Five is both a brilliant and an awkward age for board games. Five-year-olds are just about old enough to play a game by themselves so long as it’s simple, and they’re often fascinated by the idea of structured play that a board game represents. But at the same time, they can still find losing difficult to deal with and have very short attention spans.
To make matters worse a lot of games you’ll find on shelves have worthy educational themes to entice parents, but kids will spot them as tiresome teaching tricks a mile off and demand something more fun. Finding the best board games for kids is no easy task. So here’s a selection of competitive and cooperative games that are easy enough for 5-year-old children to play by themselves where the learning elements are well hidden. And often you’ll find them fun enough to join in yourself, too.
A great way for kids to get into hobby games is to take a concept they’re familiar with – in this case, dominoes – and give it a fresh new twist. Here, the dominoes show different kinds of terrain. Players choose from four such face-up pieces and fit them into a growing landscape, trying to match the terrain on one or both ends with existing pieces. For each such match they get an egg, which is either worth a point or gives them the right to pick from the piece selection next turn. Fast playing with a cute them and very simple to teach and learn, it’s appealing for children while teaching them turn-taking and simple strategy.
At five, cooperative games where no one has to suffer the ignominy of defeat are still a great way of avoiding family arguments. And they don’t come much better than Outfoxed, a game of memory and deduction where players have to find out which of an array of foxy suspects stole the chicken pie. It’s got a neat gizmo which determines whether a given clue, such as a cane or top hat, is something that identifies with the suspect’s picture or not. So by building up visual clues about the culprit your group can slowly eliminate suspects and hone in on the criminal. But each clue risks edging them closer to the edge of the board where they escape, pushing the excitement levels higher at every turn.
My First Carcassonne / Carcassonne Junior
The original Carcassonne is a fairly simple strategy game that’s good for older children and families, but it’s still a bit too much at five. Instead, you can introduce kids to the same concept with this fun junior version. Like the grown-up iteration, it involves placing randomly-drawn tiles to make a network of roads crisscrossing a pastoral scene. But it flips player piece placement on its head, as when a road is complete, players put down matching colour pieces from their stock. The first player to put down all their pieces wins. Visually attractive and simple to play, it’s a great way to learn basic strategy concepts.
HABA are a German company that makes great children’s games with bright, chunky wooden pieces and simple strategies to engage little imaginations. Monza is no exception, using basic concepts to create a fast, fun racing game. The track is divided into coloured spaces and on their turn, each player rolls six colour-spot dice. They then try to plot a course around other drivers and no-go spaces matching the colours they’ve rolled to board spaces. It’s intuitive to play and a great mix of luck, excitement and a little skill.
Concept Kids: Animals
Concept is a clue-giving game for adults but it also comes in this cooperative kid-friendly version based on animals. The board is full of icons that depict things like colour, size, habitat and body shape. One player has a random animal card they can’t see but other players can, and those players have to use the board icons to help the guesser get their animal. It’s a nice level of difficulty for children, plus it has an educational element and is playable without text at a time when kids are still learning to read, making it a great all-around activity for the family or for kids to play on their own.
Magic Maze Kids
Yet another game based on a franchise for grown-ups, Magic Maze Kids ditches several aspects of the original that aren’t kid-friendly, such as silence and the thievery theme, in favour of animals collecting potion ingredients. It keeps the escalating tension of cooperating to try and move pieces around a board as a sand timer trickles down toward a group loss. All the players can move all the board pieces, but each player can only move them in certain directions: the goal is to get particular pieces to particular spots while navigating obstacles. With tutorials to teach them the game and lots of bright chunky pieces, Magic Maze Kids will provide them with an amazing time.
Animal Upon Animal
Another HABA game, this one leverages a popular kid-friendly mechanic, that they’re often better at than adults: dexterity. Faced with an array of cute but irregular animal pieces, the goal is to get rid of all your pieces by balancing them atop one another in the middle of the table. A dice roll dictates your options for the turn, and instead of stacking may see you extending the stack base or even giving an animal to another player, lending some extra excitement besides the risk of a toppling pile. Best of all, unlike many games on this list, Animal Upon Animal is just as much fun for grown ups.
Bugs in the Kitchen
Often, games with electronic gizmos prove to be gimmicky letdowns. But a well designed one, like Bugs in the Kitchen, can really engage kids with the fun toy factor. The widget here is a vibrating electronic bug that can move itself semi-randomly around the board. However, there’s a maze atop the board made of lots of pivoting gates that can trap it in various sections. Players roll a dice and move a gate of a matching shape, trying either to get the bug into their corner to score a point or into someone else’s, depending on which mode you’re playing.
Hoot Owl Hoot
As you might imagine from a publisher called Peaceable Kingdom, Hoot Owl Hoot is a cooperative game where the group win or lose together. Your aim is to get all the baby owls back to their nest before sunup by moving them along a track of coloured spaces. You can vary the difficulty level by changing the number of owls, which is a nice touch. Each player has a hand of cards which can move an owl to the next space of the matching colour, leapfrogging owls along the way by calling “hoot hoot”. But if you’re unlucky enough to draw a sun card, you have to play it and advance the timer toward the game end for some added excitement.
For more ideas, check out our roundup of all the best board games to play in 2022.