes grouchy when he wakes up from his nap or when he doesn't get his way. What are some ways to stop being a grouch?”). And voilà: Physical activity and emotional intelligence get pumped up with every play.

hoot owl hoot board game for kids
EBay

Ages 6-9

The Classic: Pictionary Junior 

Anyone whose kids have crayons permanently affixed to their little hands will be (ahem) drawn to this childhood favorite. Not convinced? Let 85 percent four- and five-star reviews on Amazon paint the picture.

The Modern: Hoot Owl Hoot

Players randomly draw either colored cards to move along the board toward the owl’s nest or the dreaded sun cards to propel “sunrise.” The collective goal is to help the owls fly back to their nest before the sun comes up. It’s not about beating each other but beating daybreak. Players root (or hoot) for—instead of against—each other. A natural lesson for elementary school kids.

the game of life board game for kids
Hasbro

Ages 9-12

The classic: The Game of Life

The execution is straightforward: Spin the wheel, move your player around the board, and choose between, say, a college education versus jumping straight into the workforce. When you’re playing with your tweens, suddenly a dusty old box pulled from the bookshelf becomes the conversation starter you never knew you needed. 

The modern: Ticket to Ride

In this award-winning cross-country train adventure, players collect cards to claim railway routes connecting major North American cities (the farther those cities are from each other, the more points you stand to collect). Geography and American history buffs will jump right on board.

kids playing the board game clue
Twenty20

Ages 12 and Up

The classic: Clue

Was it Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick or Miss Peacock in the kitchen with the rope? Either way, chills… This macabre murder mystery was invented in 1949 (!), yet for kids mature enough to roll with its dark silliness, it never gets old.

The modern: Pandemic

In this hugely popular new cooperative game, each player is given an occupation like Scientist or Quarantine Specialist. Then everyone bands together to save the world from rapidly spreading apocalyptic plagues. Interactive sci-fi fantasy for teens who—let’s face it—are probably going to have to save the world IRL.

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