10 Amazing Strategy Games for Families

My husband and I love board games and play a wide variety of strategy board games. Our favorite board games are ones that are challenging (but not too hard), mix just enough luck in with strategy to keep the game fun, only take between 30 minutes to 1 hour to play, and leave the winner undetermined till close to the end of the game. (Doesn’t everyone HATE having to finish a several hour game while losing the entire time, ie. Risk & Monopoly?) Based on our experience, this is my list of the BEST strategy games for families!

Some of the strategy games on my list are very difficult, most are moderate difficulty, and a couple are easy. But, all of these games are a lot of fun.

If you are gift shopping, this list is part of a HUGE list of gift guides for kids organized by age, topic, and more. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to see it. There are also several other game guides, so if my game choices aren’t what you are looking for you can find some additional game lists.

10 of the BEST strategy games for families: These games are so much fun and you probably have never heard of them!

These games would make a great gift for teens or a family!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. I am not only listing Amazon links because I’m an Amazon affiliate, but because in my experience Amazon is by far the cheapest place to purchase these games. Amazon is also a great place to find additional information about these games and see reviews.

I have played all of these games many times and have personally purchased many of them. I promise that they really are worth owning. Most of these games are German games and will be a little bit more expensive than your games at a big box store, but they are well worth the extra money.

stragy game ideas for kids

Note: I am simplifying the rules and descriptions for readability.

1) Dominion

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Age Recommendation: 13+
  • Game Play Time: Around 30 minutes for experienced players
  • Number of Players: 2-4 players

Dominion

Find Dominion on Amazon.

Dominion is definitely my favorite game. Each game is structured around:

  • 10 different Action cards that allow players to take extra turns, get new cards, and even “attack” other players
  • Treasure cards representing money
  • Victory cards that represent points
  • Curse cards that cause players to lose points

One of the most interesting aspects of Dominion’s game play is that each player develops their own personal deck during game play rather than sharing a deck with the other players. So, even when a player “spends” money it goes into that player’s discard pile and is available again once the player shuffles his cards.

Also, each game play centers around 10 action cards but the basic game comes with 30 action cards making game play unpredictable every time. These extra cards also mean that you can tailor game play to your preference, for instance if using attack cards gets everyone grumpy, you can just skip all negative interaction cards.

Dominion also has a number of expansions, which can all be mixed and matched with the original game. We actually own almost all the expansions (this game is literally that much fun). Here are my favorites (but to tell the truth, I like all the expansions):

  • Intrigue - You can actually purchase this self-contained expansion instead of the basic game as it has all of the needed cards for game play, and in my opinion it’s a little bit more fun.
  • Prosperity – adds higher value Treasure & Victory cards and game play focuses on wealth
  • Dark Ages – this expansion focuses on game play that uses less money and relies on action cards

Dominion is fun with even just 2 people but still fun with up to 4 people.

Our friends typically go out and buy a copy of Dominion after playing it with us. On Amazon, this game has hundreds of reviews with a 5 star rating. Seriously, everyone (or almost everyone) likes this game.

2) Carcassonne

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Age Recommendation: 8+ (I’ve seen younger kids around 6 play this. Reading skills are not required.)
  • Game Play Time:
  • Number of Players: 2-5
  • Product Description: The Carcassonne is a clever tile-laying game. The southern French city of Carcassonne is famous for its unique roman and medieval fortifications. The players develop the area around Carcassonne and deploy their followers on the roads, in the cities, in the cloisters, and in the fields. The skill of the players to develop the area will determine who is victorious.

Carcasonne

Find Carcassonne on Amazon (this set also includes the popular River expansion)

Carcassonne is a tile game based on a Medieval theme. The players take turns drawing square tiles that have fields, rivers, roads, or castles on the edges. The tile must then be matched to a tile already placed much like a puzzle goes together. A river must touch another river, or a road touch another road. The players also have small “meeples” and can place one per turn to take possession of a road, field, or castle. Points are scored based on completing castles or roads that you own.

This game is interesting because an experienced strategy player can take over another player’s castle or road by strategically owning another structure and then connecting the two. While some points are calculated during game play the end tally is often much different.

This game also comes with several fun expansions that add additional markers to put on the tiles and new tiles. You can actually purchase all of the expansions together which is nice for families who like variety. (We do own the “Big Box Expansion” and we almost always play with one or more of the expansions.)

Find the Carcassonne Big Box on Amazon (We own the Big Box.)

I also like how Carcasonne is easy enough where it doesn’t overwhelm friends who don’t like strategy games but involves enough skill to challenge friends who love strategy games. It really is the perfect strategy game for a party.

3) Jambo

Jambo’s a simple game for two people. My husband and I purchased it early in marriage looking for something that we could play together without friends just for fun. One great aspect of this game is that it’s extremely compact, making it easy to pack on a trip or store in a closet. It’s also a very quick game.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Age Recommendation: 10+
  • Game Play Time: Around 30 minutes
  • Number of Players: 2 players
  • Product Description: The card game Jambo from Rio Grande Games is a fun game of strategy. Jambo! is the friendly greeting Swahili traders offered their customers in Central Africa before colonization. The players are traders in this day, competing to be the first to earn 60 gold by selling tea, hide, fruits, salt, silk and trinkets. Cards represent goods, people (who can help you or hinder your opponent) and animals (which add a bit of spice to the game). Players take turns with up to 5 actions per turn until one player reaches the goal and wins the game!

Find Jambo on Amazon

4) Settlers of Catan

Settlers of Catan is an old favorite, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you have played it before. The game board is formed using tile pieces which allows more advanced players to change the board around for varied game experiences. The goal is to collect and use resources to build roads and win points.

This game is a lot of fun and is liked by almost everyone. The one disadvantage is that you can only play with 3-4 people with the original game, so you will want to purchase an expansion if you think that you will normally want to play with more people.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Age Recommendation: 10+
  • Game Play Time: Around 90 minutes
  • Number of Players: 3-4 players (expansions are available for 5-6 players to play)
  • Product Description: One of the most successful games of all time, Settlers of Catan is a trading and building game set in the mythical world of Catan.

Find Settlers of Catan on Amazon

5) Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is perhaps the simplest game on this list, and its very popular among my friends. I think that its a great game for families who like casual, fun game play. The game play does become predictable sometimes in my opinion, but I think that it makes this game a better choice for people who are intimidated by difficult strategy games.

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Age Recommendation: 8+
  • Game Play Time:  30-60 minutes
  • Number of Players: 2-5 players
  • Product Description: October 2, 1900 – it’s 28 years to the day that noted London eccentric, Phileas Fogg accepted and then won a bet that he could travel “Around the World in 80 Days.” Now, at the dawn of the century, some old friends have gathered to celebrate Fogg’s impetuous and lucrative gamble – and to propose a new wager of their own. The stakes: $1 million in a winner-takes-all competition. The objective: to see the most cities in North America – in just 7 days. Ticket to Ride is a cross-country train adventure game. Players collect train cards that enable them to claim railway routes connecting cities throughout North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn. Additional points come to those who can fulfill their Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities, and to the player who builds the longest continuous railway. For 2 to 5 players ages 8 and older. Playing time: 30-60 minutes. Comes with: 1 Board map of North American train routes, 240 Colored Train Cars, 110 Train Car cards, 30 Destination Tickets, 5 Wooden Scoring Markers, 1 Days of Wonder Online access number, and a Rules booklet.

Find Ticket to Ride on Amazon.

You can also purchase different versions which add to game play, these are self-contained games not expansions. These other versions are fun and are a little bit more challenging for experienced players. I have not played the alternate versions enough to list favorites.

6) Troyes

Troyes is one of those games that looks incredibly complicated (the poorly written directions don’t help) but is actually rather simple once you figure it out. Players work together and compete to build a cathedral, face city attacks, and perform actions.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Age Recommendation: 13+
  • Game Play Time:  90 minutes
  • Number of Players: 2-4 players
  • Product Description: Troyes is a strategy game in which you represent a rich family from the Champagne region of France, using your influence to recruit and supervise individuals from the three prominent domains: military (associated with the color red in every aspect of the game), religious (white), and civil (yellow).Each domain offers different benefits: The military permits you to fight with greater efficacy against invasions. The clergy focuses on completion of the cathedral, and education of the peasants and the military. The peasants toil to fill your coffers. The citizens of the city provide a work force, represented by dice. You use the work force in different ways: to perform various activities supervised by your tradesmen, to build the cathedral, to grapple with unfortunate events, or even to recruit new citizens. Each of these actions requires utilization of one group of 1 to 3 dice. In your actions, always regard the goals of the famous character that inspires your family. This individual is one of several very influential people whose principles have helped make the city what it is today! In fact, if you can figure out whose principles the other families follow, you can maximize your own fame, because each family will be scrutinized by all of these famous figures. The player who has garnered the most fame, in the form of victory points, will win the game!

Find Troyes on Amazon.

My favorite aspect of  Troyes is that it uniquely uses dice without turning the game into just a luck venture (no Risk here). You can purchase other players dice, use your own resources to change the dice that you have, and strategically get extra dice. Since I always lose Yatzee, I refuse to play dice games that rely on luck mainly.

7) Seven Wonders

In Seven Wonders, players each have a unique board and goals. During the game, the players purchase goods and cards for benefits or points during 3 separate rounds. Game play is unique in that cards purchased in one round may allow a player to upgrade to a similar card in the next round causing a chain effect. The rotation of different boards also keeps game play interesting and new.

  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Age Recommendation: 10+
  • Game Play Time:  30 minutes
  • Number of Players: 3-7 players (You can play with 2 players though by setting up a “dummy” board. This is still fun.)
  • Product Description: In 7 Wonders, you lead an ancient civilization as it rises from its barbaric roots to become a world power. Lead your troops to a military victory or create a nation of artisans and philosophers. Establish a powerful merchant state or master the mysteries of science and technology. Build an architectural wonder that will fascinate for eons to come, and rule the most powerful civilization on Earth!

Strong replay value with 14 different wonders and infinite strategies.

Every turn, you will have a chance to choose one card to further your goals for ascendancy. Will you gather resources and bide your time, or strike fast and grab what you can? Decide wisely, because when you finish, you’ll pass the rest of your cards to the next player, who may profit from your indecision. As the ages advance, you’ll choose from progressively more magnificent developments, so prepare your civilization for tomorrow or be left choking on the dust of your failing nation.

Beautiful graphics!

With beautiful art, fourteen different wonders and a dizzying array of strategic options, 7 Wonders is a simple and addictive game the whole family can enjoy. In just half an hour you can raise your civilization to the mightiest heights, and build the greatest wonders of the world!

Find 7 Wonders on Amazon.

8) Agricola

I actually refuse to play Agricola (due to a tired sleep deprived brain), but I have to list it for anyone who loves challenging strategy games. In game play you take turns claiming limited resources to feed your family, grow crops, and raise animals. The goal is to finish the game with the most points based on your farming skills and card acquisitions. In my experience, Agricola tends to appeal to men & teen boys due to it’s competitive, high stake game play.

  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Age Recommendation: 12+
  • Game Play Time:  120 minutes
  • Number of Players: 1-5 players
  • Product Description: In Agricola (Latin for “farmer”), you’re a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else. On a turn, you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood or stone; building fences; and so on. You might think about having kids in order to get more work accomplished, but first you need to expand your house. And what are you going to feed all the little rugrats? Agricola is a turn-based game. There are 14 game turns plus 6 harvest phases (after turn 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14). Each player starts with two playing tokens (farmer and wife) and thus can take two actions per turn. There are multiple options, and while the game progresses, you’ll have more and more: first thing in a turn, a new action card is flipped over. Problem: Each action can be taken just once per turn, so it’s important to do some things with high preference. Each player also starts with a hand of 7 Occupation cards (of more than 160 total) and 7 Minor Improvement cards (of more than 140 total) that he may use during the game if they fit in his/her strategy. This amounts to countless strategies, some depending on your card hand. Sometimes it’s a good choice to stay on course, sometimes you better react on what your opponents do. Agricola can also be played without cards (family game) and can even be played solo.

Find Agricola on Amazon.

It is really hard to feed your family and survive (I guess like real life in the Middle Ages on which its based).  But, the challenge really appeals to people who love hard, strategy games. You can even play by yourself, which is surprisingly very challenging. This game is also interesting because it is almost entirely strategy based with only a small amount of luck.

9) Mexican Train Game

My best memory of the Mexican Train Game was when my whole family was staying in a small cabin and trying to not drive each other crazy. We played this game several times that evening and had a great time.

  • Difficulty: Very Easy
  • Age Recommendation: 8+ (I would say 5+)
  • Game Play Time:  one round takes around 30 minutes
  • Number of Players: 2-6 players
  • Product Description: The POOF-Slinky 0X5454 Ideal Mexican Train Domino Game includes everything you need for hours of train-building fun. The game is played with double twelve dominoes that run from double blank to double twelve. Each player picks a certain amount of dominoes to start the game. The object is to form a path called a “train” that starts from the game’s electronic center “hub”. The game starts with the double twelve domino and the player who plays the center domino, plays off the twelve domino to start their train. If they don’t have a move, they take a domino from the leftovers pile. If the new domino doesn’t have a play, that player marks their train open with “train marker”. Once each player has started their train, they can either A) play on their own train, B) start the “Mexican” train in one of the empty slots by playing off the center domino or C) play on another player’s train if it has a “train marker”. Each round lasts until a player has played all their dominoes and receives a score of (0) for that round. The other players count their remaining domino values for their round score. Points from all (13) rounds are tallied at the end and the lowest score wins! The winner of the game then gets the honor of pressing the center domino to hear the “Toot Toot” from the electronic game hub.

Find Mexican Train Game on Amazon (note: Amazon sells several different versions of this game, including the separate pieces without dominoes.)

Mexican Train Game is a traditional domino game where you build a train by matching domino pieces from your hand. If you don’t have the correct piece, you draw an extra piece. Who ever gets rid of their dominos first wins. You can actually play this game with out having an official Mexican Train Game set, but kids love the little locomotives and the board that you can press to make a “choo choo” noise at the end of a game.

While this game, can have the tendency to drag on sometimes, it is fun and it’s a good group game. It’s also very easy, so it’s good for families who want a little strategy but don’t want to have to think too hard while playing.

10) Stone Age

Stone Age is another one of our favorite games. In my opinion, it is similar to Agricola without being so stinking hard. Players take turns occupying resource spots on the board and competing for cards and points. Game play is won by having the most points at the end of the game.

  • Difficulty: Moderate/Hard
  • Age Recommendation: 13+ (I would say 5+)
  • Game Play Time:  60 minutes
  • Number of Players: 2-4 players
  • Product Description: The Dawn of Mankind. Our ancestors were hard workers, resting only very little. Luckily for us, their ingenuity allowed them to make their work easier, day after day. In Stone Age, players are sent back to that arduous period of history. With tools, quite archaic at first, you will be able to collect wood, stone and gold. These resources will allow you to attain higher levels of knowledge and build sturdier roofs over your head. Though luck plays an im­portant part in the game, only those who master their fate will be able to grasp victory. Finally, one mustn’t forget to feed their tribe as that would represent a major setback for them. Relive history. CARVE YOUR VICTORY – IN STONE.

Find Stone Age on Amazon.

This game is a lot of fun. It does involve a lot of pieces and the directions are confusing in a couple of places. But, if you love strategy games it is definitely worth owning. In a way it reminds me of the popular Agricola, only it’s not as hard.

Bonus Game: Boom! Boom! Balloon

I received Boom! Boom! Balloon from Hasbro at a recent blogging conference. While it’s not a strategy game (at all), I have to list it because it’s my kids’ favorite game. Players take turns rolling a die and the poking sticks into a balloon that is strapped to a brace. The goal is not to be the person who finally ends up popping the balloon. This game is perfect for low-key events like parties where a large number of people are wanting to play a game together.

Find Boom Boom Balloon on Amazon.

P.S. The game comes with cute balloons with faces, but any balloon will work. We’ve tried several different brands.

Are you looking for more game ideas for kids?

Games for Kids 5 and under

2013 Gift Guides for Kids

This gift guide is part of the 2013 Gift Guides for Kids series. I’m actually hosting the full series here on No Twiddle Twaddle, which contains over 50 unique 2013 Gift Guides written by parenting bloggers. These lists range in topics and ages, so you will likely find some wonderful resources. Be sure to check it out:

Gift Guide Button

2013 Gift Ideas for Kids

Gift Guides for Kids on Pinterest

You can also find these lists and last year’s lists on our Ultimate Gift Guide Pinterest board. Be sure to follow it for lots of awesome ideas!

Gift Guides for Kids on Pinterest.

Do you have a favorite game (or already love one that I mentioned)? I would love for you to share it with me in the comments. After all, I need to do some Christmas shopping too!

Bethany Winston: No Twiddle TwaddleHi! I’m Bethany. I’m a mom, weekly Greenville News columnist, and co-owner of Kidding Around Greenville SC. Welcome to my parenting blog No Twiddle Twaddle, all about adding a little magic to kids’ lives through play and reading. If you are new, don’t miss these popular posts: Skin Therapy Play Dough, Sticky Blocks, and 50+ No Sew Halloween Costumes. You can join me on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest (I’m a BHG.com Pinner Pro!). Subscribe via email to get my updates straight in your inbox.

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Comments

  1. says

    This list is fantastic. I hadn’t heard of many of these games – thank you! Our family love Mexican Train. We even hold family Mexican Train tournaments in the summer. It is great for families – even quite young kids can grasp the concept yet it still allows for some strategy. I’ll be checking out some of your other suggestions too.
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    • says

      That sounds like so much fun. I love the idea of tournaments. If you like family games that a lot of people different ages can play, I would recommend Carcassonne as it’s very easy to play with a crowd and is fun.

  2. Jennifer says

    Thank you for posting this. We have Ticket to Ride (with expansion packs), Mexican Train, and have played 7 Wonders and Settlers of Catan. You are right I have never heard of some of the other and I am intrigued. I will be looking into them for Christmas. I will suggest that the game Acquire is our favorite. We even bought a game called Mega Acquire that someone made up and is selling on Ebay. Again thanks for the ideas.

    • says

      : ) I have lots of fun memories of being on bedrest in the hospital with my 3rd and having Dominion Cards stacked all over the hospital trays. My brother even surprised me one night near my birthday with a new expansion.

    • says

      Thank you. If you don’t play a lot of board games, I would recommend starting with a simple game like Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, or The Mexican Train Game. Carcassonne in particular is complex enough to be replayed over and and over again by even experienced players but so simple that you can even adapt the rules to make it fun for a small child.

  3. Els says

    nice list! If you like these games, a real must have is Citadels (from bruno faidutti – i have the dutch version called Macchiavelli). According to me it’s by far one of the best games to play… almost no preparation, quick to learn, strategic… i would play it for hours

  4. Ellie Cook says

    Such a great list. I hadn’t heard of some of these games. We love family game time and I think I know what some of the family will get for Christmas! (YAY!) This Christmas we thought we’d set up computers and play an MMO game as a ‘clan’ since everyone’s glued to their screens anyway (We were thinking of http://www.schoolofdragons.com) Thought turning it into a family game time would be a great idea. Some of these will also make it to our game day list. Thank you so much for posting these, Bethany.

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